IN CONVERSATION | Committed to Memory: The Art of the Slave Ship Icon
Join us for a conversation about how an eighteenth-century engraving of a slave ship became a cultural icon of black resistance, identity, and remembrance with Cheryl Finley, author of Committed to Memory: The Art of the Slave Ship Icon, and artist Andrew Wilson, who employs the icon in his work which was previously on view at MoAD. The conversation will be moderated by UC Berkeley Professor Leigh Raiford.
One of the most iconic images of slavery is a schematic wood engraving depicting the human cargo hold of a slave ship. First published by British abolitionists in 1788, it exposed this widespread commercial practice for what it really was–shocking, immoral, barbaric, unimaginable. Printed as handbills and broadsides, the image Cheryl Finley has termed the “slave ship icon” was easily reproduced, and by the end of the eighteenth century it was circulating by the tens of thousands around the Atlantic rim. Committed to Memory provides the first in-depth look at how this artifact of the fight against slavery became an enduring symbol of black resistance, identity, and remembrance.
Finley traces how the slave ship icon became a powerful tool in the hands of British and American abolitionists, and how its radical potential was rediscovered in the twentieth century by black artists, activists, writers, filmmakers, and curators. Finley offers provocative new insights into the works of Amiri Baraka, Romare Bearden, Betye Saar, and many others. She demonstrates how the icon was transformed into poetry, literature, visual art, sculpture, performance, and film—and became a medium through which diasporic Africans have reasserted their common identity and memorialized their ancestors.
Beautifully illustrated, Committed to Memory features works from around the world, taking readers from the United States and England to West Africa and the Caribbean. It shows how contemporary black artists and their allies have used this iconic eighteenth-century engraving to reflect on the trauma of slavery and come to terms with its legacy.
Cheryl Finley is associate professor of art history at Cornell University. She is the coauthor of Harlem: A Century in Images and the coeditor of Diaspora, Memory, Place: David Hammons, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Pamela Z. She holds a Ph.D. in African American Studies and History of Art from Yale University. With nearly 20 years of award winning research on historic and contemporary images of the transatlantic slave trade, her seminal study, Committed to Memory: the Art of the Slave Ship Icon, is now available from Princeton University. This monograph is the first in depth study of the most famous image associated with the memory of slavery, a schematic engraving of a packed slave ship hold, and the art, architecture, poetry and film it has inspired since its creation in Britain in 1788.
Andrew Wilson is a multimedia artist working in the intersections of the consumption of the Black body, ritual and funerary rights honoring the deceased, new interpretations of mythology and queerness. His work is at once beautiful with an attention to craftsmanship and repulsing in its graphic subject matter. He wants to create an extra moment of counfoundment for the viewer to contemplate their relationship to the work and the imagery and histories it evokes. He received his BFA from Ohio Wesleyan University in 2013 with a concentration in Jewelry/Metals and his MFA from the University of California, Berkeley in 2017. Wilson’s work has been in many galleries and institutions including: The Berkeley Art Museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SOMArts, and the Museum of the African Diaspora. He has received such awards and honors as: the Jack K. and Gertrude Murphy Award, and Emergency Grant from the Foundation of Contemporary Arts, the Carr Center Independent Scholars Fellowship and more. He has also shown with Carrie Mae Weems in The Spirit that Resides in Havana, Cuba alongside the Havana Biennial. His work has been collected by Michigan State University and the University of New Mexico.
Leigh Raiford is Associate Professor and H. Michael and Jeanne Williams Chair of African American Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, where she also serves as affiliate faculty in the Program in American Studies, and the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. Raiford is the author of Imprisoned in a Luminous Glare: Photography and the African American Freedom Struggle (University of North Carolina Press, 2011), which was a finalist for the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Best Book Prize. She is co-editor with Heike Raphael-Hernandez of Migrating the Black Body: Visual Culture and the African Diaspora (University of Washington Press, 2017) and with Renee Romano of The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory (University of Georgia Press, 2006).
Public programs at MoAD are supported in part by Target.