Dread Scott and Jenny Polak
“Sugarcane and Dividends,” 2019, Stone Lithograph on paper, 30 x 22 inches
Dread Scott and Jenny Polak’s collaborative project “Passes” draws on research begun during a residency at the Camargo Foundation near Marseille. The project explores connections between the forced migrations of the French Slave Trade and present-day migrations from Africa to Europe and the Americas.
Looking in Marseille archives for historic records of MM. Regis, a leading 19th century trader of enslaved people, we came across an account of an ‘origin story’ of wealth, told by captured people from West Africa. The currency of the slave trade was the small money cowrie, and European traders found ways to amass vast quantities of them, in effect printing money. The targeted peoples told the story that to grow ever more cowries, traders would attach ropes to body parts of captured people who had died, and throw them into the water to attract the (supposedly) scavenger mollusks. Hauling them up, the traders would pick off the cowries and repeat the process.