Australian resident artists Willoh S. Weiland and Halcyon Macleod share their fourth blog post about their Fresh Milk residency. This week Willoh & Halcyon continued their search for the elusive ghost of Jean Rhys, hoping to get clues from the “Queen of Barbados.” Rhys’ life is used as a metaphor for feelings of displacement and as a reminder that the personal voice is indeed political, particularly regarding the validity of art. Read more below:
Our last week in Barbados has seen a wonderful anxiety as the process has been accelerated and we realise that we have only moments left on this island before we fly home. The growing cache of audio files have started to appear in their true form, as an incomplete sketch of a place and people, with some parts coloured-in vividly and the rest remaining an outline.
The week has forced reflections on the interview process and how this is best done. At the end of every hour we spent interviewing, we wished for more. More time, more thought, better questions, less politeness, more anecdotes, and more friction. We have learnt that the peculiar intimacy of the interview is a whole art in itself. Coming to like each other is a quicker process than how we come to disagree.
Writer and journalist Gay Talese, in an interview in New New Journalism talks about ‘the art of hanging out’ and how he followed Frank Sinatra for two years to write his seminal essay Frank Sinatra Has A Cold. This was the art of both constantly reminding the subject that they are being watched, questioned, scrutinised and gently, gently disappearing into the background.
In our last interview we met the Queen of Barbados, a woman in her 80s who regaled us with her adventurous life story whilst sitting amongst an amazing collection of Caribbean modern art. Who can say they have lived in Casablanca? She told us about her mother who, at the turn of the century in Barbados, would jog miles in her swimsuit, and even started a women’s group as an avenue to write plays and look after other women’s children. She was another remarkable Bajan woman, ahead of her time. This same lady had also stayed in Jean Rhys’ house in Dominica. Our ghost hunting continued…
We have looked for Jean Rhys everywhere. She is inimitable and elusive as ever. Yet she has permeated every interview, beyond questions of race and class. The feeling of being outside life or misplaced evoked the reflective state that we often enter in order to mine our own lives for meaning. As one woman we met this week described, she loved Wide Sargasso Sea because she belonged nowhere. This is so common a feeling to our century. It is what connects being Australian with the migration patterns of the Caribbean and the cultural hybridity of the islands.
What is so important about Rhys’ voice as a writer is the brutal gaze, which she turns on herself and her own experiences. It is the unflinching ability to ask what is this and why?
As we contemplate going back to Australia where the validity of art and, in particular, its ability to be political is being blatantly attacked by our government, we are reminded in these interviews that the personal voice is political. Each of these interviews and the stories they have shared has been individual examples of how each life, on reflection, shows clearly its own courage.