Marianne Keating – Second Blog Post

Irish artist Marianne Keating shares her second blog post about her ongoing Fresh Milk residency. Outlining events which have provided rich research content and have helped to shape her project – such as the exhibitions Arrivants: Art and Migration in the Anglophone Caribbean World and Insurgents: Redefining Rebellion in Barbados, both held at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society – Marianne continues to reflect on the history of  Irish migration to Barbados in the 17th century. She also addresses popular misconceptions about this migration, and the problematic trend of equating indentureship with the transatlantic slave trade. Read more below:

Vanishing Villages – In search of Irish Town, Barbados, April 2019.

The focus of my research in Barbados addresses the subaltern non-elite white community on the East Coast of the island, who are believed to be descendants of indentured labourers – both voluntary and involuntary from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales.  Since their arrival in the seventeenth century, the creolisation process now makes it difficult to determine their exact origins. During my residency at Fresh Milk, I seek to examine conflicting existing narratives relating to their arrival and subsequent positioning in Barbados during the 17th Century.

Studio View at Fresh Milk – The Colleen Lewis Reading Room

Today, the ‘poor white’ communities can be predominately found in villages of the parish of St John along with other sites of importance including the “vanishing villages” of Irish Town and Below Cliff. The analyses of this material and sites are fundamental to my research and development of my practice-based output, which involves the gathering of oral histories through interviews, film footage, research and documentation.

My initial onsite investigation in Barbados began in November 2018 during my first visit to the island for an exhibition I was part of called Arrivants: Art and Migration in the Anglophone Caribbean World. The exhibition, curated by Veerle Poupeye and Allison Thompson at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, featured a powerhouse of artists including Eddie Chambers, Hew Locke, Keith Piper, Veronica Ryan, Ewan Atkinson and Cosmo Whyte to name a few. During this time, I spent many days researching at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society’s Shilstone Memorial Library which has a rich collection of over 6,000 books, journals and pamphlets, covering subject areas such as the Caribbean, Barbadian and African history, archaeology, natural and social history amongst many more.

The Barbados Museum and Historical Society featuring Eddie Chambers Untitled (1994), flag.

The museum and library are housed in historic buildings which were used initially as the military prison at St. Ann’s Garrison. With the support of Librarian Ms. Harriet Pierce, I trawled through old copies of the Journal of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society dating from 1933, publications such as Richard Ligon’s, A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados 1657 and copies of old newspaper clippings. These resources greatly helped to established secondary sources about the arrival of Irish indentured labourers and political prisoners to Barbados in the seventeenth century. I also spent many days at the Barbados National Archives exploring their records and the 1715 census which lists many Irish names within the document, leaving more questions than answers.

The National Archives of Barbados.

On my return to the island in March, I attended the opening of the exhibition Insurgents: Redefining Rebellion in Barbados curated by Natalie Batson in collaboration with Life in Leggings: Caribbean Alliance Against Gender Based Violence and Barbados Youth Development Council at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society. The exhibition challenges the popular belief that Barbadians are and have been passive when it comes to acts of resistance against injustices.

Amongst the many protest images within the exhibition stood a 390-year timeline which documented insurrection in Barbados including accounts of Irish rebellion against the British Colony. The first post-dated 1655 mentioned the following referencing historian Sir Hilary Beckles, A History of Barbados: From Amerindian Settlement to Caribbean Single Market, 1990.

It is reported that “several Irish servants and negroes out in Thicketts and thereabout, plundered estates systematically”.

And the second mention of the Irish was listed for 1661

Master and Servants Code of 1661 and the ‘Act for the better ordering and governing of Negroes’ slave code drawn in response continued unrest by Irish indentured servants and enslaved Africans.

When discussing Irish migration to the Caribbean in the 17th – 19th century, it is important to discuss the vast difference between indentured labourers/servants and African enslavement or chattel slavery and to address the incorrect use of the term ‘white slave’.

