Rodell Warner, Augmented Archive 023, 2021, digital video, black-and-white, silent, 32 seconds. From the series “Augmented Archives,” 2021.

Rodell Warner, Augmented Archive 023, 2021, digital video, black-and-white, silent, 32 seconds. From the series “Augmented Archives,” 2021.

Tamika Galanis and Rodell Warner

National Art Gallery of the Bahamas

The Double Dutch series has been one of the most prolific and dynamic programs developed by the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas (NAGB) in recent years. Begun in 2015, the project aims to bring artists from around the Caribbean archipelago to produce new works in dialogue with Bahamian artists. In a region shaped by inequalities in access to arts education, a lack of museums of contemporary art, and limited infrastructure for direct travel between neighboring islands, the creation of platforms for encounter and exchange is crucial for the growth of a Caribbean cultural ecosystem. This is clear from the Double Dutch exhibitions, which challenge nationalism while stressing the ways in which Caribbean islands remain tied to their colonial history. Over the years, participants have included established and emerging artists, some based abroad and others resident in their home countries, among them James Cooper (Bermuda), Blue Curry (Bahamas), Kendra Frorup (Bahamas), Leasho Johnson (Jamaica), Joiri Minaya (Dominican Republic), and Gabriel Ramos (Puerto Rico).

For the eighth edition, curators Natalie Willis and Richardo Barrett paired Bahamian documentarian and multimedia artist Tamika Galanis with Trinidadian photographer and video artist Rodell Warner to explore inheritance, ancestry, and testimony. Both artists focused on late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century photographs from the collection of the NAGB. The point of departure of the exhibition was the silk-cotton tree (also known as the ceiba or kapok), one of the oldest and largest species in the tropics, capable of reaching a height of more than eighty feet. These trees, considered sacred both in the Americas and in Africa as the home of duppies, or spirits of the dead—the term is of African origin—were a recurring presence in the archival photographs the artists chose. Playing a key role in the spiritual life of the Caribbean throughout centuries, the kapok was a place for people to connect to their ancestors—enslaved West Africans brought to the region’s European colonies.

Galanis and Warner delved into the silk-cotton tree as a portal. What stories do the roots and branches of these trees keep? How we can see today what century-old photographs fail to register? In his video series “Augmented Archives” (all works 2021), Warner intervened in historical photos. Using digital animation, he introduced bright fractal images floating close to the pictured people like specters made visible at last. These digital spirits resemble organic vegetation—flowers, fungi—as well as marine animals. Warner’s works complicate the experience of documentary photography and the representation of history, creating hybrid narratives in which technology functions as a tool to aid us in rethinking and reconnecting the human, nonhuman, and spiritual worlds.

Galanis explored the realm of ancestral ghosts through a revision of colonial memory and her family history using a variety of techniques. Her collages Plant Life Is Alive with Spirit Power and Save a Cutting of the Negro Yam for the Dead When It Is Dug are based on small-scale reproductions of archival photos. She covers the faces of the people portrayed in them with wood pieces from silk-cotton trees, seeds, raw cotton, or rice. The effect is uncanny, evoking the way ancestors return in unexpected shapes. Filmed in Adelaide Village, a historic settlement established by a group of freed slaves in the early 1830s, her six-minute film Catching Shadow reclaims poetic forms of conversation with silk-cotton trees through the story, written by her collaborator Charlotte Henay, of an Obeah woman making an offering to one in order to obtain the release of a spirit.

As the curators acutely indicated, “Ancestry in postcolonial spaces can be a point of contention and pain as much as one of pride and identity.” Both Galanis and Warner offered challenging ways to approach colonial remnants. For them, the archival photographs bore witness to something beyond representation. The exhibition addressed what it means to call someone from the past and how political remembering can be driven by speculation and spiritual intuition.