Coffee, Rhum, Sugar & Gold

A Postcolonial Paradox

As a system of oppression, colonialism never ceased, but re-branded. And while the products from The Global South that traditionally symbolized relationships of power and exploitation may have changed, colonialism has continued to exist in other forms. Ten artists reunited around an exhibition in San Francisco examine the topic.

Among the examined artists, Jamaican-born artist Ebony G. Patterson’s tapestry and fiber works explore gender and body politics. In A View Out and A View In (2015) Patterson plays with the tropes associated with youth culture – excess, embellishment – and builds a canvas to explore the disembodiment of youth, black culture, state violence and exclusion from mainstream society.

Firelei Báez’ large scale paintings examine the exclusion of specific cultural histories and bodies from the broad spectrum of popular culture, using hair and women’s corporeality to re-write those cultural myths. Baez, who was born in Dajabón, Dominican Republic, bordering Haiti, grew up with parents from both sides of the border. At age ten, she moved to the US and her paintings are wrought with this vibrant, multilayered psychological journeying from place to place. Her colorful use of flowers, natural big, unrestrained hair and curvy silhouettes puts black and brown women’s bodies into a wider context of rejecting what Spivak would describe as their subaltern status, instead inviting an audience to gaze at the body that is undesired and invisible in the realm of whiteness.

In 2018, in a series entitled The Redbones, Lavar Munroe – who lives and works in Indiana and the Bahamas, where he was born – built a fictionalized account of a group of children forced by wealthy landowners to be on the frontline of war as a rite of passage. Over the course of four years, Munroe collected photographs from cities in Senegal that he used as references for the paintings. The gory crimson and pink is a reflection of the atrocities that occur throughout the Global South and is a demonstration of how little power is yielded by those in lower income brackets, the unsheltered and the subaltern. The use of that palette also speaks to the barely covered flesh and the requisite trauma that lay just beneath the surface of people’s impacted by colonialism and the subsequent dilution of that history through postcolonialist rule.

The politics of the Caribbean hold a complicated narrative, one immersed in its brutal history of the capture of Africans, the terroristic and violent nature of the system imposed on those captives and the consistent refusal to acknowledge the painful and destructive legacy both on the captives and the indigenous population of those islands. The curation of the Coffee, Rhum, Sugar & Gold: A Postcolonial Paradox, by Larry Ossei-Mensah and Dexter Wimberly, cleverly raises this subject by including Firelei Baez’ How to Slip Out of Your Body Quietly (2018), which approaches the idea of the connection of human tragedy with ecology as a witness to it’s abuses. Using the black/brown female body as the roots, the below-the-ground interior life of a foundation of the flora and fauna that grow from the ground is a gesture of poeticism and an illustrative way to think of what the Indian scholar and feminist critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak might describe as “the subaltern as female is even more deeply in shadow.”