Exhibition | The Abyss: Nantes and the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1707–1830

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions, resources by Editor on December 3, 2021

L’abîme: Nantes dans la traite atlantique et l’esclavage colonial, 1707–1830 as installed at the Musée d’histoire de Nantes (Photo by David Gallard). The graphic elements on the wall and the floor are taken from an eighteenth-century document, signed by participants in the slave trade, that depicts La Marie Séraphique, a slave ship that in 1769 transported 312 captives to Cap-Français.

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Now on view at the Musée d’histoire in Nantes (there is also a Google Arts & Culture site, “Nantes and the Atlantic Slave Trade,” with related objects from the museum).

The Abyss: Nantes’s Role in the Slave Trade and Colonial Slavery, 1707–1830
L’abîme: Nantes dans la traite atlantique et l’esclavage colonial, 1707–1830
Musée d’histoire de Nantes, Château des ducs de Bretagne, 16 October 2021 to 19 June 2022

Curated by Krystel Gualdé

Plan, Profile, and Layout of the Ship ‘The Séraphique Marie’ of Nantes, outfitted by Mr Gruel, for Angola, under the command of Gaugy, who dealt in Loango . . ., 1770 (Musée d’histoire de Nantes).

Still today, historians are unable to agree on the number of victims resulting from the transatlantic slave trade. With so many documents missing, it is impossible to arrive at an exact figure; and yet, the difference in final totals does not vary in terms of tens or hundreds or thousands—but in millions. How can a phenomenon so tragic and fundamental divide those who study it to such a degree? It would appear that the number, as staggering as it may be, does not explain the problem sufficiently. Moreover, what would we ultimately know if we arrived at a definite number? Would we know how many men, women, and children died during the wars and raids that led to their captivity? Would we have a better idea of how an entire city and its surrounding region could justify using the colonial system and slave trade as a means to accumulate unprecedented wealth? Would we be able to imagine the close ties between the transatlantic slave trade and the early Industrial Revolution? Would we understand, if only for an instant, how horrible it must have been to no longer be autonomous, to stop being considered human and be relegated to the status of a material good, to disappear without leaving any trace or memory? The exhibition provides an opportunity to hold the collections of the Musée d’histoire up to the light, revealing the invisible but ever-present traces of the men and women who were victims of the colonial system. Beyond the economic and commercial perspective commonly offered, this exhibition reveals the complex reality of a city so deeply involved in the slave trade.

Krystel Gualdé, est directrice scientifique du Musée d’histoire de Nantes et du Mémorial de l’esclavage. Spécialiste de la traite atlantique et de l’esclavage colonial, elle engage le musée dans de nombreux partenariats et réseaux scientifiques au niveau national comme international (Conseil d’orientation de la Fondation pour la mémoire de l’esclavage ; Projet SLAFNET – Slavery in Africa: A Dialogue between Europe and Africa). Elle est par ailleurs membre du Global Curatorial Project porté par le Center for the Study of Global Slavery at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) et le Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice à l’université Brown aux Etats-Unis.

Krystel Gualdé, L’abîme: Nantes dans la traite atlantique et l’esclavage colonial, 1707–1830 (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes), 320 pages, ISBN: 978-2906519794, 30€.

A preview of the book is available here»

The dossier de presse is available here»


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