A Ship of Fools

February 2021

What do we want from each other

after we have told our stories

—Audre Lorde, There Are No Honest Poems about Dead Women


I’m referring to people who are living in this world, and who feel themselves to be living a life that will not be mourned when it is lost.

—Judith Butler, The Radical Equality of Lives



Figure 1. Ada M. Patterson, A Ship of Fools, 2020. Three-channel music video installation made with Ark Ramsay, M. Maria Walhout, Clementine Edwards, and Nicole Jordan. Above: Track 1, “In Memoriam—My Drowning Island,” written by Ark Ramsay, with vocals by Nicole Jordan.


Aboard a hopeless craft, this sinking ship of fools, whether set for the rapids, buzzards, or sargassum, to grieve those of us left for dead is a labor not taken lightly. If somebody does not mourn somebody now, then somebody will go without mourning. This now, this thick present, hopes to take the time there never was to grieve those whose lives and deaths are becoming more and more meaningless, less and less disruptive, more and more expendable.


Figure 2. Ada M. Patterson, A Ship of Fools (animated .gif excerpt).


To mourn your fellow crew while you collectively fall

out of grace

into the deep

out of worth

into the dark

out of time

into the fire

out of care

into refuse

is indeed a miraculous foolishness; to mourn each other, knowing full well that nobody else will do that work in your passing—in essence, to pour rum at your own wake, to sing hymns from your own coffin, to remember fondly, drunk and teeth-skinned, all of what you were and could have been (despite the posthumous erasure of your claims).


Figure 3. Ada M. Patterson, A Ship of Fools (animated .gif excerpt).


 A Ship of Fools is a leaky vessel for voices that have trouble speaking in and to this climate and present. Carrying and caring for a selection of voices made raspy under the conditions of climate change, A Ship of Fools wonders what we might want of each other in articulating our divergent experiences of a difficult present. Treating the words of others lyrically, A Ship of Fools is a visual soundtrack that may give us space to feel each other’s hurt, to grieve and care for one another, to speak to what is happening around us and to feel less isolated aboard a craft of shared precarity.


Figure 4. Ada M. Patterson, A Ship of Fools (animated .gif excerpt).


The voices and bodies of each shipmate are wrapped in kanga. I started making kanga during Hurricane Dorian. My mother gave me this practice. Each kanga has a name—a name that prays, prophesies, hopes, wishes, blesses, laughs, mocks, criticizes, warns, teaches, imagines, protects, curses—and you gift a kanga to a person for whom its name is meaningful. That is to say, you gift a kanga and its message usually with someone in mind. I started making kanga as a means to find what little words I could muster for what was happening, what is still happening, and what will continue to happen across not only the Caribbean but our climate-queered world, in our world queered by crisis.

Rather than reveling in crisis, what transglobal/local connections, empathies, and kinships might be found when gently voyaging through each other’s tender regions? What more can we share with each other, after first sharing crisis?


Figure 5. Ada M. Patterson, A Ship of Fools (animated .gif excerpt).


Ada M. Patterson (b. 1994, Bridgetown), a visual artist and writer based between Barbados and Rotterdam, works with masquerade, textiles, performance, video, and poetry, telling stories and imagining elegies for ungrievable bodies and moments. She was the 2020 NLS Kingston Curatorial and Art Writing Fellow.


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