Theaster Gates on how his new show was inspired by the eviction of 45 people from an island in Maine

Posted in Arts, Europe, History, Interviews, Media Archive, United States on 2019-02-11 01:14Z by Steven

Theaster Gates on how his new show was inspired by the eviction of 45 people from an island in Maine

The Art Newspaper
2019-02-01

Anna Swansom

Theaster Gates
Theaster Gates ©Theaster Gates; Photo: Julian Salinas

The Chicago-based artist’s exhibition in Paris examines the forced removal in 1911 of the inhabitants of Malaga Island

The US artist Theaster Gates has taken the eviction of a mixed-race community from a small island in Maine as the starting point for his first solo exhibition in France, opening this month at the Palais de Tokyo. In 1912, 45 people from Malaga Island were evicted by the state authorities and eight of them were committed to the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded following the state’s purchase of the island in 1911. The island, a poor fishing village of black, white and mixed-race people, was ridiculed in a Maine newspaper as a “strange community” of “peculiar people”; its eviction has recently been described by a US documentary as having been motivated by economics, racism, eugenics and political retribution.

Through new works including sculptures, a film and a video, the Chicago-based artist has developed the wide-ranging project and exhibition, Amalgam, which explores the complexity of interraciality and migratory histories. The show has been organised by Katell Jaffrès and has received support from Regen Projects, Richard Gray Gallery and White Cube.

The Art Newspaper: How did you become interested in the history of Malaga Island and how did this lead to Amalgam?

Theaster Gates: I had started a residency in 2017 at Colby College in Maine and was visiting a friend who said there was this important, not well-known history about this island that used to have black and mixed-race people that were evicted. We were in a boat and he suggested having lobsters on the adjacent island before checking it out. So I learned of it quite leisurely and then started to do research.

The idea of interracial mixing led to the creation of a sculptural form, “amalgam”: a by-product of what happens when one artistic form from history meets another one to create a new kind of work. I wanted to create a bridge that would make people more curious about this island and for people who are of mixed race and from backgrounds where their parents are of different religions, I wanted Malaga to be a place where all mixes felt that they had a home. The beauty of mixing is one of the cornerstones of the exhibition…

Read the interview article here.

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Only history maligns Malaga Island

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, United States on 2014-11-09 22:33Z by Steven

Only history maligns Malaga Island

The Portland Press Herald
Portland, Maine
2014-10-26

Dierdre Fleming, Outdoor Reporter

The Casco Bay island’s future needn’t be lost in a painful past marked by intolerance.

MALAGA ISLAND — The tragic story of Malaga Island has been told many times since the tiny isle off Phippsburg was sold in 2001 to the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and archaeologists began to unearth the remains of its disenfranchised community.

But there’s still much pain for the descendants of Malaga Island, despite the fact this wild, pristine island in the Gulf of Maine is now visited by boaters and coastal hikers.

“I hope as time goes on it becomes easier for people to talk about, because the island as a physical place does carry a lot of significance to the descendants,” said Kate McMahon, a doctoral student at Howard University, who gives historic tours on the island for the Heritage Trust.

“It’s really important to them. It’s important to them that the kiosk on the island … presents the history of the island in a respectful way, because it’s a living memorial to them. It’s the only thing they have left of the people that lived here.”

During the mid-1860s a small, racially diverse community inhabited the north end of the island to fish and eke out a living as many coastal communities did back then. The community grew to 40 islanders by the early 20th century.

In 1912 the state, in the interest of growing tourism along the coast, evicted the residents, who included black, white and interracial families. In addition, relatives buried on the island were exhumed and re-interred at the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded, now the site of Pineland Farms. Another eight residents were institutionalized there against their will.

A century later, in 2010, a ceremony was held on the island at which Gov. John Baldacci publicly apologized for his predecessors’ decision in 1912…

Read the entire article here.

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Malaga Island: A century of shame

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, United States on 2012-07-02 00:25Z by Steven

Malaga Island: A century of shame

Maine Sunday Telegram
2012-05-20

Colin Woodard, Staff Writer

A new exhibit at the Maine State Museum tells the story of the eviction of Malaga Island’s residents, one of the state’s most disgraceful official acts ever.

AUGUSTA — A century ago this spring, Maine Gov. Frederick Plaisted oversaw the destruction of a year-around fishing hamlet on Malaga Island, a 42-acre island in the New Meadows River, just off the Phippsburg shore. The island’s 40 residents—white, black and mixed race—were ordered to leave the island, and to take their homes with them, else they would be burned. A fifth of the population was incarcerated on questionable grounds at the Maine School for the Feebleminded in New Gloucester, where most spent the rest of their lives. The island schoolhouse was dismantled and relocated to Louds Island in Muscongus Bay.

Leaving no stone unturned, state officials dug up the 17 bodies in the island cemetery, distributed them into five caskets and buried them at the School of the Feebleminded—now Pineland Farms—where they remain today.

