When looking at Kelly Sinnapah Mary's (1981, Guadeloupe, France) recent production, it is fruitful to begin with Cahier d'un non retour au pays natal [Notebook of No Return to a Native Land], a series of installations, paintings, tapestries, and objects that the artist started making in 2015. The suggestive title, which references the most important work by Martinican poet Aimé Césaire, synthesizes much of her production since then. If the poem was already dealing with diaspora and colonialism in 1939, being one of the bases of the négritude movement, Sinnapah Mary underscores the impossibility of return in response to her own origin. The artist’s ancestors moved from India to Guadeloupe in the 19th century following an agreement by the French government that sought to replenish the French colony with laborers after slavery had been abolished. Many families that crossed the ocean at the time believed they would only be there for a predetermined contracted period, but very few had the conditions to return to their countries and ultimately came to set up a new diasporic chapter in the Caribbean islands.
Identifying herself as part of this story, Sinnapah Mary collects scraps of memories (whether her own or borrowed from her research), assembling them by juxtaposition and superposition. These memories might take the form of illustrations of European fairytales, reference Hindu rituals with animal offerings, reproduce the shapes of sea urchins and other sea creatures, emulate the density of the Caribbean forest, or suggest associations with a childhood beset with threats. In each case, they never seem isolated, but always in a concatenation that suggests continuous mixing and exchange.
Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).