Sonia empowers her students to find and own their narratives through the act of making books. As a creator of book works, she uses text as material to disrupt and investigate existing narratives as a way to question their inherent power structures and expose alternative marginalized voices, using bookbinding, papermaking, letterpress printing, and digital processes to build platforms for these narratives. Through her small press, Poinciana Paper Press, she works with writers and artists using multiple forms of publishing to empower the diversity of narratives in Caribbean art and literature. In the classroom setting, her students are no different than the writers or artists she engages with as a publisher; her overall aim is to encourage them to step into the role of protagonist in a region that has historically privileged the voice of the visitor in forming Caribbean identity and space through their own tool of power.
This tool of power is the form of the book. Though we align the history of books and printing with accessibility, literacy, and freedom of the press, books and written language have, through their prescribed forms and rigid systems, historically homogenized and hierarchized cultures, especially in the Caribbean, as destructive and oppressive objects of colonial power under the guise of “progress.” In her classroom, students confront the coloniality of the book and approach crafting their own as dynamic sites of performance to encourage complete ownership over their own narratives. One way in which they do this is through studying book works and global scholarship around the practice of making and distributing them. They then explore making their own book structures though various methods—using folded sheets, hand binding, perfect binding—to think about space, functionality, power, and gaze in the act of storytelling and reading. They also practice and then challenge the foundations of book design theory and methods to understand the aesthetic of the page in both its static and kinetic roles. Finally, they adopt various methods of printing and image-making to consider the materiality of the book and how that relates to its story. Overall these methods encourage students to use books as active sites of dialogue to “talk back” to the oppressive history of books and the printed word in our region.
In her classroom, Sonia aims to maintain an inclusive and culturally safe space that values all experiences, creating a welcoming atmosphere that is conducive to sharing stories, learning from one another, and experimenting with the expectations of the book and the printed word in progressive, subversive, intellectual, and humanistic ways. She supports her students honing their craft through both traditional and modified techniques and materials, recognizing there is no hierarchy of form or medium. While she strives to uphold excellence in craft and encourages intentionality in creative practice, she embraces building new forms of knowledge in her classroom through innovative, adaptive, sustainable, and experimental art practices to build a critical cultural dialogue with the environment and resources. Finally, she maintains that collaboration provides powerful experiences to learn from one another. It helps her students to value the knowledge and skills each individual brings to the classroom. She provides opportunities for creative dialogue across disciplines and cultures in order to facilitate the understanding that collaboration is a creative act and that books are powerful objects for connection and learning. Through assignments to complete on their own, paired with classmates, and also with members of the community outside of the classroom, she aim to build awareness in her students of their positionality and responsibility in the act of making books. Her ultimate aim, as a teacher and artist, is to nurture a book-making culture that honors the complexity of Caribbean experiences, helping her students to imagine new models of storytelling and literacy to better serve their culture and community going forward.
Find out more about the courses Sonia has taught and workshops she has led around the world, including student samples and feedback:
Digital Design for Publishing / University of Iowa Department of Interdisciplinary Studies
The Collaborative Process: Text & Book / Blue Flamingo Literary Festival, University of The Bahamas
Large Format Papermaking Collaborative Art Project / Lyford Cay School, The Bahamas
Binding Words: An Introduction to Chapbook Binding / Bocas Literary Festival, Trinidad & Tobago
The Art of the Book / Fresh Milk Art Platform, Barbados
Secret Room Books / The Police Athletic League NYC, Public School 8, Harlem, NYC