Open Call: ‘White Creole Conversations’ – New ways of thinking about whiteness in a Caribbean context

Barbadian visual artist & founding director of Fresh Milk Annalee Davis shares an open call for participation in ‘White Creole Conversations’: New ways of thinking about whiteness in a Caribbean context, a forum for honest communication that begins to unpack issues and stereotypes while facilitating understanding about whiteness in the region. These sessions with the artist will take place from August 4 through September, 2015 in Barbados. For those not in the island, Skype meetings can be arranged to discuss participation. Learn more below:

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Where you are understood you are at home.”
– John O’Donahue [1]

The white Creole Caribbean voice has largely been silent or mis/understood in ways that suggest that the white community is monolithic, timeless, and homogenous. The context for this project is the small island of Barbados, where despite its diverse population, social life and kinship are predominantly lived in subtly separate racial spheres.

‘White Creole Conversations’ initiates a new dialogue privileging open and honest communication. Rather than asking ‘who am I?’ the question posed might be ‘who are you?’ The focus of the conversations will pivot on issues to do with race and class in this small post-colonial island space and will take place between the artist and the participant.

This audio project attempts to remove the mask of the white Creole, unpack stereotypes around whiteness and reveal the individuality and diversity of this minority population. Also, this project hopes to facilitate exchanges that challenge singular authoritative ideas to reveal different understandings of the white Creole with a desire to generate self-reflection, self awareness and fresh understandings.

The medium in this artwork is ‘conversation’ which in and of itself becomes an aesthetic device in understanding and shaping civil society. The assumption is that there are generally few opportunities for meaningful dialogue about race in Barbados.White Creole Conversations’ imagines that a more integrated society on a small island is possible when enabled by candid speaking and empathic listening.

Patterned on Theodore Zeldin’s ‘Oxford Muse’, who reminds us that, “the most important networks are those of the imagination, which cross from the conventional to the unconventional, refusing to accept that what exists is the only thing that is possible”, Zeldin writes that we are all wearing our masks.[2] It is now time to unmask ourselves.

Engaging in meaningful discourse is one way of developing empathy and affinity. A menu of questions from which the participant may choose to respond to might include the following: what is the most difficult conversation you have ever had? What is your relationship to the colour of your skin? Have you ever crossed race or class boundaries in love? Have you felt pain because of your race? Where do you belong? Define home? Who are you?

Given that little has been studied about white Creoles and understandings often operate as myth, one goal for this discursive project is to develop more complex renderings that inspire us to think about this minority in ways we might not have considered before. The recorded exchanges will be accessible as portals allowing listeners to enter the world of the speakers with a view to destabilizing the often fixed, narrow definitions of this minority group while offering more subtle and ambiguous understandings.

As an artist, my intention is to use this audio project to invite participants to respond to questions about their experience as a white Creole and investigate how race is privately/publicly experienced. Phase II will open up the dialogue to all members of the island community.

It seems to me that life becomes even more interesting when we know each other more intimately.White Creole Conversations’ may allow us to do so.

[1] John O’Donahue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, 1998
[2] Theodore Zeldin, An Intimate History of Humanity, 1995

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‘White Creole Conversations’: New ways of thinking about whiteness in a Caribbean context is an artistic project facilitated by the visual artist Annalee Davis who will coordinate and conduct the interviews at the Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc.

From August 4-21, 2015 individuals will be invited to participate in one on one conversation with the artist to speak about their ideas and experiences around the white Creole experience.

For those who are not in Barbados but want to participate remotely, an initial meeting via Skype to discuss the project can be arranged and responses to a menu of questions may be submitted in writing, audio or video files.

For more information and to participate in White Creole conversations’ from August 4 through September, 2015, contact the artist: Annalee Davis:

annaleedavis@gmail.com
T. 435 1952
M. 230 8897
Facebook – Annalee Davis

Director: Annalee Davis. Photo credit: Charles Phillips of Monochrome Media

Director: Annalee Davis. Photo credit: Charles Phillips of Monochrome Media

About the artist:

Annalee Davis is a Visual Artist based in Barbados. She received a B.F.A from the Maryland Institute, College of Art and an M.F.A. from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Her creative practice mines the plantation from the perspective of a white Creole woman. She is a part-time tutor in the BFA programme at the Barbados Community College and has been the founding director of the artist-led initiative and social practice project – The Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc. since 2011. An experiment and cultural lab, Fresh Milk supports excellence among emerging contemporary creatives locally, throughout the Caribbean, its diaspora and internationally. Located on a working dairy farm and a former sugar cane plantation, Fresh Milk is a nurturing entity; transforming a once exclusive space to become a freely accessible platform with programming supportive of new modes of thinking and interfacing through the arts. Through Fresh Milk she currently co-directs Transoceanic Visual ExchangeTilting Axis and Caribbean Linked, a regional residency programme.

