Fallacies of hope: Contesting narratives of abolition in Turner’s Slave Ship
journal contributionposted on 18.09.2019, 17:32 by Laura Brace
This article explores the risks and dangers of redemptive readings of JMW Turner’s (in)famous 1840 painting, Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhon Coming on) that assume that we cannot be complicit in anything other than abolition and deliberately forget and disavow the underlying structures and continuing dispossessions of slave racial capitalism. The paper reads the painting as an intervention in an important set of nineteenth-century debates around slavery and the slave trade, and as a key element in the war over representations over slavery. How should we incorporate black death and white abolitionism into our stories, self-understandings and conceptions of justice? Turner’s painting brings us all into a space of temporal entanglement, and leaves us to question the history of modernity and the meaning of freedom both in the past and in the present.