In the third week of her Fresh Milk residency, Toronto-based artist Nadijah Robinson writes about her progress so far, shifting her focus from necessarily being on production to absorbing as much as she can from the experience, gathering information from a number of sources and letting things unfold in an organic way. Read more below:
This week was spent doing the most. Looking back on it, I have no reason to feel like I haven’t been doing enough.
This week I made some progress on the piece I am working on, the background is coming together slowly but surely. I know this piece is somehow about the land’s memory, but I am still unsure of the specifics.
I’ve decided to focus my energy on gathering as many resources and impressions as possible before I leave, rather than trying to know what I want to do specifically with them. It doesn’t seem like the most intentional way to go about this, but it seems like the best way to make the most of my remaining time here.
Early in the week, I attended Rayanne’s presentation to 3rd year art students at BCC. Meeting the students and participating in their discussion around different ways they felt under-represented in the Barbados narrative, society, or their early school years was eye-opening. That this experience is as common amongst these students as it is amongst my own peers in Toronto speaks to the ever present power dynamic that dictates who writes our histories, who frames the narrative, who has set up the norms we resist. These days I am preoccupied with the question of what story I end up living in/living out, and how much control I have over that story. Much of my education work, community and art work are born out of a reaction to a traumatic and white-supremacist teaching of history (at all levels of my schooling) and the daily experience of racism. These frame my understanding of everything. If I wasn’t preoccupied with trying to heal from this, then what else might I be doing? It often feels like a trap, to be consistently resisting a belief system so large and entrenched, to be trying to create small alternative visions and truths here and there. I know, in my more optimistic moments, that it is necessary work, and it is my generation’s work to be doing.
I went to the museum on Thursday, and was disappointed with the narrative that was presented to me. I shouldn’t have been, but the level of gloss applied over a violent history was glaring to me. Emancipation in many historical narratives is continually presented as a time where white people suddenly came to the realization that slavery was morally reprehensible and decided to give black people their freedom (in exchange for compensation, and after a period of “apprenticeship”).
Friday morning made up for my disappointment as I got an amazing tour of plants around Barbados with Anthony Richards. I learned so much of Barbados/Caribbean history through plants and much about of the magic and symbolism of certain plants for different peoples. I made friends with a giant baobab tree of approximately 1000 years, a calabash tree, a black willow tree, and a giant silk-cotton tree. We spoke of mourning and burial beliefs and traditions, which because I live within the spectre of black death in North America, holds particular interest and urgency to me now. We also visited a number of historical sites, like the site of a mass grave that was found at the ports where slave ships used to come in, but which is now a parking lot, with no signs or markings to commemorate those lives or deaths. This tour is something I will most likely mull over for a long time.
Later that day and over the next couple days I visited the national archives, got lost and cranky, went on a driving tour with my cousins and saw the Animal Flower Cave and Little Bay on the north east coast, and went on a challenging (for me) 3 hour hike with my cousin and the Barbados Hiking Association starting at Long Beach.
What I’m reading these days is a mix of Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed to relax, Stuart Hall’s text Thinking the Diaspora: Home-Thoughts from Abroad and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. All of these are brilliant.
This residency is supported by the Ontario Arts Council.