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Part 1: Clear de Road: Multiple Genres of Emancipation 175 on Exhibit at Fort Frederik Museum

“Clear de Road,” the Emancipation 175 Exhibit at the Fort Frederik Museum, part one of a three-part series, features artists whose “decolonial work recenters the narrative to ensure it speaks from inside the Virgin Islands and for the Virgin Islands.” The exhibit opened in July 3 and can be seen through Nov. 10, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Clear de Road: Counter Archives of Resistance is a partnership between the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources Division of Libraries, Archives & Museums, and the 175th Emancipation Commemorative Committee.

“The exhibit honors the 175th anniversary of Emancipation at Fort Frederik, the historic site where freedom was won by Virgin Islands’ ancestors in the second successful revolution against slavery in the Caribbean. The show is dedicated to these freedom-seeking men and women and their unwavering spirit of resistance and creative ingenuity,” DPNR – Division of Libraries Archives and Museums Territorial Chief Curator Monica Marin said.

For those who have not yet come, enter and take a look…and for those who have come, return…and look again. Patrons will witness the multiple genres the artists reveal in their works to honor the ancestors. 

“Clear de Road: Counter Archives of Resistance facilitates emancipatory practices inspired by the cultural legacy traditions of Caribbean art as activism. Virgin Islands’ cultural legacies were not just survival strategies but liberation tools used to organize, subvert, and enact long-term systems of change for our region. Sung in our Cariso and Quelbe, played in our masquerade, danced in our Bamboula, built in our visual art, and written in our literature, this wisdom reverberates in the anti-colonialism of Edward Blyden, the father of Pan Africanism; the labor organizing of David Hamilton Jackson; the transnationalism radicalism of Hubert Harrison; and the powerful advocacy of our current U.S. Congresswoman, Delegate Stacey Plaskett,” according to Marin.

“The art in this exhibit demonstrates how film/video, performance art, new media, visual art, and other forms of contemporary creative scholarship can function as archives that claim and reclaim story, resisting the supposed authority of Eurocentric accounts of colonial records. Unlike the static pages of ledger books, with linear approaches to history, these artistic interventions offer new methods to upend the supremacy of colonial archives. In this exhibit, we can see that art has the power to serve as a counter-visual narrative, activating collective cultural memory and reimagining a more just future,” Marin shared.

Niarus Walker, Elwin Joseph, Shakir Smith, and Arielle Orendin produced the triptych “We Stand on Strong Shoulders.”

Triptych Mural of Valdemar S. Hill Sr., Enid M.. Baa and Jose Antonio Jarvis By Niarus Walker, Elwin Joseph, Shakir Smith and Arlette Orendin (Source photo by Elisa McKay)

Niarus Walker is a visual artist, art educator, and curator who has been practicing her art for 29 years. Walker hails from the island of Dominica and made St. Croix her home for over 30 years. As a painter, mixed media artist and sculptor, she does figurative work steeped in Virgin Islands culture and deconstructed still-lifes that speak to colonialism and the Afro-Caribbean Diaspora. Her approach to art-making insists on mystery, tension and the spiritual.

Elwin Joseph is Dominican-born. He is a visual artist who lives on St. Croix. Joseph’s primary medium is watercolor, but his first love is graphite. He also works in charcoal. The late Betsey Campden mentored Joseph and helped him gain exposure as an artist. He has exhibited locally and internationally in Egypt, England, and the United States. Collectors in places far and wide have purchased Joseph’s work. He fuels his art with authenticity and integrity, which allows him to create artwork that resonates with others. His works include landscapes, portraiture and still life and have graced the pages of the Best of Watercolor, Splash 22, St. Croix This Week, and Selected Artist Magazine.

Shakir Smith is a St. Croix native who is a secondary school Fine Arts instructor and a graphic artist. Smith is a children’s book illustrator and photographer  with illustrations in “See the Virgin Islands March” and “Tales, Crucian Morals, Creation Stories, and Other Fibs.” Smith earned a B.A. in illustration from Columbus College of Art and Design.

Arielle Orendain designed the triptych “We Stand on Strong Shoulders.” While she was unable to complete the work, she is responsible for the research, idea, and general design of showcasing prominent culture bearers and leaders on whose backs we stand. She loves to do research on V.I. history. Orendain is an 11th-grade student at St. Croix Central High School. As part of a 21st-century program, she was one of the students who worked with professional artist mentors to execute works of art. She is a 17-year-old vivacious, energetic, do-everything, academically talented student who plays the flute and makes art. 

Mark “Feijao” Milligan II is Crucian born. Under the guidance of his art teacher, Cindy Male, Milligan’s high school studies varied from painting and drawing to graphic design and architecture. At age 16, he began an apprenticeship under local artist Paul Youngblood. One of his paintings during that time won the U.S. National Congressional Art Competition. This gave Milligan the opportunity to represent the USVI and have his painting exhibited in the U.S. Capitol. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School Of Visual Arts in New York, where he studied under such artists as Don Eddy, Max Ginsburg, Marvin Mattelson, and Jack Potter.

Milligan has exhibited locally at the Frederiksted Fort, the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts, and at distinguished venues in Washington, DC, New York, Hawaii, and Utah. Milligan’s murals can be seen at the Central Park SummerStage, Adidas and Pow! Wow! Hawai’i. His live art on stage was performed for former Vice President Gore, Lauryn Hill, and De La Soul. Milligan’s work has been featured within NCIS Hawai’i (CBS), Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big GRRRLS (Amazon Prime), ELLE.com, FLUX Hawai’i magazine and within a For Freedoms billboard campaign.

