Fresh Milk shares the first blog post by US-based international resident artist Daisy Diamond. Daisy had an eventful start to her residency, which began right on the heels of Fresh Milk hosting an exhibition & artist talk about Sonia Farmer’s piece ‘A True & Exact History’. Discussions held at this event, as well as conversations in the studio throughout the week, fed Daisy’s conceptual ideas by giving her regional context and multiple entry points for her research, as the main focus of her work in Barbados is the history & contemporary reality of Judaism in the island. Read more below:
I feel overwhelmed with unabashed gratitude for all the incredibly talented individuals I’m getting to know, contemporary art I’m learning about, and the artistic exploration I’m doing while at Fresh Milk. A huge thank you already to Katherine Kennedy, Annalee Davis, and the rest of the Fresh Milk team for all of the political/artistic discussions, books pulled from the Colleen Lewis Reading Room, and generosity with their help & time. I’m also excited to learn more about connections between collage, multiplicity, identity, and stereotypes in the work Ronald Williams, the other artist in the Fresh Milk studio space, is creating. The openness and unfolding of ideas this past week has stretched my expectations of what my first residency, a self-driven time of creating and learning without the limitations/expectation of traditional educational experiences, can be.
A True & Exact History by Sonia Farmer
My first two nights on the island overlapped with Sonia Farmer’s exhibition and conversation with Ayesha Gibson-Gill and Tara Inniss about her erasure poem of Richard Ligon’s text, A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes (1657). I thought the conversation brought out some of the deeper interdisciplinary themes and ideas in Ms. Farmer’s poetry.
Ms. Gibson-Gill connected the practice of erasure poetry to a technique she learned while studying theater, where actors and actresses would, as a collective, narrow each act down in a tedious, deliberate manner until the text was reduced to just its essential lines: the “spine” of the story. Once in this state, the cast would perform these selected lines before diving back into the full play to imbue each scene with a deeper emotional backbone. Although the process and intention of erasure poetry is quite different from this practice, Ms. Farmer’s poem similarly pulled out a core, emotionally intelligent, 21st century perspective on Ligon’s position of power, dehumanizing language, and poetic phrases. Ms. Gibson-Gill then also posed an opportunity for a further project of creating an erasure poem out of this erasure poem to emphasize the importance of revisiting and reinterpreting texts from multiple perspectives as an ongoing process of collective meaning-making.
Dr. Inniss discussed historiography and her research on people (particularly women, children, and people of color) whose perspectives and experiences have been erased from historical accounts. The existing records, like Ligon’s text, force contemporary audiences to search for these people between the margins of “archives of pain,” as Dr. Inniss described. Since this talk, I’ve been returning to these comments again and again and thinking of many parallels in the study of art history and similar acts of appropriation in artistic creation.
I came with goals of painting and learning about the history of Judaism in Barbados. I visited the Nidhe Israel Synagogue and Museum and created several drawings of the interior of the synagogue and the tombstones, in varied conditions, while there. Essays from the Journal of the Barbados Museum & Historical Society introduced me to the Jewish community and this sacred space. The focus of these essays has ranged from Jews in a Caribbean Colonial Society, their acts of both resistance and accommodation, roles in the sugar economy, and how they created their own identities.
The visuals on the tombstones were particularly interesting. Similar ones kept appearing on a whole range of tombstones, some mostly buried and falling apart stones from the 1700s and some well-preserved ones from more recent decades. How does a visual lexicon of symbols of remembrance signify shared values within a community? The hand of God cutting down a tree of life, the divine intervention of the end of life? I found myself curious about intentions, other meanings, and the stories of all of these individual lives. How were they involved in the slave trade? How did their knowledge about technology, windmills, and sugar production affect the land and the people in Barbados? Was their historical involvement in merchant domains outside the plantocracy related to an ethical justification, or was it simply their lack of legal ability to own slaves because of their status in society? How have Jews acknowledged these legacies? This community was relatively quite small, but their impact was not. I have lots of questions I hope to continue to pursue.
I intentionally selected which materials I want to use while here. Distracting projects and limited time have motivated me to focus without an explicit goal, but an acknowledgement that I have more time to create work than just during this month, and I hope to continue to use the next few weeks to begin to work through visual and conceptual ideas for larger, future projects. Although currently my main medium is painting, I also love experimental & hand drawn animation. This morning, I watched an incredible animated film, Dante’s Inferno (2007) by Sean Meredith, with multimedia artist Sandra Vivas. We were both very inspired by the techniques, sound design, and puppetry in this story. I think I need to rewatch it, but with a pen and notebook, to record every innovative scene, movement and transition.
I look forward to the experiences, creative rituals, and many conversations that will fill the next three weeks here.