My work examines the complexities of place, ecology, memory, and the constant search for “home.” Specifically I am interested in understanding the ways that we inhabit place – through migration, ancestry, and shared social memory — and how place inhabit us. This interplay between landscapes and human subjectivity is evident in the ways that I use my own body as a staging ground for re-membering my families’ experiences of loss, dispossession and the persistent struggle to make a place for oneself in the world. I am particularly interested in examining these questions through the experiences of female ancestors and elders whose stories are often disappeared in both family histories and official historical narratives of how places, economies, and histories are made.
Courtney Desiree Morris – Sugar House Road
The piece, Sugar House Road, comes from my first collection, Soil, which reconceptualizes my paternal family’s relationship to the agroindustrial landscapes of south Florida, specifically the sugarcane fields surrounding Belle Glade, which attracted thousands of labor migrants from the Anglophone Caribbean from the mid-1950s through the 1980s. This work is a meditation on the fraught connections between blackness, labor, migration and the multiple afterlives of slavery throughout the African Diaspora. In one sense, the work is an effort to excavate the stories of Caribbean labor migrants whose labor in the cane fields has gone largely unrecognized in the region’s history. Beyond that, however, the series uncovers the kinds of sacred memory that structures the historical continuities between contemporary labor migration and colonial systems of enslaved labor in the process of industrialized sugar production. As one of the first truly global commodities, sugar has played a central role in the making of the modern world. Soil attempts to re-narrate that drama by focusing on the stories of ancestors and everyday workers, past and present.
Courtney Desiree Morris – Destruction of Roehampton
In January 2019, I completed Colly Comes Home, a series that examines my relationship with my father via his relationship to our ancestral home sites in Montego Bay, May Pen, and Mandeville, Jamaica. This series revisits my father’s memories of growing up in these communities, his family stories of migration throughout the island, and the connection to the island’s colonial slave past. The series weaves together landscape photography, portraiture, and architectural photography to consider how the colonizer’s narrative of the world and the counter-histories of exploitation and striving by the formerly enslaved exist in a precarious tension. This work was published in the travel magazine, Stranger’s Guide. The Destruction of the Roehampton Estate is part of this series. The piece’s name is derived from the 1833 lithograph, Destruction of the Roehampton Estate, by Adolphe Duperly, a French printer who established one of the first photography studios in Kingston. The print documents the participation of enslaved men and women held at the estate in the 1831 Baptist Rebellion that swept the island’s western parishes during the Christmas holidays.
I work primarily in the fields of large-format portrait and landscape photography, experimental video, and performance art. I am drawn to these mediums because of the ways that they allow me to engage and play with my family’s history by performatively inhabiting the stories of my childhood and imaginatively filling in the gaps where “facts” are either unknown or in dispute. Photography and video are critical tools for providing viewers with a deep sense of place and historicity that defines all of my work. Alternatively, performance functions as a kind of time-traveling technology where I can revisit and restage sites of ancestral memory, interrogate the present, and imagine new kinds of social and environmental futures.