Fresh Milk hosts ‘A True & Exact History’ by Sonia Farmer

On Monday, April 30th, 2018 Fresh Milk hosted an exhibition & panel discussion around ‘A True & Exact History‘ – an erasure poem by Bahamian writer & artist Sonia Farmer, using Richard Ligon’s publication A True & Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes (1657) as its source material.

Sonia was in conversation about her work with Ayesha Gibson-Gill, Cultural Officer for Literary Arts at the National Cultural Foundation, and Tara Inniss-Gibbs, Lecturer in the Department of History and Philosophy at The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.

Thanks as always to our photographer Dondré Trotman for these images!

Artist Statement for A True & Exact History

I consider my writing practice a tool for disrupting and investigating existing narratives, forming a response that is not necessarily preoccupied with making new narratives to replace them, but rather exposing different narratives as a parallel, ultimately calling into question the inherent power structure in the existing narrative (such as historical accounts, folktales, mythologies, canonical books, etc). Experimental process of generation, such as erasure, found text, mistranslation, technological intervention, or other restrictive methods, are especially exciting opportunities to create direct responses to existing narratives by using its own language against itself. The resulting text then becomes the content for my final projects.

The core of my artist book A True & Exact History is an erasure of one of the most formative descriptions of the English Caribbean in the seventeenth Century, Richard Ligon’s 1657 guidebook, “A True and Exact History of Barbadoes.” This project began during March 2016 at a writing residency at Fresh Milk, an art platform in St. George, Barbados, where I encountered Ligon’s book through their Colleen Lewis Reading Room. Using the language, imagery, and thematic drives at the core of this text to disrupt the teleology of colonial Caribbean history, these unbound poetic fragments scattered among a shifting landscape simultaneously re-create and resist narrative as a device of cohesive history, ultimately calling into question what it means to write “a true and exact history” of anything.

Letitia Pratt’s Residency – Final Blog Post

Bahamian writer Letitia Pratt shares her fourth and final blog post about her Fresh Milk residency. Letitia’s last week involved a combination of rejoicing over the coming together of her project, conquering her fears to share the fruits of her labour with the public at the FRESH MILK XXI event, and finally being able to breathe, relax, and consider the value of her time spent in Barbados fondly as a growing experience. Read more here:

FRESH MILK XXI – Photo by Dondré Trotman

This week was a time for reaping. It was a time for gathering the spoils of my words and presenting them for consumption. These words are small but they were ripe with potential; in this place, I bore fruit that were heavy with past traumas. They fell into my hand as I walked (in circles) under trees, hands out, waiting for them to fall down on me.

I had to prepare for a presentation of my work on Wednesday, June 28th. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am not the greatest of public speakers, and this is something that, quite honestly, scares me a bit. It is the great irony that I got into writing because I did not like speaking in the first place, but here I am, forced to open myself up to a room full of strangers. It is my eight-year-old self’s worst nightmare. Anxiety consumed me as the day approached, and I distracted myself by editing and rewriting my poems. It was a good distraction. I let the hag woman sing her songs to me for relaxation. I settled my racing thoughts with each line of my work.

On Wednesday, I learned that I should project more. As I read the work, I forgot that there were people there, listening. My voice was lost under the weight of the song I sang. Afterward, I was happy to receive kind words from some of the spectators, but I was also made aware that some people (in the back) could not hear me. My speaking voice, I learned, is something I should work on. Overall, though, the presentation went well, and I really enjoyed it! The Fresh Milk team were so supportive of my work and ideas, and really tried to make me comfortable about the event. I was lucky to have them on my side.

My final weekend, as a treat to my hard work, I spent time with my good friends Meghann and Alex who are both here in Barbados for their master’s degrees. They took their time to show me their perspectives of the island, and we enjoyed beaches and movies over the two days I spent with them. It was a wonderful distraction from all of our work! I really enjoyed my time with them; they made me truly consider buying a house that is a ten-minute walk from the beach.

All in all, the experience I had at Fresh Milk was invaluable. I was able to live as a writer for a month, exploring, seeing new things, meeting new people – the people I met here were so kind, so accommodating, and I really thank you all for making me feel at home. And thank you so much for having me, it really was a life-changing opportunity. Thank you Annalee and Katherine for your mentorship. I will always remember my time at the platform as the month I found my words.

Letitia Pratt’s Residency – Third Blog Post

Bahamian writer Letitia Pratt shares her third blog post about her Fresh Milk residency. This week, Letitia took the time to get out of her own head and experience Barbados is different ways to overcome her writer’s block. This exploration, coupled with inspiration gleaned from reading Shivanee Ramlochan‘s ‘Everyone Knows I am a Haunting’ proved to be the breakthrough she needed to continue writing about the folkloric Hag Woman in her poetry. Read more here:

This week, I went exploring. Stir crazy from the isolation of my own head, I decided to give myself a break and travel all over the island. I thought it would be good to do this because I was having trouble formulating the narrative of my poem, and a break was necessary to gather my thoughts.

My week started off with an island tour that Natalie McGuire took Nyugen and I on. We were able to watch the island come alive through her lead. With good company, I allowed the spirit of the island to speak to me. We explored caves and cavernous cliffs that overlooked the sea at the east and north points of the island. It was a beautiful thing to experience, and from the natural beauty of this place, I was able to find some melody to my writing. But it wasn’t quite there yet.

During the week I decided to go walking around in Bridgetown. The bustling activity of the place immediately overwhelmed me. It was quite different from the silent stillness of Walkers Dairy and reminded me of the hullabaloo of Downtown Nassau. Because of this, I found it kind of homey as I walked through the busy crowds that were ambling towards shops. I visited libraries, souvenir shops, produce markets, and stalls on Swan Street. The Bridgetown atmosphere was definitely invigorating, but did not unblock the words I needed for the piece.

