Daisy Diamond

May 2018

About Daisy Diamond:

Daisy Diamond is a painter, animator, and student originally from Philadelphia who values interdisciplinary and intersectional collaborative exploration. She is currently pursuing a BA in Studio Art from Bates College and spent this past year as a visiting student at Rhode Island School of Design. While she is a resident at the Fresh Milk space, she plans to research the history of Judaism in Barbados and the relationship between ritualistic sacred practices and artistic creation.

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Week 1

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.

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Week 2

My notebook and sketches from the synagogue and visual motifs from the graveyard

As a medium that lends itself more to imperfect (incomplete) exploration, drawing doesn’t allow for erasure or concealment. To draw could mean to visually conjure something from will or to extract something (meaning, guidance, connection) from a source (history, art, conversation). ‘Drawing’ is a tool, a verb, to pull on a thread and weave together thematic threads gradually. Midway through this residency at Fresh Milk, I continue to build on the ‘spine’ of my visuals and learn more about Barbados beyond what can be discovered at the easel.

Books I’ve been reading from the Colleen Lewis Reading Room collection

One of the books I’ve been reading is The Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique, an author from St. Thomas, an island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Annalee Davis, artist and founder of Fresh Milk, recommended this incredible work of magical realism and generational family sagas when I asked for an introduction to contemporary Caribbean literature. The novel is a collage of ideas and experiences with shifting perspectives and a variety of writing styles.

Here are two quotes I’ve been thinking about from this book:

“History could do that, change a person’s name. History was something so simple and insistent that none of us has escaped it.”

“People can need each other like water.”

The water that surrounds each island shapes and serves as a witness to its history. A collective history “so simple and insistent that none of us has escaped it,” not our own, each other’s, or the one being written now. In what ways do acts of artistic creation and consumption situate us in a dialogue with history? Rather than in a position of repression or swallowing the legacies of colonialism? The water that swallows the lives of several characters in this story is impartial to their guilt, innocence, or their value to the people who depend on them, who might “need each other like water.”

I recommend this book for its poetic language and thought-provoking, critical analyses of intersecting family histories as Dutch rulers gave way to American ones in the early 1900s in the Virgin Islands. Here is a video of Yanique reading from a passage about protests, beaches, tourism, and so much more.

I also spent one morning this week walking on Bathsheba beach alongside a few swimmers who seemed intimately knowledgeable about the water’s tides and sweeping currents. We were all there, but had acutely different relationships to the waves cyclically consuming themselves. But perhaps not? Maybe they were visitors and in awe just as I was (the limitations of projection). I was reminded of a quote by Hilton Als from an essay, “Islands,” published in 2014. “The sky’s largeness and generosity reminded me of how pitiful I can feel on islands, where one’s ideas about the place amount to so much sentimental or ideological bullshit.” Similarly, Barbados occupies an active place in many imaginary realms as a ‘paradise.’ I have found powerful counterexamples to this homogenous narrative daily through literary, political, and artistic communities and news while at Fresh Milk.

Sir Paul Altman (left), walking on the grounds by the cemetery during a filmed interview

Later in the week, I returned to the Nidhe Israel Synagogue to listen in on an interview of Sir Paul Altman, a leading advocate for the restoration efforts of the synagogue that began in 1986, by Judy Dennison, a cinematographer from Trinidad, and her film crew. Sir Altman described his efforts with the restoration of the synagogue as a “labor of love.” It was fascinating to learn more about the Altman family’s advocacy for the Jewish community and their dedication to preserving history.

During the interview, I also learned more about connections between Barbadian Jews and synagogues in the United States. America’s oldest synagogue, the Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island, where I spent eight months this past year as a student, was founded by Jewish settlers from Barbados. A synagogue in Philadelphia, where I grew up, was financially supported by and had a rabbi who spent years in the Jewish community in Barbados. Again, I was reminded of how this small group of individuals has had a disproportionately large impact across time and geography.

Sir Altman also discussed his horror at the city’s one time plan to build on top of the sacred land where the Jews are buried outside the synagogue. This notion raised a lot of questions for me about how to memorialize sacred land within and beyond this graveyard that was also the site of so much historic trauma and violence – slavery, mass murders, and the displacement of communities. How does the absence of a memorial to this terrible legacy get in the way of a community’s understanding of their ties to history and prevent healing? I have so many questions about how echoes of colonialism and political control are used as justifications for ownership (of land, people, and history) in Barbados and across the world.

In this landscape of sand, sun and sea, I can’t help but think of other ancient land with thousands of years of conflicted ownership and migrations from stolen land to stolen land. Here, we are witnesses through our screens to the horror of the deaths and injuries at ongoing protests in Palestine against the jarring backdrop of formalities performed at the opening of the new US Embassy in Jerusalem.

I am reminded over and over again of Tiphanie Yanique’s insight that “history was something so simple and insistent that none of us has escaped it.” I am thinking of the ongoing protests in Palestine and the land theft and ethnic cleansing justified in the legacy of colonialism and in the name of religion. Reconstructionist Judaism at its core acknowledges our history as one religious civilization among many with parallel histories. It also explicitly seeks to reinterpret and reject Jewish thought that has been historically used to justify the oppression of others. My background in this relatively recent branch of Judaism (founded in 1968) has spurred my interest in ways to engage with spiritual traditions to bring meaning, understanding, and community into daily, and perhaps even explicitly secular, life.

I hope to explore and experiment with religious techniques outside their original contexts to draw meaning and everyday relevance from a text we collectively decide on (poetry, short story, essay, etc.) this Thursday evening, May 17th from 6-8pm, at the Fresh Milk studio space in St. George. Information about this Sacred Practices Reading Group can be found here. Please be sure to RSVP to freshmilkbarbados@gmail.com if you are interested or have any questions! Again, no religious practice or belief is required, just an open curiosity! Hope to see you there.