Grace Aneiza Ali

Caribbean Women Photographers and the Body Within Caribbean Landscapes and Seascapes

In this collection on contemporary Caribbean photography, three Caribbean women artists—Khadija Benn, Nadia Huggins, and Keisha Scarville—provocatively engage the female body within Caribbean landscapes and seascapes. what the land and sea tell us interrogates the ubiquitous, often eroticized and hypersexualized, photographic presence and placement of Caribbean women’s bodies within Caribbean sites. Placed within two specific geographic spaces of The Atlantic—the landscape ecologies of Guyana and the marine ecosystem of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines—the artists counter the use of the Caribbean woman’s  body as a familiar trope of the picturing paradise narrative. Instead, their images explore and define their own complex and nuanced relationship with the land and the sea and their evolving Caribbean identities. Through the use of their own bodies as subject and via various artistic gestures that push the boundaries of self-portraiture, their insertion of the Caribbean woman’s body within spaces that are all at once remote, pastoral, turbulent, safe, familiar, strange, picturesque and grotesque, signal deeper political and subversive acts: to disrupt dominant global narratives of the Caribbean picturesque; to indict the ways in which perceptions of the Caribbean woman’s body continue to resonate; to reclaim these Caribbean spaces from the colonial imaginary as sites of conquest and exploration. And, simply, but profoundly, to counter the historic absence and erasure of Caribbean women from master narratives of art, and instead, place them at the center.  — Grace Aneiza Ali, Curator

What the land and sea tell us

Keisha Scarville

Keisha Scarville (b. 1975, Brooklyn, NY) weaves together themes dealing with transformation and the unknown. Working across media, but with a grounding in photography, her work addresses issues of place, memory, and subjectivity. Scarville has exhibited at the Studio Museum of Harlem, Rush Arts Gallery, BRIC Arts Media House, Aljira Center for Contemporary Art, Lesley Heller Gallery, the Institute for Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, Museum of Contemporary Diasporan Arts, and The Brooklyn Museum of Art. She has participated in artist residencies at BRIC Workspace, Baxter Street CCNY, Vermont Studio Center, Center for Photography at Woodstock, Lightwork Artist Residency Program, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace Program, and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Scarville is currently an adjunct faculty member at the International Center of Photography.

Mama’s Clothes (2017)

In “Mama’s Clothes,” I explore the experience of absence and the camera’s role in visualizing that which cannot be seen but felt. I examine the paradox of abundance within absence and the phenomenology of space. I present my body cloaked in my late mother’s clothes, which act as a residual surrogate skin. These photographs were made in Guyana, my mother’s homeland and in New York, where my mother migrated and where I was born and now live. In the series, I am looking at ways I can facilitate and construct a visual place where I can conjure my mother’s presence while using my body as a medium. The crux of my work resides in narratives that are triggered by absence. I examine the materiality of absence and the subjectivity of the body within the void. I explore the weight of histories and rituals contained within objects, landscapes and the body to address questions of belonging and power in the midst of negation. The resulting images serve as visual meditations on loss, memory, and obscurity.

Khadija Benn

Khadija Benn (b. Canada 1986; works in Georgetown, Guyana) who was born in Canada, grew up in the bauxite mining town of Linden, Guyana and later settled in the capital city Georgetown. Her photography-based artwork features abstracted portraits set in distinctive Guyanese landscapes and her social documentary photography focuses on the diversity of Guyanese people, places, and cultural experiences. Benn holds a Master’s of Science in Geoinformatics from the University of the West Indies, and works in Guyana as a cartographer, geospatial analyst, and researcher. She is a faculty member in the Department of Geography at the Faculty of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Guyana. Her photography work has been exhibited at Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art (Newark, New Jersey), CARIFESTA XIII (Barbados), and the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (New York, New York), and featured in ARC Magazine and Transition Magazine.

Wanderer (2012 - 2018)

Khadija Benn’s painterly portraits, lush with color, light, and a heavy-handed brush of glamour and romanticism, might appear as a replica of the ‘picturing paradise’ photographs that dominate Caribbean visual culture. However, it is very this aesthetic the artist exploits in her oeuvre by inserting the female body in Guyana’s landscapes via portraiture self-portraiture.

Benn’s training as a cartographer informs much of her digital photography practice and leads her across remote places, like the Rupununi grasslands where she confronts the underlying histories that have created this complex space and the contemporary framing of it as exotic. While Amerindians have called the Rupununi home since the 18th century, this landscape has seen much loss: disease epidemics brought on by early European arrivals devastated populations of indigenous peoples. In Benn’s act of (re)claiming space and ownership of this sweeping vista, these images bridge the land’s past and present.

Nadia Huggins

Nadia Huggins (b. 1984, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago) is a self-taught photographer and graphic designer. She grew up in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and has lived and worked in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago.

In 2011, Nadia co-founded the visual arts publication ARC Magazine. Her photography was awarded the FESTIVAL CARIBEEN DE L’IMAGE du Mémorial ACTe Jury Prize in Guadeloupe in 2015, and has been exhibited regionally and internationally. Some of her more notable exhibitions have been: Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago, Museum of Latin American Art, California, USA, Jamaica Biennial, at the National Gallery in Kingston, Jamaica, 2017: Small Axe: Caribbean Queer Visualities in Belfast, U.K. in 2016 and Glasgow, U.K. in 2016: Fighting the Currents at Centro de La Imagen, Dominican Republic, 2016: In Another Place, And Here, Victoria, Canada in 2015: CONTACT Photography Festival in 2014: and Wrestling with the Image at Art Museum of the Americas, Washington D.C., U.S.A. in 2011. She currently resides in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Transformations / Fighting the Currents

Transformations is a series of diptychs that explores the relationship between my identity and the marine ecosystem. During my daily swim, I became occupied with the changes I saw happening before me with the deterioration of coral reefs that were once alive. At the same time I was finding solace through the amorphous quality and weightlessness of my body in the water. I decided to take my camera into the water to document the interplay between the seascape and my body.

In the sea, as a woman who identifies as other, my body becomes displaced from my everyday experiences. Gender, race, and class are dissolved because there are no social and political constructs to restrain and dictate my identity. These constructs have no place or value in that environment. This idea creates the foundation for these portraits.

Most people’s experience with the sea occurs at eye level with the horizon and they are oblivious to what is happening below the surface. I am interested in the notion that “just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t there”. Underwater, I am alien and unable to survive without gear. I explore this limitation by holding my breath and submerging for short periods of time to capture each image. The marine organisms I document have been shot in the same location over a span of two years in tandem with my own body. My intention was to investigate the changes occurring both within and without myself, as well as how our own actions affect our immediate environment over time.

I created these transfigured portraits by using collage techniques to bring together self- portraiture and my documentation of marine organisms. Each portrait brings together two separate entities: the body and various marine animals. By juxtaposing these images with a space in between them, each portrait is on the cusp of becoming a single image.

This space represents a transient moment where I am regaining buoyancy and separating from the underwater environment to resurface. My intention with these photographs is to create a lasting breath that defies human limitation. The transformation exists within the space in between photographs. It is in this moment that the viewer makes the decision if both worlds are able to separate or merge.

The Addis Foto Fest (AFF) was established in 2010 by award-winning photographer and cultural entrepreneur, Aida Muluneh. The festival is organized by Desta for Africa Creative Consulting PLC. AFF is a biennial international photography festival held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It has previously featured exhibitions, portfolio reviews, conferences, projections and film screenings in many different renowned venues. It is also the first and only international photography festival in East Africa.