Derica Shields gives the third of four talks presented by the ICA in conjunction with Cameron Rowland’s exhibition 3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73
. Due to the ICA’s precautions around Covid-19, the exhibition is currently closed, and this event will take place online.
In the years following the 1807 Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, the ‘failure’ of enslaved women to replenish the plantation population through childbirth became a subject of avid debate in the Houses of Parliament. Energised by their shared obsession with securing ‘natural increase’, the planter class joined with abolitionists to write open letters (William Wilberforce insisted that ‘planters set themselves in earnest to produce an increase by breeding’ as early as 1780), treatises, medical studies and, finally, legislation. The Amelioration Act of 1798 introduced anti-contraceptive measures and offered enslaved mothers monetary rewards for every live birth. Against these coercive pronatalist efforts, the birth rate on Britain’s West Indian plantations fell steadily until the passing of the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act when the birth rate sprang up, despite no material improvement in conditions for the formerly enslaved.
Derica Shields presents ‘Cleave to the Black: Transcript of a Lecture in Three Parts’, an experimental text based on historical, archival and herbal medicine research that attends to the abortive practices of enslaved herbalists, and to the radical embodied epistemologies and value systems that produced them. The text is from Shields’s forthcoming Bad Practice (Book Works, 2020), a book on black failure – what it permits, refuses, provides cover for and makes possible.
Derica Shields is an independent writer, researcher and cultural worker based in London. Her arts writing and cultural criticism have appeared in Flash Art, frieze, Girls Like Us, The Live Art Almanac, The New Inquiry, Rookie and elsewhere. She is the author of the forthcoming Bad Practice, and her multi-format oral history project centring Black people’s accounts of the UK welfare state is forthcoming from Triple Canopy in 2020.