"The Social Justice Institute provides multi-year fellowships with financial, research, and other material support to visionary feminist activists and leaders to develop and disseminate their work." I am honored that they have recognized my contributions as a cultural worker and will support it over the next two years. My research project is called: Neither Subject Nor Citizen: Virgin Islanders in the Harlem Renaissance.
2017 marked the centennial anniversary of the sale and transfer of the Virgin Islands from Denmark to the United States. Much of the year was spent reflecting upon the past relationship between the Virgin Islands and its former colonizer while little attention was paid to the last 100 years of American rule. After the transfer in 1917 thousands of Virgin Islanders migrated to the United States and in its greatest numbers to Harlem, thereby coinciding with one of the most significant cultural moments in US history-the Harlem Renaissance. Often dubbed an important political, social and artistic cultural movement in African American culture spanning the 1920’s, many of these Virgin Islands immigrants became influential in the Harlem Renaissance. However, being that it took until 1927 for American citizenship to be granted, these Virgin Islanders were nationless, being no longer Danish subjects and not yet American citizens.
As an Artist in Residence, Belle will explore the space of liminality created after the sale and transfer of the Virgin Islands from Denmark to the US as this relates to the Harlem Renaissance and the Virgin Islanders who became key agents in this movement. Belle is also interested in what can be learned from this movement at a time when the Virgin Islanders remain on an unfulfilled path toward full citizenship–still unable to vote and without a voting representative in Congress.
Belle’s project will begin by engaging in research into the archives at such institutions as the Schomburg Center, (Arturo Schomburg was also a descendant of a Virgin Islander) and creating a body of artwork that is inspired by this research. She is particularly interested in exploring the biographies of such individuals as Casper Holstein, Hubert Harrison, Ashley Totten, Elizabeth Hendrikson and Frank Crosswaith, many of whom were also actively engaged in the fight for social justice back home in the Virgin Islands. Belle works in a number of styles, including painting, sculpture, and mixed media, and plans to engage these multiple styles in her work, culminating in an exhibition in New York and the Virgin Islands.
For more information on the fellowship see here.