Romare Bearden, Slave Ship

The Collection and The Human Journey

What does it mean to lead a life of meaning and purpose?

Romare Bearden, Slave Ship
Gift of Frank & Joan Smurlo
(located in the Academic Builidng, main hallway, between Public Safety and Mahogany Room)

With Slave Ship, Romare Bearden pays tribute to the remarkable life of Joseph Cinque. The son of an African village leader, Cinque was captured, sold into slavery, led a successful mutiny on the slave ship Amistad, was captured again, and tried in U.S. courts as a pirate. So persistent was he in the pursuit of his rights that Cinque’s case was finally heard in the Supreme Court which ruled that all men held in illegal bondage should be treated as free men. In 1841, two years after their revolt, Cinque and his fellow captives were allowed to return to their homeland.
Using Nathaniel Jocelyn’s 1840 portrait to create his likeness of Cinque, Bearden then tells his hero’s story by depicting the moment when Cinque kills the Amistad’s captain (identifiable by his cap). Thus, Bearden doesn’t shy away from the violence of the mutiny, but by turning the ship’s mast into a large cross silhouetted against a map of Africa, he reminds the viewer of Cinque’s dire circumstances and ultimate vindication.
Anne Bolin, Ph.D.
Department of Graphic Design & Visual Arts