I see my art practice as an investigative tool, as a way to engage in dialogue, a platform for thinking and a means to develop knowledge. My work has evolved from figurative and symbolic explorations in painting to a variety of modes that include drawing, video, performance, installation and public intervention projects. Therefore, the emphasis of my work does not lie in the medium, but in creating a space to explore social contexts and collective narratives. History, film, soap-operas, fairy-tales and mythology all inform my work in that they are both narrative modes that I use as well as sites of investigation. I look for the narratives inscribed in various objects and places and find ways to add to them and at times subvert them. Because I live in the Virgin Islands, a place that has changed colonial hands seven times, the longest being Denmark and the last being the United States, I am particularly interested in the colonial and neocolonial narrative and how it shapes identity, memory and reality. (return to website)
Thursday, February 23, 2017
Featured on Danish National Radio under the title Kunstner fra De Vestindiske Øer skildrer kolonitiden og slavernes liv i sin kunst It aired 22 FEB. 2017,KL. 16:40. Click here to listen. (The program is in Danish with brief snippets in English)
Thursday, January 12, 2017
|La Vaughn Belle in her studio in Christiansted, St. Croix, photo by Wyatt Gallery|
"Day three involved a tour through a small vernacular cottage in Free Gut, a part of Christiansted where free Africans lived during Dutch colonial times. The space is owned by Tobago-born artist La Vaughn Belle and will be featured in her forthcoming documentary, The House that Freedom Built. The small cottage, a work of art as much as a work in progress, was serving as a quaint studio for Belle. The small abode stood in stark contrast to the previous evening’s Mango Hill Greathouse. There was no concerted follow up discussion regarding the polarized nature of the two locations or how the island remains economically polarized, while serving as a clear microcosm for wealth disparity in America; perhaps because it’s only appropriate to deconstruct the nature of white privilege when you’re not directly enjoying the fruits of it.
Since 2011, Belle has been uncovering the complex and tumultuous history of the small cottages and is quite vocal about the prevailing obstacles in place for black members of the Caribbean community to take out bank loans in order to purchase land and property. Much of the funding for her artwork and the documentary comes from various artist grants. It should also be noted that Belle had to personally contend with a deeply embedded drug addict who had been squatting there, even weeks after she officially owned the space. I found her compassionate tone regarding his removal and ultimate fate to be quite touching. Once Belle was able to enter and fully evaluate the amount of work that was needed to bring the space up to code, a new, ongoing internal conflict developed for the artist concerning the erosion of the house’s original architecture and the need to replace it with new materials not directly linked to its historical roots.
Belle walked us through a series of unfinished paintings featuring zoomed-in images of the blue patterns often found on “chaney,” a Virgin Island slang term for fragments of European fine china, unearthed in the dirt by children who would use the fragments as faux money (china+money=chaney). Belle has become so fascinated with these fossilized artifacts of fractured European decadence that she traveled to Denmark to examine the country’s preserved collection of colonial fine china, dating back to the 17th century. She was flatly denied permission to see the china, as major institutions are not always enthusiastic about exhuming their various skeletons, however pretty they may be.
One of Belle’s more impactful pieces was a sculpture featuring various fossilized fragments of the surrounding coral reef, which slaves and eventually free men, bloody feet and all, would use for the foundations of their Free Gut housing. The gray coral was piled and encased in a see-through Plexiglas pedestal. Belle’s studio visit fell directly on the heels of our “Harvard erected by slaves” discussion in the van. This unassuming work, inside this humble structure, illustrated the idea, and rather powerfully, that no matter how far we thrust into the future as a collective Western society and bury our transgressions in the past; we must push ourselves to fully comprehend, as transparently as possible, both the real and metaphorical foundations of our homes, communities, and institutions, whether they be academic, economic, or governmental. Despite Belle’s hospitality, and perhaps due to her extensive and ever-flowing knowledge regarding the space’s history and her warm but penetrating eyes, the walls started to creep in on me, and I had to step outside and take five with the island’s numerous little lizards. "
TO READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE SEE HERE
La Vaughn Belle, Learning To Be, 2016; Julie Edel Hardenberg, no title, 2017; Javier Tapia, Floating worlds, 2017
Nanna Debois Buhl, There Is This House, 2008; Trine Mee Sook Gleerup, Racial Representation, 2013-
Opening of the next stage of the exhibition with artworks by the artists:
La Vaughn Belle, Javier Tapia, Trine Mee Sook Gleerup,
Nanna Debois Buhl and Julie Edel Hardenberg
Friday January 20th at 5-8pm
Exhibition period: January 5th – May 14th 2017
On Friday January 20th Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. In that context it seems appropriate that we invite you to the opening of the second stage of our exhibition Unravelings, in which we will focus on the centenary of Denmark’s sale of the Virgin Islands to the US as well as on colonial structures. The election of Trump as President reminds us that freeing a people is not necessarily equivalent to corresponding privileges, and that decolonisation of land or a populace does not mean the end of old structures of power.
