The Perception of the Plural in a Unique Space (2010)

by Maria Prada Naida (translated by Margaret Ann Harris)

An approach to the work of the Barbadian artist Annalee Davis cannot be done without a fragmentary, plural perspective, attending to characteristics of its own creative mission that identify with multiple and complex interpretations and approaches to the variants in Caribbean contemporary art. Her work cannot be restricted to a defined esthetic or technical expression, given the variety of approaches and ways of doing what fundamentally characterize the work of this artist.

This multiple vision is shown above all when analyzing the expressive variants that she employs to cover even only one of its subject matter. The esthetic solutions multiply in lines of extremely diverse thematic development such as trans-territoriality, emigration, the idea of the home and many others that have been touched in one form or another along her career.

Because of this, I propose as the content of this analysis a search for some of the variables with which she tackles the theme of emigration and the tourism sector in understanding and problematizing the Caribbean’s contemporary space, above all taking into consideration the reach that one or the other phenomenon and a critical position currently has for society in Barbados that Annalee assumes as an artist compromised with her reality.

The Caribbean as a narrowly interconnected cultural region is intended as a constant to a large extent in the work of this artist, in which reflection about the historic problem of migration and its consequences in a multiethnic space characterized by cultural convergence and the plurality of beliefs, histories and models of thought.

In this sense, it’s very interesting to analyze relations of dependence and the linkages that Annalee establishes between collective experience, the strict individual ones and the idea of liberty mediated or determined by external factors in works such as Creole Madonna, Evocations to a Caribbean and, above all, the film production entitled On the map, that manages to grasp the problems that accompany daily life in this part of the world.

Her work concentrates on a space that has been defined for centuries as an area of mobility, in which diverse cultures have flowed, with a pile up of fused traditions fused that today distinguish us from the rest of the world. Our history has from the outset been an open zone for the inclusion of customs, religions, race so diverse that they have had adapt to new conditions for their necessary survival in a constant evolution until finding forms of personal influence and reach. In this social terrain born of contrasts, racial conflict was, from the start, an imposed condition.

We were born under the mark of differences that we have carried as stigmas to our times without being able to get rid of the old structures of dependence and subordination. So that nowadays the theme of race in the Caribbean is one of the most problematic and concealed. What is buried behind the evidence of our social reality goes way beyond a simple current circumstance and comes to form part of a subordinated history that has situated us in the role of second-class citizens and have, at the same time, filled feelings of complex of the kind that we have not known how to undo.

Today, nevertheless, the problem is seen in a different social group, let’s say that has caused a change a change of position that has transferred the defendants to the band of those culpable, changing the order of the system of values and hierarchies in a society where the predominant racial group is the black one. It becomes a little paradoxical, that the same marginalized by class over centuries would be today capable of mirroring the repression exercised on them, maintaining discriminatory attitudes toward the white minorities in their country or the racially mixed population of other nearby zones.

And the fact is that a change as difficult as is social change, cannot take place, of course, at a superficial level, the alternatives can only be found through a collective conscience capable of understanding the magnitude of the problem and in this way manage to prompt change. There is a discussion about creating a state of knowledge of the I-individual of the Caribbean man, but not in aforementioned individual sense, but by way of a community, that, without presuming to ignore its differences, must be known for the strong unity of its cultural and historic ties.

I believe that a great part of the work of Annalee is directed towards activating that general state of consciousness, necessary for her to encounter a perspective for this insertion in our multiple origins. Currently, one of the main contradictions of this zone is the migratory phenomenon; where large sectors of the population emigrate yearly toward other spaces in the same Caribbean, but the majority goes to developed countries where they find greater opportunities, above all, economic and individual development. The migratory condition has accompanied us during centuries. But if before the Caribbean was characterized for a meeting point to the interior of the zone, today it has become a space of cultural outreach toward the remainder of the world.

This situation is converted then in a real possibility for the definition of the Caribbean man, who upon being transferred toward other parts of the world necessarily begins to be understood as someone, who at the same time, is different to the rest. The idea of seeking that which identifies us as Caribbean finds its revelation in the multiple works of the artist who has not ceased to investigate our reality and, above all, the specific conditions of her space: Barbados. Migration, as a current problem in this society, constitutes one of the main thematic lines in the work of Annalee.