Several islanders spent the rest of their lives in this state-run mental institution. One couple, Robert and Laura Darling Tripp, floated from place to place in a makeshift houseboat, but, unwelcomed, wound up moored to another scrap of an island. Malnourished, Laura fell sick during a gale; when her husband returned with help, he found the couple’s two children clinging to her lifeless body. Many others suffered from the stigma of being associated with the island.

“After the island was cleared, people did not really want to talk about this incident, especially the descendants, because to raise your hand and say you were from Malaga supposedly meant you were feebleminded or had black blood in you or both,” said Rob Rosenthal, whose 2009 radio documentary “Malaga: A Story Better Left Untold” helped draw attention to what is one of the most disgraceful official acts in our state’s history. “Nobody wanted to declare that.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Tough lessons in CTC’s play about community destruction

Posted in Articles, Arts, Audio, History, Media Archive, United States on 2012-03-16 01:13Z by Steven

Tough lessons in CTC’s play about community destruction

MPR News
Minnesota Public Radio
2012-03-15

Nikki Tundel, Reporter

St. Paul, Minn. — A century-old story of discrimination is the basis for a world premiere production opening Friday in Minneapolis.

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy” is the Children’s Theatre Company’s adaption of the real-life events of a forbidden friendship during the social segregation of 1912.

It’s a dark tale. But it’s one the theater company believes should be shared – especially with school children.

Actress Traci Allen was a bit wary when she first heard of Minnesota’s Children’s Theatre Company.

“I’m thinking of puppets and, ‘Hello, boys and girls,'” Allen pantomimed before a recent rehearsal.

Her preconceived notion didn’t last long. Today, she is the lead in the CTC’s “Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.” The children’s play wrestles with various adult themes, from economic turmoil to mortality.

Twenty-six-year-old Allen plays 13-year-old Lizzie. When afternoon rehearsal begins, she’s mourning the death of her grandfather in a song.

The story chronicles the forbidden friendship between Lizzie, who is black, and Turner Buckminster, who is white. It highlights the challenges they face in socially segregated 1912.

“Is there transition music there?” asks CTC artist director Peter Brosius, who directs the play.

The production is based on a Newbery Award-winning book [by Gary D. Schmidt], which in turn is based on the real-life history of Phippsburg, Maine. When the small coastal town was hit by an economic downtown, community leaders looked to the nearby island of Malaga to solve their financial woes.

“The idea,” said Brosius, “Was that the population that was on Malaga, which was a black and mixed-race population, should be removed from that island and that both the coastline and Malaga be turned into a resort. What happened, in fact, was the island was evacuated, people’s homes were moved.”…

Read the entire article and listen to the audio here.

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Malaga Island: A Brief History

Posted in Anthropology, History, Media Archive, Papers/Presentations, Social Science, United States on 2010-03-06 19:50Z by Steven

Malaga Island: A Brief History

Compiled by the Students of ES 203 Service Learning Project
Bowdoin College
2003

Adrienne Heflich

Anna Troyansky

Samantha Farrell

Malaga Island is located in Casco Bay, near the mouth of the New Meadows River, and is roughly a half-mile long by a quarter-mile wide in size. It sits approximately one hundred yards from the mainland of Phippsburg. Malaga Island, which means “cedar” in the Abnaki Indian language, is heavily wooded, and has been uninhabited since 1912. The island is rich in archaeological deposits from its past residents. Remains from the pre-colonial Indian and Malagaite mixed-race settlements are largely unexcavated and are believed to be remarkably intact. Currently local fishermen use the island for lobster-trap storage.

Malaga Island was a very unique community. The black and mixed-race population of individuals and families was an anomaly in a state over 99% white. The concentration of minorities in the Malaga Island community caused fear and uneasiness in neighboring white communities on the mainland. Drifters and outsiders of mainland communities, both black and white, settled there in the mid-1800s. By 1900 the population had peaked at 42 individuals and interracial marriages were common on the island. Save for its racial diversity, Malaga resembled most other poor fishing communities on the Maine coast.

The Malagaites’ main source of income was subsistence fishing and limited farming. Tensions rose over issues of resource use as the Malagaites’ fishing directly competed with the economy on the mainland. More importantly, their dark skin, questionable morals, and apparent idleness (all thoroughly exaggerated in biased local and regional press) aroused suspicion and antipathy. In efforts to address the Malaga “problem”, in 1903 a missionary family established an informal school on Malaga in attempts to “reform” the inhabitants. The school was funded at first by private donations, and subsequently subsidized by state funding.

