To stand in front of one of the photographs made by emerging photographer, Sasha Phyars-Burgess, is to stand at the point where documentary and art collide. In line with the wave of photographers creating imagery from positions of marginality, Phyars-Burgess has made use of the technology of photography as a tool for self-reflexivity and self-redefinition. She has examined aspects of contemporary Trinidadian life from the vantage point of a first-generation American grounded in the culture of this distant, yet familiar nation.
The Caribbean is a region marked by centuries of coerced migration and trade. Restless descendants of the displaced, in a perpetual ode to the yearning from which they were born, relentlessly traverse ocean and sky in search of a promised land. Communities bearing island idiosyncrasies spring up on the outskirts of northern, metropolitan hubs. A new generation comes into existence with half of their understanding rooted in a place that is already proxy to another. Home seems to always be a fat, salty ocean away.
Born in Brooklyn to Trinbagonian parents, Sasha Phyars-Burgess belongs to this freshly misplaced generation. Her life contains elements as foreign to her American neighbors as they are to her Trinbagonian cousins. With her series THERE (Yankee), Phyars-Burgess has turned her camera to her secondary home, Trinidad and Tobago, in search of a reflection of herself.
On the island, anyone with an American accent is called “yankee” and this was the nickname given to her by her straight-talking cousins. Although it is a part of her, Sasha still refers to Trinidad and Tobago as “there.”
With this series, she has stripped away the intoxicating colors of the Caribbean to leave us with nothing but stark, geometrical representations. She plays with the unrelenting, equatorial sunlight to cut high-contrast forms out of her chosen landscape. The folks who courageously respond to Sasha’s inquiring lens confront viewers with a version of everyday existence that will surprise those who think they know what to expect. Complexity overrides the exhausted trope of carefree islanders dwelling in a simplistic and timeless paradise. Out of gestures of play and mourning, worship and solitude, a quiet, palpable substantiality emerges.
Written by Mariamma Kambon