Critics’ Picks

La Vaughn Belle, How to Imagine the Tropicalia as Monumental (detail), 2021, acrylic painting, ink, charcoal, pencil and cuts and burns on paper, 98 1/2 x 69''.

La Vaughn Belle, How to Imagine the Tropicalia as Monumental (detail), 2021, acrylic painting, ink, charcoal, pencil and cuts and burns on paper, 98 1/2 x 69''.

Copenhagen

La Vaughn Belle

Ariel
Niels Hemmingsens Gade 8–10
November 19, 2021–January 16, 2022

In 2015, the Saint Croix–based artist La Vaughn Belle embarked on “Storm (How to Imagine the Tropicalia as Monumental),” a series of charcoal drawings of palm trees battered and bent by gale-force winds. Excerpts of some of these images resurface in her new large-scale collage How to Imagine the Tropicalia as Monumental, all works 2021, which also includes snatches of landscapes devastated by both natural and man-made disasters and was executed on paper damaged when Hurricane Maria hit the artist’s studio in 2017. Mounted over a corner in Ariel’s exhibition space in central Copenhagen, the collage resembles a coral reef in full bloom. Among the artist’s many attempts to assemble the remnants of colonialism into memorials, this work recognizes the island of Saint Croix as another kind of fragment, ripped between its colonizers, Denmark and the United States.

In the accompanying short but spellbinding video In the place of shadows, Belle pieces together the history of two Caribbean children, Victor Cornelius and Alberta Roberts, by seeking their shadows in her own. At the initiative of Emma Gad (1852–1921), a writer, etiquette expert, and cofounder of Copenhagen’s Women’s Building, which houses Ariel, the children, ages four and seven, were taken from their mothers in Saint Croix, caged, and exhibited as part of the 1905 colonial exhibition at the nearby Tivoli Gardens. Wandering over the landscape of the island, Belle speaks to the children as if in a letter, interweaving their story with her own memory of visiting the United States as a child. Indicating the internal migration from colony to mainland as a particular experience of the colonized, Belle reframes the storm-torn island through the semitransparent shape of her body.