This essay unearths and recovers the Caribbean films and photographs made by New York School artist Rudy Burckhardt in the 1930s and 1940s. It argues that Burckhardt's work, especially his 1937 experimental film Haiti, deserves to be considered as part of a Caribbean visual archive. His deployment of a formalist practice of representation offers a visual strategy that allows him to evade the many racist and tropicalizing visual clichés and stereotypes that burden North American depictions of the region. Burckhardt's interest in form and surface over content and depth draws him toward the unspectacular visual ephemera, incidental landscapes, and soft architectures often overlooked in representations of the Caribbean during the era. At the same time, however, Burckhardt's formalism and his progressive visual strategies are undermined by his accounts of his affairs with Caribbean and African American women; these encounters are cynical, exploitative, callous, and contorted by the kinds of racist logic that his art declaims. Following this, at what expense recovery? By emphasizing form and dwelling on surface, Burckhardt creates what might be referred to as a representational field of evasive presences wherein content, depth, and the messy, material questions of politics are pushed beyond the edge of the image but, as his personal history and the history of the North American encounters with the Caribbean suggest, are never far away.
Peter James Hudson is an assistant professor of history at Vanderbilt University. His essays and reviews have appeared in journals, including Race and Class, Empire and Globalization, Transition, Chimurenga, and Pre x Photography. He is the editor of “North: New African Canadian Writing,” a special issue of the Vancouver-based journal West Coast Line, and the editor of the digital history resource The Public Archive: History beyond the Headlines (the- publicarchive.com). He is currently coediting a special issue of the C. L. R. James Journal on African Canadian thought and completing the manuscript “Dark Finance: Wall Street and the West Indies, 1873–1933.”
The central protagonist of Patricia Powell's The Pagoda, Mr. Lowe, is a transgendered figure, a girl named Lau A-yin who is dressed as a boy by her father until she reaches adolescence, when he attempts to sell her into marriage to satisfy debts. She escapes by cutting her hair into the imperial queue, dressing as a male, and stowing away on a ship bound for Jamaica. During the voyage, she is discovered by the captain of the ship and is beaten, bound, and raped. Just before the ship arrives in Jamaica, Lau A-yin is again dressed as a male and forced to become “Mr. Lowe,” an identity maintained for the next forty years. This essay situates the novel and the character Lowe within contemporary scholarship on migration, nation, and “transing,” and argues that Powell's novel interrogates the relationships between the body, nation, history, and memory. Lowe is a figure who, similar to many of the Chinese in the Caribbean in the early twentieth century, loses connections to the language, history, and land of his birth as he forges an identity in his new home. In an illumination of a history not explored, The Pagoda, with its multiple crossings of gender, race, and desire, focuses our attention on the processual—how diasporic subjects are “made” and what happens when the histories of colonialism cannot contain what they have made. This essay reads Lowe as a figure who experiences both a loss of subjectivity and a reconstruction of a self, home, and history.
Tzarina T. Prater received her PhD from Rutgers University in 2009 and is currently an assis- tant professor of English with Bentley University’s English and Media Studies Department. Her areas of specialization are nineteenth- and twentieth-century African American literature, American literature, anglophone Caribbean literature, and gender and cultural studies. She is currently transforming her dissertation into a book project tentatively titled “Cinematic Vernacular in Black Fiction.”
Counter to many of the critical readings of Breath, Eyes, Memory, this essay argues that Sophie Caco does not in fact succeed in speaking for herself in the novel's final scene, reflecting the text's ambivalent desire to formulate a Haitian identity that will both testify to Haitian history and function untraumatized in new diasporic spaces. Rather, Counihan posits that the novel fails to reconcile its “logic of memorialization” with its “logic of resolution.” Sophie's attempt to claim transcendent Haitian and American identities, because “Haiti will always live in her,” is a much more vexed state of being. Similarly, this essay suggests that Breath, Eyes, Memory is more ambivalent about the reach of Haitian memories and national identity.
Clare Counihan is an assistant professor of English at Nazareth College, Rochester, New York. She is the author of “Reading the Figure of Woman in African Literature: Psychoanalysis, Dif- ference, and Desire,” which appeared in Research in African Literatures (2007), and is currently working on a project on experimental literature by contemporary southern African writers.
In the ten years before his death in 1996, the Trinidadian architect Roger Turton produced a prolific body of work. Turton's projects evolved out of a passionate exploration of the relationship between architecture and painting, which began while he was a student at the Architectural Association in London. After returning to Trinidad in the mid-1980s and under the mentorship of the architect John Newell-Lewis, Turton rapidly established himself as an unusually talented and original architect. His work successfully embraced the challenge of producing architecture that engaged with universal and contemporary themes while also confidently expressing the complexity, eclecticism, and peculiarities of Trinidadian culture.
Mark Raymond is an architect based in Port of Spain, Trinidad. After completing his studies at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, he worked on projects in Europe before returning to Trinidad to establish his own practice. He has been responsible for a wide range of projects in Trinidad and various locations throughout the Caribbean, on his own account and in collaboration with others.
