“Derek Walcott’s ‘The Sea is History'” (2016)

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“Derek Walcott’s ‘The Sea is History’”


Video installation by Asher Mains

Narration: Samuel Ogilvie

Text: Sir Derek Walcott


In the scope of making work that is situated in a specific time, place, and context, “Derek Walcott’s ‘The Sea is History’” is about indulging in local materiality and local cultural reference. Landscape has an indelible influence on our identity and the objects in the landscape are mnemonic devices that remind us of our identity and are thus empathic because they tell us about ourselves. The work began with having a sea-egg shell and a banana fibre panel that I sewed together interact in the sea. This unlikely matching of materials provides the conceptual distance to view the material in dialogue without the imposition of our preconceptions about how these materials should behave and how we should interpret them. These particular objects and environment are unique to my locality and other people in my locality will also have a relationship with them. I enjoy the difference in relationships as far as people outside the environment not having a relationship or recognition of the materials, further confirming the idea that the materials we use have meaning and significance especially in affirming our identity.


Using Derek Walcott’s 1980 poem, “The Sea is History” as a framework for the video piece has multiple layers of meaning. As a Caribbean author and a Nobel poet laureate, Walcott has for decades contributed to the production of cultural references for the Caribbean. “The Sea is History” is a statement of identity and bold assertion through the writing of the poem itself that the Caribbean continues to contribute to civilisation as a whole. It is a rallying cry for legitimacy of a Caribbean identity while criticizing the West for the assertion in the first place that the Caribbean is somehow an inadequate civilisation. Situating these materials, with these sounds, in this environment, with this cultural reference is a continuation of the assertion that we are enough, that the local is significant.

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IMG_0503 (2).jpgIMG_0483 (2).jpgIMG_0482 (2).jpgSir Derek Walcott (b. 1930- St. Lucia)

“The Sea is History” (1979)


Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that gray vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.

First, there was the heaving oil,
heavy as chaos;
then, likea light at the end of a tunnel,

the lantern of a caravel,
and that was Genesis.
Then there were the packed cries,
the shit, the moaning:

Bone soldered by coral to bone,
mantled by the benediction of the shark’s shadow,

that was the Ark of the Covenant.
Then came from the plucked wires
of sunlight on the sea floor

the plangent harp of the Babylonian bondage,
as the white cowries clustered like manacles
on the drowned women,

and those were the ivory bracelets
of the Song of Solomon,
but the ocean kept turning blank pages

looking for History.
Then came the men with eyes heavy as anchors
who sank without tombs,

brigands who barbecued cattle,
leaving their charred ribs like palm leaves on the shore,
then the foaming, rabid maw

of the tidal wave swallowing Port Royal,
and that was Jonah,
but where is your Renaissance?

Sir, it is locked in them sea sands
out there past the reef’s moiling shelf,
where the men-o’-war floated down;

strop on these goggles, I’ll guide you there myself.
It’s all subtle and submarine,
through colonnades of coral,

past the gothic windows of sea fans
to where the crusty grouper, onyx-eyed,
blinks, weighted by its jewels, like a bald queen;

and these groined caves with barnacles
pitted like stone
are our cathedrals,

and the furnace before the hurricanes:
Gomorrah. Bones ground by windmills
into marl and cornmeal,

and that was Lamentations –
that was just Lamentations,
it was not History;

then came, like scum on the river’s drying lip,
the brown reeds of villages
mantling and congealing into towns,

and at evening, the midges’ choirs,
and above them, the spires
lancing the side of God

as His son set, and that was the New Testament.

Then came the white sisters clapping
to the waves’ progress,
and that was Emancipation –

jubilation, O jubilation –
vanishing swiftly
as the sea’s lace dries in the sun,

but that was not History,
that was only faith,
and then each rock broke into its own nation;

then came the synod of flies,
then came the secretarial heron,
then came the bullfrog bellowing for a vote,

fireflies with bright ideas
and bats like jetting ambassadors
and the mantis, like khaki police,

and the furred caterpillars of judges
examining each case closely,
and then in the dark ears of ferns

and in the salt chuckle of rocks
with their sea pools, there was the sound
like a rumour without any echo

of History, really beginning.

