“But from early, the planters gave the slaves plots of land on which to grow food to feed themselves in order to maximize profits. We suggest that this plot system, was, like the novel form in literature terms, the focus of resistance to the market system and market values.  This culture created traditional values – use values. This folk culture became a source of cultural guerilla resistance to the plantation system.”[1]

Sylvia Wynter

(Bush) Tea Plots – A Decolonial Patch

The site where I live, a dairy farm originally operational as a 17th-century sugarcane plantation, provides critical contexts for my practice. This work developed out of my series of wild plant drawings on plantation ledger pages and the performative installation, (Bush) Tea Services. The latter references the British tradition of drinking tea with sugar, products grown on plantations in the East and West Indies, yet recognizes alternate covert Afro-spiritual, bush tea customs.

(Bush) Tea Plots acknowledges rituals practiced by the enslaved of boiling and drinking (Bush) tea. Tea was brewed from locally grown wild plants harvested in small plots, hedgerows, and gullies, and consumed for medicinal, spiritual and healing properties. The work creates visibility of near extinct (Bush) tea practices, appreciating biodiversity through dormant wild botanicals now resurfacing in abandoned sugarcane fields.

Nature is observed as a radical maneuver against the
singular model of the plantation.

(Bush) Tea Plots demonstrates the traditional importance of (Bush) tea practices as a valuable – if disappearing – knowledge base, linked to botanical diversity, challenging the historical imposition of a single colonizer/crop/language. The work looks to nature as a regenerative biosphere with tools for healing at the agricultural, botanical and psycho-spiritual levels. The glass planter showing the soil profile, allows the viewer to appreciate the rhizosphere providing a nurturing environment in which a specially curated selection of medicinal plants with healing properties may flourish.

This living apothecary speaks to an increase in biodiversity on the island as a result of the demise of the sugar industry. In an attempt to mitigate risks inherent with monocultural farming practices which leads to biodiversity loss, increasing the knowledge and cultivation of native and medicinal plants proliferates the island’s biodiverse landscape while teaching resilience by using what’s readily available in our environment rather than only relying on imported pharmaceuticals.

This live restorative plot–an apothecary of resistance–installed at the EBCCI for the Risk and Resilience 2019 conference, includes mobile accessibility via a QR code linked to a web platform.

bushteaplots.wordpress.com provides supporting educational content, interlacing technologies to connect data, post-plantation economies, ecology, botany, history, and art practice. This curative space has been collaboratively brought to life through the combination of art practice, landscape architecture, and botany.

Gratitude to Kevin Talma and Ras Ils for being such generous co-conspirators. Special thanks to Janot Mendler de Suarez and Pablo Suarez for facilitating the realisation of this project and to Dr. Sean Carrington, UWI, for sharing his wealth of knowledge on wild plants in Barbados and for donating the Wonder World /  Kalanchoe pinnata to the project. Most of the other plants were nurtured by Ras Ils at Peg Farms, Easy Hall, St. Joseph, Barbados.

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Header Diagram: Kevin Talma.

Slideshow Images: Courtesy of Annalee Davis and Janot Mendler de Suarez

[1] Wynter, Sylvia. “Novel and History, Plot and Plantation”. Savacou 5 (June 1971)