I am an anthropologist, art curator and artist.
As a scholar, I am a researcher affiliated at the Institute of African Worlds, School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (Ehess), Paris, France. I have a PhD in social and visual anthropology; specialised in performance studies and visual culture in the Caribbean region, specifically Trinidad and Tobago (WI) and its diaspora. With my background in phenomenological philosophy and feminist engagement I am approaching my research on postcolonial theories and decolonial methodologies. I have written academic articles for Routledge, Illinois University, Miami University, Taylor and Francis, also for AICA Caraïbe du Sud, Faire Monde(s) and reviews for Contemporary And.
As an art curator, the project Through a Fluid Mosaic is shown online at AllegraLab Virtual Museum, where I collaborated with artists and social science researchers, among biologists on the multiple interpretations of the theme. This research became fully performative and artistic when it was shown in the ArtCuratorGrid online exhibition, where I collaborated with 8 artists from Singapore, Pakistan, USA, Democratic Republic of Congo, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil and Portugal.
As an artist, I use photography and audio-video installation working on fieldwork and ‘bridging’ pluri-disciplinary topics with collaborations. My visual ongoing work Floating Tropics has been exhibited at ONCA art gallery in Brighton, UK (2020), and Floating Herstories sound installation was shown by Coleex in Poland (2019).
FIELDWORK Q&A – October 2020
How is fieldwork part of your practice?
I have two answers to this question, as I have two approaches: one of an anthropologist and academic and one of an artist. Art for me provides qualitative tools that can deconstruct the social issues in an indirect – sometimes rude, or kind – way. It can question, manifest, and explain the imperceptible details that make a difference in the social and environmental phenomenon that is enacted in the field. From this point of view, the fieldwork relies on the artistic practice, and the artistic practice takes existence in the fieldwork. As an anthropologist, I ask artists to frequent and share spaces together to co-experience gazing, where their personal oral his/herstories come together in a way of living the space. The fieldwork here is not in their artworks but on themselves as practitioners in relation to their situated works. The artistic practice has the power to go beyond the hold of official literature – it can challenge political propaganda – and the act of making fieldwork within art practice unveils the paradoxes that are systematically embodied and told. To me, the fieldwork and the art practice behave in similar ways, as they both have experiential registers to encode and decode. As an artist, I feel that fieldwork opens doors to intuition and to experimentation. When I am in fieldwork, the experience of the world is absolutely pervasive. Sound, taste, smell, view, everything ‘talks’ simultaneously. The people I meet are present not just in a simple recorded interview, but they are with me with their bodies, with their memories, with their voices, postures, with their smell, with the way they walk or sing. The fieldwork phenomenologically talks and sometimes screams at me. A shadow of a falling leaf in the night that ‘flew’ like a bat evokes a story of a person I met who performed in a bat carnival costume when he was a child – a detail that connects to literature I studied – and I see the discrepancies and correlations between the micro world and the macro one. Everything from a leaf that fell down during a night drive in the field. How to explain and restore all this agglomeration of interrelationships if not with mixed media tools provided by the artistic practice? How to talk kindly or provocatively with in-depth ethical consciousness and engagement about these elements to tell? I found my way, becoming myself a field, between the fieldwork and the artistic domain.
How would you describe your fieldwork activity?
Fieldwork for me is the manifestation of life, made up of meetings with the world, human and non-human. Art practice is a powerful mediator that is able to convey the subtle meanings that these meetings represent experientially for me. When I go on fieldwork, I live and exist thanks to it. Fieldwork enables me to unveil a part of myself that I cannot always express. I base my work on a bottom-up perspective. I am inspired by a situated plural knowledge, and I share my readings, thoughts, and actions with the people I am working with, looking for a common creation and observation of meanings. The fieldwork, for me, is at the base of understanding and change, which is the end goal I think of a constructive critique to share. If there is not a spark from the fieldwork, my thoughts become mainly suppositions, and I end up imploding in inner philosophy, living with the redundancy of a speculative ‘echo’ effect of information. Unfortunately, against the criteria of funding that usually requires a detailed plan, before giving ‘economic value’ to the projects I feel and live fieldwork as a phenomenological academic and artistic manifestation. The field manifests itself, and the role of a researcher and of an artist is to recognize this manifestation, to open and welcome it, pushing its limits with questions and actions, always along with a respectful understanding. Just at the end of this described preamble, the FIELDWORK – aka the action of co-creation with and within the field – starts to take place.
