The Slave Ship

John W. Rhoden

Inspired by the middle passage, Rhoden’s “Slave ship” depicts the hull of the ship, with bodies stacked in rows on top of one of another around the edge, with figures grouped sitting upright at the stern and bow of the ship, chins turned upward. At the center of the basin are gallows, where two figures are tied to the posts and one more figure is hung from the center by their wrists. “Slave ship” is one of the few sculptures in John Rhoden’s oeuvre dedicated to a historical theme. In a 1990 interview with Gil Coker, Rhoden said, “Recently I started doing the slaveship. Everybody is interested in the slaveship and when I had to do research on the slaveships and how slaves were packed into the hold of the ship I got real sick. I said, ‘This isn't for me.’ But I got over this feeling so I am doing it. There are two or three other things along that line. When it comes to politics I am very aware of social things but it gets me too much inside.” In Committed to Memory: The Art of the Slave Ship Icon art historian Cheryl Finley argues that since the Harlem Renaissance of the slave ship icon “was (and continues to be) reappropriated, symbolically repossessed, by the descendants of those who were the subject of the image, by diasporic Africans, that is, by black Atlantic artists and their allies. It has since come to have a special place in the souls of those black folk who descend from that forced migration, and it has proven to be one of the most powerful images of the last 230 years” (Finley, 2018: 5-6). Sources: Coker, Gilbert. “John Rhoden: Sculptor” interview by Gilbert Coker IN James V. Hatch and Leo Hamalian, editors. 1991 Artist and Influence Vol. X New York: Hatch-Billops Collection, Inc., pg: 156-167 Finley, Cheryl. Committed to Memory: The Art of the Slave Ship Icon. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2018.
Date of Birth
19 1/2 x 42 1/2 x 33 in. (49.53 x 107.95 x 83.82 cm.)
Accession #
Credit Line
The John Walter Rhoden and Richanda Phillips Rhoden Collection
On View
On Loan