Culture Rover

#71 - Human Good For Sale

Toward the end of the Africa exhibition at the Field Museum, you walk through a haunting, claustrophobic cargo hold for a slave ship carrying its "cargo" over to the Americas. It is a disturbing feeling walking through the cramped space. But what follows as you come around the corner is even more shocking.

Around the bend, you find yourself pinned against a wall. You are at a slave auction somewhere in the new world. Only after eyeing the cardboard cutouts of Southern gents -- slave owners and traders in fine duds looking up at you greedily, lustily, in admiration and calculation all at once -- do you realize that you, the viewer, have been put in the place of the viewed, the slave.

It is profoundly uncomfortable. No, more than uncomfortable. It is chilling. Yes, eventually you can move on, a passerby observing centuries of suffering, a tourist on your way to the dinosaurs. But for a moment, pinned against that wall, your options are narrowed, you stare out, feel the gaze, steel your soul, and try to survive.

17 July 2005

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