Imagine going to London and setting up a fleeting tea shop as part of an exhibition exploring the implications of “re-selling what's left of the British Empire (…) today” and using it as an opportunity to rethink the conversation about a story. shared and traumatic using indigenous strains – known throughout the Caribbean as bush teas – of the quintessential British drink.
This is exactly what AnnaLee Davis, visual artist and defender of Barbadian culture, did as part of her current work on the ways in which shared historical suffering is revealed and how this trauma has been managed – although much of it remains unsolved – both individually and nationally.
Its exploration is a deep intersection between art, agriculture, economies and history that, far from being relegated to plantation societies of the 17th century, are relevant to modern problems. In this second installment, we will discuss the consequences.
Janine Mendes-Franco (JMF): One aspect of your bush tea concept has been a project called “Bush Tea Services”. How did you manage to have conversations about our shared transatlantic history creating Britain's favorite drink?
Annalee Davis (AD): Commissioned by the UK-based curatorial team, Cooking Sections, for their (London-based) 2016 pop-up exhibition, “The Empire Remains Shop,” I made this in collaboration with Barbadian master potter, Hamilton Wiltshire.
Referred to as a blood-sweetened beverage by abolitionist Robert Southey, the British drank tea grown on plantations in the East sweetened by sugar grown on plantations in the West.
Dismantling the English tea set, I inlaid 18th and 19th century porcelain and clay shards unearthed from the soil, repurposing fragments from which I served unsweetened varieties of bush tea, harvested from the fields, including cerasee, bay leaf, blue vervain and lemongrass. An imperfect tea service which spills while being poured or drunk, it addresses gaps in history highlighting the inadequacy of inherited understandings about our collective past.
AnnaLee Davis (AD): I did the commissioning exhibition for Cooking Selections, London's curatorial team, for their 2016 show (in town) “The Empire Remains Shop”. I made it in collaboration with the Barbadian master potter Hamilton Wiltshire.
Abolitionist Robert Southey referred to tea as a blood-sweetened drink, and the British drank tea grown in plantations in the East sweetened with sugar grown in plantations in the West.
Taking apart the British tea set, I pasted unearthed 18th and 19th-century porcelains and clay, reusing fragments from which unsweetened varieties of bush teas were served, collected from the fields, including bitter melon, bay leaves, blue verbena and lemongrass. An imperfect tea service spills out while served or drunk, addresses the gaps in history by highlighting the inadequacy of inherited knowledge about our collective past.
JMF: How do you think bush tea infusions can help us heal today?
AD: Returning to the land today can feed us, contributing to food sovereignty and the wellness sector by expanding our knowledge and use of wild botanicals and their healing properties thus repairing and renewing our relationship to the land.
AD: Today, returning to earth can feed us, contribute to food sovereignty and the welfare sector by expanding our knowledge and uses of wild plants and their healing properties, only then will we repair and renew our relationship with it.
JMF: What are your favorite bush teas and why?
AD: I love iced lemongrass tea on a hot day and enjoy combinations of lemongrass, bay leaf and blue vervain. I'm experimenting with roots, including ginger and turmeric, both grown locally and used widely all across Barbados. Steeping them and mixing them with tamarind pulp provides a powerful detoxifier and antioxidant drink. I'm also making stains and inks from them to draw with.
AD: I love iced lemon tea on a hot day and I enjoy its combinations with bay leaves and blue verbena. I am experimenting with roots, including ginger and turmeric, both grown here and widely used throughout Barbados. Soaking and mixing with tamarind pulp provides a powerful detoxifier and antioxidant drink. I am also using them to make dyes and dyes for drawing.
JMF: Given that we are in the midst of a pandemic, what do you think these indigenous methods of self-care and healing have to teach us about interconnectivity and resistance?
AD: Since August of 2019, I have been collecting and drying what Bajans call prickly pear cactus which reportedly has healing properties, including combatting diabetes (and) cholesterol, and purifying contaminated water. This tenacious plant inspires me to consider adaptability and flexibility.
The Caribbean is a biodiversity hotspot increasingly threatened by natural disasters and the climate crisis. Taking care of ourselves means protecting, preserving and restoring the region's declining plant life, conducting research to better understand the value of what grows in this region, investing in our botanical gardens, training professionals in botany and conservation, and educating ourselves to understand that our biodiversity is special – something to be proud of. This intraregional at-risk resource is ours to protect and we must advocate for our own well-being and that of the archipelago.
AD: Since August 2019, I have been collecting and drying what the Bahamas call nopal which is said to have healing properties, such as that it fights diabetes (and) cholesterol and purification of contaminated water. This stubborn plant inspires me to consider adaptability and flexibility.
The Caribbean is a key point of biodiversity and is increasingly threatened by natural disasters and the climate crisis. Taking care of ourselves means protecting, preserving, and restoring the region's declining plant life, conducting research to understand and improve the value of what grows here, investing in our botanical gardens, training professionals in botany and conservation, and educating ourselves to understand that our biodiversity is special, something to be proud of. This intraregional resource at risk is ours and we must protect it and we must advocate for our own well-being and that of the archipelago.
