Summer Research: Erica Deeman, Fast Fashion, & Jamaica

06 Sep, 2021

Summer Research: Erica Deeman, Fast Fashion, & Jamaica

Erica Deeman received a BCNM 2021 Summer Research Award. Read about her great work exploring the cultural heritage of her ancestors and expressing her findings through a video performance.

The land is here, and will always be here.

Deep within it, the rhizomes of the botanical world talk, the bodies and the energy of the ancestor’s rest and reinvigorate us. As we place our feet on the ground and feel the earth between our toes, I have become aware of those that came before me; the Duwamish peoples of Seattle where I currently tread, the enslaved Africans bought to Jamaica - my maternal heritage, the African American agricultural journey and the racist legacy of the US Department of Agriculture, and my paternal British heritage and my connection to my home in England. The BCNM Summer Research Grant has offered me the chance to refine and create new ideas bolstered by research and knowledge.

The legacy of colonialism is a lived experience. It can stunt - if left unaddressed, the infinite experience of life and the sharing of family knowledge. The fear of passing on trauma holds immigrant families in limbo, scared to burden new generations with the difficulties and violence of the past. The transnational journey to ‘becoming of the land’ can be restricted to ‘becoming only of that land’; to be defined in its entirety in order to be recognized by it. Traditions can therefore be lost, cultural heritage is replaced with that of the new territories’ hegemonic structures, and beliefs. Multiple voices are lost.

It has taken me nearly two decades to ask my family questions about our journey to the U.K. My Nana Poyser, before her passing in 2005 began telling me the history of our Jamaican family. I have since held onto its incompleteness, carrying it around with a sense of longing, wanting to ask for more, yet being sensitive to emotional, internalized trauma.

BCNM Summer Research Grant provided me with professional recording equipment to begin tentatively interviewing my Mum on the history of the family, particularly her memories of when she lived in Jamaica and farmed the land. Knowing the cultural voyage of the ‘Windrush Generation’ has fertilized a space to discover a personal narrative and story of our family migration. The structure of these interviews has been very informal. Due to the time difference between the U.S. and the U.K., I speak to my Mum in the evening. I have learned to listen to her day and sow questions that connect the past with her present experience. She is a psychotherapy counselor and we have mused and found fun in my approach to teasing out delicate information. This has included the most basic of knowledge of learning my Nana’s last name before marriage to my Mum’s experiences with her Nana on her farm whilst she waited to emigrate to the U.K. I have been interested in learning about generational patterns that have manifested through time. Many of these patterns come through ‘blockages’ and the throat. I have learned the crops my Nana, Grandpa, Mum, and Uncle grew whilst living in Jamaica and actively sown them on the land I currently tend to. I have remembered my Nana’s growing practice in her garden in England and replicated it here with peas and Haitian tomatoes.

At the end of April and with the use of the funds I began sowing seeds into the ground. Concurrently, I began making a video performance in the space. This performance seeks to connect my ancestral lands and present-day existence on the occupied land of the Duwamish people. In sowing, I honor their traditional agricultural practices, planting squash, kale, and beans. I honor my Jamaican and African Heritage with okra and black-eyed peas, and tomatoes. I honor my British heritage with brussell sprouts and cauliflower.

The green screen in front of me holds a photograph of land in Lesterfields, a town in the parish of Clarendon, and the seat of our family farmland in Jamaica. The green screen acts as a portal and in the garden, moves with the air breeze. The new recording equipment (also used for interviewing my Mum) gives me improved audio capabilities that can record sounds in the space with the quality needed to create a multi-channel installation for display in an institution.

This performance is seen as incomplete, and funds from the grant have generated additional resources to begin reshooting and refining it. Using the BCNM Summer Research Grant I have acquired a sewing machine and over the summer I learned the skills to sew my own white dress. The material I used is cotton, an important reference to the history of African Diasporic peoples on this land. The dress will be incorporated into the new performance and thus removing references to ‘fast fashion’ and new modes of modern slavery practices associated with the fashion industry.

In the new rendition of the performance, the land is full of life, the earth filled with produce and life, plants filling the space, overgrown and imperfect.

I have spent considerable time learning skills in Adobe After Effects and Adobe Premiere Pro to edit and re-edit the films. I am still deep in editing and see this as a long terms project. I have an outline for completion that will eventually see me visit Jamaica and the land in Lesterfields, my home in the U.K., and West Africa to replicate similar scenes to the above. I look forward to sharing the new piece(s) with the Center in due course.