La Vaughn Belle, Learning To Be, 2016; Julie Edel Hardenberg, no title, 2017; Javier Tapia, Floating worlds, 2017
2017 is the centenary of Denmark’s sale of three Virgin Islands to the US. At meter we mark this through the exhibition Unravelings, a five-month exhibition in which we will look at Denmark as a colonial power, and how this affects today’s society and our sense of national identity. The exhibition will slowly take form, develop and expand over the five-month long exhibition period. In this context we would like to invite you to an expansion of the exhibition with artworks by five national and international artists that are preoccupied with and examine past and present colonial structures.
For 250 years these islands were exploited as a profitable sugar industry, based on slave labour. Three quarters of the islands' population today are the descendants of slaves and the structural and mental imprints of colonialism are still evident. Architectural details and street names bear witness to the Danish presence on the islands. Conversely colonialism helped to finance the Danish state and the construction of many of the historic buildings in Copenhagen. Our ownership of the islands influenced the development of Denmark both economically and structurally. But what about the mental imprints left on us by colonialism? Is an awareness of this part of our past only upheld through a sense of history or does it also influence our understanding of ourselves?
Nanna Debois Buhl, There Is This House, 2008; Trine Mee Sook Gleerup, Racial Representation, 2013-
In her artistic practice La Vaughn Belle researches how Danish culture and colonization has had an influence on the people of the Virgin Islands and their sense of identity, the structures of society and memory.
Javier Tapia engages in how race and ethnicity is visualised and how this affects our understanding of otherness.
The artwork Racial Representation by Trine Mee Sook Gleerup is also centred around ethnic stereotyping and consists of a collection of food items that exemplifies this form of imagery.
As a part of her practice Nanna Debois Buhl has researched Denmark’s role as a former colonial power in the Caribbean and the visual traces that have been left behind both on the Virgin Islands and in Denmark.
Julie Edel Hardenberg looks at how Danish culture influences the Greenlandic self-image and questions the idea that the people of Greenland are a uniform community.
meter is a non-profit exhibition space centred around curatorial experimentation. During our first two years we will create exhibitions that take an investigative and critical view of society and structures within society through art and artistic practices.
Tuesday, January 3, 2017
MAGAZINE COVER | St. Croix This Week
I was pretty excited to be featured in the February and March Issue of St. Croix This week with "The Planter's Chair" and "Chaney Series" paintings respectively.
| GROUP EXHIBITION | Invisible Heritage: Identity, Memory and Our Towns
Curated by Monica Marin this collaborative project and exhibition explored marginalized histories through vernacular traditions and the built environment at the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts. My ongoing project, "The House That Freedom Built" along with my "Cuts and Burns" series was featured.
| GROUP EXHIBITION | Anatomy of An Heirloom |
Along with Gerville Larsen and Niarus Walker Benjamin I exhibited at the Top Hat Gallery a series of new work that dealt with gestures and objects that are treasured and passed on. Variations of the "Cuts and Burns" series were exhibited along with a new work that were juxtapositions of images from personal archives paired with the Danish historical archives.
| GROUP EXHIBITION | Ocean of Dignified Dust |
Curated by Priscilla Hintz Rivera Knight and David Knight Jr this interpretive historical and art exhibit at the Yacht Haven Grand centered around the legacy of the "Coal Carriers" of St. Thomas. I exhibited my series of charcoal drawings, "Storms (and other violent interruptions of the pintoresco)"
| DANISH NATIONAL TV | Kald Mig Bare Brun |
I was a part of Danish actor and comedian's Anna Neye documentary for Danish National TV called "Kald Mig Bare Brun" which focussed on questioning Denmark's racial issues and it's connection to it's colonial past. I was interviewed in 2015 in my studio to talk about my artwork in the context of the relationship between the Virgin Islands and Denmark. The show aired in April 2016. Anna Neye and me will continue our conversation in March 2017 in a panel discussion with artist Jeannette Ehlers and moderated by Dr. Temi Odemuso.
