Slave Trade in Unblinking Detail

Image of the Week: A 19th-century French artist depicts the atrocities wrought by European colonial expansion.

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Modern critics have responded to the painting with a variety of fascinating insights of their own, consistent with the concerns of a new age. Most recently, the British art community has carried the re-examination of the painting forward, this time including significant black voices. In his digitally based work Unrecorded, Keith Piper employs the black bodies in Biard's painting as an indictment of the British material culture and global dominance made possible by the exploitation of slavery.

In his film The Attendant, on the other hand, Isaac Julien imagines the painting coming to life as a sadomasochistic fantasy involving white and black men alternately beating each other. In each case the original anti-slavery intention of the painting is used as a touchstone for the exploration of the lasting effects of slavery on Diasporic identity.

The Image of the Black in Western Art Archive resides at Harvard University's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. The director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute is Henry Louis Gates Jr., who is also The Root's editor-in-chief. The archive and Harvard University Press collaborated to create The Image of the Black in Western Art book series, eight volumes of which were edited by Gates and David Bindman and published by Harvard University Press. Text for each Image of the Week is written by Sheldon Cheek.

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