Finding rupture, seeking D├╣thchas: Annalee Davis in DCA Print Studio


7 June 2022

Over the past few weeks visual artist, cultural activist and writer Annalee Davis has been working in DCA Print Studio as part of Facing Our Past, a project from the National Trust for Scotland researching the connections between their properties and the history of British Empire-era slavery. She has called her response to the project Contesting Landscapes of Distraction, bringing together a series of creative interventions exploring the shared histories of the Scottish Highlands and Barbados. We asked Annalee to tell us more about the project and what she's been working on while in DCA Print Studio...

I’ve been preoccupied with the Gaelic word Dùthchas since first reading it while researching multi-layered historic entanglements between Barbados and Scotland for this creative commission. As part of that project, I am in my third and final week at DCA Print Studio collaborating with the team to produce a limited edition of prints.

"I wonder if 'Dùthchas' might have become 'my place', suggesting their deep connection with the island or, eventually, a feeling of belonging."

In the recently published A Commonplace Book of Atlas (Atlas Arts, Skye), James Oliver describes 'Dùthchas' as an "embodied experience and emplacement ('on the ground'), and complex entanglement ('in the mind') with relationships of belonging and dwelling, heritage and inheritance, a human ecology with 'place' (including, where relevant, land)." It reminded me of Barbadian 18th century wills from small landowners, possibly former indentured labourers, who acquired tiny pieces of land in the island’s Scotland District which they referred to as 'my place'.  I wonder if 'Dùthchas' might have become 'my place', suggesting their deep connection with the island or, eventually, a feeling of belonging.

My work in DCA Print Studio has been unfolding over the past two weeks via daily discussions with DCA’s posse and through experimenting with techniques in what feels like a sandbox of endless possibilities!

"...experimenting with techniques in what feels like a sandbox of endless possibilities!"

Everyone has been very accepting of my taking over most table surfaces, drying racks and press beds as ideas endlessly morph and spawn, manifesting soft ground etchings of pressed plants, Gocco prints of drift beans, silkscreen prints of a hand made fish net bought from an elder fisherman in Glen Burnie, Barbados, or a delicate tray cloth reminiscent of Ayrshire handiwork. Labour intensive collographs suggest impossible cartographies that become blind embossed contour lines linking one ruptured landscape to another. Takuhon, a 2nd century Chinese process, offers an ancient way to sensitively render a 3D mold of a drift bean on handmade Japanese paper, revealing the textures of one tiny seed that traveled global ocean currents (one of many that washed up on shores to sometimes be used in ritual). Paper is being made with Sargassum harvested from both sides of the Atlantic, as well as dried Cerasee bush and lemon grass picked from my garden. Drawings of wriggling parasites squirm across mesh like paper.

Top left: Takuhon of fishnet, handmade paper with plant material from Barbados and Scotland, and handmade fishnet from Fred Watson, Glen Burnie, Barbados 
Top right: Handmade paper using plant material from Barbados and Balmacara Estate, Scottish Highlands 
Bottom left: Mold made with paper pulp 
Bottom right: An impossible map joining the Scottish Highlands with the Scotland District of Barbados

My research has me thinking about 15 banished Scottish women housed in the Edinburgh Correction House and sent from Leith to Barbados in 1663 and 1665. Imprisoned for crimes most likely including stealing, infanticide, and prostitution, they were sent involuntarily, in part to empty Britain's jails but also to provide the colonies with women of child-bearing age who could produce white offspring. The Privy Council Records of Edinburgh in the 17th century speak of women of ill-fame who pestered the town so they were thrown on a ship to Barbados and other remote places, as noted in the records. Their embossed names traverse a reconstructed landscape joining the similar looking Scottish Highlands with the Scotland District of Barbados.

Handrawn names of 15 banished Scottish women in preparation for laser engraving

Centuries of social disruption caused by the plantation, included the forced transplantation of hundreds of thousands of human beings with their systems of knowledge, ritual and culture to foreign islands in the West Indies, thousands of miles away. How did banished women, indentured labourers and enslaved Africans who experienced trauma and rupture from their homelands in the 17th century find ways to belong to new lands or bond with foreign people from very different geographies? Their respective practices of making gardens in poor soils, ritual, healing, incantations and charms, employed by both Scottish and African people, must have become intertwined somehow.

Annis Fitzhugh inking up the laser engraving of the names of the 15 banished women

These meandering thoughts are coming together in a box of handmade books, prints, maps and a scroll exploring rupture, friction, banishment, entanglements and the desire to belong somewhere, somehow.

L-R Annis Fitzhugh, Claire McVinnie, Scott Hudson, and Annalee Davis

"History does not lie in the past."

I find myself drawing a line from then till now, pondering the UK's current deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda for what seems like the historic practice of banishment from the borough except it’s happening now. I also find myself drawing another line to the Government Industrial School (GIS) in Barbados, a juvenile reform establishment (patterned on colonial institutions) for children. It houses young girls who 'wander' - a colonial term referring to girls escaping abusive situations yet find themselves 'wards' of the state placed in solitary confinement - a contemporary banishment. Rwanda, in the context of the UK's asylum seekers and the GIS, are today's remote places. History does not lie in the past.

Thank you Annalee! We're looking forward to welcoming Annalee back to DCA in September for the signing of her editions and some exciting events. In the meantime, you can see more of her work and find out about her practice on her website and follow her on Instagram (@annalee.devere) to keep up to date with the progress of this projects and more.

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