JMF: Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley has been very frank about the climate crisis and how it threatens Small Island Developing States (SIDS). How can the theories you have been exploring apply to such pressing issues as we approach the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season?
AD: Since Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Dorian, our prime minister and other Caribbean leaders have spoken on the world stage about the unequal impact of the climate crisis on SIDS. While first world countries' extractive practices are the main contributors to our environmental problems, we cannot ignore how resource-strained Caribbean governments pattern their own models of development on cloth cut by our colonial histories, unceasingly threatening the human and ecological well-being of this region.
For example, tropical coral reefs have been negatively impacted and depleted by chemicals used in local industrial agricultural practices. We have been remiss in effectively monitoring those practices to protect our own biodiversity. In transitioning to tourism, rather than repeating the mistakes of monocrop farming in the extractive agricultural sector, we should have interrogated elected officials to better represent our interests and those of the environment.
This pandemic forces us to rethink sustainable futures in the context of SIDS to ask how we might reconsider the potential of wild botanicals. For example, we are noticing in the Bajan slow food movement a trend in some chefs who envision inventive ways to include local wild plants into their menus. Organic farmers are selling local amaranth, pussley and fat pork at Bridgetown’s Cheapside Market, demonstrating how historically fatigued landscapes might become sites of genesis and regeneration.
AD: Since Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Dorian, our minister and other Caribbean leaders have been speaking internationally about the uneven impact of the climate crisis on SIDS. While extractive practices in first world countries are the biggest contributors to our environmental problems, we cannot ignore how Caribbean governments with limited resources design their own development models based on patterns cut by our colonial histories, which incessantly threaten human well-being. and ecological of this region.
For example, tropical farmyard reefs have been negatively impacted and depleted by chemicals used in local industrial farming practices. We have been negligent in effectively monitoring those practices to protect our own biodiversity. In making the transition to tourism, instead of repeating the mistakes of monoculture agriculture in the extractive agriculture sector, we should have questioned elected officials to better represent our interests and those of the environment.
This pandemic forces us to rethink sustainable futures in the context of SIDS to ask ourselves how we might reconsider the potential of wild botanists. For example, we are noticing in the Barbados slow food movement the trend in some chefs imagining inventive ways to include local wild plants on their menus. Organic farmers are selling local amaranth, borzolaga, and fat pig at Bridgetown's Cheapside Market, and demonstrating how historically weary landscapes can become places of creation and regeneration.
JMF: With the recultivation of a relationship with the land as its foundation, where do you see your work going in the future in terms of history, identity, gender and economic and social norms?
AD: A challenge in post-plantation economies is to foster love and care for lands from which we have felt alienated and traumatized. I am collaborating with Walkers Reserve and the Caribbean Permaculture Research Institute of Barbados on a new work, “(Bush) Tea Plot – A Restorative Apothecary,” fitting within their larger ethos of regenerative work, to offer an intimate space for more meaningful connectedness with the land, our history and the power of the feminine.
This work recognizes interdependent relationships between well-being and nature, showing how wild plants remediate the landscape, offer reprieve and restoration. Cognisant that the focus of medical research on women’s health is comparatively less than that of men’s, the garden will spotlight plants used to promote women’s health and well-being, as well as for general first-aid. Complimenting the garden will be a series of drawings of the plants, made with dyes and stains from organic materials.
I have developed some of these ideas more fully in my 2019 publication, “On Being Committed to a Small Place” – (which puts forward) critical positions from Central America, the Caribbean, and their diasporas – as well as in an article titled “ Beach as plot? ”
AD: A challenge in post-plantation economies is fostering love and care for the lands that we have felt robbed and traumatized. I am collaborating with Walkers Reserve and the Bardados Caribbean Permaculture Research Institute on a new work “Tea Plot (bush) – Restorative Apothecary” that fits within their greater spirit of regenerative work, to offer an intimate space for a connection more significant with the earth, our history and the power of the feminine.
This work recognizes the interdependent relationships between well-being and nature, shows how wild plants repair the landscape, offer relief and recovery. Knowing that the focus of medical research on women's health is scant compared to that of men, the garden will highlight plants used to promote women's health and well-being, and for first aid in general. To complement the garden there will be a series of drawings of the plants, made with stains and stains from organic materials.
I developed some of those ideas in more detail in my 2019 publication “On Being Committed to a Small Place” (which raises) critical positions of Central America, the Caribbean and its populations abroad, as in an article entitled “Beach as plot ? ”.
In that more recent article, Davis challenges the one-dimensional notion of tourism as the panacea elixir for small island economies and the “potential role of contemporary visual arts and artists to offer other lenses through which we can see and consider our contexts. “
The first part of this interview is here.