by Claire Spina
New York artist Hulbert Waldroup captures Concer’s heroism in a two-sided portrait painted on salvaged ship wood. One side shows Concer at work, bravely aiming his harpoon at a whale. On the opposite, he stands along a shore, grinning as he extends a hand towards us. Waldroup’s piece allows viewers to interact with Concer in two different environments, one that demonstrates his remarkable courage and professional success, and one that emphasizes the valuable spirit of Concer as an individual, beyond his achievements at sea. In employing this duality, Waldroup communicates the importance of Concer’s contributions, without reducing him to a token or statistic. “I give the viewer the opportunity to find and reshape the spaces where they find themselves,” says Waldroup in his artist statement. His rendition of the story acknowledges the unlikely circumstances of Concer’s success while maintaining a sense of optimism and endurance that bears relevance today.
This balance is a persistent aspect of “Whalers of the African Diaspora.” Despite the heavy subject matter, an inspiring narrative runs through the exhibition, highlighting the unique contributions of every whaler, innovator, and artist involved. The show extends beyond those at sea, honoring the impact of African Americans on spirituality, culture, labor laws and innovation. Each artifact on display – from ship parts to scrimshaw carvings– are powerful symbols of Black whalers’ presence in the industry, both on and offboard. As Grier-Key puts it, “My hope is that the viewer comes away with new knowledge that is a deeper understanding of not just remarkable achievements but the ordinary spirit of service and justice that is within all of us to bring about change.” Given the show’s inspiring subjects and stories, Grier-Key’s statement rings true. By celebrating those who changed the course of the whaling industry, “Whalers of the African Diaspora” offers everyone the opportunity to learn, grow, and make a difference.
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Written by staff, volunteers, and trustees of the Museum!