The Red Thread Cycle
Shivanee Ramlochan & Sonia Farmer
Letterpress-printed books with recorded reading
The Red Thread Cycle is a collaborative artist book project using Trinidadian poet Shivanee Ramlochan’s words and Bahamian book artist Sonia Farmer’s visual design, on display during the Ninth National Exhibition at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas under the theme “The Fruit & the Seed”.
About the ninth national exhibition, which was assembled by a six-member jury, the NAGB shared:
“A socially curious project, “The Fruit and the Seed” centres around how artists are working to define their space and experiences. Whether it be through the lens of race, gender, parity and class as a way to clarify cultural, social and aesthetic decisions, the art-making process is used as a tool to bring to the fore ideologies on activism and advocacy, leading to a more empathetic and understanding culture..
…As the world around us contracts and becomes more conservative, populist and reactionary, we see the conversations that art provokes as a way to negotiate, to understand and to find commonalities. We also see these conversations as a way to demystify social stigmas and to unfix the dogmas that keep our humanity and compassion from being a part of the broader national and global dialogues.”
Shivanee Ramlochan’s first poetry collection, Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting (Peepal Tree Press, 2017) has been met with exciting regional and international praise. Most notably, it has been shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection by the Forward Arts Foundation. In an interview with the Forward Arts Foundation, the advice she would give to anyone starting out in poetry is, “Be open to pain.” Indeed, what she calls the “spine” of the collection, seven poems that form The Red Thread Cycle which catalogue sexual assault and its aftermath, is not easy on the eye, heart, or gut—but we must be open to what the pain of these poems teach us about trauma and survival in the Caribbean.
Deserving a close and intimate reading, Sonia Farmer presents each of these seven poems as their own individual book structures, letterpress-printed in a limited edition collection. Linked through repetitive imagery directly mined from the poems, these books reinterpret the original linear poetic form, each structure inhabiting the individual voice of their poem to refract and reflect its narrative, allowing the reader to access their core emotional complexities as they engage with each piece.
Accompanied by a reading of The Red Thread Cycle poems by Shivanee, viewers are invited to consider the following: How does the meaning of a poem change when the book becomes part of the reading experience? How can these books—through their structure that guides the reading experience and through the implied intimacy of singular audience—invite witness, invoke release, and elicit compassion for painful narratives? And how can collaboration with regional writers and artists working with these narratives help us to elevate, examine, and understand the importance of bearing sustained witness to social stigmas within and beyond our boundaries?
Read an excellent examination of the piece by Natalie Willis in The Grave Silence: Sonia Farmer and Shivanee Ramlochan give voice to the victims of rape in the Caribbean.
To hear Sonia talk about the experience of making the piece, tune in to this episode of Blank Canvas, which also features fellow writer and exhibitor Charlotte Henay.
In another episode of Blank Canvas, hear Sonia & Shivanee discuss their collaboration and special writing workshop with the University of The Bahamas Blue Flamingo Literary Festival.
Photos of “On the Third Anniversary of the Rape” courtesy Dominic Duncombe/Stop Motion Productions
Install photos courtesy of Jackson Petit from the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas
Huge thanks to the NAGB curatorial team for making this install fantasy a reality