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About the author

Sonia E. Barratt in profile amidst mound of hair

Sonia E. Barrett performs composites of plants, animals, elements, and people to create interventions that present their objectification and commodification; she also thinks about how to change perceptions of phenomena in “nature” that are a given. The work seeks to create new questions where there was a kind of certainty that has to do with the hegemony of normative Western European values.

Born in the UK of Jamaican and German parentage, Sonia E. Barrett grew up in Hong Kong, Zimbabwe, Cyprus, and the UK. She studied Literature at the University of St Andrews Scotland and her MFA at Transart Institute Berlin/New York. Her work unpacks the boundaries between the determined and the determining with a focus on race and gender. She makes sculptural works so she can run her hands along the fissures and manifest strategies for multiple compatible existences and mourn. Her sculptural practice includes place-making with a view to assembling communities under the threat of climate change to (Re-)claim space as well as instituting permanently. Sonia is a MacDowell fellow and has been recognised by the Premio Ora prize, NY Art-Slant showcase for sculpture, and the Neo Art Prize. Her website is at: https://www.sebarrett.com/.

 

 

 

 

 

Imprint
Date
30 November 2020
Review status
Peer Reviewed (Editorial Group)
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Cite as
Sonia E. Barrett, "Beyond Interspecies Objectification", British Art Studies, Issue 18, https://doi.org/10.17658/issn.2058-5462/issue-18/sebarratt
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Beyond Interspecies Objectification
DOI Figure 1

Sonia E. Barrett, Table No. 6, 2013, wood and metal.
Digital image courtesy of Bruno Weiss (all rights reserved).

DOI

These sculptures are an intervention in the furnished spaces of multigenerational European wealth dating back to the eighteenth century. They respond to the great estates in the UK, the USA, and the Caribbean that have been part of my research.

I, my name, and countless others are a product of these kinds of estates.

DOI Figure 2

Sonia E. Barrett, Chair No.33, 2016, wingback chair.
Digital image courtesy of Bruno Weiss (all rights reserved).

DOI

These works reveal comfortable spaces uncomfortably.

They disrupt the furnished rest that happened in them. The furnished rest of the visitor’s eye in what are now roped-off spaces in great houses. The furnished rest in certain gentlemen’s clubs, educational institutions, and establishment boardrooms.

These spaces are full of mahogany, carved and embellished to the Queen Anne style.

DOI Figure 3

Sonia E. Barrett, Still from Furniture Performance 17, 2013.
Digital image courtesy of Bruno Weiss (all rights reserved).

DOI Figure 4

Sonia E. Barrett, Fanon’s Bed: Being the Bed and Getting “Beauty Sleep”, 2013, video still.
Digital image courtesy of Bruno Weiss (all rights reserved).

DOI

I researched Queen Anne style and found it is the most revived form of furniture style in Europe. I started performing this furniture and discovered that my brown, floored fist translated into the lion paw of these chairs and tables. When I paired these legs, they started to look like black and brown feet.

DOI Figure 5

Sonia E. Barrett, Table No. 6, 2013, wood and metal.
Digital image courtesy of Bruno Weiss (all rights reserved).

DOI

My process involves sitting with furniture that is made up of trees ripped from the Tropics and shipped in the same ways that people were in the triangular trade.

The profits from slavery and the profits from tropical hardwoods created the excess wealth, which enabled the extravagant furnishings we see in so many great houses.

I sit with, and not on, until I know what the chair or table wants to articulate, wants to do or share.

Often the chair, table, or tray becomes a singular body. One that stands for many that we cannot find, name, know, or hear from—all as a result of slavery.

DOI Figure 6

Sonia E. Barrett, Table No. 2, 2014, rope, table, and packing foam.
Digital image courtesy of Bruno Weiss (all rights reserved).

DOI

My research in Crime Fiction theory led me to understand the cathartic value of the single knowable victim and perpetrator in the face of many unknown bodies and multiple causes of death.

These “corpses” hover in their materiality and form between the plant (tropical tree/wood), the person (black or brown figure), the animal (lion feet/leather), and the object (chair/table). The plants, persons, and species that were ripped from their homes are objectified in stately homes.

DOI Figure 7

Sonia E. Barrett, Table No. 2, 2014, rope, table, and packing foam.
Digital image courtesy of Bruno Weiss (all rights reserved).

DOI

Without words, some works voice multi-species trauma, the impossibility of escape, the defiance, the resistance, the labour of living.

The wholly undepicted.

The works are often “corpse popping”—expanding the ideas of what passes for the living and what can be mourned.

Embodying their own response to the totality of the devastation that enabled the great house and its estate. 

The “body” should be laid in the drawing and reception rooms of the great house, reconstructing them as the scenes of the crimes. I consider this placement of the work to be part of the intervention.

DOI

I have been working towards such an intervention for four years now. Mostly, I have been dealing with the UK’s biggest landowners in attempts to return these bodies without success. Up until now, the works have intervened in galleries, outside villas, and festival off-spaces, speaking to those furnished houses from afar.

Only this year did it dawn on me that trying to situate this work in the great house is perhaps my attempt to belong. Within many Indigenous societies, to create a grave somewhere is to enter into a sacred contract with that site. A contract that requires a commitment and labour that is lifelong, that is to be passed down to the next generation. I realised I don’t know if I am ready for that. Close to my goal now, I find I hesitate.

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