Grub For Sharks: A Concession for the Negro Populace

March 2005

Kara Walker, Grub For Sharks: A Concession for the Negro Populace, 2004, Courtesy of the Artist and Brent Sikkema, Photograph Tate Liverpool 2004.

In 1840 J M W Turner painted Slavers throwing overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhoon Comingon (The Slave Ship). The subject matter concerned the ‘Zong’, a slave ship that had departed from Liverpool in the 1780s en route to Jamaica where, on arrival, the master of the ship had slaves – both dead and alive – thrown into the shark-infested seas. This nefarious practice was regularly employed by slave traders to claim insurance monies for slaves who had become so enfeebled by the journey they could not be sold on arrival. The issue was one of remuneration: if sick slaves died a ‘natural’ death, the ship’s owners received no compensation; if, however, slaves were thrown overboard in order to expedite the ship’s passage in the face of a possibly ruinous storm, the insurers would pay out. In sum, the loss of a few slaves, when compared with the loss of a ship, was infinitely more palatable to insurance brokers and slave traders alike.

For the full text please click for the pdf.


Downey, Anthony. “Kara Walker: Grub For Sharks — A Concession for the Negro Populace.” Third Text 73.19.2, 2005: 203-205.