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 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

For more information about my work:

Chisholm Trail