St. Croix Artist Exhibits Her Work in New York

Susan Ellis (St. Croix Source) examines La Vaughn Belle’s latest work, “For Those of Us Who Live at the Shoreline,” explaining that it is composed of “eight panels of oil paintings on wood—pieces of chaney—and the painted vinyl sections of coastline plants intertwined with human images, all a part of the ecosystem.” [Many thanks to Michael O’Neal (Society for Caribbean Studies) for bringing this item to our attention.]

La Vaughn Belle has created art with paper plates, coral stones from the sea, Styrofoam, video and dance, digital mapping as well as the traditional media such as oil paints and charcoal.

This year, Belle’s medium of choice for an oversized installation in a New York City mall was a digital collage on vinyl.

The latest work, titled “For Those of Us Who Live at the Shoreline,” is eight panels of oil paintings on wood – pieces of chaney – and the painted vinyl sections of coastline plants intertwined with human images, all a part of the ecosystem. Belle said the Virgin Islands Council of the Arts provided a grant for the project. “VICA is important – it gives you support to do your work,” she said.

The chaney paintings are lined up along a white wall in the office building/mall near the World Trade Center, and the vinyl pieces are installed in an empty storefront. The artwork will be on display until Nov. 13.

Belle doesn’t shy away from complicated projects – her grandest work spans the Atlantic. She and Danish artist Jeannette Ehlers teamed up to create a sculpture, “I am Queen Mary,” to memorialize Denmark’s colonial impact on the territory and to mark the Virgin Islands’ centennial in 2017. Queen Mary, born Mary Thomas, was a leader in the Fireburn labor revolt in 1878. To protest working and living conditions, former slaves burned down most of Frederiksted and a number of St. Croix plantations.

After using Belle and Ehlers bodies, scanned and merged, the figure for the sculpture was carved out of large blocks of polystyrene and covered by many coats of paint and sealants. The base is one and a half tons of coral stones gathered by Belle from historic properties she owns.

The final image, dedicated in March 2018, rests in front of the West India warehouse on the Copenhagen waterfront.

Belle’s upcoming challenge begins next week at the National Nordic Museum in Seattle. “A History of Unruly Returns” will run until Jan. 3. It features six of the chaney panels, a talk by Belle and a screening of “We Carry it Within Us,” a film about the relationship between Denmark and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The video was shown on St. John at the Bajo el Sol Gallery in 2018, hosted by the filmmaker Helle Stenum. Belle was one of the people interviewed by Stenum to talk about perspectives from that time period.

Born in Tobago, Belle has lived in the Virgin Islands since she was five months old. She also lived in Cuba from 2004 to 2008 while attending art school and spent about three years in Denmark during the creation of “I am Queen Mary.”

The Cuba program was difficult because although she had an undergraduate degree, in literature and sociology from Columbia University, she didn’t have training in the arts. She also had to learn to speak and write Spanish quickly and did so well enough to serve as a translator for her classmates. She completed the program and learned to love the people and the city of Havana.

“I had enough Spanish to get a boyfriend and convince them I could do the program,” Belle said. She returned to St. Croix in 2008 with her Cuban husband.

[Photo above: A visitor studies La Vaughn Belle artwork on display at Brookfield Place Mall in New York City. (Photo by Jakob Dahlin, Brookfield Place, New York)]

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