| RESIDENCY | Danish Arts Workshop |
I spend three weeks in Copenhagen at Danish Arts Workshop to begun the research and preparation for my solo show this March 2017 at |meter| kunstalle. I originally planned to continue working on my "cuts and Burns" series but as good fate would have it I forgot about the coversion of the power and burned out my equipment the first day. This forced me to consider working on something else, a project from my sketchbook that was related to my growing interest in architecture as a space for negotiating freedoms. It was wonderful to be able to see this project come to life.
| GROUP EXHIBITION | Where is Here |
, curated by Jacqueline Francis and Kathy Zarur at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, evokes the real and conceptual space through which we travel. I exhibited two pieces, "Cuts and Burns" and "Chaney Series _002 and 003 (we live in the fragments)". Both pieces were expanded for the show. The "Cuts and Burns" grew in size as I developed more panels to suit the space and the "Chaney" paintings evolved into an installation with the fragments in a mound of dirt. The show runs until April 2017.
| ARTS FESTIVAL | Take Five |
On the heels of Art Basel in Miami, I participated in an inaugural performance festival in St Croix. My project "The House That Freedom Built" was featured alongside works by David Antonio Cruz, Jeannette Ehlers, Oceana James, Kharis Kennedy and Rashad Newsome. The festival was curated by Monica Marin and Carla Acevedo Yates and produced by Alaina Simone, Inc and centered around performance art works that responded to gender, identify, race and history.
| NEWS FEATURE | St. Croix Source |
Trinidadian-American writer Lesley Ann Brown featured me in 2-part article based on conversations we had during my residency in Denmark and after about my work and the Danish colonial history. Part I and Part II can be found here and here.
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
10 Years ago I was asked by Danish curator Jacob Fabricius to contribute to a zine he was starting about everyday items. He asked artists from around the world to contribute and I was honored to be on the cover of the first edition with an article I wrote about "food". The edition was about food-in a kind of way (to borrow a phrasing from Jamaica Kincaid in "A Small Place"). I chose to write about the holiday "Bull and Bread" which is also named David Hamilton Jackson day on November 1st. It is mind blowing to think that 10 years later here I am working in an art studio on a property that was his childhood home. (This is something we discovered earlier this year on another project www.thehousethatfreedombuilt.com) Only with time and reflection can you see how the currents of destiny will direct your life. But here below is the article. And here is the link to the entire zine if you would like to read it.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
LEDGERS FROM A LOST KINGDOM
It was inspired by summarizing the two main impressions from my trip this summer 2016. The first impression is about the documents. There is this overwhelming amount of written information, photographs, records that is becoming available in the next few months leading up to the Centennial of the transfer of the Virgin Islands from Denmark to the US. But as I had the opportunity to look at some of the information and archives in various institutions what struck me was how imbalanced the records are. To use an accounting term, how “unreconciled” the accounts are. There was all of this transactional information about the colonies. Even the way the Virgin Islands is still currently presented in the Danish National Museum is in a section that talks about the colonial trade posts. And there was this feeling that the people were missing, the souls were missing, our stories were missing, how we were affected was missing. And I wonder how could that be in the ledgers too? When learning about the archives in the Danish National Museum that dealt with the Virgin Islands I learned that there exists a collection of items that were made by the enslaved population. Things like a hammock, a drum, various gourds that were beautifully decorated and guitars. I realized that it was the first time I had ever seen anything that was made by them. In museums the enslaved are generally represented by imagery, chains, torture tools, things like that. The humanity gets lost. But seeing these beautiful objects was really life changing for me. It shifted something inside of me. And I want to find a way to document that.
The second impression was that this time around I was overwhelmed by many Danes making statements about a "lost paradise", lamenting that they "sold us", suggesting that maybe they should have "kept us". It was particularly jarring to have someone suggest “we should buy you back”. Apparently a Danish scientific blog had an April Fools Day joke that included showing a manipulated version of the 1916 check for 25 million dollars with a disclaimer on the back saying that in March 31, 2017, the Danes could buy the Virgin Islands back from the US for the same amount. Interestingly enough many people did not realize that this was a joke and somehow it got into the collective consciousness as many people talked to me about it upon meeting them. I don’t think it helps that with the increased tourism between Scandinavia and the Virgin Islands with direct flights on Norwegian airlines and tour companies like Bravo the marketing has centered upon the resurrection of a mythology of the “lost paradise”, a "Danish West Indian playground". So I wanted to find a way to talk about these things and center my exhibition on these concepts. There is a need to "reconcile the books”, the ledgers, both the financial accounts and the social narratives of what was truly lost, where the imbalances occurred, where the discrepancies are. I am so grateful for the opportunity and look forward to March 2017!
