Selected for Red Hook Labs’ New Artists programme, the photographer reflects on the complicated intersections of identity, family, and diaspora
“I’ve been thinking a lot about what home is – how people feel about the subject, and what thought is triggered upon hearing the word. The black body has repeatedly been robbed of the idea of a home. In terms of the family history that brought me to be seated on the bus with my notebook today, I’m a second-generation black British Jamaican African. At the end of 2017, I came to the realisation that Jamaica was only ever a stop-off in my ancestral history. For hundreds of years, black people have inhabited and continue to bring life to the rich, beautiful lands that make up the Caribbean. They are now forever connected. I am a Jamaican African due to the transatlantic slave trade. My lineage comes through the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, to the Caribbean Sea, and then back through the Atlantic again, towards Africa. Double-consciousness does not just exist in a western context, as in ‘black British’, ‘African American’. ‘Jamaican African’ is also an expression of black double-consciousness. It’s clear that the Caribbean ‘home’ was also part of this journey of robbery and separation from the mother continent.
“I vowed to explore my home in Jamaica as soon as I could, so I travelled there in the summer of 2018 to stay with and meet my immediate family for the first time. Some of these photographs are from the small house that my grandad grew up in, which is in the parish of Saint Catherine. To access it you have to walk a beaten trail through a jungle-like setting, over the hills and through beautiful drooping trees. You know in films when they do that montage where you’re standing there as a modern-day person and your elders are running around you, all ghost-like? That’s what overcame me. It was quite ethereal.
“Being seen as a tourist in my own ‘home’, despite my skin colour, was another interesting factor to deconstruct” – Rhea Dillon
“Jamaica is a beautiful place with beautiful people, so of course we’re proud. There’s even memes on how to spot a Jamaican: they’ll be wearing the flag on every part of their body. I cherish Jamaica’s patriotism, because for so long you weren’t allowed to be proud of being black. Now people sing for their black, gold and green. Before going out, my cousins tried to dress me down to avoid looking like a ‘tourist’. Being seen as a tourist in my own ‘home’, despite my skin colour, was another interesting factor to deconstruct.
“My friend saw (some of the pictures from the project) and said, ‘In many respects, this is a self-portrait.’ I couldn’t agree more. I went to Jamaica to discover my ancestors’ journey. Being a child of the diaspora is so much about understanding that movement. I also wanted to find an affinity with my family before my family isn’t there any more. So many of our stories have been told through caucasian people in power, not through us telling them for ourselves. When people are gone, their stories go with them. The necessity to respect and give time to hearing the stories of our elders is imperative. We live in an age when some people’s living grandparents were slaves. If this history isn’t passed down, it leaves itself open to being unwritten or, worse, rewritten.” Rhea Dillon
Rhea Dillon is one of the 25 selected artists who feature as part of Red Hook Labs' New Artists III 2019 programme and exhibition