A captioned version of the video is in the making and will be posted shortly.
In this conversation La Vaughn Belle, Tami Navarro, Hadiya Sewer and Tiphanie Yanique, who together form the Virgin Islands Studies Collective (VISCO), discuss their ongoing engagements with the archives of Danish colonialism in the US Virgin Islands (USVI), formerly the Danish West Indies. The conversation takes departure from the collectively written essay “Ancestral Queendom, Reflections on the Prison Records of the Rebel Queens of the 1878 Fireburn in St. Croix, USVI”, published in a special issue of the Nordic Journal for Information Science and Cultural Mediation, entitled Archives that Matter, co-edited by Daniela Agostinho, Katrine Dirckinck-Holmfeld and Karen Louise Grova Søilen.
In the essay each member of the collective responds to one of the prison records of the Rebel Queens, four women who were taken to Denmark for their participation in the largest labor revolt in Danish colonial history, known as the 1878 Fireburn. These prison records were digitized in 2017 and recently translated from Danish into English, which made a direct engagement with these archives possible. The essay combines elements of speculation, fiction, black feminist theory and critique as modes of responding to the gaps and silences in the archive, as well as finding new questions to be asked. In the conversation, the collective discusses the contrast between the historical record and the ways in which the Queens are imagined and remembered in the USVI; what can and cannot be known through the archives; and the need to forge spaces beyond the archive to articulate modes of survival and freedom.
The conversation is moderated by Cynthia Oliver, a longtime collaborator of VISCO and author of Queen of the Virgins: Pageantry and Black Womanhood in the Caribbean (2009), which has been a reference for the collective.
La Vaughn Belle is an artist who works in a variety of disciplines from painting to installation, photography, writing, video and public interventions. She is the co-creator of “I Am Queen Mary”, the artist-led groundbreaking monument that commemorates the legacies of resistance of the African people who were brought to the former Danish West Indies. She has exhibited her work in the Caribbean, the USA and Europe in institutions such as the Museo del Barrio (NY), Casa de las Americas (Cuba), the Museum of the African Diaspora (CA) and Christiansborg Palace (DK). Her art is in the collections of the National Photography Museum and the Vestsjælland Museum in Denmark. Belle holds an MFA from the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, Cuba and an MA and BA from Columbia University in NY. She is a fellow at the Social Justice Institute at the Barnard Research Center for Women at Columbia University and her studio is based in the Virgin Islands.
Tami Navarro is Associate Director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women, Columbia University, and Editor of the journal Scholar and Feminist Online. She holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from Duke University. Her research interests include Neoliberalism, Capital, Gender and Labor, Development, Identity Formation, Globalization/Transnationalism, Race/Racialization and Ethnicity, and Caribbean Studies. She is currently at work on a manuscript entitled Virgin Capital: Financial Services as Development in the US Virgin Islands which explores the way in which neoliberal initiatives that advocate the freeing of markets build upon—and often lead to the entrenchment of—existing processes of racialization. She has published in journals such as Cultural Anthropology, American Anthropologist, Transforming Anthropology and Feminist Anthropology.
Hadiya Sewer is a Research Fellow in the African and African American Studies Program at Stanford University and a Visiting Scholar at the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice at Brown University. Sewer earned their Ph.D. in Africana Studies at Brown University.Their scholarship focuses on environmental justice and Africana decolonial, feminist, queer, and political theories.They are currently working on two monographs titled, “(De)Colonial Desires: Race, Power, and Philosophies of Freedom in the U.S. Virgin Islands,” and “Meditations on Disaster: Climate Injustice, Covid-19, and the Coloniality of American Power.” As a community-engaged scholar, Sewer is also the President and Co-Founder of St.JanCo: the St. John Heritage Collective, a land rights and cultural heritage preservation nonprofit in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Tiphanie Yanique is an award-winning novelist and poet. She is co-editor of Another English: Anglophone Poems from Around the World, and the author of the poetry collection, Wife, which won the 2016 Bocas Prize in Caribbean poetry and the United Kingdom’s 2016 Forward/Felix Dennis Prize for a First Collection. Tiphanie is also the author of the novel, Land of Love and Drowning, which won the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Award from the Center for Fiction, the Phillis Wheatley Award for Pan-African Literature, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Family Foundation Award. She is also the author of a collection of stories, How to Escape from a Leper Colony, which won her a listing as one of the National Book Foundation’s 5Under35. She is a Professor in English and Creative Writing at Emory College of Arts and Sciences.
Cynthia Oliver is an award winning choreographer and performance artist. She holds a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from Tisch School of the Arts, at New York University. Her ongoing research is in the areas of intersection between contemporary dance, feminism, black popular culture and the expressive performances of Africans in the diaspora, with an emphasis on the performance in the Anglophone Caribbean, particularly the U.S. Virgin Islands. She is the author of Queen of the Virgins: Pageantry and Black Womanhood in the Caribbean published by University Press of Mississippi (2009). She is Professor of Dance, with affiliations in Gender and Women’s Studies, and African American Studies, and she currently serves as Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation – Humanities, Arts, Related Fields at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
Katrine Dirckinck-Holmfeld is a visual artist and postdoctoral researcher. She is currently the head of the Laboratory for Art Research at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. She holds a PhD from the University of Copenhagen with a dissertation entitled Time in the Making: Rehearsing Reparative Critical Practices (2015). She currently leads the project Entangled Archives which deals with Denmark’s colonial archives from Ghana, the US Virgin Islands and Greenland based on the colonial history of Charlottenborg Palace, which houses the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Her artistic work and research explore notions of affect, time and materiality through a collective engagement with the bar & cultural venue Sorte Firkant, which she co-founded in 2016 in Copenhagen.