Ships of Bondage Exhibit in Cape Town, South Africa

Ships of Bondage and the Fight for Freedom examines the global networks involved in the slave trade during the period of European colonial empires.  Curated by the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice at Brown University, this exhibition tells the story of slave insurrections on three vessels: the Amistad, the Meermin, and the Sally, exploring the struggle of the enslaved to resist captivity, gain freedom, and return to their homelands. The exhibit opens 3 December 2013 and will be on display until 28 February 2014 at the Slave Lodge, one of the Iziko Museums of South Africa.

The exhibition reviews the transitional space of the slave ship and how it transformed identities and communities.  On the ships of bondage, the enslaved were often held in chains, naked and cut off from kinfolk, and crammed into dank terrifying quarters with strangers from other places. For the enslaved captives on these ships, it was a terrifying voyage into the unknown. In spite of this, the enslaved were determined to make a human world out of this brutality. They created new communities on board and when possible rebelled and rose up in mass insurrections.  The exhibition also examines the role of the people involved in the global slave trade including the merchants who financed expeditions, captains in command of voyages, and sailors charged with enforcing the captivity of the human cargo. 

The exhibition foregrounds the voice of the enslaved by examining acts of resistance on three ships. These vessels traded on the routes of the Atlantic slave trade from Africa to the Americas and the Indian Ocean, as well as from East Africa and Madagascar to the Cape Colony of South Africa. In 1765 the slave ship Sally commissioned by the Brown brothers, early benefactors to the Ivy League Institution, Brown University, had what the captain said was a “failed insurrection.” In 1766, 146 slaves from Madagascar, in an insurrectionary act seized the slave vessel, the Meermin, bound for the Cape Colony. In 1839, a group of Africans slipped their chains on La Amistad and seized the ship.  Archival images and documents provide an opportunity to give voice to these brave individuals who fought to regain their freedom and whose stories are often left out of historical accounts.

Ships of Bondage and the Fight for Freedom provides the unique opportunity to tell a global history of the slave trade and its contemporary legacies while also providing a comparative study between bondage in the Atlantic world and South Africa.  

About Iziko Museums
Iziko Museums of South Africa (Iziko) operates 11 national museums, the Planetarium, the Social History Centre and three collection specific libraries in Cape Town.  The museums that make up Iziko have their own history and character, presenting extensive art, social and natural history collections that reflect our diverse African heritage.  Iziko is a public entity and non-profit organisation that brings together these museums under a single governance and leadership structure.  The organisation allows *free access to all individuals on commemorative days, (*excluding the Castle of Good Hope and Planetarium). Visit our webpage at http://www.iziko.org.za, join our online community on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/IzikoMuseums) or follow us on Twitter (@Iziko_Museums) for regular updates on events, news and new exhibitions.