Her work is a symbolic effort, but not because of it is it less direct, managing to scrutinize the most diverse spaces of our cultural reality with a constructive and extremely critical look. The allusion to home and its symbolic translation become that space of welfare and individual execution that the human being so needs, that place that defines and distinguishes him, acquiring the magnitude of an oft repeated symbol so that it comes to be present like a constant one in many of her productions.

The uprooting also forms also part of this play with the identifier. Emigration always carries this dual load of what is alien or, unknown and that with which one has always been responsible for, without being important to place or time: one’s own roots. The frequent traumatic ending that accompanies these decisions surfaces many times in her works, alluding to the pain of being confronted by hostile circumstances in a society that itself shows no hospitality. This reflection on identity can be appreciated above all in works of the last years in which

Annalee investigates the interior of the Caribbean human being Caribbean bring to the surface its more defining characteristics. In this manner, standard behavior such as racism in the Barbadian society or its multiethnic characteristics and its religious variants, become sources of artistic inspiration and working material. It is interesting how she manages to maneuver beyond the aesthetic concept, with other aspects of life, allowing herself to carry them to the artistic plane. Thanks to this critical traspolación of a social or economic horizon to the aesthetic realm is then that one can speak of an art committed to social status with which she feels compelled to interact in order to transform her reality.

Her subjects, in addition to not being coincidental, bring about a critical discourse that Annalee throws towards the work itself and that aims beyond artistic analysis to address the issue from a position of generating new ideas. Arguing, discussing, finding new alternatives to the problems shown inside as well as outside of the work, are the main objectives pursued by the artist. Is not enough to appreciate her work, it must be capable of provoking a reaction that causes a transformation, however small it may be, even when operating only within the individual. Interaction in this sense is key, and the work of Annalee is not static, but rather plays with all possible meanings and through them she seeks from the viewer the completion of a result for themselves.

The complexity of the work is evident in its ability to address an issue through varied aesthetic resources from traditional formats to the use of new media such as audiovisual or digital techniques. This creative ability permits a vast symbolic universe that takes us down different paths to a single, well defined goal. . Alluding to the sense of identity in her work, is the idea of totality. A curious contrast defines its production from two points of view. Through the image of the home, the house, representative of the notion of privacy, of something very personal and intimate, is a defining symbol, the search for a collective feeling, to sense the Caribbean as a whole, where every man is able of being reflected in the other , reveals to us the breadth of her analytical capabilities.

Annalee tries to find in the most intimate spaces of human consciousness that which we identify as Caribbean and is able to serve as a bridge between all. The questioning of who we are resonates like an echo in all the works of Annalee. Her answer here is clear: she analyzes and wants to see the Caribbean as a human unit connected to itself without separation of classes or races. In defending the idea of a united Caribbean, her work has been aimed at diluting all kinds of boundaries, physical and mental, to find the path of integration. But an idea like this demands, in turn, an assumption of responsibility manifesting itself in the sense of commitment.

It happens that such liability cannot be measured in any individual, but must necessarily acquire thereby achieving collective influence in the process of social development. It seems essential that awareness is placed in the hands of men now living in the Caribbean, about the ability to make decisions for tomorrow. I find it instructive to refer to one of the last works of Annalee, introduced in Cuba and whose information we have obtained directly from the artist. The project running through the beaches of Barbados acquires the sense of a complaint about the critical situation that is causing the expansion of the tourism market in this small island only 34 km. long and 23 km. wide. Over 7 miles, Davis travels the coast to find out how many public beach accesses of hotel companies are still in place for the public.

The result of the experiment yields the reality of a fully privatized space, exclusive to a minority group with high purchasing power and tourism companies that have taken over much of the coastal territory. But the big business of tourism is not only about beaches, but has also been responsible for reducing the living space to the interior of the island in building numerous recreation centers for many foreign visitors . A great golf course in the shape of islands of the Caribbean becomes the representative image of a touristic and consistently superficial and temporary vision of the Caribbean that Annalee tries to denounce in Just Beyond My imagination, Where the original slogan of the tourism office of Barbados is appropriated and recreated. Contrary to a general attitude, Annalee does not create for tourism, but creates from it, taking its more preoccupying aspects for the future not only in Barbados, but in the general Caribbean community.

While the first work shows a space encroached on in the most coveted areas, it launches criticism beyond the image itself to an area such as economic activity on the island, mostly dependent on the United States and Europe, which constitute its broad market sector.

