Dr Rachel Grace Newman: At the Edges of the Light: Buried Beings, Black Sacred Geographies, and the Camera Lucida in Colonial Jamaica Art History Research Lecture

Dr Rachel Grace Newman: At the Edges of the Light: Buried Beings, Black Sacred Geographies, and the Camera Lucida in Colonial Jamaica

Jamaica in the early nineteenth century was a world ruled by sugar and brutal plantation enslavement. Watercolors by the British artist William Berryman, who lived on the island between 1808 and 1816, give us a glimpse into the oft-forgotten spaces of that world. In this paper I focus on his depictions of the provision ground, so-called “refuse land” that enslaved people used to grow sustenance. I examine Berryman’s use of the camera lucida, an instrument that mined sunlight to create exact impressions of the landscape and topography. This paper peels back the layers of Berryman’s scenes, asking us to look beyond what has been rendered visible by his hand and the sunlight. Using Katherine McKittrick’s theory of black geographies, I examine how those things we cannot see, entities that were literally buried in the ground, constructed alternate modes of power on plantations and enabled enslaved people to mark the earth as their own.

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