And on a side note, because I love side notes. I live for them, they are everything! I obsessed a little over which preposition to use in the title: “of” or “from”. Upon researching the definition of both I realized that I preferred to use “from” which denotes distance and location as opposed to “of” which denotes belonging. This is “our” shared history, not just the history from some isles in the Caribbean, but European, American and African history. So I chose to focus on the location and the distance that “from” implies.
Monday, October 24, 2016
Honored to participate in this exhibit at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. I am showing two pieces: Cuts and Burns and an installation that includes my Chaney paintings.
To see more, click here:Where is Here
Sunday, July 31, 2016
I am currently at a residency at the Danish Arts Workshop. It is the most well resourced art space I have ever been to or even heard of. It encompasses a metal workshop, wood working shop, photo darkroom, graphic design facility, library, 3-d printing studio, printmaking studio, textile studio and almost 2 dozen artist studios of various sizes but many to do large scale projects.. Oh, and it's free. Paid for by the Danish government. International artists can apply if they have a project in Denmark, and housing is provided. I'm here because I have been invited by curators Louise Lassen Iverson and Rie Hovmann Rasmussen for a solo exhibit in their new art space "meter", slated to open later this year. My show will be in March-May 2017. I'm currently in Denmark from July 25-August 16, 2016 and I have jumped into intense studio work. I am working on my "cuts and burns" series and realized I can actually make a project that I have had in my sketchbook for over a year due to the equipment and technical support that is here. It's related to the "cuts and burns" series I have been working on in that it references the fretwork designs in historic towns on St. Croix.
Friday, April 29, 2016
Interview that aired on Danish National TV this week for a program called Kald Mig Bare Brun (Call Me Brown)
I was interviewed sometime last year in my studio to talk about my artwork in the context of the relationship between the Virgin Islands and Denmark. My sections starts at 22:47 and the part that starts in the Virgin Islands (and with English interviews) is at 12:10ish. Dr. George Tyson (historian), Shelley Moorehead and myself are interviewed respectively.
I love the question that Anna Neye asks me: What kind we use that kind of knowledge for today?
"That kind of knowledge" refers to history.
I like my response. Check it out here:
Call Me Brown- Kald Mig Bare Brun
Saturday, March 5, 2016
The show opened March 3, 2016. I showed two series of work: the "Cuts and Burns" series I have been working on for about a year and this newer series of photo-montage work that consists of juxtaposing images to create alternative narratives.
“Fatalism and Fairy Tales and the Predictable Magic of Everything” is a photo-montage that uses two images: one of a story written by the artist’s brother as a young child and saved by their mother; and two of the same brother as a teenager captured in the middle of the act of dunking. The piece questions which of these images in the fairy-tale, the act of the boy attempting to fly, or the story of the boy with the fatalistic future, surprisingly imagined by a young boy himself. The piece re-creates a tension between the hope and hopeless often experienced in the growing up of black boyhood.
These photo-montages are a series that explores images from the Danish archives of the Danish West Indies and juxtaposes them with images from the personal archives and albums of the artist. They included images of the artist as an infant in the Virgin Islands and young child in Wisconsin while her father went to seminary school. There is an image of her mother carrying her youngest brother and an image of her father who was a Moravian and later an Anglican priest. The narratives embedded in the images become collapsed, converted, contested and re-imagined in the simple gesture of juxtaposition and/or adding captions to the images. Most of the captions are directly from the archives and then text is added to incorporate another layer to the narrative.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
|Storm (and other violent disturbances of the pintoresco), charcoal drawing, 2015, La Vaughn Belle|
What I most enjoyed and that came as a surprise while making these works was the tension between the fragility of charcoal on paper and the resilience of the image. I often work with a ceiling fan on and that in addition to the pieces getting blown about while hanging on the walls created a literal windswept effect. I was almost tempted to see what would happen to them if I left them out in the rain and wind. Another day. There is a tension between the pristine, the elegant and the sublime in the midst of the violent chaos of the storm.
So far the series is 16 of these drawings. I will be showing them for the first time on Thursday, November 19 as a part of Art Thursday event (5-9pm) in Christiansted at my studio located at 18B East St. Come through.
Monday, November 2, 2015
|chaney "ware"/"wear", La Vaughn Belle, October 2015|
I found this shirt and it remind me of my painting, the Chaney series I've been working on for about a year now. Up until now I have been focusing on the blue chaney but would like to explore other colors too. I also have been curious about what these patterns would like like on the skin. This shirt gives me a little bit of an idea.
