The text below this presentation serves as a transcript of my thoughts and ideas in making this video and served as a loose guide to follow in speaking about the project. I have dubbed it ‘In Conversation’, as that is the nature my work follows in the dual-projection, but also because I want it to be just that – a conversation, as is fitting with the current contemporary art scene in the Caribbean. Let’s keep the dialogue going.
I investigate the inbetweenness and interstitial nature of my life and identity as a British/Bahamian artist living between the two places. That’s where my interest in the post-colonial comes from: not just the colonial history of the Bahamas, but also the fact that I inhabit the space between colonizer and colonized in my heritage.
‘Question Postcolonial’ is a practice based research project delving into the status of the term ‘post-colonial’ and its appropriateness for describing the region and its use in theory. This project considers the post-colonial society in the Caribbean, particularly in the Bahamas, and examines the scope of the terrains exploited and affected by what is described as the ‘post colonial’.
The research site: The Collyer tank is an open water tank, where the ship scenes for Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed. It acts as a man-made cove and is situated just down the beach from the most beautiful beach on Grand Bahama, Gold Rock Beach.
It also lies on the site of the old US Missile base as well, which played its own small part in the Cold War.
When agreements for the site and the building of the tank were being discussed there was much talk of improved infrastructure in the area which boded well for the tourist-centred nature of the island and the need for further development and increase in tourism. There was talks of a Bahamian Village attraction for the island with an IMAX 3D theatre.
Almost 10 years later, the tank – of which there are only about 4 of its kind – has become a big pile of rust. It is in essence a modern ruin and that’s what this project looks at – the promise and hope around this massive foreign investment and how this thought of a ‘post-colonial’ is invalid. The term suggests that we are living in a time ‘after’ colonialism when in fact it is recurring and the structures of dominance are being perpetuated – albeit in different forms with different enactors. It’s a form of neo-colonialism, which I will discuss in a moment.
The Primary work – “Expulsis Piratis Restituta Commercia”: The title comes from the first official motto of the Bahamas, which could be seen on its first flag whilst still under British rule. It came about during the Victorian era, the colonial period for the Bahamas, and Queen Victoria claimed Bahamian land and removed the pirates from their haven in Nassau. It quite literally translates to ‘Pirates Expelled, Commerce Restored’. Simple, but has that actually happened? Unfortunately, things have not quite changed. There is a certain form of piracy going on in the neocolonialist exploitation of the land and there is a perpetual give and take in the Bahamas giving up its land in hope of foreign investment and development and getting very little back – and this is characteristic of neocolonialism.
The work is a dual-screen projection using two individual pallets, cut into frames, and facing each other as the videos have a form of conversation and dialogue with each other. They are each loosely draped in canvas showing back-projection of the image. On one side is a video of the remains of a ship prop from the film that has disintegrated in the sea on the side of the tank. The alternate video instead depicts a rusted tin can salvaged from the site, displaced from its original setting and filmed on a plinth moving in time to the waves of the video parallel to it – both videos play in forward and in reverse. The sound of waves from the site of the tank fill the space, in this setting alien to it, making it also displaced.
It is important that, in this space, the viewer is able to enter the space between these videos and, in walking around it, and to be able to see both films at the same time – putting the viewer in the middle of the displaced content at the same time.
There are also rusted items that were salvaged and brought over from the original site and displaced by being re-placed in the gallery setting that they are foreign to.
The rusted items and the modern-ruin of the pirate ship prop all seem lost in the space as they are displaced – but they were lost little items at the site as well. The items induce this sort of pity, but not much more than that. They are ruined, and their looks betray their age – the salt water and waves have altered the sense of time of these items, they become modern-ruins. It is the beautiful waves that cause the corrosion to happen so quickly.
The imagery in the scene lulls you into a false sense of security regarding the content of the images and video. It seems tranquil but there is much more going on underneath – and this is precisely the state of the Caribbean. There is a page with redacted text on the wall showing snippets of the promises made to the country over what was to occur at the site and highlights how little has been done and how the site has been left to go to ruin and become this modern ruin.
There is a certain passiveness to the space. And though the content and situation I am exploring enrages me, it’s a passive work. The work simply presents the situation and in its resolved-yet-unresolved aesthetic it becomes its own ruin. The stillness and inertia of the tin can and of the work itself speaks volumes for the nature of the people. Bahamians complain about how they want justice but that remains the extent of action taken. There are no protests and no riots. This is how the situation is neocolonialist. We are a country exploited by promise of development in the capitalist machine. Multinational companies are using the globalizing spread of capitalism to make advantageous use of the vulnerability of developing countries and their dependence on foreign investment for development of infrastructure as is fitting with the capitalist ideal. The concept focuses on ideas of geopolitical power and the dependency of developing countries to meet the financial investment needs of the political economy of capitalism. (Lenin, 1963, p.667)
Kwame Nkrumah (pronounced un-kroo-mah), former Ghanaian president, wrote much on neo-colonialism in his ‘Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism’ he says: “In place of colonialism, as the main instrument of imperialism, we have today neo-colonialism . . . [which] like colonialism, is an attempt to export the social conflicts of the capitalist countries. . . .”
“The result of neo-colonialism is that foreign capital is used for the exploitation rather than for the development of the less developed parts of the world. Investment, under neo-colonialism, increases, rather than decreases, the gap between the rich and the poor countries of the world. The struggle against neo-colonialism is not aimed at excluding the capital of the developed world from operating in less developed countries. It is aimed at preventing the financial power of the developed countries being used in such a way as to impoverish the less developed.”
