Annalee Davis: “Innerseeing versus Overseeing”

Here are excerpts from a beautiful piece by Annalee Davis. For full article, notes, and additional photos, go to Place 2020-2021.

PART I – LIVING DEEP WITHIN LAYERS OF CRISES

The original plan for this text was to spend April to mid-June logging my regular walks through the fields at Walkers Dairy – the farm where my home and studio are located – with photographs, drawings and words. That plan got diverted due to an explosive volcanic eruption that began on the morning of April 9th. La Soufrière, an active stratovolcano on the Caribbean archipelago of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 110 miles west of Barbados, began erupting and continued for several days. The release of gases including sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide among others, embedded in thousands of tons of ashfall consisting of tiny jagged particles of rock and natural glass, blasted into the air, covering St. Vincent in several feet of debris. Some of the eruption columns were so tall that they penetrated the atmosphere, entered the stratosphere at around 20 km high where the wind direction shifted to blow in an easterly anti-trade wind direction, covering Barbados in thousands of tons of ash ninety minutes later. Day turned to night on April 10th as volcanic matter blocked the sunlight and much of the island was in total darkness by early afternoon.

The ash particles covered everything and entered my tightly shut home through cracks in windows and openings under old wooden doorways. Every blade of grass, barks and leaves on trees and shrubs, every vent, crevice, nook and cranny, was covered in and filled with the powdery toxic material. The entire island turned an ashy grey. It was suffocating. The eruptions exacerbated the already dusty conditions caused by plumes of Sahara dust, creating hazy conditions over the island while bringing tiny bits of minerals from the north coast of Africa across the Atlantic to this most easterly Caribbean island.

[. . .] My routine of briskly walking 7 km three days a week as a form of exercise, and, more importantly during COVID, to preserve mental wellbeing, supplemented by slower ambling through bovine populated fields of grass as a way to know the land, was immediately drawn to a halt.

My allergy to sulphur present in the pervasive volcanic ash, inflamed my airways. The middle of my chest felt like a slow burning fire, causing cough-induced variant asthma for the first time in my life. Prescribed seven medications, I was told to stay indoors, wear a mask and keep all windows and doors closed. Because the ash was so extreme in St. George, (the parish I live in) I eventually relocated from the dairy farm where my home and studio are, to temporary accommodation on the south coast of the island with double-glazed windows and doors sealed shut to prevent ash from entering the interior space and my lungs. My home had become unsafe as had the outdoors. Except for trips to the doctor, I remained indoors for almost five weeks.

 As challenging as COVID was, I at least had the privilege of walking in my curtilage, swimming in the sea, and breathing safely.

PART II – THE PLANTATION AS MEDIATOR OF LANDSCAPE

“Visuality’s first domains were the slave plantations, monitored by the surveillance of the overseer, operating as the surrogate of the sovereign.”[3]

So rather than log recent walks for this text, I was forced to reflect on my years of walking on this particular site I have called home for two decades. My work responds to and is informed by the history of the plantation where people, plants and ideas were transplanted and displaced, to re-landscape foreign spaces and generate wealth for the British Empire. My understanding of this place is informed by research, reading, family and public archives, and my personal experience of living, walking and loving this site haunted by a burdened past.

Born and raised on three plantations in what I understood to be ‘the countryside’, I was a young child thinking of these locations as natural environments. I spent my formative years moving from one rural environment to another and later understood that these landscapes, rather than being natural terrain, were perfectly manicured plantations where varieties of sugarcane were carefully bred, planted, harvested, converted to brown crystals and exported in bulk for foreign exchange to pay our nation’s bills, and keep our economy afloat while maintaining a system of wealth for a small segment of the society. Part of a centuries-long history of extractive plantation economics, I later understood there wasn’t anything natural about the plantation. [. . .]

PART III – TOURISM AS MEDIATOR OF LANDSCAPE

As I write these words today, I am sitting at a small table pushed up against a tightly sealed double-glazed door looking on to a perfectly laid out garden. This ground floor unit, part of a well-manicured beach-front residential complex, is the glass-fronted cave where I have come to convalesce.

While observing many varieties of ‘tropical’ palms, fragrant frangipanis, majestic mahogany trees, and shrubs including ixora, and crotons – all still covered in minute particles of ash two months since the eruptions – detritus blows in blustery dry season winds and the skies still have a grey pallor over them. The rains, desperately needed to wash the ashfall away, are slow to come.

The sensation of burning embers in the middle of my chest has transitioned to what feels like cotton wool wedged in between the lobes of my lungs. I inhabit this dry aquarium, breathing in the same stale air for weeks while keeping out harmful, powdery, volcanic material. Looking at what may be described as a tropical exotic paradise, I wonder why I feel like I am suffocating in this well-articulated, brochure-perfect paradise? [. . .]

For full article, notes, and additional photos, see https://www.placewriting.co.uk/place-2021-blog/annalee-davis

[Shown above: Ashfall on Philodendron in the artist’s garden, April 10, 2021.]

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