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Activity: Mapping Journeys

Kerry James Marshall, Voyager, 1992

Kerry James Marshall, Voyager, 1992, acrylic and collage on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Gift of the Women’s Committee of the Corcoran Gallery of Art), 2014.79.52

Observation and Discussion

  1. There are many symbolic details in this painting. Ask students to identify at least four details that stand out. What do these details suggest about this voyage?
  2. Some details, such as the geometric drawing on the sail, and the number 7 floating beside it, are references to symbols in Vodou, a religion practiced in Haitian communities. Discuss as a class: Why might the artist have included these details in this painting? What impact would it have to use symbols only certain groups would understand?

Research

This painting is a reference to the Wanderer, a slave ship that transported individuals from West Africa to the United States in 1858—after the practice of the transatlantic slave trade had been legally banned.

Have students do some research on the itinerary and fate of the Wanderer, using NEH’s Slave Voyages Project database.

  1. Explore the map charting the volume and direction of the transatlantic slave trade from African regions to the Americas. What conclusions can you draw about the development of Black communities in the Americas from looking at this map?
  2. In the People of the Atlantic Slave Trade database, students should enter Wanderer in the ship name field of the Itinerary dropdown. What information can you gather about the individuals aboard the ship?
  3. In the same People of the Atlantic Slave Trade database, students should explore a variety of disembarkation ports in North America, the Caribbean, and Brazil (under the Itinerary dropdown). What observations can you make about captives’ fates based on the locations where they ended up?

Students can extend this exercise to consider:

  • the further relocation of individuals from the original point of disembarkation to other states or countries. Use the Inter-American database.
  • the varying fates of slave voyages. Under the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade dropdown, students can search voyages based on outcomes—successful insurrections, thwarted insurrections, ships attacked from shore, etc.

What new insights can you share about the evolution of the slave trade? How do these new understandings influence your interpretation of Marshall’s painting?

Connections

  • How does this painting compare to Aaron Douglas’s Into Bondage? Consider the historical context of each painting’s creation, in the early 20th century vs. the late 20th century. What feelings does each painting evoke? Which do you find more powerful and why?