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The Art

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The Sweetest Thing (2022)

Joy Gregory

cyanotype and chintz cotton with rayon, polyester and metal threads

Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM), Exeter



Craft, Photogram, Textile


Cotton , Rayon, Polyester, Metal, Thread


Cyanotype, Photogram


290 x 180 cm


Presented by the Contemporary Art Society, with the support of the Friends of RAMM, Exeter, 2021/22

Ownership history:

Commissioned from the artist by the Contemporary Art Society from its Omega Fund, with the support of RAMM, Exeter, 2021; presented to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM), Exeter, 2021/22


Black (presence)
Joy Gregory’s practice is concerned with social and political issues, and cultural differences in contemporary society which she explores using video, digital and analogue photography. The Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter commissioned Joy Gregory to respond to the themes of their exhibition ‘In Plain Sight: Transatlantic Slavery and Devon’ (2020). Working with their archival collection she created a tapestry, a series of photographs and a video. Gregory, who was born to Jamaican parents, decided to make a tapestry, as she was particularly struck by an embroidered linen textile piece from the 1750s, which belonged to the Landfordbrown family at Combesatchfield, near Silverton, just north of Exeter.

The Sweetest Thing (2022) is multi-layered. The background is made up of cyanotype photograms of the artist’s own hair, which create a dreamy cloud texture across the whole piece. Embroidered images such as manor houses and enslaved people loading sugar, bring together stories from both sides of the Atlantic. Some of the buildings will be specifically recognisable as those belonging to enslavers or those who profited from enslaving, such as Thomas Daniel. Along the edge of the tapestry directly contrasted are images of people in slave-restraints to stop them from eating sugar cane, and images of sugar shakers which are part of the RAMM Collection. All embroidery has been done by machine, and metallic thread has sometimes been used, which reflects a meditation on the role of industry and a direct reference to historic embroidery where the threads of metal were employed for decorative effect.

This work directly connects to the RAMM’s collection, and Gregory has previously worked on projects which explore similar themes. Most recently Alongside Matron Bell (2020) which was commissioned by Lewisham Hospital to create a work celebrating 60 years of the NHS, and Invisible Life Force of Plants (2020) which explored how everyday plants we associate with British heritage often came from elsewhere against the backdrop of colonialism.

This image may be shared and re-used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence (CC BY-NC-ND). Any further use will need to be cleared directly with the rights holder.

Read our copyright policy for more information.

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