Tag Archives: Slavery

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?

John Brown


150 years ago today John Brown led a raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, Va.

Henry David Thoreau wrote of John Brown

“He did not value his bodily life in comparison with ideal things. He did not recognize unjust human laws, but resisted them as he was bid. For once we are lifted out of the trivialness and dust of politics into the region of truth and manhood. No man in America has ever stood up so persistently and effectively for the dignity of human nature, knowing himself for a man, and the equal of any and all governments. In that sense he was the most American of us all. He needed no babbling lawyer, making false issues, to defend him. He was more than a match for all the judges that American voters, or office-​holders of whatever grade, can create. He could not have been tried by a jury of his peers, because his peers did not exist.”