Earth is all we have, what will we do with it? This series of films examines the concept of Paradise through the lenses of global blackness, sovereignty, environmentalism, economics, and belonging; asking what does Paradise look like, and who is it made for. This earth is precious to all of us, how do we acknowledge the difficult position of shouting our presence and continued survival from the rooftops while honoring our status as guests on land that was unjustly taken from others? These are questions that affect all of us. These films explore the anxiety of presence along with the desperation of finding a safe place to be present while considering questions of the nature of human presence and perspective.

The Films

Elizabeth M. Webb – For Paradise (2016) 20 mins

As an adult, Elizabeth Webb discovered that her grandfather was a black man and her great-grandmother, Paradise, was a black woman. Paradise was known for her great beauty but Elizabeth could find no photographs of her. The artist’s father decided to raise his family white, and never told his children about their black heritage. For the artist’s father, the absence of blackness would protect his children from the discrimination and injustices associated with living while black in the southern United States. The artist uncovers her great-grandmother’s story by speaking with family members she never knew she had, tracing Paradise through her previously erased family lineage.

Camille Turner, Cauleen Smith, Jérôme Havre – Triangle Trade (2017) 15 mins

On an archipelago, a collection of puppets live, each on their own island, communicating with one another through an ethereal and abstract connection. The puppets move through their respective landscapes, made of cardboard, cloth and other material, talking about their relationship to the land and to a sense of belonging in contemporary society. While the puppets’ islands are paradise-like, the puppets reflect on the implication of their presence, and the islands themselves respond to their presence, implying a paradise where humans and their environment exist in relation to one another. The situation of the puppets, in three distinct landscapes also evokes the history of the Triangular Trade system, where slaves, crops and manufactured goods were transported between West Africa, the Caribbean and American colonies.

Denise Ferreira da Silva, Arjuna Neuman – 4Waters: Deep Implicancy (2018) 30 mins

4Waters travels across four bodies of water—the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans as well as the Mediterranean Sea—to connect four islands—Lesvos, Haiti, the Marshall Islands and Tiwi. Each island contains legacies of natural disasters, resource extraction and colonial violence, while also possessing the potential for alternative futures. The artists examine the histories embedded in each of these sites to explore the possible existence of knowledge sourced from a total entanglement of human history and geological timescales—a phenomenon they describe as Deep Implicancy. The artists ask: can an earthquake release the knowledge for a revolution in the very way we know the world? Paradise is not found within our current understanding of human presence and natural environments but through a total reworking of a sense of humanity, one that is intimately entangled with the natural world.

Interview with Elizabeth Webb

Our Curatorial Assistant Lillian O’Brien Davis sits down with Elizabeth M. Webb in this interview, entitled I Have my Origins in a Multitude: An Interview with Elizabeth M. Webb. The two discuss Webb’s film, For Paradise, which can be seen above.

Elizabeth M. Webb is an artist and filmmaker originally from Charlottesville, VA. Her work is invested in issues surrounding race and identity, often using the lens of her own family history of migration and racial passing to explore larger, systemic constructs. She has screened and exhibited in the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Ecuador, Singapore, Switzerland, Mexico, Austria and Germany and was a recipient of the inaugural Allan Sekula Social Documentary Award in 2014. Elizabeth holds a dual MFA in Film/Video and Photography/Media from California Institute of the Arts and is an alumna of the Whitney Independent Study Program in Studio Art, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and the Core Program at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. She is Fall 2019 Visiting Faculty in Sculpture and Extended Media at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Triangle Trade Interview

In conjunction with the MacKenzie Art Gallery’s film program, Paradise (to all those who did and did not make it across), we are sharing an interview with three artists who created one of the films featured in our program, Triangle Trade (2017).

The interview with artists Cauleen Smith, Camille Turner and Jérôme Havre, originally commissioned by Gallery TPW in Toronto, ON in 2017 is facilitated by writer and editor Yaniya Lee.   

The artists explore how they each bring aspects of their own practice; puppetry, performance and film together to create this collaborative work. The interview touches on questions of African diasporic relationship to land, the artists’ collaborative dynamic and peculiarities of using marionettes as protagonists. 

“Community is the base module for survival…”
Cauleen Smith 

The subject matter and the nature of the artists collaboration articulate many themes that appear repeatedly across the rest of the film program. Each artist embodies Black identity differently due to their situation within different socio-cultural contexts. Camille, a Jamaican immigrant to Canada, Jerome a Parisian ex-patriate in Canada and Cauleen an African American who travelled to Canada as a visitor specifically to create this film. The situation of the puppets in the film, in three distinct landscapes made from cardboard and other found material form an archipelago of islands where the puppets exist and observe their surroundings. 

The interview highlights the typical dis-connection that members of the African diaspora often feel to land and geography, with unclear relationships to the idea of homelandCauleen Smith’s puppet lives on a volcanic island that could explode at any momentreflecting the volatile political environment she finds herself in within the United States. Camille Turner’s puppet lives on an ethereal and icy island evocative of the iconic, stark arctic landscapes of Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris. Jerome Havre’s puppet exists on an isolated sandy island from which he can observe the worldreminiscent of Havre’s experience navigating both a national French identity along with a racialized identity which distinguishes him as ‘Other. 

 The title of the film, Triangle Trade refers to the Triangular Trade system, where slaves, crops and manufactured goods were transported between West Africa, the Caribbean and American colonies. The film reflects how each artist has dealt with the legacy of colonial racism which was the true product of this system and continues to persist today. The film’s narrative finds the specificity of its relationship to the “American Dream” and the realities of settler-colonial existence as a person of colour; for whom existence on all land is tempered by a feeling of loss, a feeling of being both at home and an alien everywhere.  

“When I think about “nothingness”, I think about the bodies at the bottom of the ocean: three hundred years ago in the Atlantic, forty years ago off the coast of Florida, and right now, today, off the coast of Italy.” – Cauleen Smith