How are you currently sharing your fieldwork?
An experience of absolute paradox. During the fieldwork, I am individual and collective, alone and in constant company. My inner and outer borders are always challenged, my views are questioned and I create with whom I can exchange and collaborate. Each detail of my day in the fieldwork is meaningful, even how I and we rest for example: how long we do it for, in which position, the inclination of the sun; this is a very brief description of resting experience in a day of fieldwork. The fieldwork gives me a feeling of desperation: I am a whole, I want more of it, I do not want it anymore; all of this in the challenge of displacements, plural languages, new timings, new metaphorical expressions, new irritations. The fieldwork imposes obligations and tickles insecurities; it shakes the mutual awakening process. It obliges a terrifying uncomfortable zone where the inaudible and the invisible manifest in the mutual change of myself and who I meet. The field lets me change mannerism, convictions, positionings. Similar to the fox and the little prince from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s seminal book, when I am in a field I have the gift to weave relations and knots that mark our mutual fleshes, forever. It provides a ritual of boundaries, that are dismantled and recreated together (with humans and non-humans). This togetherness provides knowledge, scientifically speaking in my anthropological domain, and allows creativity thanks to artistic action. The field for me is the main source of empowerment.
Floating Tropics and Floating Herstories, 2019 – ongoing
Floating Tropics and Floating Herstories are ongoing projects divided into a visual and a sound installation. They question three main axes: representation of nationalities, environmental issues, and contemporary migrations. My goal is to continue these projects frequenting art residencies where I ask for collaborations with other artists in order to work together on the constructions of the landscapes through the interaction with the nowadays inhabitants of those depicted lands.
The visual project Floating Tropics aims to question the notion of ‘tropical’ modernity in postcolonial plantation societies, starting from the nation of Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies. Tropicality, according to Krista Thompson (2007) is a complex visual system through which landscapes are designed and targeted for tourist consumption. This form of landscape construction has colonial origins: colonial paintings depicted landscapes of the country which harmonized embellished traits with realistic panoramic reproductions of natural features.
The digital landscapes of this project are shown under hyper-realistic oneiric ambience, that superposes pictorially the industrial and natural landscapes of contemporary Trinidad and Tobago with human characters, mainly from the carnival performance. This juxtaposition aims to raise questions to the viewer, about the established veracity of historical national representation, and to find solutions about its balanced future between economic development and environment exploitation.
In conjunction with the images, a sound installation for the project Floating Herstories is proposed. The sound devices positioned in natural shells, are lain on the sand near the photographs. The audience, while watching the landscapes, are invited to interact with the sound installation. Audience members are invited to listen to the seashells as if they were once again experiencing the simple joys of childhood.
The shells, instead of releasing the sound of the sea, narrate stories of migrant women1. It starts with the narration of the female past generation of Trinidadians who migrated in the country, to the voices of their women heirs. This first part is already made with the collective herstories created by the writer Lesley-Ann Brown, the visual artist Tamara Tam-Cruickshank and the video maker Aletha Dale Mccullough, who are all of Trinbagonian and Trinidadian descent.
This sound installation will continue proposing in different shells, additional female witnesses from the contemporary migrants of Trinidad many of whom seek refuge from Venezuela. They will express poetically the difficulties of moving in Trinidad and they will share their complex family relations that link the two countries – Venezuela and Trinidad – in historical mutual flows of migrations, economic transactions and migratory silenced herstories.
1 The sound released from the shells is available in the article co-written with Jorge E. Ramirez, published by Ethnologia Polona, vol. 39: 2018 (2019), 51-69 (link).
Image of Maica Gugolati taken by Jason Stephan Khan.