Since the early 2010’s the ‘white slave’ narrative has received more traction, frequently popping up on online platforms and social media across Ireland and throughout the Irish diaspora, a narrative supported by the far right in the United States amongst others, to support a racist political agenda.  This narrative is spread in relation to the discussion of Irish migration to the Caribbean when attempting to nullify the differences between indentured labour and African enslavement or chattel slavery. This narrative has been devised to remove race as an aspect of slavery, “the ‘white slavery’ narrative stresses a sense of shared victimisation; this sentiment then serves to discredit calls for reparations from descendants of enslaved Africans in the U.S. and the former British West Indies.”[1]

These false narratives continue to grow online through the constant referencing of many poorly researched books and publications resulting in the misconception, misinterpretation and misappropriation of the reality of the terms of Irish indentureship. There are many distinctions between indentureship and enslavement, with articles such as Contesting “White Slavery” in the Caribbean: Enslaved Africans and European Indentured Servants in 17th Century Barbados by Jerome Handler & Matthew C. Reilly offering a detailed examination on the socio-legal distinctions between servitude and slavery.[2]

The differences are extreme, and although many are aware of these inaccurate narratives, it has effectively complicated the already convoluted story of the subaltern non-elite white in Barbados. And the history of Irish migration to the Caribbean becomes intrinsically linked to this narrative, leaving it impossible to address this history without also addressing this false narrative.

Through my research, I am exploring all aspects of this complex history, as to leave an area untouched threatens the recording of this history through a clouded lens. Many researchers have written articles correcting these falsities, and one of the areas I will focus on is addressing the impact of this narrative on the history of Irish migration. In this way, I will attempt to separate it from the clutches of this racist political agenda which has become click bait for readers as they scroll through their posts on social media.

In Jamaica, Irish Indentured labour began in the years after abolition. Under colonial rule, the Irish poor had few opportunities in a country with high unemployment and ongoing food shortages resulting in limited funds to rent land to grow provisions for the landless workforce. Irish migrants seized opportunities offering a better life and voluntarily signed contracts where they signed a bond to work for a term of up to three years in return for passage, housing and provisions in Jamaica, becoming the legal property of the planter for the duration of the contract to pay off their debt. At the end of their contract, depending on the planter, they had the option to continue working under a new contract with new terms or leave the plantation free from any obligation. Alternatively, they could begin a new life elsewhere in Jamaica or, if funding permitted, in another country by signing up to a new emigration scheme.

Advertisement Emigration to Jamaica on board the SS Robert Kerr.

This is not to say that the promised conditions were always in place on arrival or that the plantation owners met the agreed terms. Agents and sub-agents working for the West India Immigration Scheme or on behalf of private planters were known to have exaggerated or mislead migrants regarding the opportunities available or working and living conditions in their need to recruit large numbers of labourers.

In the years that followed the abolition of slavery in 1834, the Jamaican sugar cane industry became less lucrative and Jamaican planters struggled to maintain their economic position in the global economic market. With a reduced labour force unwilling to work under the proposed conditions, crops failed due to a lack of manpower required to bring the crops to fruition, and bankruptcy ensued amongst the Jamaican plantocracy. Increasing numbers of labourers chose to sail to Jamaica, where legislation had not yet been put in place and conditions varied from plantation to plantation. The scheme to recruit Irish indentured labourers ran without controls implemented by the legislators until after the controversy of the S.S. Robert Kerr–the last ship to sail to Jamaica under the scheme in 1841.

Although the exact number is unknown due to limited records, there are accounts of the Irish indentured succumbing to diseases such as yellow fever as they were held in low lying areas more prone to illness or death resulting from poor working and climate conditions. However, if a labourer became dissatisfied with their terms and ran away, they were often not tracked down. There are many possible reasons for this, including the scale and rugged terrain of the country and the dwindling resources of the plantocracy. There is a case of a group of Irish causing such uproar they were returned to Europe to stop the unrest spreading to others on the island. Another example is of a woman from Galway who was prosecuted for running away and abandoning her contract. Indicted before the court, her mistreatment by the planter was discussed publicly with the resulting decision unknown. Some who ran away became homeless and destitute in Kingston, whereas others completed the term of their indenture and quickly moved up the ranks of society by taking advantage of their whiteness, privileged in a society driven by race. Through this manipulation of their whiteness, former peasant workers transitioned from bonded workers to positions of authority in the militia, the police force and later into the ranks of politics.

