May 12, 2021

Caribbean artists’s new exhibition uses plantation space to express identity

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davis-idea-labA review by William Moessinger for The Daily Texan.From Repeating Islands

When Barbadian artist Annalee Davis visited her family-owned plantation a few years ago and stumbled upon hundreds of archaic ledger pages, she saw an artistic opportunity.

Located in the IDEA Lab at the Gordon White building, “The Ground Beneath My Feet” offers a multimedia experience with Davis’ drawings as well as a supplementary catalogue that contains poems, essays and additional artwork from other writers and artists.

“I’m particularly interested in the plantationist model and landscape, and how many realities developed out of that single space,” Davis said.

Every piece presented in Davis’ exhibit originates from her family plantation in one form or another, whether it be the ledger pages she uses as canvases for her drawings, the tea cups she molded from clay extracted from the plantation grounds or the wild plants she pressed to create botanical illustrations. With a strong focus on Caribbean identity, the work is historically, culturally and biographically significant.

“I feel as though the Caribbean has always been reduced to this one thing and [has] been exoticized from its creation,” event coordinator Holly Bynoe said. “When the Europeans founded it, it was a space of respite and production, and now it’s seen as a space of tourism to many.”

Davis and Bynoe have lived and worked as artists and community organizers in Barbados and Trinidad, respectively. Davis founded the artist-led initiative The Fresh Milk Platform, which Bynoe has helped curate and organize, as well as Caribbean Linked, a regional residency program.

“We’re working within the scale that we can, and there’s a lot that’s happening in a small way,” Davis said. “These informal artist-led initiatives are small spaces that are punching way above their weight. That’s where we chose to be involved, because these are the spaces that are actually shifting ground.”

One part of the exhibit shows pressings of wild plants that have sprouted from Davis’s family plantation grounds. For centuries, the plantation grew sugar cane, exploiting both the labor and the land, which was left scarred and exhausted. Since then, the wild plants that have emerged from the plantation grounds in what Davis calls a “quiet revolution,” and offered both medicinal benefits to humans and healing qualities to the land. Davis captures this transformation by drawing wild plants that appear to sprout up from a legacy of slavery and human exploitation contained in the ledger pages.

Todd Bogin, a radio-televsion-film specialist and content creator for the University’s Humanities Media Project, was present at the opening reception and said he appreciated the exhibition’s thematic depth and aesthetic beauty.

“I think it’s really beautiful, and I love that it’s printed on the plantation cashier paper,” Bogin said. “While it’s referencing a very depressing thing, it created some really beautiful art over it, which I think is really poignant.”

Davis said the installations represent a community that is underrepresented in academic studies.

“I think it might be useful to generate some kind of interest and curiosity,” Davis said. “There’s a department for Latino studies, African studies, but there are no Caribbean studies, and maybe it gets lost within all of those things.”

One of Davis’s ultimate goals is to encourage conversation and dialogue in an area that may seem inaccessible to students.

“Instead of just having these more polarized conversations about history that often can be awkward conversations around race, we can look at history through heretic studies, archeology and art practice,” Davis said. “This project allows us to do that.”

For more on this story go to: https://repeatingislands.com/2016/09/23/caribbean-artists-new-exhibition-uses-plantation-space-to-express-identity/

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