Barbados in a Nutshell (2002)

Acrylic cabinet, limestone rocks, soil, sugar, sugar cane, porcelain tea cup, bottles of rum, golf balls, die, camera, tourist brochure, souvenir, holy bible, Barbados $2.00 bill, USA$1.00 bill, peanut shells, FOR SALE sign, maps from the seventeenth, eighteenth and twentieth centuries, audio.

Size 84”h x 16”w x 16”d Photo Credit - Ronnie Carrington

National Art Gallery Collection, Bay House, Bay Street, St. Michael, Barbados.

Barbados in a Nutshell is a satirical cross-section of a small-island state rapidly shifting from an economy based on agriculture to a tourist destination. The piece presents a souvenir display of ways in which we have been mapped from the seventeenth century until now. In the past we were mapped by others and for others. Now we map ourselves for others. Consequently we find it difficult to locate ourselves. Where do we find the map we so desperately need. Like a syringe inserted into the island’s history, Barbados in a Nutshell displays the innards of the coral island.

The work suggests that we cannot become a “real” country unless we map ourselves for ourselves. An audio component within the work sounds the final Bulkeley sugar cane factory horn, last heard on June 14th 2002, after three hundred and sixty-two years of sounding. Along with the keening of the factory workers’ protest via the blowing of the steam horn, is my rendition of the national anthem, sung with the accompaniment of Tuk music. I change a word in the anthem – “These fields and hills beyond recall are now our very own”, becomes ‘these fields and hills beyond recall are NOT our very own.”

Tuk music, the progeny of the European colonial power and the African slave population, evolved hundreds of years ago when the only drums allowed were the British Military drums to which African descendents subversively fused their own rhythm. Originating in Barbados, this musical invention made use of the bass drum, the kettle drum and the penny whistle to digress from the original format.

My deviation from the original anthem is offered as a commentary on the island’s altering landscape, one that is continually transformed into a playground for visitors. The continuous transformation of the landscape contributes to the production of images predicated on the externally fixed, sometimes exotic and often sterile visions held of the Caribbean. In addition, this altered version of the anthem challenges inherited ideas surrounding notions of self-determination, freedom and ownership.

The closing of this sugar factory was a historical moment, signifying the end of an era and a transition in the island’s development.

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