What Makes “A True & Exact History”?: An Interview with Sonia Farmer


Earlier this month, we announced Sonia Farmer’s exhibition and poetry installation A True & Exact History. Here are excerpts of an interview with the artist by Natalie Willis (Nassau Guardian). The artist discusses her contribution to “We Suffer to Remain,” an exhibition centering on “slavery, time and memory, and how we begin to unpack and deal with these legacies.”

[. . .] Farmer is a writer, visual artist and small press publisher who uses letterpress printing, bookbinding, hand-papermaking and digital projects to build narratives about the Caribbean space. She is the founder of Poinciana Paper Press, a small and independent press in Nassau which produces handmade and limited edition chapbooks of Caribbean literature and promotes the crafts of book arts through workshops and creative collaborations. [. . .] Farmer moves us through not just the language written within the book itself, but around the art of bookmaking itself and how she crafts language to unpack the question of who we–as a country and as part of the Caribbean region–allowing to voice our histories.

Natalie Willis: Your work for “We Suffer To Remain” feels very much in keeping with what I know of your practice, but share with us a bit on how you think this particular work has built on your overall body of work. What does it add or what does it do that’s different?

Sonia Farmer: “A True & Exact History”, is the first, I would say, true ‘artist book’ I’ve ever made and it’s building upon my work as an artist making books, especially chapbooks. There are so many definitions for an artist book! [. . .]

NW: And how does it potentially build on your writing practice, if we’re speaking of the two separately?

SF: Regarding my writing practice, this doesn’t feel like it necessarily builds on my body of writing. I’m not taking things to the next stage per se, it’s just a continuation of my preferred writing practice which involves erasure or found text, or some sort of textual interruption or a manipulation of existing narrative in order to create a new narrative. That’s what I enjoy most. In my previous work I’ve done erasures of canonical books such as “Wide Sargasso Sea” and “Jane Eyre”. If I write my narrative poems, even that is usually in conversation with an existing narrative. For example, when I confront the myth of the Gaulin in “This Is Not A Fairytale” or my work in “Infidelities” where I’m trying to disrupt the myth of Anne Bonney.

This particular book is an erasure of Richard Ligon’s “A True & Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes” (1657). For the sake of definition, erasure is a process by which one uses an existing text to recreate new bodies of text by removing text and leaving other text exposed. So I’m using the language of an existing narrative to create a new narrative, which is what I love doing most in my work, and this particular erasure is my most restrictive ever. [. . .]

NW: For you, how much of the work becomes storytelling, and how to what extent is it potentially trying to give shape to ill written or ambiguous or missing history? Given the region we come from and that the ideas around “We Suffer To Remain” come from, history and oral tradition are both important but sometimes conflicting ideas.

SF: Both of these ideas are in the work for sure. There’s a degree of storytelling, and I think for me the storytelling comes first, and through that I am then addressing history in the Caribbean space. That almost becomes a by-product of the storytelling for me. When I began writing for this project, and truly when I write anything, I feel like anyone else who makes art. By art, I mean anything: it can be music, writing, any of their artmaking forms. When we start off making, to be honest with ourselves we don’t truly know what we’re doing. It’s a bit of a subconscious act. You do go into this different space when you’re creating, and then eventually as you make the piece, or even after and you go in and edit it, you start to see what you were doing. Maybe you tweak the piece then, to do a little bit more of what it seems like it is you’re wanting or trying to do. [. . .]

For full article, see https://thenassauguardian.com/2018/03/03/what-makes-a-true-exact-history

Also see Time Travel and Building Bridges in “A True & Exact History”: An interview with Sonia Farmer, Part II at https://thenassauguardian.com/2018/03/10/time-travel-and-building-bridges-in-a-true-exact-history

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]

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