Sunday, July 19, 2015
|"Trading Post", coral cut from the ocean by enslaved Africans used for foundations and walls encased in plexiglass, 2015, La Vaughn Belle|
|Fire.Burn.Victoria series, cuts and burns on paper, 2015, La Vaughn Belle|
|Chaney Series_003 (we live in the fragments), 2015, La Vaughn Belle|
I was interviewed by one of my students, Denise S. Canton earlier this year for a photography class she was taking in Maryland, USA. If you have 30 minutes and want to more about my work and background check it out. I talk about earliest influences, my transition to becoming an artist and what's it's like to be an artist in the Caribbean. I also discuss some regrets and some challenges in sustaining a creative life.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
What I find most interesting about this Chaney Project is that re-imagining of cultures through the flow of material objects during colonialism. On some of the fragments you find "Chinoiserie", which is European re-imagining of Chinese porcelain. However the Chinese also started imitating the European re-imagining of their culture.Some of the plates had stories attached to them like this one, a kind of Romeo and Juliet type of story. I hope to do 10-15 of these large scale paintings. They are fun and exhausting, tedious and exhilarating. They come together like a jigsaw puzzle as I study the images and see which pieces make sense. I am not too concerned with exact re-presentations. Although keeping pretty close to the image, I also at times edit them, extend them, I enjoying the process of seeing how the tangle into one another and form something new. I'll be showing the third one of the series at the Open Studio, this Friday, July 3, 2015 from 4-7pm. You are invited!!
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Finally, I am happy to announce that I am finally, FINALLY having an open studio at my space on East St. otherwise known as The House That FREEDOM Built. I am also super excited about the new work and the activation of this cultural space transformed from an abandoned derelict. Please join me!
Friday, April 10, 2015
Soooo I have moved into my new studio. I need to clarify that it is not as if I had a previous studio before so that it's not new in this way. I had to surrender my studio space at home as the family expanded. It is neither new in the sense of a new building because if you have been following my documentary project "The House That FREEDOM Built" this building is over 250 years old. It's new in the sense that it's new beginning for me and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. It's my art lab. And currently internet free on purpose (except for my cell phone). And also at the moment without a computer, so far, so that I can focus on the production of art and keep distractions to a minimum.
I have begun working on two new projects: one, not so new and the other pretty fresh.
“CHANEY: stories from migrant fragments”
During the 250 years of Danish colonization of the US Virgin Islands, people, products, memories, stories, cultures and languages were transferred and transformed. There are countless reminders of this process and that history in these islands. From the names of our towns after Danish royalty, the sugar mills in various stages of ruin that populate the hillsides to the “chaney” that continues to be found on many properties, often surfacing after a hard rainfall. A morphed version of both "china" and "money", “chaney” serves as a reminder of our colonial past and fragmented Caribbean identities.
These shards tell the visual stories of power and projection and how cultures saw each other and themselves in this vast transAtlantic narrative.
This work seeks to examine this past in a series of large scale paintings (4’x6’ +) works of oil on board that piece together images of collected chaney into one image. Similar to how we have reconstructed our histories, these paintings will be a symbolic gesture of restoration, a type of map that charts both the real and the imagined. I say this work is not so new because I have worked with images of these plates before in a previous work, "Collectible".
In researching the patterns in chaney I have become fascinated with the "Willow Pattern" and this idea of these designs coming out of China and then being imitated by Europeans and Americans and then the Chinese later imitating the European and American imitation of themselves, and then how these images travel here to the Caribbean and represent a weird fragmented memory-fantasy and how when pieced together they can tell a new story of who we are as Caribbean people.
I have also begun a new series of work that again deal with transforming a narrative. Starting off as drawings and hoping to evolve into a larger installation.
One of the distinctive aspects of Crucian architecture is the fretwork, or “gingerbread” details found on the buildings. In Frederiksted after the 1878 Labor Riot or “Fireburn” much of the town was burnt and then rebuilt in the “Victorian” Era. The shapes and patterns of the “gingerbread” are reconfigured to form vernacular houses. These houses, also African and European influenced, form a distinctive “Danish West Indian” style. I see the imitation, translation and transformation of these patterns and designs as a part of a larger “reconstruction” narrative. Looking forward to seeing how it progresses.
La Vaughn Belle
PO Box 8513
St. Croix, Virgin Islands 00823