ARTIST, "I AM QUEEN MARY"
La Vaughn Belle & Jeannette Ehlers are the sensational artists behind “I am Queen Mary”
La Vaughn Belle is a multidisciplinary artist from the Virgin Islands. For years her work has responded to questions surrounding the coloniality of the Virgin Islands, both in its present relationship to the US and it’s past one to Denmark. Her work borrows from elements of architecture, literature, history, archeology and social protest to create narratives that challenge the colonial process. She is best known for her work reinterpreting the material artifacts of colonialism to create an alternative archive. She has exhibited her work in such institutions as the Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco, El Museo del Barrio, NY, Arts of the Americas Museum, Washington, DC., the Royal Library of Denmark and the Centro de Wilfredo Lam, Cuba.
My visual acuity. I see connections between things, concepts and people and as an artist I build metaphors and layers into my work that allow for multiple entry points.
I am like the “Little Engine That Could”- I think I can , I think I can , I think I can- and I am very determined with that belief.
What I desire most is to develop to my fullest potential as an artist and to have harmony with other aspects of my life while doing so.
The public art project “I Am Queen Mary” with Danish artist Jeannette Ehlers is to date the biggest professional accomplishment of my life. It is a monumental project in every sense of the word. It is a two-story sculpture in front of the Danish West Indian warehouse in Copenhagen that challenges the forgotten history of those who survived and resisted Danish colonial rule. It’s a project that highlights various resistance histories in the African diaspora and centers them in the historical figure of Mary Thomas, a sugar cane worker on a plantation in St. Croix. She, along with three other woman, demanded better living and working conditions and together they led the largest labor revolt in Danish colonial history. Queen Mary, the title she was bestowed by the people for her leadership, sits on top of a plinth made of coral imported from the ruins of colonial structures in St. Croix. They were harvested by enslaved Africans that were sent into the ocean to cut them out and use them as the foundations of most of the buildings.
This detail, however, is often invisible as what we see on top of the coral stone foundation are the bricks imported from Denmark. So by importing the one and a half tons of coral stones to Denmark and situating a rebel queen on Copenhagen’s harbor front we are making visible their labor, strength, courage and humanity. Each evocation of the title, “I Am Queen Mary” asks the viewer to question their relationship to this history. Having this project go from an audacious idea to a reality has been thrilling.
“I Am Queen Mary” began as two separate projects. When Jeannette asked me to collaborate and merge them into one it was a difficult decision for me at first. I was worried about what kinds of compromises I may have to make in a collaboration. However, it was one of the best decisions. It made the project stronger and gave it a more complex dimension. We decided to not only merge our two projects, but our two physical likenesses in the figure of Queen Mary. We created a hybrid of our bodies, nations and narratives. I have learned a lot through the process of working with another highly motivated and extremely talented artist. We have different strong suits in our skill sets and we worked well together as a team.
Do it afraid-meaning I acknowledge fear in situations and have learned to work with fear and not let it hold me back.
I have a pretty amazing crew of three feral girl children who inspire me everyday with their fearlessness, self-assuredness, untamable joy and immense capacity to love and forgive.
Any salsa club in the world is my favorite place. I learned when I went to art school in Cuba and I fell in love with dancing salsa, or timba as contemporary Cuban salsa is called. Wherever I travel I look for a salsa club. I can go to any city in the world and find a home in some conga beats and fellow salseros. But my other favorite place is a beach on the south shore of St. Croix called Hay Penny. It’s about a mile long and has three sections: one, when you first enter that is very shallow and crystal clear, you walk a little further and its deeper and all the way to the end there are cascades of rocks and larger waves. But although I love it because its beautiful, it’s really my favorite because of all the memories I have made there. I used to ride my bike with my brothers there as children, my father took us there every Saturday to give my mother a break, I’ve had beautiful romantic experiences there, been to countless birthday parties and bonfires there, seen octopus, dolphins and all manner of sea life there, and when things have been rough it is the place I go to seek solace. My whole life history is on that beach.
I wear a machete pendant. The machete is a tool for work and a tool for rebellion. It’s a symbol of who we are as Caribbean people, our survival spirit, full of resilience and resistance. I rarely take it off.
I also really like band saws, Ruby Woo MAC lipstick, am a little obsessed with orchids at the moment and cannot live without hair gel.
My current, past and future passion will always be making art. It is the thing I do and not remember to eat or go to the bathroom and will forgo sleep for.