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Video transcript

we're standing in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston in front of what we know as Turner's slave ship but the full title of this work is slave ship slavers throwing overboard the dead and dying typhoon coming on you know when we first come across this painting it looks really beautiful it's got oranges and reds and we see that typical Turner sunset we're lost in the thick sensuality of the paint but then my eye goes to the bottom right hand corner and in a moment of horror I see a foot and a leg and a shackle in Chains and all of a sudden it's not a seascape and it's not about a sunset and it's not about light on the water or not only about those things anymore there's real carnage right in front of us in fact in the closest part of the painting towards us so we're looking at a image of a slave ship that we can see in the distances is a ship carrying slaves and a typhoon has come on this is based on a poem but we know that this is something that happened in reality and not just once but many times with the storm coming the captain of the ship decided to throw the slaves overboard apparently that was the only way you could collect the insurance if the slaves died of illness or other things while on board the captain of the ship couldn't claim insurance so what he's done is he's thrown the slaves overboard and that's what we see happening it is really horrifying we only see parts of their bodies and there's a swirl of waves and colors and again there's this mixture of the beauty of nature the power of nature and this horrific human act that is within the context of a much wider horrific human act of slavery we do have this sense of divine retribution the storm coming for that slave ship that's been dealing in human lives and the punishment wreaked by nature justified on that chip but there's also a sense of the total indifference of nature because the same storm that's going to overcome that slave ship is also going to drown the slaves themselves nature is completely indifferent to the human endeavors whether they are good evil otherwise whatever so the first owner of this painting was the great Victorian art critic John Ruskin then the painting made its way to Boston to an abolitionist to someone who believed in and struggled for the ending of slavery now the British had outlawed slavery in 1833 in the colonies the French do it in their colonies 15 years later but of course in America slavery is an outlawed until the Civil War so slavery we have to remember is still a really active political cause at this moment this idea that human beings could do this to each other not just in the form of actual slavery of buying and selling human beings but also in terms of taking advantage of one another just for the sake of money and of course that's the kernel of this hideous act that the captain engages in here when we look into the left Porter of the painting we see some really different colors than what we see in the rest of the painting whites and blues and purples and grays reskin wrote purple and blues alert shadows of the hollow breakers are cast upon the mists of night which gathers cold and low advancing like the shallow of death upon the guilty ship as it Labor's amidst the Lightning of the sea it's thin masts written upon the sky in lines of blood you