Over on Hyperallergic, cultural critic and long-time Boing Boing contributor, Mark Dery, takes a breathtaking dive into the symbolic waters of Winslow Homer's "The Gulf Stream." As the headline deck states: "In this moment of racial reckoning, we cannot continue viewing Homer's masterpiece as an apolitical seascape painting."
It's hard to imagine Homer looking at a Black man adrift in a sea of horror at the turn of the 19th century, a period which historians regard as the nadir of race relations in this country, and seeing nothing but the river beneath the sea.
Conversely, the Gulf Stream is the last thing on our minds when we look at Homer's painting. The politics of identity dominates our moment of racial reckoning, white-supremacist backlash, and white anxiety over the Browning of America. Herdrich is in tune with our times, reading "The Gulf Stream" through the lens of colonialism, imperialism, and, of course, race.
The Gulf Stream had been essential to the traffic of human beings, accelerating the transport of slaves across the Atlantic. In Homer's day, chattel slavery and sharks were closely linked in the public mind. One of the picture's avowed influences, it turns out, was J.M. Turner's 1840 painting "Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On)," a nightmarish evocation of the murder of 130 sick or dying Africans — thrown overboard in chains, to drown or be devoured by sharks — by the captain of the British slave ship Zong so he could file an insurance claim for human "cargo" lost at sea.
Read the rest here.