However Just Beyond My Imagination is a direct reference to one of the light games of the upper class: golf, which shows the extent of economic power, even moreso when there exists a clear suggestion about segregation in two territories: Guyana and Haiti. Countries because of discrimination and poverty, not part of the game in which only select members enter. Both works are of crucial importance because they exceed the limits of the artistic, encountering very important issues for Barbadian reality, a living space shrinking more and more as regards an inspirational area in which forces may join in a just demand for the transformation of the situation that threatens to displace the natural population of the country in a race to win the most coveted pieces of land with the aim of making tourist playgrounds for those who come from outside.

Another of her most popular topics is the relationship between the collective and individual experience of the human will. It is not difficult to find a direct correspondence between these two concepts and the issue of Caribbean identity. The reality of the coexistence of a diverse culture, makes Barbados today, a space marked by social and cultural plurality. The theme of migration comes back again and again, this time to offer the measure of the extent of this problem from a female perspective in the work Evocation of Caribbean which refers to the convergence of stories that have taken place in Barbados. The work is presented as an installation that invites viewers to participate in an interactive experience with the piece, which must, by means of a lever, activate movement in different boxes simulating the natural movement these women have had throughout the history of the Caribbean.

Women and Goddesses from around the world become the evocation of a great image of the Caribbean in which there are fragments of history which must be grouped in a single area of identity: Aboriginal women, English, African, Indian, Chinese and Creole appear in correspondence with their respective goddesses in a parallel historical line. The uprooting of a native tradition on the one hand, and adapting to a new geographical and cultural space, on the other, becomes the result of a motion at the level of social consciousness beyond migration. The multiple realities that occurred in the Caribbean have been the cause of numerous discrepancies in society.

The differences are not only raised to a social or economic level, the issue of religion or race is perhaps even more troubling. Expressing the uniqueness of the relationship between all these people so different and far between, as well as finding new ways for unity is essential to Annalee. The footage On The Map of the Caribbean speaks from their own voices from numerous interviews conducted mainly Guyanese immigrants moving into the territory of Barbados annually in large populations.

The material shows the consequences of a political and economic integration and a single market for Caribbean countries in the CARICOM should promote social and political union, as well as regional economic integration. Contrary to expectations, this model encourages further economic contradictions of the area. Resistance becomes a weapon of struggle for those who are threatened in a Barbados already reduced in its physical space and above all work. The markedly xenophobic Barbadian society creates a state of denial and aggression against Guyanese immigrants.

The film purports to speak from the experience of these people, who in their capacity as Indians, experience the burden of discrimination in a country that is assumed to be black from very nationalistic and aggressive feelings. The film provides a space for expression for this group of people who feel free to talk about their experiences as migrants. The notion of community acquired in this case a wider political scope, however this assumption of unity or collective space appears constantly in contrast with a tragic life experience of the interviewees. The migratory movement within the Caribbean is today one of the main causes of internal conflict.

Passing through physical and geographical borders is much easier to go through than the mental barrier of men, which is why Annalee attempts to show that other image conscious of her origin and consistent with a Caribbean experience: the person who knows all his differences but especially who do not feel black, white, French, Creole or Chinese, but all at the same time. This is where the artist's role takes on added significance in terms of social work.

Art should offer the possibility of debate and confrontation of ideas that encourage social change from an active position. The role of the artist must be a commitment to the historical conditions surrounding it and does not mean that is necessarily political, but if you need to defend an idea from a vision consistent with its principles, culture, roots, religion, etc.. From this point of view of Davis's work appeals to many different resources, but always well-defined positions and, above all, with a deep feminine sensibility.

Her work starts, often in an analysis of the historical condition of the Caribbean, hence the issue of political conflicts and racial diversity, but this only becomes a starting point to get us to reflect on our present condition and place. What is the image of ourselves that we have and what is the notion that our reality we must take? Davis calls for a space of communication, a right to speak for those who have been silenced for a long time. That is why we address the issue from the perspective of incursion and search of the symbolic key works with the artist explained the meaning of her work and is very useful for our understanding of conflict and current status from an unprejudiced vision and alien to stereotypes imposed over centuries, which have dented our image and vision of our identity and we must aim to recover today.

Materiales consultados:

Digital Documentos:

On The Map. A film by Annalee Davis, 2007

Recorded Interview:

Interviewee: Annalee Davis

Interviewers: Alena Méndez Moreno, Maria Prada Naida y Yudith Linares Suárez
Lugar: Hostal Los Frailes, La Habana Vieja, Cuba
Día y Hora: 27 de marzo de 2009, 9:00 a.m.

