Review of Annalee Davis’s “Heartseed”

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Luis Fernando Quirós-Valverde (in the blog Árbol de miradas) reviews Annalee Davis’s “Heartseed” recent exhibition at TEORé/Tica in San José, Costa Rica. {See previous post On being committed to a small place: Heartseed.] Here are my translated excerpts of the review:

“Heartseed” Tramas en piel de la memoria [Plots on the skin of memory]. [. . .]

Why was I interested in Annalee Davis’s work?

I found wonder, depth, poetry, and this happens when the artist reaches a sublime flow. In exploring the environment and history of her country, as well as the place where she works, she explores herself, investing in the autobiographical thrust and all that concerns the domain of her experiences. This is why she spoke of finding herself by digging into historical, human, socio-cultural and geographical vestiges.

The Skin of the Surface

One of the signs I grasped at first glance was that of the land, both as farmable organic matter and the concept of ​​territory, as well as the inhabitants or the human landscape and environment, or characters of the place. They contain in that skin evocative marks of events, remote or close by, reminding us of what they once were or are today, and they translucently in the graphics and texts written by their cultivators and visual researchers.

These are records of traces on paper that tell us about social, racial, and colonial figures, and in all this there are ciphers of cultural memory, which resolved their mode of subsistence and that does not disappear despite notions of time: vicissitudes of colonization, passing storms, natural tribulations, but also social and political ordeals. That skin is a passage through a condition, a journey between seas and stories that know of slavery and dependence on the centers [of power] (Barbados became independent from the United Kingdom in 1966).

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The Boarding

The exhibited works address a trace of crops that catapulted that nation towards negotiation, commerce, attached to traditions that range from clothing, gastronomy, songs and music, which are also written or jotted down, like those accounting records which—much like the lines of an amalgam of identity—still provide temperance and positioning, given the intricate political and neo-hegemonic schemes, which, as I said, is an accurate portrait of that Caribbean country.

“Heartseed”

Those drawings by Annalee Davis (1963), exhibited between October 2019 and February 2020 at TEORéTica, speak about signs of power: the great dominions and global competitors in monetary matters, economic juggling of the stock market, sale and purchase of agricultural products and supplies, the strategies of subsistence of the common inhabitants, who are involved with these models for their subsistence. They focus on the Caribbean, on workers, perhaps migrant families, slavery, exploitation practices, and even define clothing and accouterments—as the curator of the exhibition, Miguel Ángel López, assesses, a landscape or cartography “… of the body, land and history.”

They are immemorial graphics with hints of fabric or embroidery, which appear not only in the drawings as layers of socio-cultural experiences, and ornamentation sold and consumed by tourism, but there are also layers of wonder, narratives of nostalgia for an environment that modernity collapsed, erased, blocked—an artery through which runs the irrigating blood of the central figure: “Heart-seed”.

The accounting sheets such as those used in the last century, since annotations and numerals are another visible stratification, devised as a grid or framework of those complex languages of economy, where different variables exert influence, such as the weather, which can also afflict agriculture and crops; or the clock’s temporality, dragging along its notions of yesterday, today, tomorrow. They are like the continuous bass in the traditional musical rhythms of the Caribbean, a fixed pulse on which different compositional figures are mounted, such as songs; but sometimes they are pure numbers, or in others, they are letters with precise contents.

This is perhaps why I am motivated to consider the exhibition as frames on the skin of memory, but not a perpetual memory, but rather a weave (or tissue) that breathes, widens or shrinks, sometimes even shakes in an overflowing unraveling.

Embroidery of Signs

The colored and mixed media drawings represent graphic studies of a research project on plantations, cane fields with root drawings, what is under the surface and is not seen, but that have nutrients running through them, and therefore [constitutes] life. The industry and technology of thenotion of time is a rhizome that is understood, without quite knowing where; but suddenly it sprouts on a new surface and restarts the system. Once again, we feel the continuous pulse, with its songs and nuances.

The supporting typology of the accounting sheets somehow remind me of other expressions, such as the one in Johana Calle’s 2008 show at TEORéTica: “Variaciones políticas del trazo” [Political variations of the line] with its discourse of numerical signs and graphics ​​tracking value flows, but also a criticism of the blindness and insensitivity of global emporiums.

In addition to Annalee Davis’s “Heartseed” exhibition, TEORéTica presents her book: “On being committed to a small place” (volume No. 5 of the Local Scriptures series). The book gathers essays and centers on her activity as a teacher, lecturer, workshop leader, and platform manager for cultural research in those distant but close Caribbean cartographies, which share many perspectives and artistic sensibilities with our local situations. [. . .]

For full review (in Spanish), see http://arboldemiradascr.blogspot.com/2019/11/annalee-davis-heartseed.html

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