Academic journal article Liminalities

Performing the Untold: Re.Past.Malaga

Academic journal article Liminalities

Performing the Untold: Re.Past.Malaga

Article excerpt

The relocation of peoples has ignited and disrupted the idea of home and expanded the focus of identity beyond definitions of citizenship to clarifications of foreignness.

- T. Morrison1

Governments seeking legitimacy and identity seem able and determined to shape themselves by the destruction of a collective other

- T. Morrison

Memory operates as an alternation between retrospection and anticipation that it is itself, for better or worse, a work of art.

- J. Roach2

Le Radeau de la Méduse/ The Raft of the Medusa, a painting by Théodore Géricault occupies a significant presence in the halls of the Louvré. The image, considered an icon of French Romanticism and the work that established Géricault's career, documents the 1816 incident of the French navel La Méduse that ran aground off the coast of Africa. The captain and his crew abandoned the one hundred forty-seven mixed raced group of passengers, who were cast adrift on a makeshifts raft for thirteen days: the fifteen passengers who survived endured starvation and even cannibalism. The incident was an international scandal and continues to be a point of shame for the French. In 2006, at the bewilderment of many, Toni Morrison selected Géricault's Le Radeau de la Méduse/ The Raft of the Medusa as the premise of her debut exhibition at the Louvré entitled, "The Foreigner's Home." She insists the painting positions "the viewer among the survivors and the dead. He [Géricult] forces us to share the hope and fear, rescues not for certainty. This painting lends itself to a raft of perceptions in a perfect state of art living beyond its frame."3

Morrison's curatorial endeavor upends the sacred space of the museum by including an array of performative actions from slam poetry, break dancing, and rap music, both inside and outside the corridors of the museum building, thus disrupting (and disturbing) the fine and popular art divide. Morrison's use of The Raft of the Medusa as a monument to the victims of the horrific event allows for "The Foreigner's Home" to adequately address the haunted nature of the historical narrative and thus makes linkages to contemporary social and cultural politics. In "The Foreigner's Home," Morrison interrogates the concept of home as she does the idea of the foreigner and what it means to be considered a foreigner in the land of one's birth. Simultaneously, Morrison cogitates on what it means to remember and how to memorialize the tragedy. More significantly Morrison interrogates how social and political discourses emerge and create an atmosphere to cause society to deem a people as the other, a foreigner in their land.

A similar haunting persists for me after witnessing a twenty-six-minute Maine Experience 103 documentary about the story of Malaga island on my first night in Maine4. I arrived in August 2008 to take up a new faculty appointment at a local college. After a day of traveling and unpacking, I flipped on the television in the hotel only to see the beginning of the film about the inhabitants of the island. The 41-acre island located at the mouth of the New Meadows River, and just two miles off the coast of Phippsburg, Maine, was once inhabited by a fishing community of black, white, native American, and mix-raced people. The yellow journalism of the moment described the community as "degenerates," "peculiar," and the island as "disgusting." The discourse surrounding the community reflected the confluence of the racist eugenics movement in the United States, the Maine as "Vacationland" campaign, (as the towns along Maine's coasts were becoming summer destinations), and economic retribution. Not wanting such a stain on the state, the then-governor, Frederick Plaisted drafted a declaration in 1912 to have the more than 45 inhabitants forced off the island. The homes were leveled, the one-room schoolhouse was removed, and the graves were exhumed and reburied as a mass grave inland. Several of the residents were committed to the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded (now the plush Pineland Farm and Center) in the small town of New Gloucester. …

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