In “Conversación con Minia Biabiany: Choreography of the Archipelago,” Heriberto Paredes interviews Guadeloupean artist Minia Biabiany for C& América Latina. Paredes writes, “In her work, artist Minia Biabiany from the French-speaking Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, examines the colonial dynamics between France and its overseas territories. C& América Latina spoke with her about the artistic creation process from within her Caribbean reality, about the nature of the island and the colonial crimes committed against it.”
[Image above: Still from the video Toli Toli (2018). As the artist explains in Caribbean Art (CA), “toli toli is the Creole name for the chrysalis of a butterfly that moves its tail when taken from the soil.”]
For Minia Biabiany (1988), the tradition of manual labor is one of the driving forces behind her artwork, and in a sense, an extension of her family background: “My childhood was very influenced by my parents. They are the kind of people who, whenever they need anything, will always consider the possibility of doing it themselves”. Originally from the island of Guadeloupe in the French-speaking Caribbean, Biabiany is a graduate of the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Lyon, and her work is set precisely against the backdrop of the colonial relationship between the French metropolis and the overseas territories.
The correspondence that the artist establishes between her constant questioning of reality, her roots and the world she inhabits, is both political and poetic, and always rooted in the material, the tactile. “My mother and father like to create their own things, and that had a big impact on my relationship with labor and with physical material,” says Biabiany, “like my parents, I enjoy creating things with my hands.”
C&AL: What role do the sea, the archipelagos and the islands play in your identity as a Guadeloupan and as an artist?
Minia Biabiany: One thing that comes to mind is the figure of the boat, which is fundamental to our Caribbean identity. Our ancestors were brought here by boat. This fragmented territory is united by the sea and, in that sense, has functioned as a constantly changing model where there is no single perspective. Wherever you are in the territory of Guadeloupe, on any island in the archipelago, there is always another island in your field of vision; you are never in the situation of the isolated island.
This has had a great impact on my perception of space and the way I think about an installation and the spectator’s movement inside it. I like to direct the gaze and to think about its choreography. The way of organizing the elements within the installations is linked to the shape of the archipelago. In my work I am interested in playing with the perception of space and with the way we receive our experiences through the senses, through our body.
C&AL: How is nature related to your interest in examining a society and culture traversed by a colonial system?
MB: Nature could be viewed as a Caribbean cliché of the tropical. In reality however, it contains a constant and slow aggressiveness that penetrates any organic material.
The colonial system, in particular, is built from a model of assimilation, not integration.
This model undergoes a process of dehumanization of man, woman, of the human being, and goes through force and physical violence in the plantation system, but also through a mental violence which, while transmitted in a subtle way, is no less violent. I continue to observe this type of violence in Guadeloupe today.
One of the most striking aspects of the colonial system is that people are disconnected from their territory; they do not know their flora and fauna and their healing powers and strengths.
Working with visually poetic objects allows me to voice political issues without becoming aggressive or confrontational. I think my relationship with nature goes through a process of observation which is nourished by other processes.
Nature is both a source of strength and a source of answers and it plays an important role when talking about the issue of soil contamination, for example, in Guadeloupe. As a result of the banana monoculture, pesticides were used which contaminated the soil, the rivers, the sea, the fish and obviously the humans and their food. The same thing is happening in Martinique. This contamination happened because the French State gave the authorizations, while knowing perfectly well that it was poisoning an entire population at very high levels.
For me, the banana tree is a representation of how French colonialism operates in our bodies today. However, I am also interested in the plant’s healing powers; the banana flower can help heal the uterus. For me, this is an opportunity to talk about healing and about the relationship we have with sexuality, since soil contamination touches the most intimate areas, the sexual organs of the population, it attacks the brains of children. It is a tremendous ecological and human scandal. [. . .]
For full interview, see https://amlatina.contemporaryand.com/editorial/choreography-of-the-archipelago/
See more on the artist at https://www.sleek-mag.com/article/horizn-minia-biabiany/, https://www.asymptotejournal.com/visual/minia-biabiany-weaving-silences/, https://bb10.berlinbiennale.de/artists/m/minia-biabiany, and https://caribbean.art/minia-biabiany/