The Slave Ship Brooks, 2007

Zephirin, Frantz (Haitian, b. 1968)

oil on canvas
30 x 40 in.

The Slave Ship Brooks, 2007

I had the good fortune to meet Zéphirin when he visited our mutual friend, the Haitian art dealer Bill Bollendorf, in Pittsburgh in 2007.  We talked at length about his interest in Haitian history and my interest in the history of the slave ship, the subject of a book I had recently completed.  When I returned to the artist’s makeshift studio two days later he had almost finished a painting entitled “The Slave Ship Brooks,” an allusion to the famous British abolitionist image of the Brooks, originally drawn in 1788 to evoke the horror of the slave trade for the reading public.  Zéphirin created a dungeon ship, out of which peer haunting red eyes.  He rendered the European crew as animals: the imperial alligator captain holds the deed to the land on which the enslaved will work; the first mate is Death incarnate.  The vodou deity of the sea, Agoue, announces the arrival of a shipload of new souls.  Chained to the outside of the vessel as food for the sharks are a group of rebellious slaves, the neckplate of each showing a different African ethnicity, the message being, “from many, one.”  Two of the enslaved, at right Toussaint L’Ouverture and at left Boukman Dutty, break free of their chains, gesturing hopefully ahead to the Haitian Revolution they will lead.  Zéphirin knew I would have to buy the painting and indeed I did. He is not only a brilliant artist but a shrewd businessman.
~ Marcus Rediker, Beacon Broadside, 2014.