In the Cunard Gallery, Joscelyn Gardner’s video installation Pinkie: “The Barbadoes Girl” (2003-4) brings to life the subject of Sir Thomas Lawrence’s 1794 painting Sarah Barrett Moulton (Pinkie) and points to the irony of this portrait’s provenance.
This Gallery contains eighteenth- and nineteenth-century images of Creole life executed by European artists whose patrons employed them to document the Caribbean landscape and its “exotic” peoples for viewers back in the mother country. The insertion of the video re-creation of this painting into this Gallery and its juxtaposition with the 1818 young people’s tale “The Barbadoes Girl” (a British-authored book from the Museum’s collection) speaks to the ironies of colonial stereotyping. Lawrence’s famous eighteenth-century painting portrays a young girl in a diaphanous white dress, with pink hat and sash, poised in the middle of a dance on the summit of a hill overlooking the English landscape. Her painted image was thought to embody “the very spirit of English childhood”. The pre-emancipation book relates the story of a (white) Creole girl who is portrayed as an “uncivilized” and haughty young “Missy” when she is sent to stay with family friends in England.
The installation’s irony turns on our discovering that the subject of Lawrence’s painting, rather than being English as originally believed, was actually a Creole child who had been sent to England, as per tradition, to attend boarding school there. Depicted as a “real” English girl (erased of all Creole identifying features and no longer in her “native” setting), the child in the painting reveals the dichotomy of Self / Other faced by the non British-born white body. In reclaiming this portrait for the Cunard Gallery and reinserting the girl’s creolity into its video version, the installation aims to highlight the inconsistencies of the representation of white Creole identity. The historical artifacts that describe the (white) Creole’s social construction by European whites as being culturally inferior “Other” are turned topsy-turvy by the revelation of the identity of the portrait’s subject.