Sonia Farmer’s Residency – Week 4 Blog Post

Bahamian artist and writer Sonia Farmer shares her fourth and final blog post about her residency at Fresh Milk, which took place during March. Continuing her creative journey after the residency – which marked the beginning of a series of new adventures, including a recent workshop hosted by San Diego Book Arts – Sonia looks back on her time in Barbados, realizing that the ideas planted here will continue to grow organically; not tied to a physical space, but to an ongoing process of discovery and dismantling of experiences. Read more here:

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Just as my time flew by in Barbados, so has the time on my journey post-Barbados. Being my first residency, I was not sure what to expect, but I did believe I had a lot of time at my disposal…which wasn’t entirely true. That is the lesson I’ll carry to any future residencies: you don’t have all the time you think you do while you are there. But—at least in this instance—the piece doesn’t exactly have to live within the confines of the residency itself.

I am barely halfway through my erasure project of Ligon’s A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes. I harbored some anxiety about finishing the entire erasure within the environment of its origin, but I also knew the desire was unrealistic, given my major commitment to teach a four part workshop during my time there, which took up half of my studio time overall.

But this desire to start and finish the text within Barbados was unrealistic in another way too, which has been revealed to me as I continue to visit the text on trains and buses moving through landscapes just as unknown to me as the island: the poem I am culling from this text so concerned with establishing a sense of place in fact removes that recognizable place. Or perhaps, more accurately, its underlying anxiety to locate place drives an obsessive challenge to interrogate that very idea, dismantling it not necessarily for reconstruction but rather for dismantling’s sake, the very unsettling result the actual desired result:

“But being here a prisoner
is the greatest art
that I am exactly made for”

There is a loose narrative, a voice that belongs sometimes to a traveller, sometimes with a companion, and other times belongs to a collective. Place, time and body collapse and expand, melt away and come into focus, but remain always in an abstract, deconstructed and unsettled state. I’m enjoying the little insights this provides into our historical foundation and current realities in the Caribbean space. It makes me think about what I said it week one, that visiting other Caribbean spaces is like an exercise in magical realism—this text is the written experience of that feeling, a constant rush of déjà vu.

I think it is appropriate to continue this exploration as I myself remain an explorer for these next few months, finding refuge in the strange but also exciting nature of this act even outside of the Caribbean. Because I’m still captivated by this idea, the in-progress poem and its imagery became my subject during a three day workshop in San Diego, ‘Sketch Book Stitch’, taught by Cas Holmes and hosted by San Diego Book Arts.

Less about creating a finished product and more about encouraging experimentation, the class helped to break open my obsessions with Ligon’s text and the themes I’m exploring in the erasure. I brought together decorative papers, found imagery, maps, and Ligon’s own drawings to create mixed media collages that respond to the poem. Just like the poem, these pieces are in no way finished, but they have allowed me to keep dig deeper into this project began at Fresh Milk. I think I’m gaining clarity on another theme that interests me while I deconstruct this text and also visit other spaces, which is how violence plays into the physical and social formation of landscape, and how violence inflicted upon one ties into the other. That definitely came out in the imagery, and I’m still turning it over in my head. We will have to see how it plays out.

I’d like to take this last opportunity to thank Fresh Milk for such a life changing experience. This residency has helped me tap back into my creativity with confidence and playfulness. I have been so fortunate to meet some incredible creative thinkers while there and also light a fire for book arts through my class. After our last class together, many of my students seemed pleased with the course. They walked away with many book structures to explore through their own creative practices, and we left three collaborative books in the Colleen Lewis Reading Room as a tribute to our time together. I’m so proud of them and I hope they continue to explore the craft! Thank you, Fresh Milk, for giving me the opportunity to teach again.

I’m at a rare rest moment in a months-long nomadic journey, but soon I’ll pack my bag and head to the next city on a train or bus, discovering new landscapes and their strange histories, carrying the voice of the narrator inside of me:

“I suffer to remain

Saint of a wild
mad land”

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