Sonia Farmer’s latest artist’s book, The Red Thread Cycle (2019), an interpretation of seven poems by Trinidadian poet Shivanee Ramlochan, is now available.
“The Red Thread Cycle” (2019) provides gut-wrenching witness to the realities of sexual assault in the Caribbean region. The starting point for this work is a series of seven poems by Trinidadian writer Shivanee Ramlochan that appear in her first book of poetry, Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting (Peepal Tree Press, 2017). Sonia felt a powerful connection with what Shivanee calls the “spine” of this collection that catalogues seven experiences of sexual assault and its aftermath, “The Red Thread Cycle.” Even though the series is rooted in the cultural space of Trinidad, the poems nevertheless remind their reader of the violence that disproportionately affects our region of the world. They are hard poems to digest, but we must be open to what the pain of these poems teaches us about trauma and survival in the Caribbean. We have to look.
That realization, or command, or mantra—we have to look—became Sonia’s guide for engaging meaningfully with the poems through an artist’s book that demands careful but sustained engagement with the trauma and survival they share. Each poem deserves its own consideration of form, pacing, and reading, so she used a different folding structure for each one, allowing the seven different voices in the poems to share their own individual encounters within the overall experience of sexual trauma. These books reinterpret the original linear poetic forms, each structure inhabiting the individual voice of the poem to refract and reflect its narrative, allowing the reader to access their core emotional complexity as they engage with each piece. For example, Book I, On the Third Anniversary of the Rape, uses an “ox-plow” structure to locate the reader within the labyrinthine environment of the poem.
Though they have different structures, these books are linked by typeface (Centaur), materials, color palette, medium, proportions, and most importantly, repetitive imagery. These images, made through pressure printing and experimental platemaking techniques with often unpredictable outcomes, create a necessary raw aesthetic to accompany the prose, which is layered and repeated throughout the books to take on multiple meanings in their fragmented silhouettes and abstract forms.
Presented as a rape kit, each book is stored in a black Tyvek envelope with their corresponding numbers letterpress-printed on the outside flaps, and the first line of the poems on the inside of the flaps, as if they are numbered pieces of evidence with accompanying notes. The reader encounters a red stain on the inside when they lift the flap to remove the book. Housed in a handmade filing box, the set also includes an envelope containing an audio recording of Shivanee reading all seven poems to provide readers with an immersive experience of listening as well as engaging, a total confrontation of the senses that readers must find the willingness to endure for all of the rewards that such witness can hold.
This piece was first exhibited in the Ninth National Exhibition: The Fruit & The Seed at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, where Sonia & Shivanee also engaged in a co-led artist talk and guided handling of the books with participants. The piece has also been exhibited in Opera Verbis: Work From Words, curated by Abecedarian Artists Books.
Download the prospectus for The Red Thread Cycle here and email sonia[at]poincianapaperpress.com with any inquiries.
Photos by Dominic Duncombe.