La Vaughn Belle has created art with paper plates, coral stones from the sea, Styrofoam, video and dance, as well as the traditional media such as oil paints and charcoal.
This year, Belle’s medium of choice for an oversized installation in a New York City mall was a digital collage on vinyl.
The latest work, titled “For Those of Us Who Live at the Shoreline,” comprises painted vinyl sections of coastline plants intertwined with human images – all part of the ecosystem – and “Chaney,” made of eight panels of oil paintings on wood. The painted vinyl sections of coastline plants intertwined with human images, all a part of the ecosystem.
The chaney paintings are lined up along a white wall in the office building/mall near the World Trade Center, and the vinyl pieces are installed in an empty storefront. The artwork will be on display until Nov. 13.
Belle doesn’t shy away from complicated projects – her grandest work spans the Atlantic. She and Danish artist Jeannette Ehlers teamed up to create a sculpture, “I am Queen Mary,” to memorialize Denmark’s colonial impact on the territory and to mark the Virgin Islands’ centennial in 2017. Queen Mary, born Mary Thomas, was a leader in the Fireburn labor revolt in 1878. To protest working and living conditions, plantation workers burned down most of Frederiksted and a number of St. Croix plantations.
After using Belle and Ehlers’ bodies, scanned and merged, the figure for the sculpture was carved out of large blocks of polystyrene and covered by many coats of paint and sealants. The base is one and a half tons of coral stones gathered by Belle from historic properties she owns.
The image, dedicated in March 2018, rests in front of the West India warehouse on the Copenhagen waterfront. The final image will be cast in bronze,
Belle’s upcoming challenge begins next week at the National Nordic Museum in Seattle. “A History of Unruly Returns” will run until Jan. 3. It features six of the chaney panels, a talk by Belle and a screening of “We Carry it Within Us,” a film about the relationship between Denmark and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The video was shown on St. John at the Bajo el Sol Gallery in 2018, hosted by the filmmaker Helle Stenum. Belle was one of the people interviewed by Stenum to talk about perspectives from that time period.
Born in Tobago, Belle has lived in the Virgin Islands since she was five months old. She lived in Cuba for 14 years and attended art school. She spent three months in Denmark during the creation of “I Am Queen Mary.”
The Cuba program was difficult because although she had an undergraduate degree, in literature and sociology from Columbia University, she didn’t have a degree in the arts. She also had to learn to speak and write Spanish quickly and did so well enough to serve as a translator for her classmates. She completed the program and learned to love the people and the city of Havana.
“I had enough Spanish to get a boyfriend and convince them I could do the program,” Belle said. She returned to St. Croix in 2008.