The Art World, Migration and Gender: An Interview with WeMov

In her blog, Holly Bynoe shares a conversation with Women On the Move (WeMOV) in which she addresses a broad spectrum of topics including women and migration, migration representations, trauma and healing, borders and borderlessness, the multicultural histories of the Caribbean, the lasting toxicity and violence spawned by colonization, climate change, creative communities, and mediation, as well as her work with the National Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB),  The Hub Collective, the Bush Medicine Revival project, the  Tilting Axis project, Sour Grass, Caribbean Linked,  and her own artistic and spiritual practices. Read the full article at Holly Bynoe or womenonthemove.

Late in 2021, Women On the Move (WeMOV) invited me to be one of their stakeholders. WeMOV is a network of researchers engaged in the timely mission of unveiling women migrants’ presence and participation in the construction of Europe. As an artist, curator, and writer, who sits on the periphery of these engagements, the following conversation celebrates borderlessness through all veins of my life. [The original interview can be found on WeMOV’s Newsletter #3.]

Camelia Zavarache: Welcome Holly! In your Linkedin profile one can read that you are an “an artist, curator, writer and Earth ally”; that you’ve co-founded and you have been the director of ARC [Art. Recognition. Culture] Magazine (2010-2017) and you were Chief Curator at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (2015-19). Moving back to the Southern Caribbean with practical knowledge of regional cultural institutions, their health and ways to innovate and build community spirit, you are currently working more actively in regenerative and remediative Earth honoring practices, with a keen interest in plant medicine and Afrikan Spirituality while living in Ichirouganaim, the indigenous name for Barbados. About your work, one can also read that it acknowledges and honours the ancestors, the indigenous and the many seeds sown upon our lands. I will now pass the floor to Heidi, for the first set of questions. Holly, is there any updating to your profile that you’d like to make? 

Holly Bynoe: Yes, I’ve also sat a lot with this word “regenerative agriculture” and I realized that what I am actually trying to do is to investigate decolonized practices around healing, spirituality and the land because there is such a negative connotation towards agriculture given our historical context in the Caribbean. In that, I am trying to give witness to the hardships of the historical vestiges and traumas around agriculture (the provisioning of foods and medicine under the plantation system). Because it can be seen as very one dimensional and toxic, that kind of renegotiation with the land, the land’s knowledge and its relationship with indigeneity is something that I am interested in.        

[. . .] Heidi Martins: Thank you! Well, so, can you tell us now a bit more about your own experience of migration as a woman? 

Holly Bynoe: You know, itʼs very strange. I always asked my parents, “How did we end up on this small, seven square mile piece of land?”. There were all these rich stories about seafarers, about men building boats, going out into the world and not conquering but provisioning, because we didn’t come from a conquering legacy, that is the other side of colonial whiteness. But we came from the seafarers, and the only reason these seafarers were able to do the work of provisioning was because the woman, the mothers were able to stay at home, stabilize families and communities while building everything, including homes. I grew up in a house that my mother helped build. And my experience of migration started when I was looking into my family archives. To think about all of this work that I was doing, because I was feeling this stringent exile when I was in New York doing my MFA, and I couldnʼt negotiate my belonging. I took up space as an exile and I realize now that that was a brief period which allowed me think about re-centering my identity and what it means to be a woman of color who presents as white, who presents as this Type A negotiator and manifestor of my own experience in a space that is fraught with classism, racism, social tensions around capital(s) and misogyny. Of course, I had to go into the archives and what I found there was something really interesting.  [. . .]

I come from a space where we have a deep legacy of moving, of transiting. In the mid-90s, I started my movement. I moved from Bequia to Trinidad to do my first degree, and then I moved from Bequia to New York, to the Magnetic North at 21 to start my art experience, as a creator, as somebody interested in images, but as somebody who also wanted to do deeper work around film.  I have always identified as itinerant, in fact I know that Barbados is the final space for me, I am making my way back home, returning to the smallness and simplicity. A loophole. A retreat. 

The Caribbean has never been this fixed or static space with an adherence to the colonial ordering of things. Straight off the bat we wanted to know each other, we wanted to have more exchange, and now, looking into the creative space of the Caribbean there is this urgency to really work against the linguistic divides… to move beyond the strictures our ancestors reckoned with. I was not given the opportunity to learn another language because of St. Vincent’s geopolitical status as a British Colony. Whereas people who are born in St. Lucia, Dominica or Grenada have a fluent Creole/Patois tongue. Even though the Anglophone Caribbean is viewed as homogenous, it seems that St. Vincentʼs dropped into another dimension or we lost our creole/patois fluency. And thatʼs probably because of the indigenous battling, genocide, onslaught that was happening. There is some of that. 

[. . .] Heidi Martins: Thank you! How does honouring women through art help to break down the superficiality of borders? 

Holly Bynoe: Absolutely, my art and life celebrates borderlessness and acknowledges ways that we can weave new threads of knowing to each other. This is possible because of the family dynamic that I grew up in, it never felt hostile to other people, so my parents did their work. And I would say that this was mostly unconscious as we didn’t have to sit down to plan our knowling. My father was a mariner and because he got to see a lot of the world during his lifetime, we were all just very interested in knowing other spaces and had that curiosity.  

Some of the ways in which I see my work celebrating that is also through the lens of this rhizomatic almost mycorrhizal relationship that we have in the Caribbean. So, going back to the work of stalwarts like Édouard Glissant and thinking about how we see and unsee, and then how we tend to not want to become uncomfortable with the seeing. There is a lot of comfort within invisibility. Within the not seeing there are no uproars, there are no revolutions, we are all just OK with not knowing each other. This isn’t true. And for a long time, I wondered about this pathology, of siloing ourselves. What insecurities have to gestate for this to be foundational, what woundings and fractures. At times, I am absolutely lost in the root/route of that train of thought. 

One of the ways my curatorial practice celebrates borderlessness is by simply becoming familiar, intimate. I know that this is a part of the methodologies, and I know that this is a part of all of our work, getting into a space where knowing feels intimate, messy/fussy, where we acknowledge from the get-go that certain kinds of criteria are going to be essential for me to know and for me to come into knowing.  [. . .]

[Photo above: Self-Portrait as Iyawo (Catching silk cotton: Revisiting child self) at Andromeda Gardens in Barbados. April 2022.]

For full article and illustrations, see https://hollybynoe.com/writing-blog/the-art-world-migration-and-gender-an-interview-with-women-on-the-move-wemov

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