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

Chisholm Trail