Caribbean In/securities Exhibition
Curated by Marsha Pearce, PhD
Caribbean In/securities is an online group exhibition that explores precarity and freedom in their multiplicity, while grounding its scope in the localised space of Caribbean realities past and present. It brings together six contemporary artists from the region and its diaspora, in its address of creative practice as a means through which we can attend to the agency required in negotiations between security and insecurity.
This exhibition is commissioned by CARICUK (Creative Approaches to Race and In/security in the Caribbean and the UK), with funding from the United Kingdom Research Institute’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
View the artworks below. View the provocation event here.
To learn more about this exhibition, download the catalogue here.
Richard Mark Rawlins
My painting The Bookshop is the beginning of my thoughts on what it means to be living in the UK now, as part of the African Diaspora, and what Otherness means. I am not from the UK. I am from Trinidad and Tobago – former colonies of Britain. We learned about Britain as colonial subjects. We were inside the empire, while geographically located outside. Therefore, to paraphrase Jamaican-born, British cultural theorist Stuart Hall: Living in the UK, I am an insider but not quite, and an outsider but not quite. The painting literally reflects this sensation in its semi-abstract rendition of a Hastings bookshop that does not carry any of the books pictured. The books in the image are my deliberate insertion – drawing on my memory of books that are or were in my personal collection. The actual shop exists in a way that things do here in the UK – in a way that does not encompass everybody. Through the books, I try to trace a connection from Britain to the Caribbean and back again. This process of tracing takes different forms in other paintings.
I was born in Long Island New York, of Jamaican heritage. My road to self-love and pride has been rooted in knowing where I come from. Exploring Caribbean history has fast-tracked a sense of self-worth. White Americans take for granted that their history of European descent is the mainstream education in this country. People of colour, at large, and Caribbean people living here in the U.S., are often separated from their own story. The image of the sad slave is all I knew. All the heroes on the TV are white; all the heroes in the history books are white. Where do I find my reflection? I can’t find her. Queer POC/queer history is still often relegated to the back of the history books, if included at all, or demonised. Imagine my surprise when I found out as a young adult that the Haitian Revolution was a turn in global history. Not some passing moment in history but a huge deal. Why didn’t anyone tell me that? Imagine the impact when I found out William Thomas Beckford was the largest plantation owner in Jamaica and ironically fled his family in England because he was gay. Imagine the revelation I had when I found the insidious impact of the IMF on my family’s homeland of Jamaica and how it has crumbled the economy of such a young black nation.
This work is part of my #islandlife series, which started with my drawing of a cow. I saw it grazing on a grave in a cemetery in St. Joseph, Trinidad, and the imagery seemed to be a useful starting point for how I might speak about life here. One of the ideas stemming from that was to think of the space of the grave as the space that we occupy – being so constantly surrounded by violence and death. In stark contrast to paradise, our experience of the world, who we are and are becoming, our political and economic choices, the way we treat others, who we think of as Other and so on, are informed by this grave space. Another idea was that of consumption. I thought of the cow consuming the person buried there, because their body had returned to the soil, which fed the plant life on which the cow was grazing. The cow is a way for me to think about how we consume each other or benefit from each other’s misfortune, be that through privilege, the proceeds of violent crime or corruption. In a more direct way, the cow (as a sacred animal in Hinduism – one of the primary religions in Trinidad and Tobago) is also a means to reflect on how we have become so desensitised that motherhood and children are no longer sacred. The use of the hashtag – #islandlife – for this work, allows me to intervene on the fantasy of a tropical paradise. What is “island life,” really?
Kelly Sinnapah Mary
I was born in Guadeloupe – a descendant of Indian indentured labourers. My work deals with the narratives of the Caribbean Indian Diaspora. These paintings are based on Aime Césaire’s poetic book Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to my Native Homeland) which was published in 1939 and served as a founding text of the Négritude movement. I adapted Césaire’s book title for my series of images, referring to my work as “Notebook of No Return.” The artworks focus on colonial processes that tore thousands of men and women from their land, although they were told that they could return to India at the end of their contract of indentured labour. More than 160 years ago, France “recruited” people in India to work in the French Caribbean plantations after the emancipation of enslaved Black Africans (following a model of recruitment established by the British many years earlier). Indian labourers met terrible work conditions when they arrived in Guadeloupe and Martinique. The paintings, which are self-portraits, address processes of identity construction in the post-colonial Caribbean. How do Indians rebuild their amputated identity far from their land? Tensions of belonging in the Caribbean continue to be a contextual factor to be navigated.
My work addresses the natural environment and human experience. I look at the depletion of natural resources and its effects on us. For example, my painting Risen I, is a visual adaptation of a line from the national anthem of The Bahamas: ‘Lift up your head to the rising sun, Bahamaland.’ The painting considers the state of reef health. Coral bleaching damages habitats for fish and other marine life, leading to no food or sustenance for those living in poorer communities, and the eventual destruction of the food chain. It only takes a spike of 1-2°C to cause bleaching, and carbon emissions have caused a 1°C increase in global surface temperature since pre-industrial times. The historical objectification of tropical coral and the wonderment of under the sea is replaced by a full embrace of the reality our island nations are facing, as the tension in this canvas relays a fracturing beauty. Tiny acidic green dots float to the surface, referring to the toxicity of the sea. In the painting Mangrovia Multicolore, I look at our mangroves as a natural insurance or security for our coastlines.
I pay attention to how imperialism continues to shape our relationship to each other, as well as to the land. The physical structure of our world, our place within it, and the stories we create through it, indicate residual syntactical relationships to space – space as in the land, and space as in raced and gendered bodies – that the project of colonialism and empire have left on culture. This understanding of space is addressed in my work. For example, I consider the legacy of hospitality here in the Caribbean as a space that is penetrated, mined from, and bears the burden of whatever capitalist developments are underway. I see inhospitality as a space that is watching, observing, and has its own subjecthood. I’m thinking about inhospitality as a means of resistance, as a means for survival and for thriving. The materials I bring into the paintings (including mirrors, Afro kinky hair) embody more complicated understandings of existence and relation to the “Other.”