In Barbados–a new area of research for me–the conditions varied significantly from those in Jamaica. Recruitment there began in the mid-seventeenth century where different terms were applied and which were extremely different from the Africans who were enslaved under chattel slavery. Here contracts of indentureship lasted up to seven years if the signing was voluntary, or varied in length if brought to Barbados as a political prisoner. The working conditions of the indentured or political prisoners often led to their preliminary death as a result of mistreatment or harsh working and climatic condition. However, unlike chattel slavery, the terms of indenture lasted for a specific time and did not pass from adult to offspring or their descendants. Furthermore, the indentured had certain rights that the enslaved did not. These differences are addressed very clearly in the aforementioned article Contesting “White Slavery” in the Caribbean[3] and in the article The Irish in the Anglo-Caribbean: Servants or slaves? Why we need to confront the ‘Irish slave myth’ and how terminology is not simply semantics[4], an extract of which is seen below.

the differences and commonalities between these two forms of unfree labour are of fundamental importance to our understanding of the development of racialised perpetual chattel slavery in the British colonies. The term ‘indentured servitude’ is not a denial of their suffering or unfree situation but rather an accurate term to describe their legal status, few rights and harsh reality. Colonial servitude in the Anglo-Caribbean was temporary and non-hereditary, with legal personhood, while chattel slavery was perpetual and hereditary with sub-human legal status. It is inevitable that if we refer to these two different statuses in the same historical context using the same term (‘slave’) these profound distinctions are erased. The refusal to differentiate often reveals a motivation to equate indentured servitude for Europeans with African chattel perpetual slavery to claim spuriously that slavery had nothing to do with race.[5]

Over the next few months, I will focus on making two short films (which may later merge into one), investigating this history of Irish migration to Barbados and the complex environment in which this history sits. My research is looking at these multi-vocal approaches to the past, exploring sites of importance while tracing oral histories and physical fragments remaining in the landscape. As I begin to address this history through practice-based research, I will concurrently address false narratives within this history and their impact on contemporary understanding of the histories of Irish migration to the Caribbean.

[1] The Irish in the Anglo-Caribbean: Servants or slaves? Why we need to confront the ‘Irish slave myth’ and how terminology is not simply semantics by Liam Hogan, Laura McaTackney and Matthew C. Reilly p19

[2] Contesting “White Slavery” in the Caribbean: Enslaved Africans and European Indentured Servants in 17th Century Barbados by Jerome Handler & Matthew C. Journal of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, Vol 63 p156- 187

[3] Contesting “White Slavery” in the Caribbean: Enslaved Africans and European Indentured Servants in 17th Century Barbados by Jerome Handler & Matthew C. Journal of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, Vol 63 p156- 187

[4] The Irish in the Anglo-Caribbean: Servants or slaves? Why we need to confront the ‘Irish slave myth’ and how terminology is not simply semantics by Liam Hogan, Laura McaTackney and Matthew C. Reilly p18-22

[5] The Irish in the Anglo-Caribbean: Servants or slaves? Why we need to confront the ‘Irish slave myth’ and how terminology is not simply semantics by Liam Hogan, Laura McaTackney and Matthew C. Reilly p19

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This residency is supported by the Arts Council of Ireland

Change of Date – Tilting Axis 5: ‘Beyond Trends: Decolonisation and Art Criticism’

Due to transit schedules raised during a site visit to Guadeloupe, the Tilting Axis committee has decided to move the meeting up by one day.

Tilting Axis 5: ‘Beyond Trends: Decolonisation and Art Criticism’ will now take place from May 29-31st, 2019. Attendees are asked to be in Guadeloupe from May 28th, leaving on June 1st/2nd. On June 1st we will have an optional tour day across various cultural sites.

