The Caribbean Genealogy Library presents a virtual “The Body of the Virgin Islands Woman: Queens, Debutantes and Virgins,” to be held Saturday at 2 p.m., highlighting the St. Thomas Graphics Collection.
The presentation, funded through the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities under the CARES Act, will be presented by the Virgin Islands Studies Collective: Dr. Hadiya Sewer, Dr. Tami Navarro, writer Tiphanie Yanique and artist La Vaughn Belle.
Hadiya Sewer is a Research Fellow in the African and African American Studies Program at Stanford University and a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice at Brown University. As a community-engaged scholar, Sewer is also the president and co-founder of St.JanCo: the St. John Heritage Collective, a land rights and cultural heritage preservation nonprofit on St. John.
Tami Navarro is the associate director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women, a visiting scholar at the University of the Virgin Islands and editor of the journal “Scholar and Feminist Online.” A cultural anthropologist, she also serves on the board of the St. Croix Foundation and is a member of the editorial board for the journal “Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism.” She is the co-host of the podcast, “Writing Home: American Voices from the Caribbean” and her book, “Virgin Capital: Race, Gender and Financialization in the U.S. Virgin Islands,” will be published by SUNY Press in November 2021.
Tiphanie Yanique is the author of the poetry collection “Wife,” which won the 2016 Bocas Prize in Caribbean poetry and the United Kingdom’s 2016 Forward/Felix Dennis Prize for a First Collection. Yanique is also the author of the novel, “Land of Love and Drowning,” which won the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Award from the Center for Fiction, the Phillis Wheatley Award for Pan-African Literature, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Family Foundation Award. Her writing has won the Bocas Award for Caribbean Fiction, the Boston Review Prize in Fiction, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Fulbright Scholarship and an Academy of American Poet’s Prize. Tiphanie is from the Virgin Islands and is an associate professor at Emory University. Her novel, “Monster in the Middle,” will be published in October 2021.
La Vaughn Belle is a visual artist working in a variety of disciplines that include video, performance, painting, installation, writing and public intervention projects. Borrowing elements from history and archaeology, Belle creates narratives that challenge colonial hierarchies and invisibility. She has exhibited in the Caribbean, the USA and Europe and recently finished a solo exhibition at the National Nordic Museum in Seattle. She is the co-creator of “I Am Queen Mary,” the artist-led groundbreaking monument that confronted the Danish colonial amnesia while commemorating the legacies of resistance of the African people who were brought to the former Danish West Indies. She was the 2018-2020 fellow at the Social Justice Institute at the Barnard Research Center for Women. Her studio is based in the Virgin Islands.
Founded in 2017, the V.I. Studies Collective is centrally concerned about the erasure of the Virgin Islands from larger discourses and the lack of resources to attend to our community’s needs, most notably the silences surrounding the territory’s continuous colonial subjection, the lack of cultural institutions to preserve Virgin Islands history and the ecological precarity demonstrated by hurricanes Irma and Maria.
The collective will present a round table conversation on the St. Thomas Graphics Collection, now held at the Virgin Islands Genealogy Library, and will bring their individual expertise to explore the St. Thomas Graphics Collection as a historical catalog of how Virgin Islands women’s bodies were understood, celebrated, explored and used during the 1980s and 1990s. The panelists will discuss rebel queendom, pageant queendom, debutantes and the ubiquitous use of Virgin Islands women as models on the cover of tourist guidebooks. They will ask what these representations tell us about the Virgin Islands woman. In particular, they will discuss the range and limits of the Virgin Islands woman’s beauty and power as well how the Virgin Islands woman has balanced native/local ideals of strength and beauty while beneath the tourists’ gaze, and even while under American and European ideals of femininity.
The event will be the second in a series of the Community Foundation/NEH grant-funded project to digitize portions of the St. Thomas Graphics Collection for online viewing. Grant project funding also supported the development of online funding aids to enable researchers to use the St. Thomas Graphics Collection materials more efficiently. Digitized images and finding aids for the St. Thomas Graphics Collection will be introduced and demonstrated throughout the presentation.