So why isn’t this the primary discourse being used to discuss the region?
Post-colonial theory speaks largely of how the colonial era has affected how post-colonial countries and their inhabitants identify and view themselves, but what of the actuality of people’s lives after independence? Neocolonialism as a concept came up in the 1960’s but little was done to address it and academia was instead more concerned with the critical engagement surrounding the identity politics rather than the geopolitics and what was happening ‘on the ground’. There is a call for more neocolonialist writing to balance the views proposed by the post-colonial critique. It is not just ideas of being a post-colony that affect identity but the actual practices of domination being exerted on the country itself.
Neocolonialism is in many ways hegemonic power-houses taking advantage of former colonies as subaltern regions. Gayatri Spivak describes the subaltern as:
“. . . not just a classy word for “oppressed”, for [the] Other, for somebody who’s not getting a piece of the pie. . . . In post-colonial terms, everything that has limited or no access to the cultural imperialism is subaltern — a space of difference.” (Spivak, 1992, p.29)
For Spivak, it’s this creating of minorities out of peripheral peoples. It’s not just an oppressed person who becomes subaltern – she describes the working class as oppressed but they are not subaltern as they are part of the imperialist machine. It’s the people on the peripheries that are subaltern, having to view the post-colonial from ‘underneath’ and from their submissive state.
But how can this hegemony possibly be combated or counter-acted? Frantz Fanon in his ‘Wretched of the Earth’ text – which Sartre used as the preface of his own ‘Colonialism and NeoColonialism’ text discusses violence as a cathartic experience for the formerly colonized. And for him it seems the only way of moving on from the cultural trauma that the country has to deal with. Homi Bhabha takes the more passive route of trying to construct. But what occurs in this is either: more violence leading to more cultural trauma creating new problems which replace the colonial troubles, or you get this passivity (such as in the Bahamas) where inaction gives a certain culpability to the countries for their submissive, subaltern state.
Do I agree with either? Not necessarily. Inaction and temporizing isn’t quite as terrible as the after effects of violence and uprising, but it also leaves us without that feeling of catharsis and being able to ‘move on’ that Frantz Fanon discusses. You end up with a sort of limbo – a resolved and unresolvedness which is what I discovered through making the work.
The canvas in the work, and the aesthetic of my work in general has this resolved and unresolved look. The canvas in the work is not taut, though the pallets suggest a canvas of a painting. Instead, they are slackened like the sails of a ship that have lost their wind. They are slumped and inactive. Rather than the pallets becoming the painting that the landscape and shape of the pallet suggests, they become sunken sails like the lost ship in the film. The landscape painting that the region’s art is still often associated with, as the Caribbean region itself is associated with its landscape, becomes ineffective as the Bahamas and its government has been ineffective.
The idyllic landscape which stems from the tourist ideal that we perpetuated as a means of coping with the spread of the capitalist model of developed countries, then becomes problematic. The view of the nation resulted from constructed tourism ideals of the self, and the view of the people became in part a result of this image we have perpetuated of ourselves and in part due to of our colonial past. As post-colonialism suggests we have all this European-dominated history that shapes how we view ourselves and our running of our countries – but the debate ends there. The actual models still being perpetuated today, like the creation of the tank as part of the filming process of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, are also just as influential in this colonial mentality.
The constructed identity takes on this tension then that brings about this unsettledness and dissatisfaction of the people. As far as my research shows, the discourse is all surrounded on the post-colonial. Not only do we have issues with reification of Bahamian identity, the terrain of our selves, but we also have the issue of the physical terrain and the landscape that we use to sustain ourselves being problematized and jeopardized by neocolonialist influence and exploitation. We are left with a ruin, and the lostness of the displaced objects in the work speaks volumes for the state that the government and the people are in and for the dissatisfaction and inertia we have regarding the exploitation of our lauded land.
References & Bibliography:
– Bammer, A (1994). Displacements: Cultural Identities in Question. Indiana: Indiana University Press. p.xi-xiv, p.80-88.
– Bhabha , H.K. (1994). ‘Introduction’, ‘The other question: Stereotype, discrimination and the discourse of colonialism’, ‘Of mimicry and man: The ambivalence of colonial discourse’, In: Homi K Bhabha The Location of Culture . -: Rouledge . p.2-19, p.94 – 96, p.122-126.
– de Kock, L. (1992). ‘Interview With Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: New Nation Writers Conference in South Africa.” In: ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature. 23(3) p29-47.
– Fanon, F (1961). The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press. – .
– Hall, S. (1996). When Was ‘The Post Colonial’ – Thinking at the Limit. In: Chambers, I and Curtis, L. The Post Colonial Question. London: Routledge. p242-259.
– Lenin, V.I. (1963). ‘Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism’, In: Lenin’s Selected Works. Moscow: Progress Publishers. p660-768
– Lomer, G. (2006). Grand Bahama lures Disney’s Pirates. Available: http://www.thebahamasinvestor.com/2006/grand-bahama-lures-disneys-pirates/. Last accessed 25th Sept, 2014.
– Nkrumah, K. (1965). Neo-colonialism, The Last Stage of Imperialism. London: International Publishers Co..
– Sartre, J.P. (1965). ‘Colonialism and Neo-colonialism’. Paris: Routledge France.
– Spivak, G.C. (1988) “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In: Nelson, C and Grossberg L Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. P271-313