The RSVP date has also been moved to April 1st. We are very much looking forward to seeing you there and sharing the full programme with you soon!

Open Call: Transoceanic Visual Exchange 2019

The Fresh Milk Art Platform (Barbados), China Residencies (NY and China), The Barbados Museum and Historical Society, I: project space (Beijing) and Alice Yard (Trinidad & Tobago) are pleased to welcome submissions of recent film and video works – screenings, installations, new media and expanded cinema – by contemporary artists, to be included in the third edition of Transoceanic Visual Exchange (TVE), a series of programmes taking place this year between Barbados, China and Trinidad & Tobago. Submitted works must have been completed in the last five years and must be made by artists practicing in the Caribbean, China and their diasporas.

TVE will be a collection of recent artists’ films and videos from each region. However, the final shape and content of the programme will be informed by a community curatorial process, which aims to involve and promote discussion within the wider arts communities of each participating initiative.

Working between the Caribbean, China and their diasporas, TVE aims to negotiate the in-between space of our cultural communities outside of traditional geo-political zones of encounter and trade. TVE intends to build relations and open up greater pathways of visibility, discourse and knowledge production between the regional art spaces and their communities.

Submission Requirements:

  • Must be work from artists practicing in the Caribbean, China  and their diasporas;
  • Must be work that has been completed/made in the last five years;
  • Can be films of any length (shorts, experimental, features and video artworks);
  • Can be in any language (films originally produced in regional languages are welcome);
  • Multiple submissions are welcome;
  • Must be accompanied by a description of the work (500 words max), a bio (200 words max) and details of any technical requirements i.e. audio, installation, equipment required, preferred setting etc.;
  • Works must be in the form of mp4 files no larger than 100MB, or private Vimeo / Youtube links (please provide passwords);
  • Works must not have been submitted to previous editions of TVE;
  • Please specify whether your submitted works have permission to be exhibited on an online space.

Deadline for submissions: 28th June 2019

The online submission form can be found here.

Please direct any queries about Caribbean submissions to: tveproject.caribbean@gmail.com
Please direct any queries about China submissions to: nihao@chinaresidencies.com

For more information on TVE and its first two iterations, visit the TVE website.

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About the TVE 2019 Partners:

Fresh Milk

Fresh Milk is an artist-led, non-profit organisation founded in 2011 and based in Barbados. It is a platform which supports excellence in the visual arts through residencies and programmes that provide Caribbean artists with opportunities for development, fostering a thriving art community.

Fresh Milk offers professional support to artists from the Caribbean and further afield and seeks to stimulate critical thinking in contemporary visual art. Its goal is to nurture artists, raise regional awareness about contemporary arts and provide Caribbean artists with opportunities for growth, excellence and success.

Website: freshmilkbarbados.com
Facebook, Instagram and YouTube: FreshMilkBarbados
Twitter: FreshMilkBdos

China Residencies

China Residencies is an online and New-York based nonprofit founded in 2013 by Crystal Ruth Bell & Kira Simon-Kennedy. Since then, China Residencies supported over 50 artists and collective projects in mainland China and Hong Kong. China Residencies supports a network of over 40 different residency programs through openly accessible website, and supports the next generation of artists, activists, and arts administrators through fellowships, exchanges, and fiscal sponsorship.

“We believe diplomacy shouldn’t just be left up to politicians. Artists are cultural and social changemakers, and, in a world where people sometimes forget to listen to and learn from one another, we are passionate about creating opportunities for artists to bring a broader cultural understanding into their work and communities.”

Website: chinaresidencies.com
Facebook: chinaresidencies
Twitter: chinaresidency
Instagram: china_residencies

The Barbados Museum and Historical Society

The Barbados Museum and Historical Society (BMHS) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization with a membership of over 1,000 individuals and companies. A fourteen-member Council and the Director are responsible for its policies and operation. Nine council members are elected annually from the membership of the BMHS; the remaining five are appointed by Government.

