Contesting Thistlewood: slavery, agency and the limits of representation
Donnell, A. (2012) Contesting Thistlewood: slavery, agency and the limits of representation. In: Bleeding & Breeding. Station Gallery, Whitby, Ontario, Canada, pp. 33-36. ISBN 9780986717147
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This piece is a contribution to the exhibition catalogue of Barbadian / Canadian artist Joscelyn Gardner's exhibition, 'Bleeding & Breeding' curated by Olexander Wlasenko, January 14-February 12, 2012 in the Station Gallery, Whitby, Ontario, Canada. The piece examines the ways in which Gardner's Creole Portraits II (2007) and Creole Portraits III (2009) issue a provocative and carefully crafted contestation to the journals of the slave-owner and amateur botanist Thomas Thistlewood. It argues that while Thistlewood’s journals make raced and gendered bodies seemingly available to knowledge, incorporating them within the colonial archive as signs of subjection, Gardener’s portraits disrupt these acts of history and knowledge. Her artistic response marks a radical departure from the significant body of scholarship that has drawn on the Thistlewood journals to date. Creatively contesting his narratives’ dispossession of Creole female subjects and yet aware of the problems of innocent recovery, her works style representations that retain the consciousness and effect of historical erasure. Through an oxymoronic aesthetic that assembles a highly crafted verisimilitude alongside the condition of invisibility and brings atrocity into the orbit of the aesthetic, these portraits force us to question what stakes are involved in bringing the lives of the enslaved and violated back into regimes of representation.