Mixed media of Vaughn “Akae Beka” Benjamin by Mark “Feijao” Milligan II (Source photo by Elisa McKay)

Oceana James created an Ancestral Walk that culminated in a community altar and ritual performance outside Fort Frederik at the Kapok Tree. This new work sits in the memory of her ancestors who walked the roads of Frederiksted. The piece confronts the lines of participant and witness and bridges the present, past, and future selves.

James is a St. Croix-born interdisciplinary artist. Her work is an examination/a re-telling/a re-imagining of her Caribbean indigeneity and is a commentary on the socio-political, cultural, and economic realities of people of African descent. In her work, James deconstructs the idea of language as one’s sole means of communication and experiments with the use of time, space, non-linear form, and movement to do this. She uses her Caribbean “Nation Language” or “Mother Tongue” to further explore the mythologies and stories that she grew up hearing. Right now, her research is centered on epigenetics, trees (the biology and mythology), the intersection of science, spirituality, and the use of the body to embody and then exorcise the trauma.

Oceana James on an Ancestral Walk (Photo by Maria Stiles)

Adrian Michael Edwards was two years old when his Crucian parents, who met in New York, relocated to St. Croix to satisfy their longing for home and quieter surroundings. Edwards completed his secondary education in Florida and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served as a radio operator and a parachutist. Edwards is a self-taught artist and graphic designer. Spirit moved him to engage his creativity through sketching, writing poetry and short stories. In 2016, he acquired a digital painting software and committed to learning how to express his ideas and feelings through the medium. Edwards experiments with recyclables, hoping to find a suitable replacement for clay and is experimenting with sculpting. He is inspired by his desire to tell stories with color and symbols woven into themes popularly accepted and tabooed. He assists at teaching martial arts, is an aspiring thespian, loves yoga, and is mastering the fine art of being cool in the face of life’s challenges. Edwards is the proud father of two amazing children, Maakheru-Ra Edwards, 18, and Onile S. Edwards, 10.

“Spirit in the Drum” is Edwards’ digital art.

“Spirit in the Drum” digital art by Adrian Edwards (Photo by Quiana Adams)

El’Roy Simmonds was born and raised in Christiansted, St. Croix. As an exchange student at the Kuntz Academy in Copenhagen, Denmark, he conducted research on the history of the relationship between Denmark and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which is reflected in his work. Simmonds holds a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts from Pratt Institute in New York. His work is recognized in the USVI, Denmark, New York, Haiti, and beyond.

He was commissioned by the USVI Department of Conservation and Cultural Affairs Bureau of Libraries, Museums, and Archaeological Services to illustrate the first Government-endorsed V.I. History textbook titled “Clear de Road.”

Simmonds’ mural, “Emancipation,” depicts the slave uprising of July 3, 1848, on St. Croix, Danish West Indies. – which resulted in the Emancipation Proclamation in the town of Frederiksted. 

Strong geometric shapes contrasted with hot and vibrant yellow, orange, red, and earth tones emphasize the tension and heat of the situation.

The outstanding individuals are Governor-General Peter Von Scholten at the upper right and General Moses Gottlieb – “General Bordeaux” blowing the conch shell. Both were responsible for the honorable results with minimum deaths and destruction to both sides involved.

Emancipation 1848 by El’Roy Simmonds (Source photo by Elisa McKay)

The Fort Frederik Museum art show was presented by DPNR-DLAM in partnership with the 175th Emancipation Commemorative Committee (ECC) with support from the Office of the Governor and sponsorship by First Bank.

Clear de Road was curated by Monica Marin and co-produced by Akeem McIntosh, chair of the 175th EEC’s Subcommittee on Education and Public Display, with exhibition installation and assistance from Niarus Walker and Ralph Motta.

“A special thank you to Governor Bryan; Lt. Governor Roach; DPNR  Commissioner Oriol; DLAM DirectorDeSorbo; 175th ECC Chairwoman Carol Burke; 175th ECC Chair of Education and Public Display and Clear de Road co-producer Akeem McIntosh; and 175th ECC Chair of Research, Data, and Digitalization Myron Jackson for their support,” Marin said. 

We would like to thank the following artists included in the exhibit who are either from the Virgins Islands or are deeply connected to the region: El’ Roy Simmonds, Tiphanie Yanique, Stephanie Hanlon, Chalana Brown, Gerville Larsen, Ayana Flewellen, Cynthia Oliver, Paloma McGregor, La Vaughn Belle, Sigi Torinus, Oceana James, Elisa Mackay, Victoria Rivera, Ray Llanos, Janet Cook-Rutnik, Waldemar Broadhurst, Sara Hayes, Niarus Walker, Elwin Joseph, Shakir Smith, Adrian Edwards, Sharimar Cruz, Augustin Holder, Lucien Downes, Mark “Feijão” Milligan II, Danica David and her St. Croix Educational Complex summer art students,” she said. 

A special thank you to all the participating artists whose creative scholarship and practice are helping to decolonize the narrative and recenter it from inside the US Virgin Islands. It has been an honor to include their paradigm-shifting work as a source of knowledge in updating the interpretive story of how we tell Virgin Islands history in a museum setting. In conceiving the exhibit for the 175th Emancipation, it was important to broaden public understanding of the powerful histories of freedom in the Virgin Islands passed down through cultural legacies and art as activism. Specifically, how cultural production in our region rooted in resistance against slavery and colonialism has inspired Transatlantic Black brilliance and liberation throughout the US and the world. I hope everyone who has not seen the show gets a chance to see it before it closes, especially VI students. 

For more information:
Call Fort Frederik Museum at 340-772-2021


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