A light of stereotype has long illuminated imaginings of the Caribbean. It is a light that has made perceptible, the form and body of a partial truth about a space and its people. This light constitutes a narrow range of visible wavelengths. It emits its rays but it scarcely enlightens us or opens our eyes to the complexities of what might be called ‘Caribbean’. Such insights are not to be found in the light. Instead, enlightenment or an awareness of the breadth and depth of a Caribbean comes from the shadows.
According to Jung, ‘one does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.’ It is this psychology of imagining in the dark that the photographer from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Nadia Huggins, seems to deploy in her image making practice. Her work invokes that which lies outside the light of popular consciousness. Each piece is an effort to present a Caribbean existence, a being with a heart that throbs powerfully in unlit experiential spaces.
In another sense, Huggins summons a Jungian notion of the shadow by engaging and confronting a suppressed psyche. The shadow is that part of ourselves, which we deny including feelings of anguish, anxiety, terror, uncertainty and desolation. Huggins attends to this idea of the shadow in her creative work, with specific reference to the Caribbean. In her artist statement she shares:
‘my work encompasses and explores the many recesses of life’s darkest experiences. I feel that there are sociological structures within the Caribbean that are receptors of a lot of uncharted emotions. This I think is a culminated result of years of suppression and repression by its people.’
Huggins therefore refers to a Caribbean that can be found pulsating in spaces of personal psychic disavowal.
Her photograph Black Hole presents us with the top of a man’s head. His curly mass of hair is a gravity field or black region, which absorbs all of the light. It appears as a dark aperture, open to expose its never-ending depth. This open head lays bare the possibility of seeing repressed states, in other words, the shadow within. Through her composition, Huggins brings us so close to this hole that we, as viewers, become matter that quickly succumb to its attractive force and we are pulled in. By entering this subject’s head we not only ask what is it that he is not acknowledging but we are also compelled to interrogate ourselves, questioning our own condition of denial.
Similarly, in one of her Untitled photographs, we see the dark back of a man. The back signifies that part or side that is less often seen. Yet, Huggins focuses her lens and puts “the back” directly in front of us. In doing so, we become obligated to consider what we put behind us or to face that which we choose to forget or ignore. In a space like the Caribbean, with a traumatic past that still feeds into the present, checking our backs is a critical practice of looking in order to move forward.
In A Final Word on Goodbyes, a shadowy figure is perceptible at what seems to be a door or window. Huggins allows us to ponder lingering presences, that is, what remains invisible in our quotidian routines – sadness, unrest and confusion – yet all that is palpable in the dark recesses of our experiences. She offers us a look at our unfinished business, which in this striking photograph, is an ever-unfolding drama. Goodbyes here are not resolved. They are not final.
Huggins does not abandon light entirely. Her photographs are constructed with high contrast. Through her practice of post processing, she deliberately manipulates tints and tones so that she juxtaposes areas of extreme dark with patches of intense light. The effect is a tendency toward chiaroscuro where light and dark – seeming polar opposites – are brought together to model or fashion a complex, richly layered picture in which pain and optimism can both reside.
In Passenger, a dark journey is interrupted by a luminous point in the distance; a flash of yellow light; a shining star. In another photograph, a gutted and deserted building appears with a scorched cross against a sky that resonates simultaneously and paradoxically with menace and reassurance. It is an image in which the light is not utilised in the convention of paradisiacal scenes of a Caribbean idyll where the light permeates and dominates. Instead, the light in Huggins’ work is to be understood as that which is, in many instances, repressed – as that which is located in the shadow. That light is hope. Says Huggins:
‘I strive to expose glimpses of hope beneath the darkness; I feel it will always be present regardless of the melancholy and loss’
The work of Nadia Huggins offers no romantic solutions for Caribbean people but her practice is an unearthing process that facilitates a necessary scrutiny of self and a close examination of island and diasporic space. Huggins engages in vital archaeological work in her photographic explorations of the Caribbean. As the artist herself declares: ‘I excavate the marrow of what is embedded deeply beneath the surface of the region and its people.’
by Marsha Pearce
This article is republished courtesy of ARC. ARC’s mission is to build awareness by fostering exchanges and opportunities that expand creative culture, within the visual arts industry across the wider Caribbean and its diasporas.