PASSAGE THROUGH THE ISLANDS OF SHALLOW WATER.
Passage through the islands of shallow water: An essay by Krista Thompson PH D
Excerpt from the Anthology Marginal Migrations, the circulation of cultures within the Caribbean.
Warwick University – Caribbean Studies 2003
Chantal Bethel calls attention to the possible terrors involved in the flight across Bahamian waters. In the painting Exodus 1999, the artist provides a disturbing portrayal of boats in the midst of a night time journey by sea. In the work, visages of the dead haunt the surrounding waters. With mouths and eyes wide open, they call out from the ocean's depths. The sail of boats transform into a threatening host of sharks' fins. A hand grasping a machete,a gun, the hat of a Tonton Macoute, are all icons that point to the reign of terror from which migrants seek to escape. Bethel drew from her own vivid memories of the Tonton Macoutes from her childhood in Haiti and her own families' flight from Haiti to escape Papa Doc's regime. A departure from her usual subject-matter, Bethel describes the work as "something she had to do". The painting was a kind of personal exorcism, in which she purged her own childhood remembrances. The work again foregrounds the many potential hazards of migration, from being consumed by the sea's waves or sharks, while pointing to some of the reasons why people brave these journeys: "Never ending political unrest, oppression and cruel treatment by a secret police, discrimination, unbearable poverty, (and) lawlessness would cause them to go to any length to flee their homeland hoping for a better life
Chantal Bethel's, Lillian Blades' and Max Taylor's works all highlight the horrors of migration which so often get lost in monotone evening news reports. The work of other Bahamian artists could also be discussed here including Antonius Robert's, Exodus series, 1994, which examined the 1994 exodus of Cuban migrants, Erica James' I Guess it was all I my Head, 1999 and Stan Burnside's Nightmare of Henri Christophe, 1994, and numerous other woodcuts and paintings by Maxwell Taylor. Unlike John Beadle's and John Cox's work, which appeal to African diasporic sensibilities, these artists speak more simply to human compassion for others. Returning to Gilroy for a moment, these depictions of migration provide a somber counterpoint to more celebratory theories of travel and diaspora, by
Oil on canvas
highlighting the underside of these processes. They focus on the desperate conditions that necessitate migration and the frightening means by which people seek to flee their predicaments, presenting a starkly different vision of Gilroy's ship. As Dayan notes, 'whose rickety boats are not exactly the ships that Gilroy has in mind".
THE EXHIBITION:PASSAGE AND MIGRATION IN CONTEMPORARY BAHAMIAN ART