Wrestling with the ideal of “Bahamian-ness” left no room for considering my place within the Caribbean. Too north of the Tropic of Cancer be considered a part of this region, I often dismiss my placement because I am too busy suckling to Uncle Tom. I can, and most Bahamian students can, list the United States of America and their capitals, but just last month I found out that Bonaire was an island. However, do not be mistaken, for international events, through social media I join my peers in supporting stated Caribbean nations if my archipelago is not represented. Too north of the Tropic of Cancer to be considered a part of this region, I often dismiss the fact that I can be considered to participate in programs such as Caribbean Linked III.
This big pot of pea’s soup and dumplin’ made by Holly Bynoe, Annalee Davis, and Elvis Lopez had enough salt pork and ham to balance the herbs and vegetables. We were given three weeks to learn about each other, the island, ourselves, and our practices. Even though three weeks may seem as a long time, the connection of the personalities that represent each island needs more time to fully marinate. Leo Aguirre was the first resident I met in the Miami International Airport. It was my first time traveling without family and staying overnight in an airport, but Leo made the experience more than bearable. From then, I knew that I could be only walking into something magical and life changing.
There is a kindred spirit among islanders, and Caribbean Linked exposes it. These artists became my family, and no language, cultural, or geographical boundary could ever disrupt our bond. I witnessed the majesty of the sea, the breath taking rocky terrain, and natural wonders of Aruba with these people. They helped me understand who I currently am as an artist, and what kind of artist I want to be. We are soldiers, as Annalee introduced, ready to take hold of the Caribbean creative arts communities. And as a soldier, it was my duty to use this time to create work that investigated my Bahamian-ness in hopes to find a place within this sense of Caribbean-ness.
In conversation about family structures in the Bahamas often persons define their siblings as their “mother’s children” or their “father’s children”. It is no secret that men and women casually have multiple partners whether married or not. As a young Bahamian female coming to terms with her sexuality and “suiting up to be a proper wife”, it is imperative to know of one’s father’s or mother’s infidelity to avoid engaging a family member. The islands are very small and closely connected through such family structures. Investigating the artistic representation of this cultural mix-up led me to a few Bahamian songs in which I found the woman often was the temptress or cheater. Through listening I focused on one song in particular, “Roach on My Bread” by Avvy. In this song, the singer elaborates on his wife’s adultery while he works. “Roach on my bread, woman man this can’t be true. Roach on my bread, what did I do to you. Roach on my bead, to be treated like this from you,” he sings in agony and disbelief. Fascinated by the juxtaposition of a cockroach on bread from a child, I wanted to elaborate on this concept.
Through the use of self-portraiture, I exposed myself. Being a Bahamian female who has been the roach, the bread, and the person being roached, I thought it only suitable to expose my experiences in hopes for dialogue of this to spark. Presenting this concept during the first lecture series of Caribbean Linked III gave me the opportunity to engage with my colleagues about their experiences and the prevalence of this matter in their islands. I was not surprised when they expounded on the similarities within the music and the role of the female within. Of course, the family structures paralleled the Bahamian family structure. The terminology “Roach on my bread” is idiosyncratic to the Bahamas, and they got a good laugh out of the absurdity of the juxtaposition. In Barbados, they use the word “horning”; in Mexico, it is called “poner los cuenos (to put horns)”; in Curacao, it is called “korta orea (to cut the ear)”; in St. Vincent, they say, “ya get butt (boot)”; in Jamaica, they say “bun”; and in Aruba, one is called a “hasi cabrom” or it is called “korta orea”. I was enthused by the amount of conversations I had surrounding the work, and the amount of people wanting to share their experiences. “Sweethearting”, as we also refer to it, has scarred many people and deteriorated the sense of security and trust within relationships.
My installation of “Roach on my bread” is twenty containers with Johnny bread and live roaches. The Johnny bread, a simply bread made of flour, sugar, butter, salt and baking powder, is a symbol of the Caribbean just as it symbolizes the cheater. At a street festival during the first week of the residency, I was looking for food and stumbled on a street vendor selling Johnny cake with either curry chicken, salt fish or ham and cheese. After partaking in the Johnny cake and curry chicken, I ask the group about this bread in relation to their country. Most replied that it was present but prepared in a different fashion with a slightly different name. The roach is a symbol of omnipresence and the sweetheart. Watching the interaction between the two will result in the bread being spoiled and the roach ultimately dying. Therefore, one can argue that the juxtaposition of the roach on the bread leaves no room for growth or advancement. The roach may get nutritional value from the bread for a short while, but it will not be enough. They will come to their demise with the relationship fostering no real product.
Thinking about and questioning my work led me to have conversations with the other residents and I realized that we are not as different in cultures as I thought. In regards to the creative arts communities that we stem from, we differ. I have not had interactions with much artists from the region; therefore, I was unaware of what their structures were like. I was greatly fascinated and blown away by the work of Trinidadian artist Alex Kelly. His social commentary of the politics and educational system of Trinidad and Tobago through his work peaked my interest. During his presentation, Kelly stated that he had not sold any of that artwork in while. He spoke of the gallery scene, lack of a national gallery and other factors surrounding Trinidad’s creative community. After his presentation I cried. I could not hold back my tears; I was ashamed.
Here is a young artist not romanticising his island and not portraying the nauseating tropical flowers and beach scenes. Here is a young artist not painting abstractions without understanding what abstract art is, just projecting a face onto a splattered background and walking pretentiously. Here is a young artist not compromising his voice for commercial gain. Here is a young artist not compromising the authenticity of his work for commercial gain. Thank you for strengthening me, Alex.
Aiko, Alex, Diego, MJ, Leo, Leasho, Manuel, Ronald, Natusha, Natalie, and Razia, thank you for sharing your good vibes with me and making me a better person. Holly, Annalee and Elvis, thank you for providing this opportunity, and I look forward to another good pot of peas soup and dumplin’ really soon.
Jodi Minnis was born in New Providence, The Bahamas in January 1995. Minnis is the Assistant Curator of the Central Bank of The Bahamas and the Pro Gallery, the College of The Bahamas. Minnis is also the Gallery Assistant of The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. She was one of the recipients of the Popop Junior Residency Prize (2014). In February 2015, she represented Bahamian master artist, Kendal Hanna at VoltaNY.