This is me at the Powder Magazine taking in Margo Davis’ Antigua Pride exhibition.
You can’t tell from my face but I really enjoyed it. And where’s what I wrote about it for Observer newspaper:
Most reading this will likely have even a passing awareness of the book Antigua Black. Curator of Antigua Pride, an exhibition featuring images from Antigua Black, Niki Michelin Feilles, remembers being so moved by the images in the book that she tracked down American photographer Margo Davis to discuss an exhibition; they’ve done two – a smaller one in London and, as of last November, this one in Antigua.
With text by Gregson Davis and images by Margo Davis, Antigua Black was released in 1973 and is well regarded , per its subhead, as a portrait of an island people; specifically the people of Antigua and Barbuda at a particular moment in time. The pictures were taken between the late 1960s and early 1970s, a fault line between past and present Antigua, and in particular the backyards and roadways of rural Antigua, and the sense of dignity and community that lived in those humble spaces.
Black and white images from that collection and that time hang on the wall of the Powder Magazine, Admiral Nelson’s three centuries old gun powder store house now part of a resort with thick walls and cavernous rooms ideal for the showing. It is located on a hilltop overlooking English Harbour. Make the first left after Trappas restaurant on the main strip and the first right after that, between now and the exhibition closing date, March 1st 2014, to find it. sorry, exhibition now closed.
Speaking of the featured images to the Daily Observer, Feilles said, “I just love their integrity and reverence” – the way they make you, she said, “quite proud to be Antiguan”.
There is the iconic image of George Weston, the Greenbay born reverend who went on to become a leader in the Garvey movement in Harlem, USA. But most of the images are of people without fame but whose faces are rich with character. There is the ‘Old Woman of Bolans in Straw Hat’
, ‘Young Antiguan Beauty with White Scarf’, ‘Carib Indian Girl’, the ‘Village Woman and Child with Bucket’ – the child clutching shyly at the woman’s dress, ‘Portrait of Cane Cutter’, and others.
There are stories in their faces and stories in the moments captured – ‘The Village Kids Dancing to Otis Redding’
do so in spite of the signs of poverty written on and around them, a reminder of a time when joy was to be found not in the things you had but in the ways you embraced life and supported each other.
There are only a few nature images, ‘Large Palms at Carlisle’, ‘Dead Sands’ – a stretch of beach sans people, ‘English Harbour from Shirley Heights’ among them.
Few crowd shots as well.
It’s clear that for Davis the story lies in the faces of these people whose stories might otherwise not have been captured.
Davis who began her continent hopping photographic career capturing these Antiguan moments, wrote in her artist’s statement, “I was overwhelmed by the timeless beauty of the place and especially the strength of its people.” While the landscape was beautiful, however, she noted that her interest in portraiture was stoked by the people she came across. There is an openness in the faces of the people captured that speaks to the trust between subject and photographer. “Wherever possible, I asked permission to photograph because the power of my portraiture style depended on the comfort of the villages that I was photographing,” Davis stated.
The descriptions make other observations about her style borne out in the 32 images on display: “simplicity of composition, emphasis on human dignity, acknowledgment of the quiet heroism in ordinary people.” That last one you’ll have to dig a bit deeper for as you read – not just look at – the paintings; heroism here defined not as grand acts but in the courage it takes endure with steady determination and grace. To find joy in the rough, as well as family, and hope, and beauty and love, that is the story written into the images – into moments like the one called ‘Market Day’ in which an elderly couple, one with something , a bag of coal perhaps, on her head, something beyond the frame compelling their eyes, even as the closeness of their bodies speak to an awareness of each other and years of companionship.
But that’s just one writer’s interpretation; each person will see what they see – and that’s the beauty of these images which are at once documentary of a particular time and timeless works of art.
“My vision is to bring this collection of photographs from Antigua’s past to a contemporary generation of Antiguans so that they may as the Reverend George A. Weston always said, ‘know their own history’,” Feilles noted.
As with all content (words, images, other) on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C.
Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!), founder and coordinator of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize. All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about WadadliPen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, are okay, lifting content (words, images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. Respect copyright.