THE ANTHROPOCENE SLAM: A CABINET OF CURIOSITIES NOVEMBER 8-10

WISCONSIN INSTITUTES FOR DISCOVERY DELUCA FORUM MADISON

COTTON CALICO PRINT

painting of farmers and native americans

By 1788, when this English cotton calico was printed, the Delaware sachem Tamanend had been dead ninety years, Quaker William Penn seventy. Cotton calicos, original to India, had been fashionable in Europe for well over a century, gracing well-appointed domestic interiors on wall papers and upholstery. Like in the Benjamin West oil painting it copies, the calico print connects the European figures to the American Indians via a roll of fabric, itself quite possibly calico.

This material object, ideal for lining any cabinet of curiosities, compels as much for what it conceals as what it reveals. Its dizzying mise-en-abime recapitulates the primal scene of the Anthropocene, bathing a historical event in sepia tones: the negotiations between European Quaker and Delaware leaders on the banks of the Delaware River. The fast three-masted sailing ships in the upper left hint at new transportation technologies that moved people, creating global chains of supply and demand and requiring massive resource extraction: wood, coal, oil, and gas. The nostalgic image only hints at other technologies that opened markets, by force when necessary: guns so conspicuously absent in this depiction of the Quaker peacable kingdom. And it conceals the violence which accompanied cotton's global spread: the slave economy.

Presenter