Cheryl Finley Book Event


Friday, October 12, 2018, 3:00pm to 5:00pm


Harvard Book Store, 1256 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA


Harvard Book Store welcomes art historian and Cornell associate professor CHERYL FINLEY for a discussion of her latest book, Committed to Memory: The Art of the Slave Ship Icon. She will be joined in conversation by HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR.—the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.


About Committed to Memory

One of the most iconic images of slavery is a schematic wood engraving depicting the human cargo hold of a slave ship. First published by British abolitionists in 1788, it exposed this widespread commercial practice for what it really was—shocking, immoral, barbaric, unimaginable. Printed as handbills and broadsides, the image Cheryl Finley has termed the "slave ship icon" was easily reproduced, and by the end of the eighteenth century it was circulating by the tens of thousands around the Atlantic rim. Committed to Memory provides the first in-depth look at how this artifact of the fight against slavery became an enduring symbol of black resistance, identity, and remembrance.

Finley traces how the slave ship icon became a powerful tool in the hands of British and American abolitionists, and how its radical potential was rediscovered in the twentieth century by black artists, activists, writers, filmmakers, and curators. Finley offers provocative new insights into the works of Amiri Baraka, Romare Bearden, Betye Saar, and many others. She demonstrates how the icon was transformed into poetry, literature, visual art, sculpture, performance, and film―and became a medium through which diasporic Africans have reasserted their common identity and memorialized their ancestors.

Beautifully illustrated, Committed to Memory features works from around the world, taking readers from the United States and England to West Africa and the Caribbean. It shows how contemporary black artists and their allies have used this iconic eighteenth-century engraving to reflect on the trauma of slavery and come to terms with its legacy.


"An original and brilliantly conceived account of how the horrors of the transatlantic trade in human cargo have been visualized in art and culture over more than two centuries. Finley has written a nuanced and provocative book that leaves an imprint on one's mind as indelible as the slave ship icon itself." ―Kellie Jones, author of EyeMinded: Living and Writing Contemporary Art

"Stimulating and insightful. Finley hones in on the cultural and political strategies that have animated and illustrated the impact of the Atlantic slave trade." ―Deborah Willis, author of Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present



  • Additional details will be posted soon.
  • This event is free; no tickets are required.
  • Event website



See also: 2018