Shipwreck Scene

Brady Cranfield
May 3 – September 8, 2024
The Cabinet | Room 4390
149 W. Hastings St., Vancouver

Reception: May 3, 4:30 PM – 6:00 PM | Refreshments will be served

Once a shocking display of the human suffering caused by the ineptitude of the French State, The Raft of the Medusa remains anchored in history. In Brady Cranfield’s appropriation of a digital image of Théodore Gericault’s massive painting—seen by millions of visitors to the Louvre Museum since it was acquired in 1824—the image is stretched horizontally, turned on its side, and printed on paper. Sized to fit the contours of the Cabinet, the reproduction gently slopes toward the viewer at the bottom. The Medusa, a 40-gun frigate fresh from raiding islands in the Caribbean, was on its way to Senegal with its new French Governor when the inexperienced Captain rammed it into a sandbar. Those in positions of power took the lifeboats, while the passengers of the lowest rank were set adrift on a raft with no means of navigation. Taking a broad historical view, Cranfield’s manipulations of the image call attention to the shipwreck of life that centuries of Western racial capitalism have wrought on planet Earth. His critical homage to this icon of Romanticism turns on the understanding that after two centuries of repeated viewings of the painting, and its reproductions and written accounts, the shipwreck of the Medusa has gained world historical significance. It became the shipwreck of all shipwrecks. By draining the image of its emotional tension and graphic detail, however, Cranfield’s Shipwreck Scene proposes that the painting, which once so successfully drew public attention to the internal affairs of the French State, be enlisted to call attention to the long-term consequences of Europe’s imperial aggressions. We can easily trace the origins of our contemporary climate crisis to Western colonialism’s exploitation of human life and the natural environment. As Cranfield’s image upends a poor image of the painting, like an errant wave, the bodies on the elongated raft (even the absurdly muscular ones) appear to be falling into the water at our feet. In Cranfield’s version of Gericault’s picture, the blurred contours of the bodies call to mind those of the thousands of men, women, and children fleeing climate catastrophes and wars who lose their lives on overcrowded, unseaworthy vessels.


Brady Cranfield is a sound and visual artist, musician, and writer. He has a MA in Communications and a MFA from SFU, and does communication work for the SCA (which means I made this page, too).

September 08, 2024