Feb 25, 2011

SWANN GALLERY Auctions: Profiting from Slavery...

A friend brought this impending auction to my notice: SWANN Galleries of New York is inviting auction bids for a Pair of "Middle Passage" Slave Shackles, identified as Lot 4 of Sale 2239 (one of two such items on sale). The lot notice states that it is
A pair of shackles of the sort used during the cruel "Middle Passage" from Africa to the Americas. Images of such shackles appear in numerous early anti-slavery books and tracts. For specific examples, see: "An Abstract of the Evidence," London 1791; Lydia Maria Child's "Appeal in Behalf of that Class of Americans called Africans," Boston, 1833; and Lorenzo Dow, "Slave Ships and Slaving," Massachusetts, 1927.
Personally, I am surprised they are not selling an actual African shackled to the leg irons, which might attest to its authenticity.

I have seen slave shackles in museum exhibitions and always felt that their display is in active denial of their horrendous history. This SWANN auction and its request for bids to this gruesome item goes beyond the pale. But then, general lack of accountability for the enslavement of Africans is at the bottom of the racism and capriciousness of global relations between the West and the Rest of the World that is so evident on the international scene today. If you enslave tens of millions of Africans and kill millions of them in the process and no one holds you accountable, then obviously no one bats an eyelid when you incarcerate millions in for profit prisons or imprison them in inner-city ghettos in which they are condemned to a life of endless want. Against that larger framework of injustice, I suppose SWANN's auctioning of slave shackles might be considered a minor insult to Africans worldwide. They are obviously not concerned about that; they are concerned only with profiting yet again from the history of slavery, which enables a perpetual marketing of its gruesome memory. That they can do this without fear of retribution or censure speaks volumes to the disregard for Africans that persists in international relations.


SB said...

History isn't pretty. Most every piece of cotton in America for 250 years was slave-produced ... do we ditch all those pieces of history? How about an assegai or musket "like those" used by African slavers? US cavalry equipment "like those" used to slaughter Native Americans? Roman (notorious slavers and torturers) swords and coins?

Get a grip.

Anonymous said...

I think this comment by SB misses the point entirely. No one has suggested "ditching" history. The concern here is in the auction and thereby profit of objects from a truly inhumane history, which itself involved the "auction" of humans. Are they best placed in a museum setting? Perhaps the conversation should entail whether museums, such as the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool or the newly founded Smithsonian Museum, NMAAHC or others are fully capacitated to contextualize the history, past present and living, with objects such as these. Or are we fully capacitated to understand how auctions like this only replay injustices.

Paulo Veronese said...

My initial response to this post was like the author’s - concern and disgust that such a thing could be auctioned. The idea of profiting from the memory of slavery seems depraved and inhuman. However having given it much thought I think this it is essential that such dreadful devices remain in the public consciousness as ever present reminders of man’s inhumanity to man. And not just in museums but anywhere that freedom is valued
I do not share the view that we are re-enacting the slave auction by auctioning these shackles. To ban the sale of such things is to deny history, to cover up, sanitise the past. To have them on sale in a free, liberal democratic society indicates to me, we will not forget.

Anonymous said...

Hey I just bought a pair. I bought it from a black man. Nothing wrong with that. He made a profit. I'm going to profit. Take it easy. :)