Sasha Phyars-Burgess: THERE (Yankee)
I first met Sasha Phyars-Burgess while attending the third annual New York Times Portfolio Review, and I’ve since continued to follow her work. She recently had a show at Enfco Gallery for her series THERE (Yankee), that deals with aspects of her Trinidadian heritage as a first-generation American. The title, THERE (Yankee), derives from Sasha referring to Trinidad and Tobago as “there,” and anyone with an American accent is called “Yankee” on the island. Sasha Phyars-Burgess is currently a graduate student in the MFA program at Cornell University.
Sasha shares her experience as a black photographic artist:
I am black and though at times it may seem a constricting label I have to remember that I am made up of stuff that permeates the universe. That I have ancestors that survived torture, that my parents overstayed visas and worked wiping other peoples asses for me to have the passport I have and be whoever I want to be. So I’ll keep the label. I photograph mostly black people because I photograph the people I love, because I want to hold them like keepsakes, forever, because I am possessive and forgetful, not that a camera is the best memory aid, but it does help construct the truths you want to keep (good or bad). Because it is important to be able to have a say in what you look like, to let others know that you were here once too.
Sasha Phyars-Burgess was born in Brooklyn, New York to Trinidadian parents and raised in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In 2010, she graduated with a BA in Photography from Bard College, where she studied with An-My Le, Tim Davis, Barbara Ess, Michael Vahrenwald, and Larry Fink. Upon graduation, Sasha worked for Larry Fink for one year before moving to Berlin, Germany, Trinidad and Tobago. She is interested in using photography education as community empowerment, the African diaspora, particularly in the Caribbean and Latin America, as well learning about Pennsylvania.
Mariamma Karbon from Enfoco writes about Sasha’s Work:
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. Phyars-Burgess has made use of the technology of photography as a tool for self-reflexivity and self-redefinition in line with the wave of photographers creating imagery from the margins. She has examined aspects of contemporary Trinidadian life from the vantage point of a first-generation Americans 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 traverse ocean and sky in search of a promised land in a perpetual ode to the yearning from which they were born. 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 always seems to 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.
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