Global Research Bytes: Feminist Geographies in Contemporary Caribbean Art


Global Research Bytes: Feminist Geographies in Contemporary Caribbean Art

Yafrainy Familia in a gallery next to a painting of a woman lying down
Transcript of Interview with Yafrainy Familia

Emily Mellen  0:07  
Welcome to Global Research Bytes. I'm Emily Mellen and I'm here with Yafrainy Familia, a PhD student in Spanish at UVA. Hi.

Yafrainy Familia  0:15  
Hi, Emily. Thank you for having me.

Emily Mellen  0:17  
Your dissertation, "Sites of Freedom: Feminist Geographies in Contemporary Caribbean Art," analyzes the work of a series of Caribbean artists through the lenses of colonial resistance, gender, and race by looking at an archive of visual art, photographs, maps and architectural sites. Tell us more about this project.

Yafrainy Familia  0:35  
Yes, of course. So, when we think about the space of the Caribbean, the territory itself, in the colonial imaginary, has long been feminized, meaning that the territory has been configured as a kind of like as a woman's body that can be colonized, violated in different ways. And inversely, Black and brown Caribbean women's bodies have been historically configured as tropical paradises that can be exploited and from which different kinds of labor can be extracted, including domestic labors, sexual labor. And so for me, this relation between geography and gender, in terms of the formation of the Caribbean, was something very important, but that I felt that had not been studied as much, particularly when we think about the kinds of visual technologies that are required to kind of create these systems of oppression, including slavery, colonization, and just patriarchal processes of domination, right. And by technologies, by visual technologies, I refer to things like cartographical maps and architectural plans. And so for me, it was interesting to think about how Caribbean women and femme and non-binary artists are subverting that kind of violent narrative and geographical configuration of the Caribbean by using the space of the visual and very similar technologies, but to kind of subvert and challenge these histories of violence and domination that are so important for the formation of the Caribbean, but also for the Americas.

Emily Mellen  2:41  
Absolutely. How did you become interested in this topic?

Yafrainy Familia  2:47  
My interest in this topic comes from very personal experiences. I am from the Dominican Republic and grew up in Puerto Rico. So, I consider myself a Caribbean woman. But I'm also a Caribbean woman in diaspora because I have spent a significant part of my life in the United States. I also studied in Spain and spent some time living in Peru. And, for me, the idea of how Caribbean women relate to the world and move around space was always something that I had in the back of my mind, because it related to my own experience and to the experience of my ancestors and the women in my family and just kind of the different stereotypes that being a Caribbean woman kind of brings. And so, when I came to do my PhD, at first I was going to look at these ideas in the space of literature. I have a master's in creative writing and I've always been interested in storytelling. And that was my initial interest. But then I realized that there were a group of Caribbean women artists who were doing really fantastic work and who were thinking about ideas very similar to the ones that I was interested in, but that had not been studied as much as literature and just kind of more narrative. And so that's how I became interested in this topic, but also in thinking about visual culture and the kind of intervention that artists were making in that sphere and that I felt that I wanted to learn more about but also that it was important for other people to kind of get to know as well.

Emily Mellen  4:51  
And I think that leads into my second, or third question rather, which is all of the artists whose work you engage with are contemporary artists. So, what drew you to working with living artists?

Yafrainy Familia  5:03  
Okay, that's a really good question. So, for me, I've always been interested in very contemporary work. It was the same when I was doing literature and that is kind, that is part of just the ethics of this project and my feminist commitment to work with people who are active right now and whom I actually get to visit their studios and the spaces that they work in, but also better understand the communities they come from, and the political and cultural realities that their work is responding to. And for me, in the experience of visiting artists and getting to talk with them, it has become this change, that also has an effect in the way that I write about these artists and their work and the way that I relate to it and the decisions that I make in terms of how I will present it to the world. And so, I think, at times, it becomes challenging because I do feel this kind of pressure and respect for the work and the artists and I know them and have a relationship with them. But at the same time, I feel like it gives the dissertation, and just the project itself, another dimension and just opens up the possibility to also do other kinds of interdisciplinary work and just even about, you know, thinking about public humanities, and how to bring the dissertation to a broader public and maybe, you know, the possibility of doing a curation and doing a panel with the artists and getting them to know each other and just the idea of the work taking a different meaning and reaching different kinds of peoples who can connect with it, whether in the dissertation form, but also just seeing this more like visual and community collaboration that happens when you work with people who are also active and living at the same time as you are.

Emily Mellen  7:17  
Right, yeah. And you started to talk about this a little bit in talking about doing a panel or something like that, what are the next steps that you're seeing with this work and also for you?

Yafrainy Familia  7:28  
Okay, so for me, I do see myself as a professor, I would love to work in a Women and Gender Studies Department, even though I come from a Spanish department, but I do see my work more and more making an intervention in Gender Studies, right. Although I'm open to different possibilities. And at the same time, I think, just recognizing how challenging it is right now to find a job in academia, I am certainly open to work in an art organization and maybe even doing curation. I think that it's, there's more and more opportunity for Caribbean women and women of color to kind of intervene in museum spaces and art spaces and just kind of bring in the work of artists as the ones that I'm working with in my dissertation who are not as known but who are really thinking about ideas that I find very important and just kind of providing a different present and future through the sphere of culture and visual arts.

Emily Mellen  8:49  
That's fantastic. Well, we look forward to hearing more about your work as it goes forward. And thank you for coming today.

Yafrainy Familia  8:54  
Thank you so much for having me.