September 25–November 7
Simonette Quamina: Canboulay
at Smack Mellon
Simonette Quamina’s practice is rooted in the intersection between family, agricultural histories, and sociopolitical events that have shaped global migration and labor. Growing up between Canada, Guyana, St. Vincent, and the United States, the artist explores ideas of belonging through intimate scenes from her family’s history in natural settings and domestic interiors. The title Canboulay refers to the Caribbean celebration stemming from the Trinidad slave rebellion, as well as the burning of sugarcane fields. The term comes from the French canne brulee, meaning “burnt cane.” Sugarcane fields were periodically burnt as a form of pesticide maintenance, the offshoot of which produces a fine, black pollutant known locally as “black snow.”
For this exhibition, Quamina accesses the joyous aspects of Canboulay through the dark recesses of the celebration’s history. She combines art historical imagery from Millet’s melancholic Ophelia with family stories and connects legacies of sugar production in the Caribbean to its role in sustaining slavery in the region. The narrative in this series picks up from another recent work entitled dutty tuff: omens of things to come (2021) depicting her grandfather laboring in the brush of sugarcane fields in Guyana as a child. In this piece, the young figure tugs at the sugarcane reeds, as if attempting to physically remove the crop’s connection to systemic exploitation.
Each large work in the exhibition is an immersive wall-sized visual horizon. The series borrows the methodological framework of a caesura, which describes a break in a poem. In an intrinsic relationship to writing, the break separates elements of the stories into the vignettes of the individual works. The artist’s use of the break also exists within each work, through the cuts, rips, and abstracted layers that collage the paper into whole scenes. Quamina collapses the socioeconomic ramifications of sugarcane, familial subjugation, and material histories into the complex, dark surfaces of the works. She uses a sophisticated variety of collage and printmaking techniques, including woodcut, collograph, embossed print, China Colle and silk aquatint—a process where the artist layers mesh and acrylic in order to hold the ink. Her works employ graphite for drawing as well as the base for her printmaking inks, using the material’s full spectrum of saturation and reflective qualities, producing rich, nuanced spaces.