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Portraits in/between Black and White: Traumatic Performativity and Postmemory in a Jamaican Family Album

Campbell, PGW (2015) Portraits in/between Black and White: Traumatic Performativity and Postmemory in a Jamaican Family Album. REPERTÓRIO: Teatro & Dança, 2015.1. ISSN 1415-3203


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In 2014 a collection of photographs and documents pertaining to my paternal forebears, the Campbell family of Jamaica, emerged. This archive, which charts the diasporic dislocation and social ascendency of my Jamaican family over eight generations, had almost been destroyed by my Welsh grandmother and had sat forgotten in the attic of my cousin’s house in Florida for over a decade. It traces the cosmopolitan history and transcultural experiences of my ancestors – free men and women of colour – in eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century Jamaica. Whilst the documentation clearly reflects the family’s emerging financial autonomy and cosmopolitan expertise – fruit of an espousal of Enlightenment aspirations throughout the Americas at the time, which benefitted the region’s Black and coloured populations – the increasing whiteness of my ancestors and their adoption of Europeanised fashion, mores and attitudes across generations reflects the troubling way in which they were also complicit in the racialised prejudices of Empire, slowly assuming an elitist (post) colonial identity predicated on an erasure of their African Caribbean heritage. During this article, I want to reflect on the traces of negation, negotiation and performativity present in the archival documents, looking at how they challenge binary accounts of Jamaican history that marginalise the experience and agency of the country’s coloured population. I also want to draw on Marianne Hirsch’s concept of postmemory in order to explore the way in which I – a white, British, middle class academic – have de/reconstructed my own sense of self through an encounter with this hidden family album.

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