Artist Talk - La Vaughn Belle: A History of Unruly Returns

  • October 10, 2020
  • 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM (PDT)
  • National Nordic Museum - Seattle, WA

ARTIST TALK - LA VAUGHN BELLE: A HISTORY OF UNRULY RETURNS

Contemporary artist La Vaughn Belle will give a talk on her exhibit La Vaughn Belle: A History of Unruly Returns, in which she investigates the legacy of colonialism in her home region, the island of Saint Croix. The exhibit brings to light the whole truths of this historical episode through the fragments of material culture it left behind. The talk will explore the artistic process behind the art and how the images become a visual metaphor for the diverse origins and identities of Caribbean people today.

First Solo Show In Continental United States
Examines Impact of Danish Colonialism

SEATTLE, WA—The National Nordic Museum’s next fine art exhibition will showcase contemporary artist La Vaughn Belle’s “Chaney (we live in the fragments)” series of paintings in an exhibition that examines the legacy of Danish colonialism in the West Indies (now the U.S. Virgin Islands). La Vaughn Belle: A History of Unruly Returns opens October 8 and runs through January 3, 2021.

Developed by the Museum’s Director of Exhibitions, Programs, and Collections Leslie Anne Anderson, the exhibition marks the first solo show in the continental United States for the Caribbean artist. Based on the island of Saint Croix, Belle investigates the legacy of Danish colonialism through her art. The exhibition will feature six large-scale paintings from her series “Chaney (we live in the fragments)” (2014-present). A portmanteau of “china” and “money,” the term “Chaney” refers to ceramic shards found in abundance in the soil of Saint Croix. Belle explains, “There are small fragments of pottery, often blue and white, that surface the soil in the Virgin Islands after a hard rain and glimmer. Coming first as plates, teapots and cups from Holland, England, Denmark and North America as part of the vast transatlantic trade of the last centuries of the second millennia, they became its detritus, broken down into the soil, just like the traded bodies. The fragments return to the open air as offerings. Children would pick up these shards, claim them and grind them round to mimic coins.”

Anderson, who joined the staff of the National Nordic Museum in September 2019, has been working to highlight the diversity of artists found under the term “Nordic” and to bring contemporary art as well as examinations of the history of Nordic culture to the Museum’s diverse audience.  “Both timeless and timely, Belle’s paintings probe the past and its legacy. She magnifies centuries-old material culture and in so doing, recalls the everyday experiences of individuals impacted by the transatlantic slave trade and a plantation economy,” said Anderson. “I’m thrilled to share Belle’s thought-provoking work with the National Nordic Museum’s visitors.”

When the Museum moved into its new space in 2018, and received the “National” designation in 2019, the scope of the Museum’s exhibitions and programing was expanded too. Today, the Museum provides a wide range of events, both online and onsite.

“With our particular emphasis in the collection on Nordic immigration, we feel a responsibility to present the ugly side of colonialism as well,” said Anderson.

La Vaughn Belle: A History of Unruly Returns will be complemented by public programming throughout the run, including a virtual artist's talk and a screening of the documentary We Carry It Within Us (2017) in October.

Photo credit:  La Vaughn Belle, photo by Nicole Canegata
 
More On Danish Colonialism and Slavery

Though Denmark was the first European country to abolish the transport of enslaved Africans in 1792, approximately 120,000 people from present-day Ghana were brought to the Danish West Indies to plant and harvest sugar cane. The emancipation of slaves on the Danish West Indies occurred in 1848, and the Danish West Indies’ former plantation economy collapsed. In 1917, Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas were sold to the United States and introduced into yet another national narrative. La Vaughn Belle: A History of Unruly Returns brings to light whole truths of this historical episode through the fragments of material culture it left behind.

This event is scheduled to take place on-site, but will be converted to a virtual event if needed. 

Cost: Free; RSVP appreciated

Artist Talk - RSVP

In the mid-17th century, Denmark established a colonial presence in the Caribbean and participated in the transatlantic slave trade until the early 19th century. Though Denmark was the first European country to abolish the transport of enslaved Africans in 1792, approximately 120,000 people from present-day Ghana were brought to the Danish West Indies (now the United States Virgin Islands) to plant and harvest sugar cane. The emancipation of slaves on the Danish West Indies occurred in 1848, and the Virgin Islands’ former plantation economy collapsed. In 1917, Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas were sold to the United States and introduced into yet another national narrative. In October 2020, the National Nordic Museum will present the exhibition La Vaughn Belle: A History of Unruly Returns. This exhibition brings to light whole truths of this historical episode through the fragments of material culture it left behind.

La Vaughn Belle: A History of Unruly Returns features the paintings of contemporary artist La Vaughn Belle. Based on the island of Saint Croix, Belle investigates the legacy of colonialism. The exhibition will feature approximately six large-scale paintings from her series “Chaney (We Live in the Fragments)” (2015-present). “Chaney” refers to ceramic shards found in abundance in the soil of Saint Croix. Belle explains, “There are small fragments of pottery, often blue and white, that surface the soil in the Virgin Islands after a hard rain and glimmer. Coming first as plates, tea pots and cups from Holland, England, Denmark and North America as part of the vast transatlantic trade of the last centuries of the second millennia, they became its detritus, broken down into the soil, just like the traded bodies. The fragments return to the open air as offerings. Children would pick up these shards, claim them and grind them round to mimic coins.” The unearthing of this patterned pottery evokes the past and its legacy. Belle paints enlargements of different Chaney patterns and, when pieced together as a series, the images become a visual metaphor for the diverse origins and identities of Caribbean people today. Belle notes that “as daughters and sons of the dispersion, we are but many fragments – Danish, British, Yoruba, Akwamu, Kalinago, Taino – we are pieces of patterns and peoples that we may no longer recognize or acknowledge.”  

This exhibition will be the first solo exhibition of Belle's work in the Pacific Northwest. La Vaughn Belle: A History of Unruly Returns will be complemented by public programming, including an artist's talk and a screening of the documentary We Carry It Within Us (2017).

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