The mandate of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society is: To collect, document and conserve evidence of Barbados cultural, historical and environmental heritage; and to interpret and present this evidence for all sectors of society.

Website: barbmuse.org.bb
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: BarbadosMuseum

I: project space

I: project space is an augmentation of what a contemporary art institution can be, by using the freedom that comes along with running an independent practice. The space is located in the old Hutong area of Beijing and is combining an exhibition space with a residency studio for visiting artists from China and abroad. Taking its location in the center of Beijing but outside the art districts as a premise, I: project space engages in bringing an interaction with art back into the daily life.

Collaborating with local and international cultural producers, I: project space is constantly building networks with like-minded spaces all over the world to share information and to expand the impact of the independent art scene. Dedicated to build support structures for artists and open possibilities for long-term dialogues between artistic, curatorial, research and other modes of knowledge production.

Exchange and dialogue should not become empty phrases, but have to be implemented into actions. The programming of the space is framing the residency and exhibitions with an ongoing discourse about current questions on contemporary art.

I: project space aims to encourage innovative and investigative approaches, crossing borders between different creative disciplines, cultural identities, geographical locations, political economies, crafts and new technologies. By placing emphasis on the open dialogues, I: project space looks to foster experimentation, collaboration and interdisciplinary exchange.

Website: yi-projectspace.org
Facebook and Instagram: Iprojectspace

Alice Yard

Alice Yard is the backyard space of the house at 80 Roberts Street, Woodbrook, Port of Spain. This was once the house of Sean Leonard’s great-grandmother. Four generations of children played and imagined in this yard, and now we continue this tradition. Alice Yard is a space for creative experiment, collaboration, and improvisation.

Alice Yard is administered and curated by architect Sean Leonard, artist Christopher Cozier, and writer and editor Nicholas Laughlin, with the help of a growing network of creative collaborators. Alice Yard is a non-profit organisation incorporated under the laws of Trinidad and Tobago.

Since 2008, Alice Yard has run a residency programme hosting artists, curators, and other creative practitioners.

Website: aliceyard.blogspot.com
Facebook & Twitter: aliceyard
Instagram: aliceyardinsta

Tilting Axis Collections and Commissioning Fellowship 2019

The Tilting Axis Fellowship is a direct outcome of the Tilting Axis meetings in 2015 at Fresh Milk in Barbados, in 2016 at the Pérez Art Museum Miami and in 2017 at The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands. For its 2019 iteration, Scotland based cultural partners including the Glasgow School of Art, The School of Art History at the University of St Andrews, CCA Glasgow, LUX Scotland, Hospitalfield and curatorial duo Mother Tongue have come together to offer support for a research fellowship to Scotland for an emerging contemporary art practitioner living and working in the Caribbean to share knowledge about current approaches towards commissioning and collecting in the arts.

For Whom?

Curators, researchers, artists, or cultural producers based in the Caribbean region who want to make new links in Scotland and have a keen interest in developing their curatorial practice. Applicants must have a working knowledge of English.

Goals

  • Develop, stimulate, support, and visualise curatorial and artistic realities coming from the Caribbean region;
  • Facilitate face-to-face communication in Scotland;
  • Offer free and open access to knowledge and practices;
  • Provide a stable platform for professional experiences;
  • Produce critical knowledge on educational tools as well as visual culture;
  • Focus on emerging practices;
  • Utilise the existing Tilting Axis network;
  • Offer practical support for the duration of the research trip in Scotland.

This Fellowship opportunity focuses on the development of pragmatic and critical curatorial and artistic practice hailing from the Caribbean region, and is research and practice-led, and mentor-based. The fellow will be invited to Scotland for up to one month from 1 October 2019 to undertake a period of open-ended research and development. Artists or curators may apply to undertake research for a mode of curatorial practice. The Fellowship is focused on alternative forms of Collections and Commissioning, in collaboration with partners across Scotland whose work focuses on various forms of collecting, archiving or supporting the development of artworks.