Revistas y Catálogos:
The New Bajan. October, 1990: The power of art, pág.8
Annalee Davis. What Matters

Entrevista a Annalee Davis
Members Preferred, texto que precede semejando una alfombra roja, la entrada al campo de golf en Just Beyond My Imagination. Por otro lado el silenciamiento y la falta de información es una realidad con la que me he topado a la hora de buscar información no sólo de estos lugares, sino del propio Barbados en los circuitos de Internet. Muy poco información especializada, escasos estudios serios revelan las fuerzas de un poder que somete a los países del Caribe.
Entrevista de Annalee Davis
Tomado de: On The Map

September 2010


Relationship home / land in the discourse of identity and self-image (2010)

by Alena Méndez Moreno (translated by Margaret Ann Harris)

Annalee Davis (1963) is a leading artist of Barbados. Her extensive work is difficult to define in a single thematic line because there are many issues and media through which it is expressed. However, its proposal on the concept of home, so dear and controversial to our Caribbean territories victims of colonization and neocolonialism, has caught my attention. Whether in recordings, installations, or painted panels with objects attached, Annalee Davis exposes the interesting relationship home /land ; that is, the term casa, home, and that of homeland, patria. It is a partnership and discourse on identity and self-image that the individual creates of our contexts. This, with the clear aim of making us think.

The main objective that I have is to analyze the artistic approach to the work of Annalee Davis from this perspective, i.e to discuss the relationship we can establish between home / homeland, home /identity, and elaborate on the potential socio-economic reasons (e.g. the sugar industry and tourism in these islands, migration) that especially in our context trigger these associations.

We Caribbean people are marked fundamentally by the experience of migration from the very formation of the space since the arrival of Europeans. The system of economic dependency and social metropolis that grew out of African slavery and then the semi-slavery of the Orientals, are elements that still affect us. Many Caribbean countries now depend economically and culturally on Europe and the United States as a neo-colonial condition. They are also extremely fragile environments in both socioeconomic and environmental issues.

As Annalee Davis herself states , the Caribbean can be considered the cradle of New World globalization, since, except for its indigenous population it is made up of residents who come from various ethnicities. Strongly influenced by migration, it has become a space of convergence, in one of the largest hybridization experiments in the world , for years romanced with the idea of being a single Caribbean, a single identity. But in practice, relations generated show up the space as fragmented along ethnic, racial, linguistic, cultural and, ultimately, historical lines.

From this perspective, Davis also shows how the notions of a culturally fragmented region on one hand together with the too often formulation of idyllic images of a playground for tourists on the other (derived from specific socio-economic issues), leading to a contradiction in our own identity. Therefore, the term related to country home in our context becomes an ambiguity. Teasing us, Davis asks: What is home? Where is it? Is home a category that talks more with our psychology that our reality? Then this concept acquires a true idealistic taste rather than a nostalgic one. As Colleen Lewis states, in the work of Annalee Davis home category transcends territorial boundaries, time and space becoming a present lived in our minds.

That our roots and traditions define us and mark the home (in a very broad sense) is how we conceive of how we individually and then socially project ourselves.

Thus, Davis' works presents us with a necessary debate based on questions like: What is the Caribbean?, Is the external image really us, what is the truth of our reality and how may we relate to the other from it?

The sugar industry is another element that has greatly impacted the lives of the people of Barbados, and in general the other Caribbean territories. The rise and depression in this industry are, especially in these contexts, closely related to the common theme of migration to the cities in the main. Migratory movements occur from the time of formation of the Caribbean had been introspective (between regions and from the Americas from Europe in colonial campaigns, from Africa as slave labor in Asia and then from slave-like conditions). Now the reverse: to the cities and / or world powers like the United States and European countries. The figures are alarming: we experience one of the highest rates of emigration of educated and skilled workforce in the world, a figure that in the case of Barbados is 63%. Sugar, which had been the main economic sector of Barbados from the colonial period, is in crisis in the mid-twentieth century, which led to a strong migratory movement in the 60's. This event still affects the lives of Barbadians and other Caribbean people in many regions. From this, Davis debates about the impact of this flow, how this back and forth can provoke subjectivity of our societies.

Works such as Rooted in Flight, Whirlwind and Raw Testimonies express these ideas. The estate, houses, birds and whirlpools are metaphors in the dialogue on these meanings that can take the term home for man, rather than Barbados, Caribbean.