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Tuesday August 2
18:30 – 20:00
Studio 14, Uferstudios, Berlin, Germany

Location and its resources brings these diverse artists together through cross culture dialogue. The works interface with each other through their common examination of existential elements, earth and water, and through allowing these different locations to become something more than just a site. This call for unification and bringing awareness to the communication between ourselves and others create a cyclical sequence to an emotional, yet grounding experience.

Asher Mains sets out to examine local materials and objects within the Caribbean context and their unique relationship to their geopolitical existence, history and identity.

Lindsey Anderson, has incorporated Ojibwe heritage in her ‘Rooted in Red project’ by looking at the contemporary use of red ochre and exploration of resources from the earth. The contemporary creation of a pictograph and its depiction from traditions aims to embrace the viewer into a warmth of the color and a woven context for unity.

Omar Shoukri, works within the same context of identity and existence by describing his surroundings and relationship to water and by giving an insight into a different culture while sharing the same emotional spectrum of experiences within an interactive installation.

LINDEY ANDERSON (Denver, Colorado)Anderson
A painter and printer by trade.  Lindey has recently explored the pigment and color red, which has been the the main focus of her work.  Her desire to understand the pigment aesthetically and physically results in series of paintings on and off the canvas that allow for the natural conversations to occur.   Focusing on the fundamentals of art and life, her work expresses a simple, yet deep understanding of how we see and relate to colors and pigments. She is co-creator of One Bead Press out of Iowa City, Iowa.  Her current studio practice is located in the Santa Fe Arts District in Denver, Colorado.  She has exhibited in Iowa, Colorado, and Berlin, Germany.  She is currently finishing her Masters of Fine Arts through Transart Institute in creative process and theory and continuing her involvement with the Rooted in RED project in Denver.


With his recent appearance with Grenada’s first Official National Pavilion at the 2015 IMG_8559Venice Biennale, ASHER MAINS is an emerging voice in the Southern Caribbean that is worth noting. Having shown work in his home country of Grenada over the past 20 years, Mains has also shown in New York, Berlin, Barbados, Bolivia, Basel, Shanghai, and Rio de Janeiro with upcoming exhibitions in Colombia and Aruba.

Primarily a representational painter, Mains uses art objects to initiate dialogue and experiences. Mains has been working with material exploration for art making involving materials that can be sourced entirely within Grenada, reducing the dependence on the importing of cost-restrictive art media. Further, Mains asserts that our place, or landscape contributes to our identity and by using objects and materials within our locality we our referencing our identity. By recognizing materials that we have a relationship with the viewer can have an empathic relationship with a piece based on what an object or material can tell us about ourselves. In this way, Mains engages in a process of materiality that is empathic and mnemonic.


OMAR SHOUKRI is active as a film director, music producer and educator. His researchNYU-profile-2 explores the intersections of experimental film and music with the examination of identity in social hierarchies and the subconscious.

Since 1994 his work is in documenting and exploring narratives, visually or acoustically, between different cultures. This initiated a journey from his origin in Stuttgart, Germany across prestigious Broadcast TV Networks, event and film production companies in Berlin (SAT.1 TV), London (CNN / BBC Arabic), Los Angeles (Admusic), New York (Mckinsey & Co.) and Dubai (MBC).
As a film maker his work has been featured at the NYU Institute, Imagine Science Film Festival Abu Dhabi, Goethe Institute Barcelona, Transart Institute New York and Berlin.
As a musician and DJ he has received continuous international commissions and performances including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, Liverpool Arts Festival, Pfefferberg Berlin, Abu Dhabi Classic Radio and MTV Arabia.

His academic path originated in 2006, when he taught various aspects of film and music production to undergraduate classes at Middlesex University.
This led him to consult with the BBC Academy on media training initiatives for government entities, and eventually to thrive in the multi-national community at New York University in Abu Dhabi.


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