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Ashanti Harris

'History Haunts the Body'


1 July – 31 December 2020

Ashanti Harris’ ‘History Haunts the Body’ (2020) is a continuation of the artist’s research into the historical relationship between Guyana, where the artist was born, and Scotland, the artist’s home, taking in the ignored and forgotten legacies of a historical, female diaspora.

Guyana was subject to British colonial rule for over two centuries, during which time the country’s sugar plantations in Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice were worked by enslaved African people and governed predominantly by wealthy Scots. This colonial control led to movement between the two countries; a history that remains largely unexplored, particularly the presence of Afro-Caribbean women across Scotland.

‘History Haunts the Body’ tells the stories of four Guyanese women who, along with their children, were part of Scottish society in the 18th and 19th centuries. Their complex histories are recounted by a single female voice, accompanied by outdoor rural and coastal soundscapes recorded in various locations where the women were known to have lived or visited. A soundscape recorded at Cromarty Harbour in the Black Isle provides a transportive undercurrent to the audio narration from beginning to end. A low mechanical hum – the sound of a ship approaching and passing by the harbour – grows in intensity throughout the duration of the work and acts as a kind of chronos, folding together the present with the past.

The work is intended as a process of physically embodying and revivifying these histories as they literally enter into the body through the act of listening. A second voice guides the listener through a series of physical awareness and body-centring exercises as a way of holding, internalising and meditating on these women’s extraordinary lived experiences.

This second voice acts as a calming presence, offering relaxation techniques and reminding listeners to "breathe", contrasting the often difficult and challenging facts of these women’s lives. The voice could also be heard as speaking directly to the women in the stories; providing notes of care, support and resilience as they face the violence of colonial rule and the punitive realities of Imperial society in Scotland and the Caribbean at this time.

Harris will present a live monologue and sound performance ‘Virgo’(2020) via Instagram Live on Thursday 3 September 2020. ‘Virgo’ draws deeper into the artist's research of the life of Elizabeth ‘Eliza’ Junor (1804–61), one of the four Guyanese women whose history in colonial Guyana and Scotland is introduced through this audio work.

With thanks to Adebusola Ramsay, David Alston and Jen Martin.

Mastering by Stephan Mathieu /
Schwebung Mastering.
Design by Maeve Redmond.

Ashanti Harris – 'Virgo'

Part of 'In the open'