Joscelyn Gardner is a visual artist whose prints and multimedia installations explore Creole identity from a postcolonial feminist perspective. Her work has been exhibited widely in Europe, the United States, Canada, South and Central America, the Caribbean, and India, and was included in In nite Island, at the Brooklyn Museum, New York; Global Caribbean, which traveled from Art Basel in Miami to museums in France and Puerto Rico; and Utropicos, at the Thirty-First Biennial de Pontevedra in Spain. Recently her lithographs received the Grand Prize at the Seventh International Contemporary Printmaking Biennial in Quebec. Gardner cur- rently teaches in the School of Contemporary Media at Fanshawe College, London, Ontario, and works as an artist between Canada and the Caribbean. Her work can be viewed at www .joscelyngardner.com.
Violence, trauma, and memory are fundamental factors of Caribbean modernity but have thus far been underexamined within art history and criticism. This essay explores the invisible yet palpable presence of violence in the genre of family portraiture and the contemporary redeployment of this genre in Edouard Duval-Carrié's Mardi Gras at Fort Dimanche (1992) and Ebony G. Patterson's Entourage (2010). As metapictures(following W. J. T. Mitchell), Duval-Carrié and Patterson's art detonate the expectation of stillness attached to genre. Instead, these works challenge, illuminate, and reform interdiscursive Caribbean epistemologies of violence, trauma, and memory that continue to reverberate across space and time.
Erica Moiah James is an assistant professor in the Departments of the History of Art and African American Studies at Yale University. Prior to joining the Yale faculty, she served as the found- ing director and chief curator of the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas. She earned a PhD in art history from Duke University and has served as a Clark Fellow (Clark Art Institute), a John Hope Franklin Fellow (Duke University), an International Association of University Women graduate fellow, and a postdoctoral teaching fellow (Washington University–St. Louis). She is completing her rst book.
This essay offers a critical appraisal of Nicholas Draper's The Price of Emancipation.Draper's book enhances our understanding of the processes by which enslaved people in the British Empire gained juridical freedom during the 1830s, and in its focus on absentee slaveholders living in the metropole it offers a new and important analysis of the character of British slave ownership on the brink of emancipation. Questions raised by Draper's work about the rise and influence of this absentee group, about the diversity of slave ownership in the British Atlantic, and about the emergence of dynamic new plantation economies in British Guiana and Trinidad are discussed in the essay, which concludes with an examination of the imperative for scholars to continue to offer detailed histories of Caribbean slavery and emancipation while simultaneously focusing on British themes.
Christer Petley teaches history at the University of Southampton and is chair of the UK Society for Caribbean Studies. His work has focused on slavery and abolition in the British Caribbean, particularly slave owners and the planter class. He is the author of Slaveholders in Jamaica (2009) and has published articles in Slavery and Abolition, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, and Historical Journal.
The Slave Compensation Commission distributed no less than £20 million between 1834 and 1845, making compensation “the largest single financial operation undertaken by the British state to date.” In his book The Price of Emancipation, Nicholas Draper uses the commission's untapped records to construct what amounts to a forensic prosopography, endeavoring to “locate the accountability for slavery more precisely” than has previously been possible. Reviewing Draper's text, this essay locates compensation in relation to other public policies of the period associated with the rise of what George Soros has called “free market fundamentalism.” The New Poor Law's role in the criminalization of poverty is widely acknowledged. So too was the emergent gospel of free trade strengthened by the British state's “disciplined” response to the Irish famine. Slave owner compensation also performed important ideological labor: it not only stripped abolition of any semblance of apology, it shielded private profiteering from public or political scrutiny, emancipating the pursuit of material self-interest from any moral fetters. Thus did mammon assert its priority over humanity and religion, even if not especially in slavery's aftermath.
Susan Thorne teaches modern British history at Duke University. Her book Congregational Missions and the Making of an Imperial Culture in Nineteenth-Century England (1999) explores the in uence of foreign missionaries on popular perceptions of empire and race in nineteenth- century England. She is currently working on a social history of orphaned children in Britain and the empire from the eighteenth century through the early twentieth.
Written within the framework originally established by Eric Williams, Nick Draper's book The Price of Emancipation analyzes the £20 million compensation paid to slave owners by the British state in the 1830s, showing that 5 to 10 percent of the British elites of the time were involved as recipients of the money in their own right or on behalf of other beneficiaries. Stimulated by commentaries by Christer Petley and Susan Thorne on the book, this piece explores what it means to deploy Eric Williams's historical work in Capitalism and Slavery outside the context of the political intervention in which that work was embedded and reflects on the extent to which studies such as The Price of Emancipation that privilege as their subject matter white metropolitan elites in Britain can do anything other than reinforce inequalities of access to information, to resources, and to the opportunities of recovering histories that matter.
Nicholas Draper is a member of the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership project team in the Department of History at University College London. His work centers on the impact of the “business of slavery” on the formation of modern Britain. He is the author of The Price of Emancipation: Slave-Ownership, Compensation, and British Society at the End of Slavery (2010).