Thursday, January 12, 2017

Press: Performance Art Series in St. Croix, Take 5, Calls For Love and Rebellion

An excerpt of Kurt Mc Vey's piece for Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art:

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. "


GROUP EXHIBITION: Unravellings, Udstillingsstedet Meter, Copenhagen, DK


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.

For more information visit our homepage or contact us via e-mail:


Henrik Rungs Gade 25
2200 København N

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2016 Highlights


                                   FEBRUARY/ MARCH      
 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.

                                      JULY/ AUGUST                    
 | 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 |          

 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

Chisholm Trail