Critics’ Picks

Marianne Keating, Landlessness, 2017, two-channel video projection, color, sound, 26 minutes 53 seconds. Installation view.

Marianne Keating, Landlessness, 2017, two-channel video projection, color, sound, 26 minutes 53 seconds. Installation view.


Marianne Keating

Crawford Art Gallery
Emmet Place
June 21–September 22, 2019

“The Ocean Between”—the Atlantic—connects Ireland and the Caribbean, two territories here explored by Marianne Keating in a group of films. Keating built Landlessness, 2017, the exhibition’s key work, out of archival materials sourced from the National Archives in England, Ireland, and Jamaica. In this two-channel video projection, she excavates the social conditions that generated a wave of emigration from Ireland to Jamaica between 1835 and 1842, in the aftermath of the abolition of slavery in colonial Jamaica in 1834.

One screen depicts the Irish landscape overlaid with subtitles drawn from an 1835 dialogue between Alexis de Tocqueville and John Revans, the secretary of the Irish Poor Law Commission. Their conversation examines the roots and manifestations of destitution in Ireland, locating its origins in imperialist inequality between the Irish native and settler populations. Once their exchange comes to an end, the second screen shows vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and of inland Jamaica, its subtitles reproducing excerpts from another 1835 discourse: British politician John Russell, head of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission, and H. Endriks, founder of the West India Immigration Society and representative of the Jamaican plantocracy, explaining their reasons for renewing the workforce of the Jamaican plantations by recruiting indentured Irish laborers.

For Better Must Come—A New Jamaica, 2019, another one of the seven films on view, Keating combines found footage, both historic and contemporary, in a video that probes the intricate relationship between Jamaica’s political system and the country’s gang violence. By highlighting biographical details from the lives of Jamaican politicians Norman Washington Manley and Alexander Bustamante (both of Irish descent), the socialist agenda that informed the country’s politics after it gained independence in 1962, the othering effects of British newsreels about Jamaica, and creolization, Keating traces the nation’s contemporary social conditions back to the British colonial era. In both films, she rewrites the history of the Irish diaspora in the Caribbean as an alternative, complex colonial narrative that speaks to an oft-unfathomed cultural and economic enmeshment.