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Canaan J Brown © 2024
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The Naval Spirit, by Canaan Brown, is a fictional memoir, inspired by the narrative of Joseph Johnson - a Black British sailor who served in the British Navy during the early 1800s, was discharged due to injury, and was not afforded his pension or state relief. A story set in magic and historical fiction, Johnson comes to find he has a supernatural gift, that allows him to communicate with the ghosts of another dimension; spirits; duppies; ghosts who transcend time and space, in order to help us see the conditions of our world, anew.





Overarching Project: The Naval Spirit, 2022




The Body of Work:








The Naval Spirit, by Canaan Brown, originated as a creatively written fictional memoir. Recounting the life of Joseph Johnson - through lenses of magic, fiction, and the Black fantastic - the story re-imagines Johnson’s life in Georgian Britain; in the Navy, and as the first documented Black British artist.










England Expects Every Man To Do His Duty. This famous maritime phrase, attributed to Admiral Horatio Nelson - during the British victory over Napoleon Bonaparte in the Battle of Trafalgar - is an ironic statement when applied to the context of marginalised professionals within Britain. In a country where one can do their duty, yet not be afforded their state relief because of their background - (for example in the case of the Black 19th Century British Naval sailor, Joseph Johnson) - this strikes a juxtaposition between imperial expectations and socio-political realities.

Titanium-painted MDF on plaster (1014.898 mm x 328.464 mm)









Naval Illuminations (Shadow Play): a piece displaying a blown up projection of a Naval ship plan - inspired by research from the National Museum of the Royal Navy museum. Recreated in acrylic, the piece is an exploration of the artist’s visual language - playing with scale, light and, also, how such an otherwise utilitarian blueprint can offer a wealth of visual potential.

Clear acrylic, overhead projector (1900mm x 700mm)










The Naval Chambers: this piece is inspired by The Naval Spirit, and the context in which Johnson is set. Visited by a ghost from a near future, the scene is set in Joseph Johnson’s Naval chambers - fictionalised, and based on true historical Naval rooms on British ships.

Digital Construction in Blender (Size dependent on viewing screen)









New World is a piece that was initially created for Into The a student-led exhibition at the Birmingham School of Art. With parallels to the fiction and surrealism of The Naval SpiritNew World is a short story written by Canaan Brown, which has been blown up, manipulated and refigured - echoing the parallel dimension about which the story is written; a chaotic, exciting journey into an uncharted new world.

Matte paper (841mm x 1188mm)