Slave Ship

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
  • Click on image to enlarge

    Photo: William Arnett, 1987
Metal, wood, paint, wire, paint can lid, Splash Zone compound
Collection of
New Orleans Museum of Art
Museum purchase and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

Slave Ship depicts the passage of slaves into the Americas, but additionally it depicts the artist's interpretation ofthe history of black women in the United States. "Black womens used to have hair like wool. It ain't like that no more, and that's why," Dial observed, referring to a white captain's raping one of the black slaves, an image suggesting generations of interracial births. The inclusion of an American flag highlights the irony of a government professing equality while condoning slavery and indirectly permitting such degradation as represented in the piece. The man who appears to be steering the ship is not in control, for real power is in the hands of a white figure near the stern, guiding the vessel's sails with two wires, wires symbolizing the white man's manipulation ofthe black man's destiny. On the starboard side, Dial extends the metaphor of Slave Ship to include women standing in the water waiting to board the vessel. The artist describes this scene as "mens talking to womens, trying to talk them into getting onto the slave ship the way they always done tried to do." A random pattern of pink, black, and green dots covers the ship's sails. That particular color-coding can be found on many of Dial's early works about life in America.The pink and black are the skin colors of the two principal races involved in Dial's storytelling, while the green represents the driving force behind the activities—money.