Art Exhibition: La Vaughn Belle’s “Ledgers from a Lost Kingdom”


In March 2017, La Vaughn Belle will be exhibiting her work “Ledgers from a Lost Kingdom” in a solo show at |Meter| Gallery in Copenhagen, Denmark. [Born in Tobago, the artist has lived in St. Thomas, St. Croix, Manhattan and Cuba. She is presently in Denmark.]

The artist explains her work here:

It was inspired by summarizing the two main impressions from my trip this summer 2016. The first impression is about the documents. There is this overwhelming amount of written information, photographs, records that is becoming available in the next few months leading up to the Centennial of the transfer of the Virgin Islands from Denmark to the US. But as I had the opportunity to look at some of the information and archives in various institutions what struck me was how imbalanced the records are; to use an accounting term, how “unreconciled” the accounts are. There was all of this transactional information about the colonies. Even the way the Virgin Islands is still currently presented in the Danish National Museum is in a section that talks about the colonial trade posts. And there was this feeling that the people were missing, the souls were missing, our stories were missing, how we were affected was missing. And I wonder how could that be in the ledgers too? When learning about the archives in the Danish National Museum that dealt with the Virgin Islands I learned that there exists a collection of items that were made by the enslaved population. Things like a hammock, a drum, various gourds that were beautifully decorated and guitars. I realized that it was the first time I had ever seen anything that was made by them. In museums the enslaved are generally represented by imagery, chains, torture tools, things like that. The humanity gets lost. But seeing these beautiful objects was really life changing for me. It shifted something inside of me. And I want to find a way to document that.

The second impression was that this time around I was overwhelmed by many Danes making statements about a “lost paradise”, lamenting that they “sold us”, suggesting that maybe they should have “kept us”. It was particularly jarring to have someone suggest “we should buy you back”. Apparently a Danish scientific blog had an April Fools Day joke that included showing a manipulated version of the 1916 check for 25 million dollars with a disclaimer on the back saying that in March 31, 2017, the Danes could buy the Virgin Islands back from the US for the same amount. Interestingly enough many people did not realize that this was a joke and somehow it got into the collective consciousness as many people talked to me about it upon meeting them. I don’t think it helps that with the increased tourism between Scandinavia and the Virgin Islands with direct flights on Norwegian airlines and tour companies like Bravo the marketing has centered upon the resurrection of a mythology of the “lost paradise”, a “Danish West Indian playground”. [. . .]

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