Category Archives: Art

The Castle (225)

By Vincent Smith, an American artist: Elmina Castle (1972). Elmina Castle was a trading post established by the Portuguese in 1482 which became a major port in the slave trade.


I found the image above while I was researching Cape Coast Castle, another Portuguese fort, which was taken over by the British and used as a collection and embarkation point for enslaved Africans. By the time you return to class on Wednesday you should know how that setting figures in Yaa Gyasi’s historical novel/ family saga Homegoing.

I was initially hesitant to share the image below with you but given its significance and the fact that it is the creation of a notable American artist, Andrew Wyeth (son of famed artist/illustrator N.C. Wyeth and father of Jamie) I reconsidered.

The title of this painting is Barracoon (1976). A barracoon is essentially the space described by Gyasi on the lower floor of Cape Coast Castle.


What troubles me about this painting is its idealizing eroticism. Given what conditions in the barracoons were actually like, this depiction of a feminine form seems like a lie, an effort to tantalize the viewer rather than confront them. This objection has to do with history and power instead of form. How would a painting of the barracoons based on Giyasi’s imagery look?

Victorian Uncanny (310/485)

This is the image I wanted to show you in class on Wednesday, an 1896 painting by John William Waterhouse titled Hylas and the Nymphs. Properly speaking the feminine figures are naiads– spirits of fresh water– rather than Nereids, who belong to the sea.


While I was looking for this image I came across another, also painted by Waterhouse, titled A Naiad:


Recently the first of these paintings was the subject of some small controversy when the Manchester Art Gallery removed it from display. See