Within the Tilting Axis annual convenings, complexities of mobility, the politics of archiving, access and privilege, decolonisation, institutionalism, curatorial knowledge, pragmatics, and social realities have surfaced as keywords of urgency within Caribbean cultural ecosystems. We seek proposals that engage with the unique visual culture available in the Caribbean and what might be learned from its unexpected and innovative approaches. The Fellowship has an open-ended outcome, offering support for critical development of curatorial or artistic practice while giving a practical base within partner organisations to research different methodologies and institutional approaches.

Drawing on the specifics of the Caribbean region through processes of decolonisation, race, mobility, access and privilege and digitalisation, your proposal might approach actively how people live and work, and especially how contemporary art takes a responsibility to reflect and act on it. What are fears as well as potentials in these current times? Within such a complex geography, what are the challenges? What are the interventions? The Fellowship might support and expand these conversations on a mutual basis.

More information about each organisation’s core interests can be found below. It is expected that the Fellow will focus on a period of research with each organisation to mutually address some of these questions across the month-long residency.

The fellow will receive a fee of £1500 and a per diem to cover expenses and living costs whilst in Scotland. All travel and accommodation costs will be covered by the host partners. An itinerary of travel, meetings and public events will be arranged in collaboration with the successful applicant and partners, prior to the fellow’s arrival. The budget will be managed by the partners, and includes a winter clothing allowances of £300. The Fellow is also expected to participate in a public event or lectures in two or three Scottish locations, to share their knowledge, context and practice.

A contribution to the public blogs of British Council and CCA Glasgow as well as the Tilting Axis website will be required along with a final report on the Fellowship. Tilting Axis partners will work towards funding additional funds for the fellow to attend Tilting Axis 6, (location tbc) where the fellow can present on their experience.

Application

Applicants for the Fellowship are invited to develop an independent proposal outlining a clear interest in the issues and organisations highlighted. The proposal should be content driven and can be based on already existing research or offer new projects. The fellow is not expected to produce an outcome or finished artwork but will be expected to speak publicly about their ongoing research or interests whilst in Scotland.

Departing from a curatorial or artistic ambition, we expect to see a statement of intent of maximum 1000 words. This statement should explain the fellow’s research focus, respond directly to the keywords and thematics raised in the call out, and highlight reasons for visiting Scotland and/or the partner organisations. A separate artist/curatorial statement can also be supplied. Please also include a CV and two references, and an indication of availability from early October 2019.

The application should be submitted via e-mail to: Ainslie Roddick, CCA Glasgow Curator: ainslie@cca-glasgow.com.

The deadline for submission is 15 April 2019.

For more information on the fellowship and the partners, visit the Tilting Axis website here.

 


Tilting Axis 5 – Beyond Trends: Decolonisation and Art Criticism

The fifth convening of Tilting Axis is set to take place in Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe in collaboration with Mémorial ACTe, Guadeloupe, a contemporary museum offering historical exhibits on the Caribbean’s slave & indigenous people from May 30th – June 1st, 2019 coinciding with Guadeloupe’s anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the last week of May.

Tilting Axis 5 “Beyond Trends: Decolonisation and Art Criticism” will explore the theme of decolonisation to think beyond its currently popular usage as cultural and institutional critique. Unlike its application to specific sites and processes, has decolonisation been a constant and ubiquitous practice in the Caribbean? This gathering will re-consider the currency of these discourses, identifying site-specificity within the Caribbean. For example, what does it mean for art institutions to negotiate decolonisation after postcoloniality? What different approaches can be deployed in decolonizing discourses-specifically in relation to art criticism–and made more visible in spaces where their prevalence renders them invisible?

Examining the roles of artists, curators, educators, arts managers, scholars, art writers and critics, arts managers and policy writers, etc., we will consider how to strategically involve discourses on decolonization that are useful for the Caribbean’s cultural sector.

With limited space, please confirm your interest in attending by emailing tiltingaxis@gmail.com no later than the extended deadline of Friday, March 15th 2019.

Tilting Axis delegates are required to pay a registration fee of USD$75.
Registration fee is waived for local delegates.