Most notably, the artist has said that the Cuban flags in the upper register are in homage to the Black Star Line, Marcus’s Garvey’s all-black shipping corporation, which transported goods and people between Central America, the United States and the African continent. The Black Star Line’s maiden voyage, and thus the first shipping operation in history with an all-black crew and black captain, took it to Cuba, and indeed much of the funding for the ill-fated enterprise, which through a combination of mismanagement and sabotage by J Edgar Hoover’s Bureau of Investigation only lasted for three years, came from Cuban businessmen (Frank Andre Guridy, Forging Diaspora: Afro-Cubans and African Americans in a World of Empire and Jim Crow, Chapel Hill 2010, p. 79). A major symbol of black independence and the Return to Africa movement, Anderson’s reference to the Black Star Line in the present work is hugely significant. Garvey’s corporation served as an attempt to give autonomy and heritage back to an institutionally marginalised and de-historicised group, and for Anderson, a man whose parents were members of the Windrush generation, the lingering rhetorical power of this attempt must have been extremely powerful.
Indeed, the notions of diaspora and displacement are recurrent themes in Anderson’s work, as they are in Untitled. Despite the Cuban flags along the top of the painting, between the two walls we see a provincial, decidedly English-looking house, its windows lit up, providing cosy refuge against the cold. Indeed, even the flags appear to be hung on a washing line that cuts through the scene in a fashion analogous to the telegraph wire in Doig’s Daytime Astronomy. This juxtaposition of cultural signifiers is typical of Anderson’s practice. As Jennifer Higgie notes of Anderson’s work, “histories and memories intertwine; an English landscape might echo a garden in the Caribbean, and vice versa” (op. cit., p. 11). Just as when Anderson first visited Trinidad in the early 2000s he experienced a sense of both belonging and displacement – despite his having never been there before, people assumed he was a local – Untitled depicts a liminal space which seems at once familiar and alien. As Eddie Chambers noted with regard to the Welcome and Peter’s series, Anderson’s best works “depict a kind of intermediate space in which a range of elements… occupy a private universe decidedly different from that occupied by the viewer” (Ibid., p. 77). Epitomising this effect with its enigmatic composition and loaded subject matter, combined with Anderson’s masterful handling of paint, Untitled shows itself to be a work of immense quality that foreshadows many of the qualities that have brought Hurvin Anderson to international acclaim.
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