Artist Statement

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)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Artist Studio: Preparing to Move (what to do with old unfinished work?)





A few years ago I decided I wanted to have an artist studio away from the house, a separate space to work, away from distractions of home life ie, kids, husband, tv, etc. It led me on this amazing and unexpected journey which I have been documenting here: www.thehousethatfreedombuilt.com.
However as this part of the journey comes to a close, the space is almost finished and I am beginning to unpack my art supplies and artwork as I prepare to move. It is a very strange feeling unpacking loads of unfinished drawings and paintings, some of which I don't even remember creating. Do I toss them? (blasphemy!), try to finish them? (unlikely), gesso/paint over them and start anew ? (appealing) or just leave them, leave them as records of my artist journey. What are your thoughts on what to do with old unfinished work?

Here are some pictures. I believe they were created between 1998-2002. Some in NY, some in Cuba and some in St. Croix. 







Friday, October 3, 2014

Huffington Post article: "La Vaughn Belle's Contemporary Art Practice of Speaking in Layers" by Jacqueline Bishop


I was recently interviewed by Jacquelin Bishop for the Huffington Post. Here is an excerpt:

Not many people start their art career being mentored by world-renowned artist Tania Bruguera, but La Vaughn Belle has been one of the few lucky individuals to do so. "To understand how I ended up working with Tania," La Vaughn told me in a recent interview, "you have to first understand how I ended up studying in Cuba in the first place." As a junior at Columbia University in New York, Belle realized that she wanted to be an artist, but she was too far into her undergraduate college career to switch majors. She decided, a few years after finishing her undergraduate degree, that if she really wanted to make it as an artist she would have to return home to the Caribbean, where she would have family support to pursue a visual arts career.

Back home in the Virgin Islands she started researching art institutions in the Caribbean and found out about an amazing art program in Cuba, where she would eventually enroll for her MFA degree. "The campus of the school was an old country club," she informed," and, like so many things in Cuba, it is beautiful but run down. What is particularly important about this school, though, is that it caters to all the art forms: music, dancing, visual arts. You would enter the gates of the campus and be greeted by the sound of drums. All of that infused the work I began doing."

At the same time that she was getting her MFA degree in Cuba, Tania Bruguera was starting an experimental program on the island, which Belle loosely described as a "behavior art" program. And by that she means "art that somehow connects to everyday life."

To read the entire article click here.


Friday, September 26, 2014

"From Imagination to Freedom: Maroon Strategies in the Visual Arts" presentation

I was invited to participate in a roundtable panel discussion organized by the VICCC (Virgin Islands Caribbean Cultural Center) and SUCCEED (St. Croix Unified for Community, Culture, Environment and Economic Development, Inc). Each presenter was asked to talk from the perspective of their field and work as it relates to the maroons on St. Croix. Other presenters were Dr. George Tyson (historical), Dr. David Goldstein (archeological), Dr. Chenzira Kahina (spiritual), Dr. Olasee Davis (ecological). I was honored to be part of such an event and illustrious panel.  I was asked to give my perspective from the visual arts. Here is an excerpt of the beginning:

From Imagination to Freedom: Maroon Strategies in the Visual Arts
presented by La Vaughn Belle
September 26, 2014 at the University of the Virgin Islands
SUCCEED & VICCC panel discussion on the Maroons of St. Croix

Slide 1:

Runaway to Free Gut, Christiansted 177108232012_0000.jpg

Slide 2:
“Secrecy, cunning, fugitive sensibilities are critical to the success of an artform’s craft.  For art protects its own sense of order, undercover, and ambushes society from under that cover of secrecy.”-Rex Nettleford

In thinking about colonialism and it’s progenitor, slavery, the maroons emerge as the rebellious offspring, existing both outside and inside a system of brutality and exploitation. As in elsewhere, in the island of St. Croix the maroons had to develop a series of strategies for survival that included: secrecy, cunning, fluidity and multiplicity of meaning, appropriation and imagination. All of which are also strategies often employed by visual artists. For my presentation I plan on focussing on these strategies utilized by the maroons for both survival and resistance and how they apply to the visual arts by using some examples in my own work.

