MisplacedWomen?

Archive for June, 2018|Monthly archive page

Which colonial comfort would you like to consume today?

In Airports, Berlin, Performances, Workshops on June 8, 2018 at 9:01 am

In the frame of Tanja Ostojić´s Misplaced Women? workshop, January 22–24, 2018, hosted by Kunsthalle am Hamburger Platz, Berlin, the following performance has been developed and performed for the first time:

Which colonial comfort would you like to consume today?  By: Rhea Ramjohn. 

By unpacking “colonial commodities” which Rhea uses to express her identity, she is confronting both her own and the public’s understanding of the “post-colonial” existence. She urges you to ask questions such as, What is exotic? What is indigenous? What is the composition of our identities, both national and imagined?

Performance duration: ca. 40 minutes

Location: Tempelhoferfeld, Berlin

Rhea

Rhea Ramjohn: “Which colonial comfort would you like to consume today?”, Misplaced Women? workshop, Tempelhoferfeld, Berlin, January 2018. Photo: Tanja Ostojić

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“You’re from Boston! But where are your parents from? Originally?”

There’s that word again, Originally. This question is a sharp jab to the carefully-crafted concept of my identity. It is a reminder that I am a Misplaced Woman. As with many migrants from the Caribbean my heritage is varied, complex, and in many instances- undocumented. Growing up in Trinidad to parents who had little written history of our family’s migration (forced and otherwise) from Asia, Africa, and Europe, I was left to deduce for myself, the understanding of my “ethnic” identity. Furthermore, moving to the U.S. and later to Europe makes that identity-establishment more complex. I’ve found that through language and through cuisine, I can come close to physically presenting my identity, which is defined in no small part to misplacement and the Caribbean Diaspora. 

In the frame of Tanja Ostojić´s Misplaced Women? workshop, I explore this expression by unpacking a suitcase of food and other objects on the runway of the no-longer operating airport, Tempelhof. Once unpacked, the set-up should appear similar to the market vendors of my childhood Trinidad. For the performance, I chose the closed airport because it addresses my memories of travelling, where I first fell in love with the idea of visiting other places. Furthermore, choosing to stage my performance as a Trinidadian market vendor is alluding to the strong influence of global trade on my existence. Colonialism in particular, has not only affected my life, but all of us collectively. The night before the performance, I carefully selected the objects which I wanted to present because each of them serves a very particular way in which I present my identity. 

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Rhea Ramjohn: “Which colonial comfort would you like to consume today?”, Misplaced Women? workshop, Tempelhoferfeld, Berlin, January 2018. Photos: Tanja Ostojić and Alice Minervini

My suitcase was packed with the following objects:

A beach mat, a white tarp, a red Chinese robe, a Boston Red Sox baseball cap, a map of Trinidad, 2 sarongs from the Bahamas one red and one blue, a bag with a whale design, 2 straw placemats, a wok, a wooden spatchala, a stuffed toy lobster, pairs of chopsticks, star-themed napkins, a purple Chinese fan, a bar of Trinidadian chocolate, a bag of Trinidadian coffee, 2 mangoes, 1 cassava, a bag of brown cane sugar, plantains, potatoes, lemons, chilli peppers, rice, ginger, garlic, amchar marsala, madras curry powder, 3 Bahamian seashells, the  Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage, Black Berlin, a Trinidadian passport, an American flag postcard, and my writing notebook from 5th class.  

With the presentation of these objects, I am attempting to exert the representation of my fragmentally determined ethnic/racial/national/personal misplacement through the narrative of colonial and “post-colonialism”. Because colonies are exploited for their resources, each of these objects serves as a symbol of that exploitation and subsequent misplacement.  

I challenge the public to recognize the connection these products have to colonialism, slavery, and immigration. How does un-/forced migration contribute to the Diaspora in terms of the re-framing of identity, misplacement of people, culture, and commodities? How are the effects of colonialism still felt/manifested today?  The title question of this performance, Which colonial comfort would you like to consume today? confronts my own search for a connection to an ancestral and cultural heritage which is inextricably linked with misplacement.  

 

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Rhea Ramjohn: “Which colonial comfort would you like to consume today?”, Misplaced Women? workshop, Tempelhoferfeld, Berlin, January 2018. Photos: Tanja Ostojić and Alice Minervini

Some background on a few of the items:

The map of Trinidad: designed in the mid 90s, it was found in a flea market in Germany and outlines the industries and agriculture of Trinidad at that time- two points which focus solely on the country’s resources.

The postcard and star-themed napkins: the postcard is a replication of a 1970s black and white photo of a Black man waving an American flag. This in combination with the star themed napkins is a subtle ironic nod to my American identity, which is fraught with pride yet dismay at the racial and socio-economic injustices of my surrogate homeland.

The bag of brown cane sugar, bar of Trinidadian chocolate, and Trinidadian coffee: indigenous products to the island, these are clear representatives of the many reasons Trinidad and much of the world was colonized and exploited for monetary profit. I attempt here to bring to light two significant products usually labelled as “European” (i.e. coffee as a typically Italian product, and chocolate as a typically Swiss, Belgian, German, Dutch product), and sugar- a globally important commodity, yet whose history is steeped in the horror of slavery and colonialism.

Mangoes, plantains, potatoes, cassava, lemons, madras curry powder, amchar masala, chillies, rice, ginger, and garlic: these products represent the scope of the Diasporan traditions reflected not only in Trinidad, but throughout the Caribbean and the Americans. Asia and Africa in particular play monumental roles in the shaping of Caribbean societies, and are therefore instrumental in my identity as a Caribbean-American person.

2 sarongs from the Bahamas and 3 Bahamian seashells: gifts from a Trinidadian aunt who emigrated there, they are representative of yet another instance of a Caribbean woman emigrating to another place- a trend common in the Caribbean, yet hardly known internationally. The seashells carry the eternal sounds of the sea- a constant reminder of how far removed we are from our origins.

Text written by: Rhea Ramjohn

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Rhea Ramjohn: “Which colonial comfort would you like to consume today?”, Misplaced Women? workshop, Tempelhoferfeld, Berlin, January 2018. Photo: Alice Minervini

Rhea Ramjohn is a Trinidadian-American Creative Writer and Poet based in Berlin.

 

Photo and video documentation by: Tanja Ostojić and Alice Minervini

 

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