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Field Notes uses Visual Art to explore Caribbean Heritage

Published: 
Thursday, September 17, 2015
Vashti Harrison

Field notes are central to the disciplines of ethnography and anthropology, yet they were usually composed by someone observing a culture that wasn’t his or her own—in other words, an outsider. The seven artists in this show—all from the Caribbean or the Caribbean diaspora—reverse that tradition, making “notes” in the form of art that highlights myths, superstitions and practices native to the islands.

Gilles Elie-dit-Cosaque, originally from Martinique, makes lovely notebook-collages called Lambeaux (Scraps), a series from 2009 to 2015. Filled with personal and historical photographs and ephemera, the works borrow from Creole, a heterogeneous mixing of elements, to add a Caribbean tweak to the French “collage.” 

Field Notes (2014), a film by Vashti Harrison, an artist based in California whose roots lead back to Trinidad and Tobago, offers ruminations on ghosts and apparitions, and considers the etymological difference between zombies and Trinidadian jumbies (mythological spirits).

Holly Parotti’s photographs of silk cotton trees in the Bahamas conjure similar spooky mythologies, while Kelly Sinnapah Mary’s video and collage images of exaggerated female bodies, clearly inspired by the Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu, suggest how African and Caribbean diasporas might mix and overlap. Deborah Anzinger, Joiri Minaya and Jasmine Thomas Girvan have all made lateral installations, hung on a wall or suspended in space, with paintings, photographs and found objects that refer to Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.

Sprinkled throughout the show, particularly in the wall text, are references to writers and thinkers like James Baldwin, Aimé Césaire, Jean Rhys, Édouard Glissant and Stuart Hall, who all eloquently addressed colonialism, racism and migration. The art here often falls short of these models, though the artists are all described as emerging in the news release. Thinking of these works as notes rather than opuses supports the provisional, exploratory process proposed by the exhibition’s title. 

—New York Times 

About vashti harrison

Vashti Harrison is an artist and filmmaker whose work focuses on the natural and the supernatural. Folklore, fables and fairy tales tend to weave their way into everything she makes. Working in multiple formats and mediums she uses the form and aesthetics of classic tales to retell stories from her own life and investigate her Caribbean Heritage. 

Vashti earned her MFA in Film/Video from CalArts and her BA from the University of Virginia. She held the Aunspaugh Fifth Year Fellowship in the McIntire Department of Art from 2010-2011. 

Harrison’s Field Notes, an experimental documentary about the ghosts embedded in the culture of T&T, was screened twice at the 2014 flow-sponsored trinidad+tobago film festival. The film is structured as a visual and aural field guide to the soucouyants, lagahoos and jumbies throughout the islands.

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