Slide 3:
The Harder They Run, 2001, acrylic & pencil on 4 panels of masonite, 32”x14”, collection of Gustav James
the harder they run, 2001 (acrylic and pencil on 4 panels of masonite).jpg


In one of my earlier works, The Harder They Run, I am directly working with an image appropriated from a *lithograph depicting runaway slaves. The maroons, as artists, would have had to be quite adept at taking symbols, images, ways of being, speaking and doing and using them in different contexts to create their own meanings. In doing so, there would also be a multiplicity of meaning, textured layers of interpretations of symbols, gestures and images. This piece also speaks to the concept of fluidity of self and identity as the panels reference frames of motion, similar to someone trying to capture a moving image by taking a series of photographs. The play of words in the title “The Harder They Run” from the Jamaican film and title track “The Harder They Come” also speak to the possible futility or frustration in the process of sovereignty and/or in the process of the dehumanization of enslavement. For the verse continues “the harder they come, the harder they fall”, further opening up the possibility of interpretation as one wonders, who is “they”?, the colonial authority? or the maroons?

If you would like more information about this presentation or would like to invite me to give this talk please contact me at studio@lavaughnbelle.com.

Friday, July 4, 2014

"Big Art Small Place" written by David Knight, Jr


If you happen to be traveling on Caribbean Airlines or Air Jamaica this month look out for an article I have in the inflight magazine, Caribbean Beat, which is also the region's most widely distributed magazine. Written by St. John writer David Knight and portrait photos taken by Quiana Adams (of Q Studios), it is a nice profile of my work. Here is an excerpt:

Her work makes a strong argument that “small island” art should be as much about deconstruction as it is about decoration. She is fascinated by the things we often take for granted: the cultural artifacts, practices, and locations that make our homes distinct. In this way, Belle’s investigations remain grounded in everyday life in St Croix. But despite a self-professed interest in the provincial, her work fixes its gaze outwards. Informed by a Pan-Caribbean heritage (her parents moved to the Virgin Islands from Barbados and Tobago), an international education in New York City and Cuba, and the multi-layered history of St Croix (the island has changed colonial hands seven times), Belle is very much in dialogue with the world.
A tension between the cosmopolitan and the local is a key feature of our times, and one might be forgiven for pointing out that, in small communities, critical discourse does not always flourish. In such an environment, contemporary artists can easily become frustrated by censorship, a lack of an audience, or both.

But La Vaughn Belle’s work contains nothing of this sort of cynicism: her environment is an abundance, not a lack. “The Virgin Islands is an amazing place to make art,” she recently wrote on her personal blog. “We are this small place in the [Jamaica] Kincaid sense of a small place, like many islands in the region. We are full of contradictions, insularities, and strange obsessions. We are still navigating our ‘coloniality’ in a post-colonial world.”

NB: this text is copyrighted, and only limited excerpting with full attribution is permitted. For licensing and reproduction permissions, please contact Caribbean Beat directly.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Art VI Advocates

This weekend Priscilla Hintz Rivera with ART VI Advocates presented two amazing workshops at the Caribbean Musuem Center for the Arts on Saturday, April 12.

My take away quickly on the two workshops.

The Role of the Curator and Recent Shifts in Curatorial Practice presented by Cheryl Hartup
This was quite fascinating as Cheryl gave a historical analysis of the rise of the curator, when this term was first used, what it meant for the art world and how this role is conceived today. It was very interesting and informative.


Arts Marketing Strategies to Get Exposre For Your Work presented by Marta Mabel
Marta works in the Artist Assistance Program at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. She is also an artist herself and this museum and program is dedicated to the development of Puerto Rican artists. It's quite amazing what this program is doing and how it has nurtured the artists and reshaped the art landscape in Puerto Rico. It was a very detailed workshop that addressed issues like how to inventory your artwork, the importance of being organized, how to get gallery representation and exhibits in museums. She provided sample of artist statements, bios, portfolios and solicitation packages for museum shows. It was great! And very needed as it was encouraging and supportive with the right "kick in the butt" attitude, like "get it together people!". Not that she said those things, but she did give a very matter of fact reality check that this is your career, your artwork, you need to value it, support it. No one else will if you don't first.

