From A Distance / text response to the Reader Residency by Harvey Dimond

July 8, 2024 4:41 pm
Photograph by Erika Stevenson

‘Hydrocolonialism riffs off the term postcolonialism and, like that concept, has a wide potential remit that could include colonization by way of water (various forms of maritime imperialism), colonization of water (occu- pation of land with water resources, the declaration of territorial waters, the militarization and geopoliticization of oceans), a colony on (or in) water (the ship as a miniature colony or a penal island), colonization through water (flooding of occupied land), and colonization of the idea of water (establishing water as a secular resource).’

Isabel Hofmeyr, Dockside Reading: Hydrocolonialism and the Custom House.

Isabel Hofmeyr’s text considers this term ‘hydrocolonialism’ and the role that the customs house in port cities played in filtering, othering and censoring human bodies and forms of human expression throughout the vast aquatic networks of the British Empire. The introduction to the text makes reference to the carceral logics of the empire – especially how books, objects and bodies were prone to capture, incarceration, removal and drowning in order to maintain the status quo of the imperial project. During my residency at Market Gallery, I became particularly interested in a few texts which relate to histories of incarceration, as well as contemporary experiences and the fight for prison abolition. This included an anthology of texts about prison abolition titled The Moon Spins The Dead Prison (created as part of The School of Abolition project), as well as Angela Y. Davis’s Are Prisons Obsolete? As ever, the life, work and sacrifices of Assata Shakur remained present in my mind while experiencing these texts.

My residency at Market Gallery also reflected on processes of exile, removal, censorship and erasure that marked the context of much of the literature that I studied while undertaking a Masters in African Literature in Johannesburg, South Africa. During the era of apartheid (1948-1994, although the displacement and segregation of indigenous people and people of colour by Europeans in Southern Africa stretches back to the 16th century), Black cultural expression was heavily censored and delegimitised, with many Black academics, writers and artists forced to go into hiding or exile in fear for their lives. Today, we are seeing the destruction, criminalisation and censorship of Palestinian voices, but also the voices of those fighting for their right to liberation and self determination in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Haiti. My screening event and discussion at Market Gallery at the end of April 2024, which was titled Reading/Writing from a distance, centred on three films made in, for and about South Africa, Haiti and Palestine. Although seemingly disparate in geography, culture and politics, the historical and contemporary experiences of these three nations are intimately bound up in histories not only of colonisation and apartheid, but also in resistance and an unwavering, steadfast desire for freedom.

I refer back to a previous text I had written in response to A Fragile Correspondence, Scotland’s representation at the 2023 Venice Biennale of Architecture. Titled Atlantic Assemblages, my text disseminated three oceanic experiences in Scotland, South Africa and Barbados. The following section blends research with archival experiences and memories:

Four centuries of colonialism fundamentally altered the ecologies of the islands that form the Caribbean archipelago. On ships departing from Liverpool, Calabar, Glasgow, Elmina, London, came colonisers, enslaved people, seeds, animals, diseases, faiths. These ships became floating vestibule of cross-pollination; a space where (ecological, linguistic, sexual) maritime contracts were forged – the slave ship forming its own ecology. Recordings of these transatlantic voyages – thousands of them, plying the triangular trade – hide in archives in Europe – hastily shipped back across the Atlantic to be conveniently hidden. I can imagine the feel of those documents in my hands; fragile, crisp with the salt, the sand, the sediment, the scent of the Atlantic – an oceanic palimpsest. Many Irish and Scottish people were taken to Barbados aboard these ships as criminals, political dissidents, farmers dispossessed of their land, and sold into temporary servitude (from which they were later released, and given a plot of land on the island for them to live on). This practice at the time became known as being Barbadozz’d, or Barbadosed.

(washed away / cast adrift / drop anchor / come ashore / rolled in / sea moss / ghost ships spent on
the shore)

This piece of writing, although written and published some months before applying to the Reader Residency, encapsulated many of the ideas that would surface during my ten days of reading, writing and creating during the residency period. The text, which consists of a series of real, imagined and dreamt transatlantic experiences, was pre-occupied with many of these same ideas – of diasporic dreaming, longing and invocation.

Harvey Dimond undertook the Reader Residency across ten days between February and March 2024.