By Charissa Granger
Self-representation as Dutch-Caribbean artist-scholars remains imperative to our existence. The work of Sharelly Emanuelson illustrates this importance, emphasizing that we had and still have tradition, history and culture. Thinking about and experiencing the vastness of the Caribbean, it all looks and feels disorderly. It is multilingual, sonically oriented, loud and clamorous, and in of itself a carnival, embodying all the characters. Sharelly’s work brings order in some measure.
Using mixed-media, predominantly film, Sharelly engages the imaginary, the fictional, the autobiographical and the documentary, giving a pluriversal perspective on Dutch-Caribbean lived experiences. This perspective riffs on the good, the bad and the liminal area between. Dutch-Caribbean knowledges are often peripheral, perhaps because it is so sensuous, however Sharelly takes the peripheralized and brings it into sharp focus, in her work those voices from the border are sounding out.
What does it mean to give another account on drug trafficking? How do you present a counter-narrative of fatherhood? Why offer an experience of voluntary migration, of moving to and from the metropole? – Our lived experiences are multifaceted and Sharelly shows the different inroads and avenues we might use to explore them.
En mi Pais for instance brings the known and unknown about Aruba, specifically places in Aruba like Rancho, into conversation. You are welcomed to come into the conversation, where there is so much that is forgotten – what do the colors of the Aruban flag signify? A discussion about Aruba brings reflections on language and different accent negotiation, discussions of queer experiences and racialized bodies, being of mixed heritage, and contemporary colonial experiences. These are all made space for in this work. Sharelly re-creates the past so we might use its teachings and move toward a stronger self-knowledge, equipping us for present and future struggles.
Sharelly’s documentary on calypso and carnival, Mighty Lords Kings and Queens embraces a carnival sensibility, bringing everything and everyone into connection, and most importantly celebrating Dutch-Caribbeanness in its many facets. At her live set installation Hidden Transcripts, Sharelly brought the carnival practice of Trinidad and Tobago and the general English-speaking Caribbean into conversation with the Aruban carnival and the Curaçaoan carnival which all have different music traditions and dance styles. Brass-band/asambeho, steelband, calypso, zouk, and tumba weave the stories together, connecting them all, overriding island exceptionalism. In this way, works such as En mi Pais, Suidadanos, Teatro Kadaken documentary Tormenta and Mighty Lords Kings and Queens build networks of and inroads into difficult discussions about race, about how to form intersectional solidarities, how to make connections to illustrate what Audre Lorde makes clear: That difference must not be estranging “but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic” (Lorde 1979). There are differences of expression between islands, but Sharelly brings about a synthesis of the cultural expressions. How can we create out of the trauma of slavery and colonialism positive selves? How do we channel the psychic effect of our historical legacy? What happens to the way we see ourselves? Sharelly contributes to (re-)creating and imagining new images that transgress the harmful ones. The thrust towards liberation cannot be operative unless we continue to make such connections. Economic advancement often takes precedence over cultural expression, however, through cultural expression we come to not only understand ourselves but find different ways of perceiving ourselves, which is of crucial importance to our very being.
I revel in Sharelly’s work for the way it enables me to recognize myself. – Recognition!
If you are intimately familiar with Aruba, specifically San Nicolas, you will know who Marlonchi is … who Louisa is. You will have heard the myriad stories that structure Marlonchi’s inhabiting that space. In Doh mix meh up: We always negotiatin, Sharelly makes space for Marlonchi to be part of a larger Caribbean epistemology, speaking towards her commitment to inclusion of all stories. This for me is rooted in decolonial doing, embracing other forms of inhabiting the world that are often denied.
Self-critique about violence, sexual abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, teenage pregnancy, attitudes toward non-conforming gender and sexual identities resonate through Sharelly’s entire oeuvre. This is necessary for doing away with any essentialist notions we might have of ourselves. Self-critique is essential in the way we see ourselves. According to Figueroa and Mendez “we cannot just think decoloniality, especially a decoloniality that does not demand that we live or act any differently than we do now. Decoloniality for us must contend with the violences and harms being enacted on our communities as well as within our communities. We must address the impact of contemporary harm as well as the intergenerational impact of violences, such as slavery, colonialism, and settler colonialism.”(37). This is done in Suidadanos for example, where voices are channelled simultaneously, making the listening endeavour difficult, for which you make an effort to attend. The voices are strong and are self-possessed but are also sharply self-critical and unflinchingly aware of the legacy of slavery and the plantation system. These voices speak collectively about past injustices and contemporary social, political, and economic inequalities that are legacies of those injustices; especially where sovereignty is concerned. This, in addition to the fact that, no matter the political status of our position within the Dutch kingdom, the voices maintain that we are not sovereign.
Vulnerability and allowing a space for this to be part of the conversation is beautiful. This vulnerability and openness come through in Welterusten Papa. Counter-narratives of colonial markings and stereotypes of fatherhood in the Caribbean are challenged, presenting all the intricacies of fatherhood, as father-daughter relationships are highlighted – Invigorating! Connected to this is compassion, Sharelly’s work makes you avail yourself to engage in how chronic poverty and unemployment were contributing factors to a surge in drug trafficking in Tormenta. Personal narrative brings a sympathetic embodied experience to this topic, which still remains taboo and riddled in shame.
Sharelly continues to make space for otherness and others (through collaboration, through building infrastructure, making physical work space available at UniArte), thereby sharing the responsibility of imagining and reimagining known and unknown realities and experiences in the everyday lives of the Dutch-Caribbean people. Never one-sided, her work embraces both dissonance and consonance.
Charissa Granger is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie LEaDing Fellow postdoctoral researcher at Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands. Charissa’s research foci are on how Caribbean and Afro-diasporic music-making practices generate knowledge, concentrating on music’s relationship to postcolonial experiences and decolonial practices.