Jointly developed by M HKA and the KU Leuven, this long-term, interdisciplinary research project focuses on a specific, yet complex body of work; multifaceted and variably installable, unfinished and open-ended: Ship of Fools / The Dockers' Museum (2010-2013) by artist and theorist Allan Sekula (1951-2013). Informed by the research of the team members, the project continues to evolve in a succession of research outputs, such as this digital platform.


(c)Image: M HKA
Santos Harbour (The Dockers' Museum, object nr. 34), 1891
Print , 18 x 26,9 cm
ink, paper

Thanks to the caption, this port view can be identified as the Port of Santos. Santos is located south of the Brazilian coastline. In the 19th century, this port was known as ‘the port of death’. The name refers to the yellow fever that was raving in this area. In the early 20th century, the harbor town invested in urbanization, which resulted in a lower risk of infection and more ships mooring in Santos. The city owes its current industrial view to this fact.

The construction of the first railway between Santos and São Paulo, in 1864, meant a first step towards linking Brazil with the rest of the world. At that moment, São Paolo produced coffee beans, one of Brazil’s main export products. Thanks to the railway line the export of coffee beans could be accelerated, but above all, it could take place on a global scale.

The composition of the image is exactly the same as that of a photo taken by Marc Ferrez. The photo must have been shot between 1870 and 1890. Marc Ferrez was a photographer documenting Brazil’s consolidation as a nation. In this context, Ferrez has taken a series of photos that portray the construction of railroads. Presumably, the photograph is part of this series.

The image is certainly not unique, there’s a woodcut by Bocher from 1892 with the same image. This version is colored by hand. Presumably the picture from The Dockers’ Museum is a copy of the woodcut. There are multiple versions of the original image by Marc Ferrez.

–  Hannah Iterbeke

Translation by Steven Tallon

Anon., Santos Harbour [original title, as used by Allan Sekula], engraving on paper after a photograph made by Marc Ferrez between 1870 and 1890, black-and-white print, 1891, 18 x 27 cm. Purchased by Allan Sekula through eBay on 30 April 2010.