The Installation (Up) rooted (1997) is formed from a small wooden house from which long roots in sight emerge. The house is suspended on roots while floating. The series responds clearly to the sense that the Caribbean is a region marked by emigration, which is manifested in the work in two ways. In other words, the roots are uprooted at the same time entrenching themselves, rising with birds as they penetrate the earth. And the immigrant, leaving everything behind, naturally created a home in the new reality of the hosts based from past experience for a needed sense of belonging. It occurs as a tension between two apparently conflicting elements that, to paraphrase Shakespeare, we could define as being and not being. Longing, memory and the human yearning to be part of a partnership, involving migrated people creates a space in which one is identified. For nothing must we see in concrete such space questions and measures. This home, represented in the house, must be understood as identity and memory that protects and comforts of the strangeness of a different environment whose reality until recently was completely foreign. Even on the representation of the roots , we may express ourselves as Sarah Clunis , symbolizing the long branches of the family tree, the arteries of the same body.

(up)rooted thus expresses the constantly rooted notions of home variables. As noted by the artist, the home is established from the experience of migration gradually becoming a sense of belonging within us, perhaps unconsciously, and that shapes our thinking and action, a notion that goes beyond and even in contrast with the idea of being physically anchored in the space. The proposal is to elaborate on the idea of the sense of belonging and identity, symbolized by elements such as the house, in communion with others that refer to this parity manifested in the rooting (roots) and the uprooting (birds).

This contradiction emerges from the very title of the series. The parentheses in (up)ironically refers to this duality which is expressed in the being of the immigrant.

This Being that is physically and culturally uprooted from their land by a process, say, of resistance and preservation of memory and identity, assimilating the new environmental conditions while recreating new and individual space from these influences and their experience. The home for the migrant is therefore in the maintenance of your spirit, culture, belief, tradition, and so on, that survive in the consciousness of concrete reality. No doubt this proposal will explore the tensions of polarized societies in the Caribbean Islands and complex migration patterns manifested in the ambivalent sense of belonging.

Sometimes, along with parts of the series (up) rooted small panels such as Finding the Centre (1997) and Memories of Exile (1998) also speak of this duality is perceived physically and psychologically in the emigrant. In Finding the Centre there is an allusion to a possible peace experienced in the "contemplation" of the home created inside.

In the case of Raw Testimonies (1997), for its creation, the author interviewed 150 students at basic, intermediate and advanced levels with a request to write and illustrate what they sensed as their home, emotionally and psychologically. From a selection, the work consists of widening and printing of 6 testimonials in lithograph along with pictures the artist made in bagasse in response to what was expressed in them. For Davis, , the home space functions as a kind of mirror for how we meet in the privacy of the home will reflect how we recognize ourselves in society. Some respondents said being part of very natural and simple while others expressed family dramas, challenging and hostile areas such as the so-called borrowed children (loaned children).

In Barbados, those children that remain in "borrowed" space are so called through having their parents leave for developed cities like New York to work, often in the field of services to send money home. This situation generates a number of now destroyed homes. Based on the hard evidence of this child, the artist presents a discarded house the fragments of which stand in an obvious stretched out hand gesture, thus expressing the desire of this young to have a unified and harmonious space. We might ask, by witnessing the testimony of this child, if the situations that confront borrowed children deserve so much effort, sacrifice and abandonment. Amazingly, many Caribbean immigrants are of the opinion that given the lack of opportunities at home, it is worth trying to try their luck in other regions, even at the risk of being coerced and exploited.

Other evidence relate to the idea of home as an expression of our identity, reflected in a house with roots that are carried in our hands since we wear our identity in the spirit. Other houses are shown in a small hand giving the sense of something valuable that deserves to be preserved, an nursing infant with an udder as one way of relating to maternity, a blow with a hammer illustrating the process of physical and psychological construction of the home that is described in one of testimonies and a final example inextricably linked to heart because similar to this organ, the home is a vital and energetic space for us as individuals.

These prints by Annalee Davis are made intentionally on bagasse, alluding to the impact the sugar industry has had in shaping the space from the colonial era and the social behavior that is currently provided by these established relationships and because their crisis in Barbados, from the second half of the twentieth century was one of the strongest determinants for migration to even more developed economic centers. Even the title of the book, Raw Testimonies can be understood in association with raw sugar or the sincere revelation of these anonymous and at the same time proper witnesses.

