Joscelyn Gardner

Dominique Fontaine
  • Joscelyn Gardner, Bromeliad penguin (Abba), 2011; Aristolochia bilobala (Nimine), 2010.
  • Joscelyn Gardner, Poinciana pulcherrima (Lilith), 2009; Manihot flabellifolia (Old Catalina), 2011.

A Feminist History of the Caribbean

Joscelyn Gardner’s work is based on the shared experiences of Creole women, both black and white, on Caribbean plantations in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Basing her research on portraiture of the colonial period, Gardner has also consulted various written documents: travel logs, volumes of natural history, abolitionist publications, administrative letters, and plantation registries. She applies a post-colonial feminist approach to her examination of the historical representations of Creole identity and rewrites the subjectivity of Creole women. Her aim is to subvert the documentary strategies of the era, which were used to marginalize the Caribbean Creole population and generally excluded, among other things, stories of colonial settlers’ sexual abuse of slaves. Gardner deals with the omissions — rape, torture — in colonial documentary history to give voice to women who have been neglected and forgotten.

Gardner has been working on the female subject in colonial history since 2001. Her first two lithography series, Creole Portraits, produced in 2002 and 2007, attest to the inspiration of abolitionist engravings and an eighteenth century aesthetic. In her series of thirteen lithographs, Creole Portraits III (2009—11), she is especially concerned with the clandestine use by Creole women, both free and slave, of natural abortifacients to end forced pregnancies. These prints have the simplicity of eighteenth-century botanical illustrations. Each portrait shows one of the thirteen tropical plants that were used to induce abortions, and the titles reference the names of raped women mentioned in the diary of a plantation superintendent. Gardner pays homage to these women by representing them symbolically with an elegant African headdress juxtaposed to an iron collar or instrument of torture. In the image, only the abortifacient plant is given colour. Although Gardner’s work is based on the historical and cultural specificity of the Caribbean, it underlines the larger question of Western white post-colonial guilt.

Translated from the French by Ron Ross

Captions
Images 1 and 2: Joscelyn Gardner, Bromeliad penguin (Abba), 2011; Aristolochia bilobala (Nimine), 2010. Photos: John Tamblyn, courtesy of the artist
Images 3 and 4: Joscelyn Gardner, Poinciana pulcherrima (Lilith), 2009; Manihot flabellifolia (Old Catalina), 2011. Photos: John Tamblyn, courtesy of the artist

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