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.
This exhibition is made possible with a grant to En Foco from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, NYS Council on the Arts, Bronx-Lebanon Hospital, and En Foco members.
Image credit: Sasha Phyars-Burgess, Angel at the Funeral from THERE (Yankee) series, 2013.
About the Artist
Sasha Phyars Burgess was born in Brooklyn, New York to Trinidadian parents, and raised in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She graduated from Bard College in 2010 with a BA in Photography where she studied with An-My Le, Tim Davis, Barbara Ess, Michael Vahrenwald, and Larry Fink. Upon graduation she worked for Larry Fink for one year before moving to Berlin, Germany and Trinidad and Tobago. She is interested in using photography education as community empowerment and photographing the African Diaspora, particularly in the Caribbean, New York, and Pennsylvania.
About the Curator
Mariamma Kambon was born in Trinidad and Tobago and moved to New York City in 2009. She holds an MFA Art (Cornell University, ’14) and a certificate in General Studies (International Center of Photography, ’10). A visual artist and cultural writer, Kambon specializes in themes of social justice, culture and identity in relation to the people of the African Diaspora.
Exhibition Location and Gallery Hours
The Mink Building
1361 Amsterdam Avenue @ West 126 street
Third Floor – Suite 340
New York, NY 10027
Check the website for opening hours
The exhibition will be on view Monday June 13 to Saturday October 1, 2016. Opening Reception is on Thursday, June 16th from 5 – 7:30pm
En Foco, Inc. supports contemporary fine art and documentary photographers of color and diverse cultures, using photography as a platform to speak on behalf of issues related to cultural equity and access. En Foco provides its photographers, curators, critics & cultural activists with forum to advocate on behalf of an inclusive cultural policy that historically has been lacking in substance. En Foco supports its constituent artists with direct and indirect funding opportunities, professional development services, curated exhibitions, publications and networking events with industry and cultural leaders. Learn more at http://www.enfoco.org and follow on facebook.com/enfoco & twitter.com/enfoco
SoHarlem, Inc. is a community-based social enterprise founded to ensure that artisans and the local community benefit from economic development in the Manhattanville Factory District. It is dedicated to forging partnerships that contribute to transforming Manhattanville’s creative spirit, cultural economy and public spaces through mentoring, training and educational programs.