Taking Up Roots

By Natalie Willis

Stuart Hall, the Jamaican intellectual pillar and father of cultural studies, often referred to the West Indies as a sort of non-place due to the history of displacement, as well as its geography, but also the way modernity has shaped the region. His words in “The Caribbean: A Quintessentially Modern Zone” still resonate for many: “If [the Caribbean is] a place of any distinctiveness, it is because it is a place where nobody is, in the obvious sense, ‘at home’, where everybody is to some extent dislocated, and that sense of being ‘not at home’, or ‘unhomeliness’, is a very modern kind of experience.” (Hall, 2000). Many in the region, and certainly in The Bahamas, live Hall’s words and do not feel this place is “for them”, as Anina Major’s work deftly sinks into.

Major’s “Sand Swallows Beneath My Feet” takes the longing and belonging of living outside of the region, away from what will always be “home”. But what happens when you never feel settled at home? What happens when you still feel that longing at home? What happens when you never feel you quite belong to the place of your birth? Major’s material explorations stir up Bahamian environmental and domestic nostalgia, with clay forms and references to the stunning landscape and lived spaces. There are no urns or jugs for water, there are instead urchins moving with the tide of Major’s life like shifting sand at the boundaries where sea meets land.  This cultural topography of made forms, of foraged and found things, of sentimental objects, is home. Home is an all-consuming, soul-swallowing component of our being and becoming. And it has even greater meaning when we consider the pain and love Caribbeans experience attempting to belong in a place that was never meant to be theirs.

As Major quite literally works with the earth in her practice - clay, sand, and precious found materials sourced from her birthplace - we see that perhaps this homebuilding and the lack of connection comes less from the displacement and the landscape, and may have more to do with the culture of a place centred on tourism. The Bahamas is a place for visitors, not for you as an inhabitant. The work seems to subsume her individuality of personhood and nationhood,  as she reaches out to more universal experiences of the now-ubiquitous necessity of home-building for displaced and migrated peoples. She is a transplant, carrying home with her in the literal with the material holding that historic and cultural memory, but also in the figurative in her psyche. Through visual culture, the work sustains a tradition of translating national and cultural identity with tangible and visual language. It is a suspended ecology, like “Ecology of Relationships” (2018), a tender and tense balancing act of foreign versus familiar, filled with the light and brightness that is so iconic of island life. As the light changes and shifts through the year, the earth beneath us changes, so too do our ever-becoming identities in this ontology of light and mobility. Instead of feeling a shallow umbilical tie to the land, Major and her work show us something else, something that digs beneath blood ties and into the meaning-making of the concept of home that is quite extraordinary, but also “quintessentially modern” as Hall described. Deeper than having your roots unequivocally tied to your homeland, your roots become something more internal, and therefore infinitely mobile.

Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.
— James Baldwin (Giovanni's Room)

Energetic calm – 
If the outer galactic was surround us,
The multi-textured exhibit Sand Swallows Beneath My feet leads me to acoustic sounds of aquatic, bellowing beats, airy dancing and down to earth love and humanness. The playlist doesn’t have a typical beats per second harmonious transition, because to experience Sand Swallows Beneath My Feet lends you to notice everything while being surprisingly calmed by the hug of the feminine birthing energy of life, growth and rest. How can something be stationary, yet in constant motion? This is the feeling I receive with the utmost grace and humanity. I hope the playlist compliment the instinct delivery of this beautiful and thought provoking work.