Often many of Davis’ pieces express a symbolic dimension of material. The use of organic objects in their creation as bagasse, palm or sand, strengthens this bridge between the old plantation system and tourism today and Caribbean identity rooted in memory, behavior and the sense of belonging beyond physical space.

Contemporary Middle Passage (here) and (there) (1997) is another work that also talks about the impact on our area of the sugar industry, the social relations from the institution of slavery generated and the economic crisis that recently hit Barbados leading to an intense migratory phenomenon.

This work is a unique piece, worked on from both sides, here and there. On one side (here) is seen a falling woman driven by a whirlwind and whose navel holds a house, and who is tied in turn to a Caribbean landscape presumably due to the presence of sea and palms. Moreover, a recurrent picture in other works is Davis's hand touching the void , which could be an allusion to the "nothing", concrete lack or hollow belief that dominates the “here.”

To the back (there), there is also a stream of air but, in contrast, this air lifts a woman with luggage and surrounded by birds, seems to wish to create for her a journey of hope. Constant symbolic elements appear such as rooted house and the whirlwind that rises when you fall, clearly identifiable in works such as Whirlwind.

The installation presents again the idea that the identity and aspirations of Caribbean people are linked to migration movements through its personal symbolism: the rooted house and palm in the here (aquí), as opposed to birds and the figure flying with suitcase in hand, expecting better opportunities in the there (allá). There is no doubt that this piece also reinforces the dual nature of outflows in our space.

Thus, being from time immemorial an area marked by migration, the rich and varied common ground of many ethnicities, we find the equal right to own a home whose physical and psychological with whose form we identify, essential. A place in the beings that we truly leave no assets and responsibility for our decisions and our home at the hands of a new group that threatens the social and environmental wellbeing of the Caribbean: tourists.

Accordingly, one of her most emblematic and problematic pieces speaks: Just Beyond My Imagination (2006-2007), a golf course scene is curiously the Caribbean itself. Made in the context of the World Cup Golf Championships (Barbados, December 2006), this piece expresses in the words of one Annalee Davis , how this small state (Barbados: 21x14 miles), and in conclusion the rest of the Caribbean, also becomes an international center of golf, the metaphor par excellence of an exclusive playground for the not for natives but for tourists.

The installation presents the Caribbean islands and which now become sand traps in a sea of green grass, simulating the golf courses. A flag is marked with the ironic title of the work and a small red carpet to install a playground warns members-only exclusive (Miembros Preferidos).

Perhaps most interesting would be to think about the absence of Haiti and Guyana in this idyllic vision of the Caribbean. Why are they consciously excluded? What aspects of bilateral relations between the Caribbean countries could lead to their exclusion from the delightful Caribbean promotional picture? Without a doubt, is being questioned as the idea of the Caribbean is born and presented as a single space, with a single identity. Is there really a feeling of equality, of belonging to this space? While still questioning these conceptions, however, there is a betrayal of a strain in relations between Barbados and countries such as Haiti and Guyana, which can find its possible cause in the discrimination emigrants from these countries they suffer in the territory Barbadian territory. This absence is therefore an explicit denunciation not only of the abuse these emigrants are subjected to, but the overall situation both socially and economically. To paraphrase Karl Marx, in the final instance, economic factors generate these and certain other behaviors and worldviews in society.

Annalee Davis thus recreates a tension announced from the title. Just Beyond My Imagination is but an ironic adaptation of the marketing slogan of the Tourism Bureau of Barbados: "BARBADOS - Just Beyond Your Imagination", which Davis reads as your imagination. On this basis, the book notes how the growing Caribbean tourist industry has developed playgrounds and recreational facilities for tourists, offering our best resources only to those who can afford it. The problem is limiting the progress of the local population that has restricted access to the enjoyment of these sites.

The natives are being robbed of the space gained after the long-awaited independence from the metropolis. From this we must ask if we own that space, why do we develop it for foreigners? Why the locals have no access to "our" best land and coasts? And moreover we have to posit that it’s an issue not exclusively Barbadian. Notwithstanding the responses, there’s a need to analyze the relationship of economic dependence on foreigners generated by the tourism industry in the Caribbean context, in the sense of identity, that is created unconsciously in native mentality through subordination with respect to the foreign visitor, tourists.

