Pacific artist Torika Bolatagici shares her second blog post reflecting on her Fresh Milk residency. Highlights of the week included attending a lecture by Dr. Matthew C. Reilly at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society and discovering more about both the arts ecology and environmental ecology of the island through fruitful conversations, and by exploring the island armed with her new understanding of the space. Read more below:
One of the highlights of my 2nd week was attending Dr. Matthew C. Reilly’s lecture at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society titled “Contesting the ‘White Slavery’ Narrative: Repositioning the “Redlegs” in Barbadian History and Society.” While I was aware of the history of African slavery in Barbados, I was not aware of the simultaneous history of white indentured servants, and the legacy that this has left for their descendants. I get the impression that the evidence-based research that Matthew presents is not convenient for those who cling to the Barbadian ‘white slave’ mythology that has become a reference point for many right-wing movements outside of Barbados.
Matthew’s subjectivity as an Irish-American is important and I found his work to be incredibly complex and nuanced, but presented in a clear and fascinating format. His lecture really opened my eyes to seeing the Barbadian landscape in a different way, and is helping me to understand this idea of ‘territoriality’ that Anisah Wood addresses in her work. I was particularly intrigued by the research he has been conducting in the area referred to as “Below Cliff” in the parish of St John on the rugged east coast of the island and I was humbled by the way Matthew’s work has reconnected communities that had been estranged for many years. I look forward to reading Matthew’s forthcoming publication and following his research as it unfolds.
The other highlight of Week 2 was sitting down with the Founder and Director of Fresh Milk, Annalee Davis and finding out more about the origins of the arts ecology here in Barbados, from tertiary arts education, to artist spaces, the positioning of contemporary Barbadian art within the Caribbean, to the reason she set up Fresh Milk and the Colleen Lewis Reading Room. Most importantly we were able to chat about her practice, which with all her competing responsibilities, I’m amazed she has time to nurture.
Unlike Jamaica, the Bahamas and Bermuda – Barbados does not have a National Gallery. So it’s clear that spaces like Fresh Milk are crucial for providing the physical space and intellectual context for critical thinking about contemporary art and building the capacity for local art writers. Fresh Milk is a space where socially engaged practice and connection to the community is welcomed and the role of art in society is valued. But it’s also very outward looking, and a lot of work has gone in to connecting with institutions like Videobrasil and the Pérez Art Museum Miami for their Tilting Axis conference. I look at a space like Fresh Milk and I wish that someone would be able to set up a space like this in Fiji (I’m looking at you Ema Tavola).
During my weekend downtime, I continue to explore the island, and after a week of thinking about race, plantations, slavery and identity – the politics of space, visibility and invisibility are becoming more evident. The contrast between the chattels and fenced resorts remind me of the village/resort dichotomy of the Pacific. And as I look at the imported flora of the island, I’m thinking about what it means to explant botanical matter and what it means for a space to ex-plantation.
As I sat on the boardwalk in Bridgetown one evening and watched planes pass overhead, I was reminded of the proximity of Barbados to the other Islands in the Caribbean, South America, Europe and the United States – and I really felt the geographic isolation of Australia. Next week I’m looking forward to meeting with some local artist and curators!
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.