Feeling frustrated I confided in Sonia Williams, a Barbadian performance artist, theatre director, writer, and educator in Theatre Arts at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, about the construction of my Hag Woman character. She suggested, because the character was so connected to the woods and trees of her environment, that I immerse myself in the woodsy areas of Barbados for inspiration. So one morning, pulling on my T-Shirt and very long jeans, I ventured into the woodsy trees that surrounded Walkers dairy. The stillness of these woods inspired some of the words for my poem. I was able to indulge in what my protagonist would be able to see when she transforms herself, and her voice came passionately.

When I left the woods I felt reassured. I knew the words were coming. But I needed a bit more help, and Annalee was able to provide some for me. Later on in the day, she gave me a copy of Everybody Knows I am Haunting by Trinidadian writer Shivanee Ramlochan. Her words were vivid enough to fuel dreams and spark my imagination. The story of the Hag Woman comes from the inspiration I gathered from reading this book. It came from those dreams.

After all the exploring, all the reading, my piece began to take on form. I was delighted. Again, I would like to thank Annalee and Katherine for letting me indulge in this amazing experience here at Fresh Milk. The Hag Woman and I are immensely grateful.

FRESH MILK XXI

The Fresh Milk Art Platform is pleased to invite you to FRESH MILK XXI, taking place on Wednesday, June 28, 2017 from 6:00pm – 8:30pm at Fresh Milk, Walkers Dairy, St. George. This event will feature our two international resident artists for the month of June, US-based interdisciplinary artist Nyugen Smith and Bahamian writer Letitia Pratt.

During his residency at Fresh Milk, Nyugen has been spending time with people who live and work in Barbados, walking the streets of Bridgetown and performing investigative actions on the grounds of Fresh Milk which include video and photo-based projects. Nyugen will engage visitors with a new performance which considers his research on sites charged with memory, synthesizing his experience and findings with his interests in African cosmology.

After this performance, Letitia will give a reading of some of her previous work and the new pieces which have developed during this residency. Letitia’s research and poems in Barbados have been investigating and questioning the ways in which misogyny manifests in the Bahamas and throughout Caribbean, exploring commonalities and differences through Caribbean history and folklore with emphasis on the tale of the ‘Hag Woman’.

The evening will close with an artist talk and Q&A session with Nyugen about both his work in Barbados and his wider practice.

This event is free and open to the public. For directions to Fresh Milk, visit the ‘About Page‘ of our website.

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About Nyugen Smith:

Nyugen Smith (Photo credit: Janice Marin)

Drawing heavily on his West Indian heritage, Nyugen Smith is committed to raising the consciousness of past and present political struggles through his practice which consists of sculpture, installation, video and performance. He is influenced by the conflation of African cultural practices and the residue of European colonial rule in the region. Responding to the legacy of this particular environment, Nyugen’s work considers imperialist practices of oppression, violence and ideological misnomers. While exposing audiences to concealed narratives that distort reality, he destabilizes constructed frameworks from which this conversation is often held.

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 About Letitia Pratt:

Letitia Pratt

Letitia Pratt recently obtained her Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature from the College of the Bahamas. An avid reader of fantastic fiction, most of her writing navigates the existence of black (feminine) bodies within that genre and draws heavily on stories within Bahamian folklore. Her themes often explore the function of art and literature within the Bahamas, and her most recent published work, ‘A Scene (of Two Lovers Contemplating Suicide)‘ discusses the concept of liminality within artwork, and how it’s the ability to occupy multiple spaces creates an active exchange of ideologies.

Letitia Pratt’s Residency – Second Blog Post

Bahamian writer Letitia Pratt shares her second blog post about her Fresh Milk residency. Continuing her research into Caribbean folklore, particularly the tale of the ‘Hag Woman’, Letitia is beginning to find a voice for the character she’s exploring, as well as drawing connections between folklore and trauma in the region – a thought fleshed out during a visit with acclaimed Barbadian author Karen Lord. Read more below:

This week went by as quickly as it came as I further explored my project. I found myself deep in search for the Hag Woman’s voice. The words were coming, yes, but trickling slowly. This character is taking her time forming herself, and I am letting her take all the time she needs! I spent most of my days at the studio, sketching her out in my mind. She forms like a cloud, and I reach for her, but she disappears between the cracks of my fingers. Needless to say, this project is taking quite a while to materialize.

As I continued working, I contemplated the effects of trauma on my protagonist. Last week I thought about the silencing of feminine experiences under the patriarchy and I thought I’d make it a goal this week to tap into the communal trauma that this fosters. The Hag Woman, while tapping into the powers of her femininity, is responding to this trauma.

These thoughts were inspired by my sit down with Karen Lord (who was gracious enough to do so and learn me some things) who offered an interesting perspective on folklore and trauma. Trauma inspires folklore, and while some draws from spiritual roots, they are responses of a community to explain a shared traumatic experience. What this conversation prompted me to think of is what trauma could inspire a story about a lady who strips her skin at night and terrorizes the town.

I am still developing this idea and by no means is this project complete. Currently, it is not only responding to the traumatic silencing women face because of the patriarchy, but it is also growing in the direction of responding to the specific type of misogyny that black women endure because of their own blackness. This is a community of people that experiences a particular type of misogynistic violence on the basis of their skin. Consequently, I want my protagonist to embrace the power of her skin: instead of “running away” from it, she uses it as a tool to absorb her power (sunlight) so that she can transform into a glorious ball of fire during the nighttime.

This project will take a little more time than I imagined to complete itself (I came here with a plan, I promise) but fortunately, I have the brilliant company of Katherine and Annalee to discuss these ideas with. Even more fortunate is that I have the solitude of the studio, where my thoughts have all the time in the world.