Australian resident artists Willoh S. Weiland and Halcyon Macleod share the second blog post about their experiences on the Fresh Milk platform. Their interviews continued this week, speaking with a number of women based in Barbados to gather material for their collaborative project ‘Crawl Me Blood’, inspired by the Jean Rhys novel Wide Sargasso Sea. One of the sensitive topics touched on was the way race is talked about – or not talked about – in society, and the parallels that can be drawn between Barbados and Australia in that way. Read more below:
Our second week at Fresh Milk has been another full week of interviews, writing and research.
Memories of hot mangoes in Grandmother’s kitchen – the taste of summer; or the quiet power of Mahogany trees; or the unrepeatable magic of fire-roasted bread-fruit offered by a stranger on the beach and dipped in the salty sea. Thank you to the inspiring women we have spoken with this week who have shared their perspectives and captivating our senses with their stories (I went directly to the vegetable market and bought a bread fruit). It has been a privilege and a pleasure to meet with you and to talk.
We have had some great conversations with a range of Bajan women now and one of the discussions we are trying to have is about race. It seems agreed that nobody likes to talk about it, even though, in the words of one of the participants “It’s sitting right there, it’s just under the surface.” It seems it’s like trying to talk about both race and class in Australia – you don’t.
One of the women we spoke with this week, who moved to Barbados from Jamaica 30 something years ago, talked about a phone call she received from a friend, after she announced she was moving. Her friend playfully asked “So have you decided? Are you going to be Black or are you going to be white?” Because in a population that is 97% black and 3% white, though no one is talking about it, the women we have interviewed over the last fortnight all agree that mostly, black and white don’t mix. Though of course there are always exceptions.
In Wide Sargasso Sea Jean Rhys locates the in-between of the white creole woman’s experience. This week, Annalee handed me a copy of White Skin, Black Kin: Speaking the Unspeakable, a publication which holds a series of essays by and about Joscelyn Gardner’s work. A Caribbean-Canadian artist, her work explores her white creole identity from a postcolonial feminist perspective. Not black, but not totally white either.
“She is not beke like you, but she is beke, and not like us either”
– Christophine talking about Antoinette in Wide Sargasso Sea
It is this liminal and uncomfortable zone that will provide rich material for the artwork we are creating, and also the parallels between the Australian and Caribbean experience.
This week I could feel the blood pressing up into the soles of my feet. I couldn’t go anywhere without thinking about the brutalities of the past and wondering what happened here, in this particular spot where I am standing now. Like visiting Hunte’s Garden (an absolutely stunning tropical garden) and having a rum in the 150 year old house, a former plantation (nobody mentions slavery but I am sure the group of tourists gathered on the verandah are all thinking about it). The garden is so beautiful, planted inside a collapsed cave on the former plantation, every available space has been planted and replanted with an impressive array of tropical plants, palms, heliconias, orchids – an ever evolving work of art, every centimetre thoughtfully cared for and maintained. The plantation on this site is over 300 years old and I marvel how the horrors of the past can sit so quietly, so politely and neatly inside the present moment.
It might just be my gothic temperament, but when I heard myself say to one of the Bajan women I met this week “Everything is covered with blood” I immediately apologised for being dramatic. She replied “Yes it is. And that’s about the least dramatic thing you could possibly say.”
It’s old news I know. I feel like I’m meant to be reconciled with the horrors of the past and its seething. And of course I needn’t have come to the Caribbean to think on that, it’s a very Australian feeling, our dark colonial past alive and well in the present government’s attitude towards Aboriginal communities. Though, not to be too glum, it was energising and amazing to see in the news this week the strong protest responses from Australians to the forced closures.
It was both incredibly grounding and inspiring to hear Annalee talk about Phytoremediation and the foundations of Fresh Milk. Phytoremediation consists of mitigating pollutant concentrations in contaminated soils, water, or air, with plants able to contain, degrade, or eliminate toxins and contaminants. Like the human body turns blood into milk to nourish a new life, the Fresh Milk Art Platform creates a nurturing space for young artists on the site of the Walkers Plantation, turning blood into milk. Annalee Davis and her team have a response to the question of how are we to hold the bloody past in the present. This is how.