Halcyon Macleod and Willoh S. Weiland’s Residency – Week 2 Blog Post

Australian resident artists Willoh S. Weiland and Halcyon Macleod share the second blog post about their experiences on the Fresh Milk platform. Their interviews continued this week, speaking with a number of women based in Barbados to gather material for their collaborative project ‘Crawl Me Blood’, inspired by the Jean Rhys novel Wide Sargasso Sea. One of the sensitive topics touched on was the way race is talked about – or not talked about – in society, and the parallels that can be drawn between Barbados and Australia in that way. Read more below:

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Our second week at Fresh Milk has been another full week of interviews, writing and research.

Memories of hot mangoes in Grandmother’s kitchen – the taste of summer; or the quiet power of Mahogany trees; or the unrepeatable magic of fire-roasted bread-fruit offered by a stranger on the beach and dipped in the salty sea. Thank you to the inspiring women we have spoken with this week who have shared their perspectives and captivating our senses with their stories (I went directly to the vegetable market and bought a bread fruit). It has been a privilege and a pleasure to meet with you and to talk.

We have had some great conversations with a range of Bajan women now and one of the discussions we are trying to have is about race. It seems agreed that nobody likes to talk about it, even though, in the words of one of the participants “It’s sitting right there, it’s just under the surface.” It seems it’s like trying to talk about both race and class in Australia – you don’t.

One of the women we spoke with this week, who moved to Barbados from Jamaica 30 something years ago, talked about a phone call she received from a friend, after she announced she was moving. Her friend playfully asked “So have you decided? Are you going to be Black or are you going to be white?” Because in a population that is 97% black and 3% white, though no one is talking about it, the women we have interviewed over the last fortnight all agree that mostly, black and white don’t mix. Though of course there are always exceptions.

In Wide Sargasso Sea Jean Rhys locates the in-between of the white creole woman’s experience. This week, Annalee handed me a copy of White Skin, Black Kin: Speaking the Unspeakable, a publication which holds a series of essays by and about Joscelyn Gardner’s work. A Caribbean-Canadian artist, her work explores her white creole identity from a postcolonial feminist perspective. Not black, but not totally white either.

“She is not beke like you, but she is beke, and not like us either”
Christophine talking about Antoinette in Wide Sargasso Sea

It is this liminal and uncomfortable zone that will provide rich material for the artwork we are creating, and also the parallels between the Australian and Caribbean experience.

This week I could feel the blood pressing up into the soles of my feet. I couldn’t go anywhere without thinking about the brutalities of the past and wondering what happened here, in this particular spot where I am standing now. Like visiting Hunte’s Garden (an absolutely stunning tropical garden) and having a rum in the 150 year old house, a former plantation (nobody mentions slavery but I am sure the group of tourists gathered on the verandah are all thinking about it). The garden is so beautiful, planted inside a collapsed cave on the former plantation, every available space has been planted and replanted with an impressive array of tropical plants, palms, heliconias, orchids – an ever evolving work of art, every centimetre thoughtfully cared for and maintained. The plantation on this site is over 300 years old and I marvel how the horrors of the past can sit so quietly, so politely and neatly inside the present moment.

It might just be my gothic temperament, but when I heard myself say to one of the Bajan women I met this week “Everything is covered with blood” I immediately apologised for being dramatic. She replied “Yes it is. And that’s about the least dramatic thing you could possibly say.”

It’s old news I know. I feel like I’m meant to be reconciled with the horrors of the past and its seething. And of course I needn’t have come to the Caribbean to think on that, it’s a very Australian feeling, our dark colonial past alive and well in the present government’s attitude towards Aboriginal communities. Though, not to be too glum, it was energising and amazing to see in the news this week the strong protest responses from Australians to the forced closures.

It was both incredibly grounding and inspiring to hear Annalee talk about Phytoremediation and the foundations of Fresh Milk. Phytoremediation consists of mitigating pollutant concentrations in contaminated soils, water, or air, with plants able to contain, degrade, or eliminate toxins and contaminants. Like the human body turns blood into milk to nourish a new life, the Fresh Milk Art Platform creates a nurturing space for young artists on the site of the Walkers Plantation, turning blood into milk. Annalee Davis and her team have a response to the question of how are we to hold the bloody past in the present. This is how.

This residency is supported in part by the Australian Broadcasting CorporationThe Alcorso Foundation and Arts Tasmania.