A hanging sculpture of a canoe rests in the center of an exhibition.
Underneath the canoe, tape connects chains to represent a continued injustice that holds Black individuals back today. And underneath the chains, bells call attention to racial disparities.
Mounds of black bark sit underneath the bells and represent all those descended from enslaved Africans – who continue to face racism and inequity today.
This installation piece, called "The Measure of Things" by artist Toni Scott, lies in the center of the February spring exhibition of the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History, which opened Feb. 2.
The exhibition “If We Must Die… We’ll Fight To the End! Resistance and Revolt Aboard the Slave Ship” was curated by former Stone Center Director Joseph Jordan along with a group of students and community members. It showcases revolts and resistance of the Middle Passage through installations, panels and video.
“We almost always see enslaved people as victims, as people who are resigned to their fate, people who are beaten down, unable to resist. But this sort of flips that,” Jordan said. “There were at least 1,500 recorded revolts and rebellions aboard ships.”
Additionally, the exhibit is part of a three-part speaker series. Professors Marcus Rediker, Sowande Mustakeem, and Lisa Lindsay have been selected to speak and present their respective books: "The Slave Ship: A Human History," "Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage" and "Captives as Commodities: The Transatlantic Slave Trade."
Rediker spoke about the many revolts that occurred alongside the brutality aboard slave ships at the exhibition’s opening on Feb. 2.
The speaker series will continue in March, with professors Sowande Mustakeem and Lisa Lindsay discussing the intersection of gender, health, age and more with the trauma from slavery.
Dawn Carter, a student who worked on the project, said the speaker series helps add to the exhibition by putting much of its history into perspective for the audience.
The series is open not only to UNC students, but also to the broader community.
“I think it’s a revelation, and what we've done for people who come to the exhibition, we provided a publication that lists all of those reported actions,” Jordan said.
He also said members of the surrounding community, including everyone from individuals to schools in the immediate or regional area, are welcome to visit the exhibition.
The intent of the project is to help educate anyone who wants to learn more about this history, regardless of age, Carter said.
The exhibition also contains installations committed to honoring enslaved people who died aboard slave ships, by remembering them as individuals with their own histories and stories to tell.
“It's also important to think about the very real and personal lives of the people who were most affected and think about their stories and their narratives too,” Salena Braye-Bulls, another student who worked on the project, said.
Jordan said the exhibition has installation pieces serving not only as memorials for those who died during the slave trade, but also as reminders of their ongoing presence as memories, ancestors, and symbols of resistance.
“If you listen to the wind, if you listen to the water, listen to the trees, you can often hear the voices of those who perished," Jordan said. "So, that was the inspiration for that installation piece. That the dead that perished during the trade have not really left us but they still speak to us in various ways.”
The exhibition will be open to the public until later this spring.
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