Sixth Company Batallion
The Sixth Company Battalion based on the history of a particular group of Black loyalists, who became freed people of colour, in the twin islands of Trinidad & Tobago of which my family descends. It is an autobiographical account that reflects a larger historical context. I dramatize and materialize this history as a meditation on survival and an exploration on the ways in which the unacknowledged histories of the past haunt and possess present day life in incredibly complex ways. These images feature my mother and two of her five sisters poised as soldiers in uniforms from the war. The images offer a de-‐colonial, gendered incursion in the archives of Canadian, Caribbean and familial history. 6th Company is named after one of the 6 British marine troops of ex-slaves who fought in the war of 1812, allied to the British Crown against the United States of America. Similar to Black Loyalist who were granted land in Halifax, Nova Scotia, dissimilar in that their story is completely unknown. My family descends from this history of war and slavery. Today, there still exists a settlement of families living on their 16 acres; the ancestors of my family lived in 6th Company Village. A few months before capturing the images, my mother, aunt and I traveled to Trinidad and visited the Company Villages; it was the first time my own history had felt so palpable.
I created a fictional name of The Sixth Company Battalion to give space to the women who also are part of this history.
This purposely gendered narrative of migration and history seeking aimed to bring forward a new meaning to first or second generation ‘Black Canadians’ insisting we hold onto the depth and diversity of these stories. It required that I too participated in this process. I soon realized the depth of seeking it would require and made a decision to narrow in on the history of my family, a story, which at the time, I was still only marginally familiar with. I thought about where I would start my story and what parts I would choose to visualize. I had been doing this research on my family history and the image that kept coming up to me was the story of 1812. Though new knowledge, I recognize the privilege I carry in being able to trace my family history back so far, and to an event that enables new ways for understanding Caribbean-Canadian history. It felt important that I produce an image that offered this story to the world. I
I thought about how I could create a photo that allowed me to complicate the history, bringing forward the tensions that tugged at me when I tried to write it. It became important that I did visualize it because writing it withheld and corrupted what I wanted to say about this record. Positioned in this piece is a centering of Black women in an attempt to ask where do we see these women represented in history? What do archives from this time tell us about the visual lives of Black women? For me, it was important because the archives become the way that we remember history. The women in the images –my mother and two aunts decorated as heroes – created what I have begun to call an impossible picture. It would have been impossible for Black women to be in a military costume in this way and had they been in a war, fighting, their image might still remain undocumented. I wanted to document them to pronounce the knowing that they too fight, wage, resist and sacrifice in their own wars, in wars that there are no medals for. The tradition of dressing like an ancestor in photography is not a new one, but the importance its carries for black and diasporic people cannot be underrated.