US-based interdisciplinary artist Nyugen Smith shares his third blog post about his recently completed residency at Fresh Milk. Nyugen reflects on part of his time in Barbados and the sensitivity of some of the issues he is attempting to unpack through his work, as he begins to navigate the history of the island in conjunction with the contemporary realities and nuances of its complex culture. Read more below:
I pity them greatly but I must be mum,
For how could we do without sugar and rum?
Every night is a time to reflect on the events of that day, yesterday, and the day before that.
Today (6/9/17) is one day short of a week that I have been here in this place where there weren’t many places for a runaway to hide. Flat land. Coral rock holding points of pressure always a reminder that one day, almost all of this, if not the highest point of this mass, will look upwards to refractions of light filtered by a mix of salt and fresh water. I see shells at my feet in places that provide an overview of flowering fields, marveling at the magic produced by the perfect length of day. There isn’t much soil here. So I’ve heard. I couldn’t help but wonder how one buries the dead. My mind ran through the file of flora and fauna my eyes have registered since landing. To think that their roots do not run deep. Or maybe they possess the strength and capacity to carve their way through the limestone floor because they must.
I wondered. Every time that I see banks of this almost rock that flank the roads I travel, I want to measure the depth of dirt that rests atop like frosting on sponge cake slices. I am curious. Six or seven inches of soil is all it takes for “white gold” to situate itself in this part of what Andrea Stuart referred to as a “European world”, to the south and west of England’s winter.
…continued on 7/6/17 post-residency…
“It’s Complicated”… is a phrase that became popular on social media platforms as a way to describe relationships between two individuals when either one or both parties dance between acknowledging the other as a romantic/committed partner and not doing so. This could be due to reasons that may or may not include external pressures, unresolved prior romantic/committed relationships, apprehension to absorb one another’s “baggage”, lingering questions regarding long-term effects on one’s social status, fear of personal sacrifices that are inevitiable for the relationship to work, and or unaddressed psychological trauma that hinders one or both parties from being able to commit to the “long-haul” together.
As a guest in Barbados, the home of 285,750 people, I quickly became aware of topics of conversation that if spoken of, would complicate the weather underground and perhaps prompt the removal of lavalier microphones with a muttering of “we’re done here…” This early awareness was not derived from my own assumptions or conclusion drawn from tangential musings, but directly spoken to me by Bajan citizens. There was no mistaking the message bottled in the words…
…these words are like the togetherness of flies on a pile of shit
bothered by strong breeze
and boots barely too close.
bothered for good reason.
if spoken (topics) they do a number of things:
carry a threat of a future removal of the flies’ feast
add pressure that spreads the feast thin over a wider area, making it easier for more to take part in the spoils
carry the scent across a distance simultaneously attracting more to buzz about in the mess and causes others to close off parts of themselves as to not absorb any
smear the pile taking with them a trail wherever they go. at least – a small sample ends up in the home of the hot stepper
Despite the words of caution and warnings, I, the guest, stepped in the pile.
I, the guest, was smearing, spreading, and stirring up the mess with the work I was doing.
There was one instance in particular where I was asked to stop.
To speak the name,
is to spray the air
with a mist of sea salt and
the smell of green-
for bush and deep waters are never far.
To speak its name
is to swaddle the body with hospitality
and rock it with musical vibrations of the region.
To speak its name
is to draw from its wells of intellectual tradition.
But you cannot speak the name,
without the bitter taste of
black death soaked
in the juice of Saccharum officinarum
lingering on lips
warmed by the Caribbean sun.
For sugarcane to have earned the moniker “white gold”, scientific means had to have been employed to develop and improve its quality, while maximizing its production. There were people at the helm of this scientific research. Parallel to this timeline that ensured the success and longevity of the sugarcane industry, existed a systematically constructed labor force comprised of enslaved Africans and their descendants. The success of the plantation system (slavery) in Barbados was a model for the colonies in North America. As sugarcane was and is selectively bred, enslaved Africans and their descendants born into slavery in Barbados were also bought and sold-their value determined by their physical attributes and skills. I am intrigued by the historical and contemporary societal relationships between the two and plan to investigate this and the sensitivity of these matters more in my practice.
Engaging in conversations about this, is not for the ill-prepared. Preparation is a must. Patience must be had, composure maintained and its important for all engaged parties to be present with a willingness to bridge gaps of understanding within “the complicated”. If not now… when?
This residency is supported by the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund for the Performing and Visual Arts