On November 6, at the opening of the PIECE OF PIECES: ROOTZ OF ROOTZ exhibit at Zilkha Gallery, Adrian Augier, a well-known artist, author, and poet, said that, “As people of color, our way has been to travel, both willingly and unwillingly.” The idea of traveling, of leaving home for other places, is central to the PIECES OF PIECES, which aims to bring to light the works and experiences of students from the Caribbean Diaspora, whether they are from the Caribbean or simply celebrate its culture in their lives. Organized by the West Indian Student Association, which hopes to make the display an annual event, the collection is small but powerful, with some excellent pieces in a variety of media. The exhibit opened two weeks ago with a small, but joyful and energetic, celebration.
I arrived at the gallery a half-hour before the events started, and already it was a crowded with students, parents, and visitors, all talking, laughing, and sampling the delicious patties that were provided. PIECES OF PIECES is a small exhibition, but certainly one worth the time it takes to visit. Of particular interest to me was a piece in the back of the room by Eniola Yeates ’10 called “Tabanca.” The only item in the exhibit not a painting, sketch, or print, “Tabanca” is a bottle of what looks like simple water filled at the bottom with sand and some beautiful, tiny seashells. The label on the bottom claims that it relieves symptoms including “homesickness, lovesickness, and nostalgia.” An adjoining plaque explained that “tabanca” is a word from Trinidad used to describe the lovesickness after a relationship ends. Although a relationship with a person seemed to be implied, I thought too of relationships with places, and the feeling (not limited to Caribbean students) of being away from home, of now living somewhere that is, no matter how much I may like it, undeniably other.
The idea of home—and especially of being away from home and struggling against that homesickness—permeated the exhibition. Another highlight, by Kamar Thomas ’12, was a set of three charcoal portraits depicting some of the most influential types of the Caribbean. Called “Gender Bender,” “The Herb,” and “The Ancient,” the portraits showed respectively a young Caribbean man in drag, a wild-haired man smoking, and the face of an wise, elderly woman. What is remarkable about Thomas’s work is his creation of bright, seemingly perfectly defined spaces with charcoal and paper, a murky medium if ever there was one.
As the evening continued, the formal speakers began: Adion Sutherland ’13 gave a few opening remarks, saying that the work “is bold and it is beautiful,” before yielding the floor to Augier, who in addition to speaking contributed two of his works to the exhibition (called “Enlightened Traveler” and “Letter to a Daughter Journeying from Home”). Augier was born in England in 1959 and raised in Saint Lucia. Augier congratulated the students on their accomplishments and celebration before reading a poem called “Esperance,” the fourth in the Vox series in his upcoming book. Nina Simone Moore ’11, a native of Atlanta, then took the floor, reading one of her poems and two pieces of free writing created for Writer’s Bloc. The pieces were especially effective as performance, Moore’s voice capturing the rollicking, galloping rhythms of her poetry and her passion.
The entire event closed with a performance by the Wesleyan Steel Band, which was an unexpected treat. The band, which is quite large, set up in the main hall of the Zilkha Gallery and gave a commanding performance, capturing the verve, joy, and sensitivity that seem to distinguish Caribbean culture. As I listened to the bouncing, pinging notes I was reminded again of Moor’s rhythmic poetry, which I think, perhaps, said best what the entire exhibition expressed. The students who created this exhibition are indeed traveling far from home, as we all to some extent are. Moor’s poem, “Home,” expressed what it is that one misses when far away: “You, my home is wrapped in your smile, your voice,/your memory, your expectations mommy.…When I return, it is in moments with you, memories of them,/and the desire for grounding. Been away too long can/never really go back. Home.”
PIECES OF PIECES: ROOTZ OF ROOTZ remains in the Zilkha Gallery until Sunday, November 22.