by Amber Williams King
For communities pressed to the margins of society and the globe, particularly those who are poor, racialized or of the Global South, ecological crisis is not some unimaginable elsewhere but rather an omnipresent, pervasive reality. In the Caribbean basin, the increasingly powerful storms brewing in the warming waters of the Atlantic decimate various parts of the region yearly; volcanic activity darkens the sky and earth; landslides reconfigure geographies; drought and pestilence breed scarcity; and now pandemic wreaks havoc in spectacular fashion.
My research explores the space that crisis takes up in the social and political imagination and material conditions of life, particularly in the context of the Caribbean diaspora. Via a theoretical and artistic conceptualization of “fracture”, I think through the ways Caribbean life and living may act as openings or cracks: quotidian practices that call up the tensions and possibilities of an unknown/otherwise/elsewhere, or that may tear, rupture and destabilize the catastrophic structures and conditions that mark our current world. The entrances and exits charted by a Caribbean radical imagination present portals to or from other worlds, windows into (un)imaginable ecologies of life and living, and alternate horizons of being. Using found images and text, I discuss the ways archives capture and preserve crises, and the ways artistic traditions may be used to ‘fracture’ this presumed coherency by offering new ways of imaging and imagining past, present and future.
The portfolio is divided into three sections or what I am calling rif/ts, referencing the geological ‘rift’ used to describe tectonic shifts that pull the earth apart, leaving space for a plethora of new activity; and the musical ‘riff’ which points to improvisation and repetition. Through these rif/ts, I use an interdisciplinary approach to weave together theoretical and artistic considerations into the interstices that Black Caribbean intellectual, cultural and vernacular practices take up, move through and create in the face of crisis. Rif/t (i) is a collection of ‘brief doors’ into my thinking. Rif/t (ii) introduces these meditations through my conceptualization of fracture while rif/t (iii) examines the potentiality of fracture as both genre and methodology as well as presenting my own artistic experimentations with fracture using the mediums of collage, cyanotype and textiles.
Here is a part of my artistic journey and collective memory that have animated my program of study into Black geographies and ecologies of desires which spawned a deeper meditation on the Caribbean as a site of vital political inquiry and imaginative theorizing on crisis, particularly the ecological crisis of colonization, imperialism and racial capitalism consolidated under the term climate change.
“look ah watah...”
There’s flooding in Antigua. In Jamaica. In Central America. My social media feeds are inundated with images, videos, calls for supplies, social commentary, disbelief, rage, laughter.
Young boys dance and dive off the rocks of a waterfall in Christian Valley. A waterfall that only appears when the island floods.
The street is now a sea, waves lapping against fences and verandahs. Suddenly, a jet ski comes whizzing around the corner, almost running into a partially submerged car. A flurry of laughter from all the houses.
A voice says, “tek ya time.”
An entire village flooded, stars glistening above and below.
The land is ocean is sky is ocean is land.
A young man records as the mud comes sliding down the hill above his neighbourhood, peeling back the land like a wound opening. The water stampedes towards him, jumps the fence, lays claim to the house. It moved so fast, as if it has always belonged, as if it is coming home. He closes the doors to the bedrooms, the bathroom, trying to corral the flood in a single area. As the water swallows the couch, the knick knacks, their legs, his mother says, “mi done, mi done, mi done, mi done, mi done.”
Her words sound like a prayer, a chant, a simultaneous declaration of refusal and a wail of despair.
Perhaps it is both.
A brutal yet beautiful nature.
In Poetics of Relation, Martinician poet and philosopher, Édouard Glissant, says, “over the course of more than two centuries, twenty, thirty million people deported. Worn down, in a debasement more eternal than apocalypse” (6). More eternal than apocalypse. These words made it clear to me: Caribbean thought and poetics are so crucial for the way forward/through because the present/future ecological apocalypse is already our past.
What is a rising sea to a people who so intimately know what it means to drown, to be drowned?
The portfolio I present here is anchored by three areas of concentration. (1) Black Caribbean feminist geographies take up Caribbean thought and a black feminist lens to examine the ways human relations inform and are informed by built, felt and imagined landscapes; how histories, whether dominant or subversive, shape the land and our perceptions of it. (2) Black queer ecology considers critical questions at the intersection of race, gender, sexuality and environment; offering alternative, nuanced ways of thinking the surrounding world; disrupting and reimagining notions of death and desire, longing and belonging, crisis and catastrophe. And finally, (3) a politics of visuality illuminates the ways the colonial project of imagine-making influences, appropriates and/or apprehends perceptions of and relationships to ecological crisis, specifically to ask questions about: the nature and use of the archive; the role of the colonized body in the historical-political project of looking and being looked at; and the ways African diasporic cultural production maps a different set of human and beyond-human relations.
Amber Williams King is a new MES graduate and recently presented her exhibition work on "FRACTURE" at EUC’s ZigZag Gallery. A multi-disciplinary Antiguan artist practicing in Toronto, she uses various mediums to explore sexuality, gender, identity, and representation. She received a Michael Baptista Essay prize for this research creation work. More info on Amber Williams King is available at the Toronto Arts Foundation.