Remembering Slavery

New MOCA exhibit looks at slavery’s history and legacy in the Caribbean

How should the Caribbean remember slavery? Figuring out how to memorialize the region’s length history of enforced enslavement – and how its legacy still affects society today – has always been tricky for Caribbean people. Do we focus on historical artifacts to show what life was like? Do we build monuments? Should we remember slavery as a historical period, or a cultural inheritance still influencing everyday life?

These are the questions Guadeloupean artist Marielle Plaisir explores in her latest exhibit, “Acta Non Verba,” which opened recently at the The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Miami. The exhibit collects a section of the artst’s drawings, portraits, paintings, tapestries and video. Collectively, the work explores both historical and personal issues about colonialism, domination, and the construction of identity.

One medium particularly prominent is the use of clothing, such as the paper machete dresses cut in the fashionable styles of the 18th century, at the height of slavery in the Caribbean. Referring to the historical use of clothing to distinguish who was free and who was enslaved in colonial society, the clothes are meant to reflect on how materials thinks still shape identity and self worth in the Caribbean – who has the power, and who is powerless.

“My work interrogates the concept of domination, which has existed from the time of slavery until now,” Plaisir says, who dressed in colonial period clothing during the opening presentation held at MOCA last week. “The common thread throughout my work is a critique of prejudice, according to which political power is ‘a natural fact’.”

The show runs until May 29.

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