Bodies Drawn In and by Water

There has been a long conversation in Caribbean Studies about the oceanic imaginary in which the sea represents simultaneous origins and the future (of climate change); a sacred space of the orishas and ancestors; the fluidity of identity; the maternal body; the terrors of the Middle Passage and Kala Pani; and the more recent refugee experiences of balseros and botpippel. I place these conversations in relation to feminist theorist Astrida Neimanis’s universal claim that “we are all bodies of water, in the constitutional, the genealogical, and the geographical sense.” I examine theories of embodied fluidity and flow in relation to the ontological turn to wet matter at a critical moment of sea-level rise in the Anthropocene. I bring together the visual work of Caribbean artists María Magdalena Campos-Pons (Cuba/US) and Deborah Jack (St Martin/US) in relation to their differing visual allegories of oceanic embodiment. Cold war legacies have long rendered the planetary ocean as an “inner space” counter to an extraterritorial “outer space.” Telescoping between the scales of climate change and weather, and between outer and inner space, the paper explores the ways in which these two women artists render allegories of the Anthropocene as well as embodied sea ontologies emerging “in the wake” of Black Atlantic crossings.

Elizabeth DeLoughrey is a professor in the Department of English and the Institute of the Environment at University of California, Los Angeles. She is the author of Routes and Roots: Navigating Caribbean and Pacific Literatures (2007) and Allegories of the Anthropocene (2019), which examines climate change and empire in the literary and visual arts. She is co-editor of the volumes Caribbean Literature and the Environment: Between Nature and Culture (2005), Postcolonial Ecologies: Literatures of the Environment (2011) and Global Ecologies and the Environmental Humanities: Postcolonial Approaches (2015) and of numerous journal issues on critical ocean and island studies.