Personally it was perfect timing for me!
Special thanks to Priscilla Hintz for organizing this event!

Monday, March 17, 2014

"Losing Our Virginity: Contemporary Art of the Virgin Islands", Presentation at the Biennial Music and Arts Conference

The Virgin Islands is an amazing place to make art. We are this small place in the Kincaid sense of a small place, like many islands in the region. We are full of contradictions, insularities and strange obsessions. We are still navigating our "coloniality" in a post-colonial world. We are are in constant negotiation with our shifting identities. I wanted a space to talk the art that has happened in the past 20 years, the contemporary work that often gets misunderstood or neglected. I wanted to put them all together and look at them and think, ok, so what does this say about us as Virgin Islanders, as artists, as people?

So I have been working with this idea for about a year now, "losing our virginity", as a framework in thinking about contemporary art in the Virgin Islands. Slowly, inactively and used this conference at the University of the Virgin Islands as an opportunity to finally concretize these thoughts on paper.

Here is a an excerpt of this essay/slide presentation. Please contact me studio@lavaughnbelle.com if you are interested in learning more or would like me to give this talk.

Losing Our Virginity:
Contemporary Art of the Virgin Islands
written and presented by La Vaughn Belle, March 2014
(First presented at the Biannual Conference of Music and Art at the University of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas Campus on March 17, 2014)


"One of the ways that Christopher Columbus' dedication to the Virgin cults of Mary and others is demonstrated is in the numerous islands he named after the Virgin.  From Santa María de Monserrate (Montserrat),  Santa María la Antigua (Antigua), Nuestra Señora de las Nieves (Nevis) to our own Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Vírgenes (The Virgin Islands) we see a particular narrative encoded with gender and power relations taking root.  Beginning with these early encounters and namings, the Caribbean continues to be associated with the myth of  a virgin paradise. This idea of a pristine geography that is uncharted, unexplored, and uncultivated is what motivated European exploration and subsequent exploitation. From ‘plantation pictures’ to the images of a picturesque tropical paradise much of the art from the Virgin islands is based on a particular framing as a space of desire with very particular positions of who is in power. This paper plans to outline a trajectory that begins with some of the earliest imagery coming out of the Virgin Islands that promulgates these colonial metaphors of virginity, order and conquest and highlight how artists have either replicated this colonial script or reinterpreted that narrative altogether. In many ways it is this critical discussion of the visual arts in the territory that is virgin. This uncharted analysis, is needed in an era where images increasingly displace words, but also because a better understanding of our visual arts history will lead to a better grasp of our cultural identity and development. This slide presentation and lecture is the beginning of what hopes to be a larger investigation into the visual arts of the Virgin Islands. I will focus on when I believe this “loss of virginity” occurred and the artists, their work and other other factors that contributed to this phase in development of our visual culture

Primarily, it is important to note that the concept of virginity is a social construction. In actuality there is no concrete agreed upon definition of virginity. It is not necessarily penile penetration of the vagina, nor is it necessarily the rupture of a woman's hymen. We then must consider that virginity is an imagined space in which a gendered conversation occurs.  It’s a frontier, whose crossing becomes a rite of passage. In the context of the Caribbean, virginity has become a visual metaphor to express a narrative of a vast wilderness, unbroken forests, a pristine paradise and innocent natives and a space where others could exact their imagination, their desires, dreams, lusts, etc.. In the Caribbean virginity is a part of the allegory of discovery and a part of the colonial narrative of control. "


For more information about the conference:
Biennial Music and Arts Conference
http://biennialmusicconference.com/

For more information about my work:
www.lavaughnbelle.com