Tensions between the mainland and the island rose significantly at the turn of the century along with the burgeoning tourism industry on the Maine coast; Malaga was an eyesore for the mainland. Harpswell and Phippsburg disavowed jurisdiction over the community and the island was identified as “No Man’s Land,” becoming a ward of the state. In 1912, Governor Plaisted evicted the community of Malaga from their land and homes. Resettlement was prohibited and many Malagaites lacking the means to move elsewhere, were displaced to the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded in Pineland. Some Malagaites strapped their houses to rafts and drifted up and down the river in search of a safe port. However, they were unwanted and stigmatized by the events of 1912. Private owners eventually bought the island, and possession shifted hands numerous times before it was finally acquired by MCHT.

The diaspora of the Malagaites remains a dark chapter in Maine and local history.  Descendents still bear the stigma of their infamous ancestors. An unspoken code of silence still remains, perhaps out of shame, perhaps out of ignorance. Myth still surrounds the factual events. It is hoped that in the near future, the Malagaite and precolonial Indian archeological remains will be excavated, undoubtedly unearthing a very fascinating history.

Read the entire paper here.

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Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Novels, United States on 2010-03-05 18:12Z by Steven

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Clarion Books an Imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
2004-05-24
224 pages
Trim Size: 5.50 x 8.25
Hardcover ISBN-13/EAN: 9780618439294 ; $15.00
Hardcover ISBN-10: 0618439293

Gary D. Schmidt, Professor of English
Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Winner of the Newbery Honor and Printz Honor.

It only takes a few hours for Turner Buckminster to start hating Phippsburg, Maine. No one in town will let him forget that he’s a minister’s son, even if he doesn’t act like one. But then he meets Lizzie Bright Griffin, a smart and sassy girl from a poor nearby island community founded by former slaves. Despite his father’s-and the town’s-disapproval of their friendship, Turner spends time with Lizzie, and it opens up a whole new world to him, filled with the mystery and wonder of Maine’s rocky coast. The two soon discover that the town elders, along with Turner’s father, want to force the people to leave Lizzie’s island so that Phippsburg can start a lucrative tourist trade there. Turner gets caught up in a spiral of disasters that alter his life-but also lead him to new levels of acceptance and maturity. This sensitively written historical novel, based on the true story of a community’s destruction, highlights a unique friendship during a time of change. Author’s note.

Read a book review by the 7th grade students at Bath Middle School in Bath, Maine here.

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Malaga Island’s place in Maine history preserved

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, New Media, Social Science, United States on 2010-03-05 17:57Z by Steven

Malaga Island’s place in Maine history preserved

The Times Record
Published: 2009-08-18, 18:08Z

Seth Koenig, Times Record Staff

PHIPPSBURG — The site of perhaps the most striking case of racial injustice in Maine history was the focus of a Saturday ceremony aimed at preserving the land and its lessons for future generations.

Malaga Island, off the coast of Phippsburg, has never been a lavish resort community. But that was what state leaders envisioned as a future for the island in 1911 and 1912, when they set forth a calculated plan to forcibly displace a community of poor, largely black or mixed-race people who lived there.

On Saturday, representatives of Maine Freedom Trails Inc., the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Maine Coast Heritage Trust joined archaeologists, historians and descendants of evicted island residents to announce that the 41-acre island has been added to the Maine Freedom Trails’ list of significant places…

Read the entire article here.

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Malaga Island: A Story Best Left Untold

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States, Videos on 2010-03-05 16:51Z by Steven

Malaga Island: A Story Best Left Untold

WMPG-FM (Portland, Maine) and The Salt Institute
2009

Rob Rosenthal, Radio Producer

Kate Philbrick, Photographer

WMPG-FM, in collaboration with the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, announces the premier of “Malaga Island: A Story Best Left Untold”, a radio and photo documentary recounting this infamous event and its impact on several generations of descendants. The documentary is produced by Kate Philbrick, photographer, and Rob Rosenthal, radio producer.

On July 1st, 1912, George Pease took a short boat ride over to Malaga Island, just off the coast of Phippsburg, Maine. Pease landed the boat then probably stood on the shell-covered beach at the north end of the island. What he found may have surprised him.

Pease went to Malaga that day as an agent of the state of Maine. It was his job to carry out the final steps of a state-sponsored eviction. Pease was there to clean out the island – to make sure everyone who lived there was gone and to burn down their houses. But there was no one there. Malaga was empty.

Malaga is a small island, about 40 acres. It’s covered with tall pine and spruce trees, the shores are rocky – it’s really a “textbook” Maine island. No one lives on Malaga today but, in 1912, there was a village of about 45 people. A few of the families had lived on the island for decades raising children and scraping a living from the ocean. Malaga was home.

The settlement was poor and families struggled – like most fishing communities on the Maine coast one hundred years ago. What made Malaga different was the people. Black, white, and mixed-race families lived on the island. And that set them apart. Far apart…

…And, descendants of the evicted islanders have largely remained silent, too. The local stigma of mixed-blood and “feeblemindedness” attached to the island and descendents is still present – even today. In fact, some say Malaga is a story best left untold…

Read the entire article here.
View a short video here.

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