‘High in the tower, where I sit above the loud complaining of the human sea, I know many souls that toss and whirl and pass, but none there are that intrigue me more than the Souls of White Folk.’
‘The Souls Of White Folk’, DARKWATER, W.E.B.Dubois, 1920
Much of the stone and brick of this city – built
along the river’s shore and the low hills
rising from it – was made from sugarcane
and cotton, cut from the backs of African
slaves, like much of the fortunes of England.
The Victorian dockside buildings have been
reengineered into apartments; gift shops;
eateries; a museum dedicated
to international slavery;
and one of four Tate art galleries,
named for Henry Tate, sugar magnate,
who endowed the first one in London,
then capital of a world wide empire
powered by subjugation and thievery.
Each of the upper floors of the gallery
has kept the original, large, multi-paned
windows of the dockside warehouse, masked
as needed for exhibitions. The one
I am standing at faces west, down river,
towards Ireland, the Atlantic, the New World.
I can see the mouth of the estuary,
the beginnings of Liverpool Bay –
and imagine the molasses factory,
not far downstream, the Luftwaffe turned
to rubble, buckled girders and treacle.
On the walls and display boards behind me
are works from the Tate’s Turner collection:
sketches and water colours and oils of things
maritime – of turbulent seas lit
by a bright almost harsh opalescence.
Two of Lamin Fontana’s audio
installations are playing on a loop –
music and voices; the sounds of servitude,
pain and longing, immersed in the oceans.
Three thousand miles or more west south west
in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts
is Turner’s THE SLAVE SHIP, originally
entitled SLAVERS THROWING OVERBOARD
THE DEAD AND DYING—TYPHOON COMING ON.
The background is the storm approaching
against a romantic sunset of
violent orange; the middle ground
a top-sail schooner, sails furled, buffeted
by the unquiet seas; foregrounded are white birds
in flight, black manacled limbs sinking, black hands
briefly above the tumultuous waves.
'Darkwater Voices From Within The Veil'Albert Dock LiverpoolAtlantic Slave TradeJ.M.W. TurnerLamin FontanasugarTate LiverpoolTHE SLAVE SHIPW.E.B. Dubois