Candice Baldwin, Africville: Reverberations, 2006-2007. 9 digitally recomposed photographs, 35.56 x 35.56 cm.
Bringing pictures of family and friends into the living room is an important symbolic reminder of who we are. They are visual representations of who we are connected to, the experiences that we’ve shared with people, and the places that are important to us because they represent where we come from and where we are. People and shared experiences can create feelings of belonging and the sensation of ‘home.’
Family portraits provide powerful insight into the life and culture of the family. In this work, family is referenced in a broad sense. Family can be a group of people held together by social, cultural, and geographical bonds, as much as by biological ones. Family can also be a community of people. These pictures can show the proud and happy moments that the family has shared, but they can also be a testament to the family’s challenges and traumas. What the family has lived through; what has galvanized the family and what has marked or injured the family.
On the wall in the Living Room, 9 portraits by Candice Baldwin tell the story of some of Africville’s families and the bonds that continue to hold a community together decades after the destruction of their homes, the relocation of their families, and the dispersion of their cultural, social, and spiritual community. Taken in 2004, each portrait shows a person or family who used to live in Africville. Each photo consists of two seperate images that were made transparent in Photoshop, and then layered on top of each other. One layer is a photograph of the former home-site in Seaview Gardens Memorial Park taken in 2004 – located where Africville used to be. This location was determined by referring to maps in various archives, as well as the memory of the person being photographed. The second layer is a photograph of the person or family standing in front of their home’s front door. Baldwin says that she chose to layer the images in this way to show how, through a process described by Jane Jacobs as ‘cultural amnesia,’ African Nova Scotians are being erased from Halifax’s geography as well as the history of Nova Scotia’s founding communities. Accompanying the portraits in the Living Room is an aerial photograph of Africville taken by Bob Brooks around 1965 shortly before the community was razed. This photograph is from the Nova Scotia Archive. Mr. Irvine Carvery visited the Living Room on October 13th and spent time writing in the names of landmarks and the family names of residences that he could recall.
Candice Baldwin, an artist of mixed afro-Caribbean descent who grew up moving around the interior of British Columbia, made this work while she was a student at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. This series of portraits was developed in partnership with residents of Africville, in particular Honey Carvery, resulting from a project in 2004 where Baldwin and former Africville residents worked to locate where they had lived over a half century prior. The aim of the project was to make visible Africville’s diaspora in the landscape of the greater Halifax and Nova Scotia geography. This portrait series illustrates the social cohesion and emotional connections that still exist among the descendants of Africville residents, holding that community together decades after the destruction of their homes and geographic community.
Africville was founded in 1798, when several Jamaican Maroons settled on the shores of the Bedford Basin. A few decades later, Black Loyalists would join this community after fighting in the War of 1812. Over the years, former slaves from the United States would seek refuge in Canada, eventually settling in Africville. This was a self-sufficient community of African descendants who had their own school, their own church, and general store among other amenities. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, the city of Halifax began expropriating land from Africville for rail roads, a stone-crushing plant, a garbage dump, an infectious disease hospital, and a sewage treatment facility that released raw sewage into the water that Africville residents accessed daily. Throughout the twentieth century, despite the taxes paid by residents, Africville was not connected to the city’s water or sewage systems, nor were any of its roads paved. It also did not benefit from any social services such as garbage removal, electricity, or police services. This is an example of environmental racism, which is defined as the placement of environmental and health hazards in an area with a high number of racially and/or economically marginalized people. This reveals how racialized and/or poor people and their communities are not valued, and how the voices of minorities are not heard or taken seriously about the environmental issues that affect the wellbeing of their communities.
After surrounding Africville with unsightly industrial complexes and denying the community any support in terms of development, during the 1950s the city of Halifax began to grumble about Africville, calling it a “slum” and an “eye sore.” The city council entered into discussions about destroying Africville, despite pleas from its residents to instead invest and upgrade the community. Between 1965 and 1970, Africville was bulldozed. Some of its residents paid the paltry sum of $500 for their property and then either relocated to public housing in Halifax, or, in some cases, moved to other areas of the province entirely.