I would almost say that it is an effect unique to our regions and our economies to survive and depend on the tourism industry more than their fragile ecosystems could afford. Of course, we must not overlook that this mentality of subordination is in turn associated with more than 500 years of colonial domination. Hence, the need to refuse to be a perfect and simplistic golf course in favour of building a more united and well-connected space for one another. Today more than ever we need to feel rooted, owning a home of our own in all possible senses of the word, and soon there will be little room for natives as we are practically displaced from our best coastline and landscapes so that wealthy and / or foreign can have a nice day .

In general, all are pieces that reflect on Caribbean identity and image (both what we form from our inner self as those that as a society we act out) from the interesting, complex, contradictory and dynamic relationship home / land. Annalee Davis says all the time in their works need to adopt a serious attitude in building a vital place. She says that if we win the space (also a debatable issue as to the extent of a new form of both economic and cultural colonization with the current phenomenon of neo-liberal globalization) we also have full responsibility for its composition, because if colonial times were responsible for another country, once independence was achieved it became ours. I agree with Davis that sometimes the problem is based on decisions taken not in favor of our best interests.

Summarising, from the statements we can conclude that the artistic work of the Barbadian Annalee Davis is framed in the contemporary Caribbean, shown as a completely heterogeneous mosaic of identities and idiosyncrasies. Hers is a unique Caribbean in geographic space, but tempered by the various problems that come with technologically advanced and globalized world of today. It is precisely the socio-economic issues, the fragility of these ecosystems and foreign influences experienced by the Caribbean man, that are expressed in the special relationship home / land that inundates her work in all its expressions.


Annalee Davis: (up)rooted. The Art Foundry, 23rd March - 20th May 1997. (Catálogo)
Annalee Davis: What Matters. (Catálogo)

Entrevistado(a): Annalee Davis.
Entrevistador(es): Alena Méndez Moreno, María Prada Naida, Yudith Linares Suárez.

September 2010

Sarah Clunis on ANNALEE DAVIS (2007)

By Sarah Clunis

Born in 1963, in St. Michael, Barbados, Annalee Davis grew up in Barbados leaving in 1980 to study abroad.

In 1986 she received her B.F.A from the Maryland Institute, College of Art and in 1989 she received her M.F.A. from the Mason Gross School of Visual Arts at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. In 1989 Davis returned to Barbados to live and has spent the last eighteen years teaching, creating art, lecturing, and traveling throughout the Caribbean and internationally.

In much of Davis' work the plantation is represented as a kind of maze-like structure or caged house, a confined center that embodies economic, social and emotional qualities. With elements of collage, installation and ready-made culture, Davis successfully juxtaposes ideas such as confinement within a plantation society with the contemporary restrictions of gender, motherhood, and marriage. Davis' personal life collages with her country's history and present in surreal juxtapositions. Her work, although personal, also deals with the institution of slavery in the Caribbean and its lingering psychological impact. Her use of organic objects such as palm spathes, mahogany, sugar cane, and sand reinforce the plantation and the land in Barbados as central to Davis' identity. The result is a series of hybrid juxtapositions of objects that examine the relationship between past and present issues of land use.

I always loved the land. Intensely. I felt like it was my arm. I understood myself through the land. I felt comfortable with the land in a way that I did not with the nation.

With Scarred Dreams, palm spathes from the Royal Palms that traditionally line the driveways to old plantation houses are wrapped and bound with white lace, cotton or vines to indicate class distinctions. Visual signifiers of vegetation and land play an important part in Davis’ work. The palm spathes act like ready-made icons of colonialism and are just one of a number of objects that relate intimately to the landscape of Davis’ past. They bleed, representing the lost appendages of people, as well as severed states of being. With Scarred Dreams Davis makes reference to a kind of schizophrenic way of existing with the land, one, that in her case, is bound up with isolation and privilege. While she acknowledges her privilege Davis is frustrated by questions of authenticity. Her interaction with other Barbadians often reinforces for her that she must constantly verify her legitimacy as a Barbadian. Subsequently she clings to the land as a symbol of her belonging.

For this reason contemporary issues of land use are important for Davis and her art examines the ways that the sugar and tourist’s industries evolve from and exist for places other than Barbados. Davis’ piece Barbados in a Nutshell (revised) (2002) can be viewed as a cross section of the rapid shift in Barbados from an economy based on agriculture to one based on tourism. Displayed in an acrylic cabinet, are various commodities such as rum, colorful plastic tourist curios, a teacup, sugar cane, and golf balls. At the bottom of this display case are elements such as sand and seawater. With this piece Davis comments on the transformation of cane-fields and sugar factories into golf courses and housing developments as well as the reality of the rural landscape being sold to create idyllic vacation spots that cater to outside interests.

Today, as a tourist destination, Davis feels that Barbados continues to map itself for others as a paradise and play ground. Her work continues to addresses the struggle for land in Barbados and the subsequent displacement of people and compares it to similar post-abolition issues on the island. Her concerns focus on the fact that most Caribbean islands were once completely dependent on fragile sugarcane or banana industries. Now they are highly vulnerable to globalization and ill-equipped to deal with increasingly high levels of poverty.

This island has no cockpit country or tropical rainforests, no untamed alternative place to retreat to. Barbados has been stripped of its wilderness. We have “evolved” from our well-furrowed fields and more recently replaced the plantations with hotels.

Davis’ narrative focuses on the land and her individual connection to it in order to weave a historical narrative that is intentionally subjective. With Just Beyond My Imagination Davis creates the Caribbean archipelago, islands of sand traps and a sea of green Astroturf. The title of the work is adapted from the Barbados Board of Tourism’s marketing slogan, “Barbados - Just Beyond Your Imagination.”

Almost four hundred years after being settled, and forty years into our independence, the ancient practice of mapping continues to impact on our sense of self and other. The mapping of the region started in the seventeenth century by cartographers documenting recently conquered territories. Then, we were mapped by others and for others. Today, as a tourist destination, we continue to map ourselves for others in the way that we package the islands as exotica or paradise and on maps which display parts of the island, largely of interest to the tourists.

Davis’ interest in the phenomenon of mapping and tourism in the Caribbean has also involved an investigation of movement within and outside of the Caribbean. This interest is expressed in her piece (up)rooted (1997). (up)rooted, a small wooden house supported by a mass of large vines, explores the tensions of small-island polarized societies as well as complex patterns of migration out of, back to and within the Caribbean. The “roots” in the piece could be the branches of a family tree, the arteries of a single body, or yet another map that tracks the tangled routes of the Caribbean Diaspora. (up)rooted distances and controls access to this place called home. The home, a ubiquitous symbol in Davis’ paintings, prints and installations, is the central focus. In a personal way (up)rooted also explores the concept of home within the space of contemporary Barbadian society that finds it difficult to bridge the divides between class and race that still exist because of historical circumstances.

Two video works, On the Map and A Collection of Civilized Creoles Continue to Cross the Middle Passage of the Southern Caribbean, continue to investigate patterns of migration. On the Map is a thirty-two minute documentary that focuses on interviews with un/documented migrants, all displaced in some way in spite of the region’s current attempt to create a single space. On the Map questions the myth of a unified Caribbean as it reveals the contradictions of lived realities versus the rhetoric of integration.

With both Knotty Head (1997) and An Alliteration (1997) knots are used as a way to express “the most important things that need to be said and can’t be spoken.” An Alliteration , part of a three part installation, is a curtain of white, knotted strings. Dangling between these strings and knots are miniature wire houses. The houses are like little cages for tiny birds. Part of this piece includes a poem. An excerpt reads, “this matter of mending the mask…the malaise…”

Resembling a mosquito netting, an ubiquitous symbol in the Caribbean, An Alliteration offers viewers a repose, a place to hide from harsh elements: the hot sun, mosquitoes, other people…the malaise. It is a space of privacy and solitude. The houses dangle from the knotted strings, telling the story of “being cooped up – enclosed.”
With her installation Growing Up Without an Echo (2000) Davis provides us with a spiral maze that incorporates a labyrinth. With Evocations (2002) and Creole Madonna (2002) Davis moves through time to become a Caribbean woman of various ethnicities with corresponding deities, and effectively represents the often unacknowledged racial mixture of Caribbean White Creoles with the use of brightly colored silk cloth, cascading like ball gowns to the ground. Indigo and hibiscus pink join an emerald green and a shining orange so that we are enveloped and caught on the wave of color and texture. With these installation spaces, paths and spirals unfold, revealing a landscape of infinite possibility.

In Davis’ work objects are in limbo, suspended between collectible and souvenir, public and private, outside and inside, communal and intimate, and personal and national. She offers us captured moments of a complicated story; souvenirs, sugar cane, palm trees, and golf balls, all kept in place, like islands in an archipelago that tell us different stories of a Caribbean past and present.

September 2007



back to top