For Ivan Forde, the small village of Buxton in Guyana is inextricably linked to a host of fascinating political and cultural narratives, though perhaps more importantly, it acts as an important anchor for an exploration of the artist’s personal history. As one of the first settlements established by Afro-Guyanese following emancipation in 1840 – as well as the birthplace of his own grandmother – understandings of the village’s past are inevitably built on a network of subjective memories. Forde is, however, acutely aware of the nuanced character of history. In his most recent work, Invocation, Forde endeavours to unveil the subtleties of both Buxton’s past and history itself through the tensions that arise between truth, memory and poetic fiction.
Beyond a simple presentation of historical facts pertaining to Buxton’s past, Invocation seeks to visualise the artist’s idea that personal histories reside within individuals. Whilst a clear sense of collective narrative is passed down from one generation to the next, Forde finds fascination in learning from a community of people who each have uniquely different stories to tell. Deriving his framework from age-old epic poetry, Forde’s work weaves an array of anthropological approaches that foreground the importance of story-telling and emphasise how oral accounts become written history.
Recording interviews with villagers, activists, teachers and his 94-year old great aunt – excerpts of which are later brought into the artist’s silkscreen posters – Forde gives material form to his research in the shape of large tableaus in hand-dyed blue fabric. Reflecting a myriad of memories surrounding the village of Buxton, Forde’s “soft sculptures” lend his installations a pronounced immersive quality. This sense of physicality is paramount to the experience of Forde’s work; it can be twisted and folded, worn and touched as viewers are invited to reflect on their relationship with their own personal histories. In many ways, the sculptures are as malleable as the act of recording history itself.
As much as Invocation centres on Buxton, the series is also a means for Forde to locate himself within his own cultural history. Whilst the stories he collated are by no means his own, incorporating them within the work gave these memories an increasingly central position in Forde’s relationship with the village. The artist’s personal involvement would eventually reach a point of total engagement; he performed elements of the stories he collected – occupying various different roles – and inserted images of his performances into the work itself, lending the project yet another personal dimension. In essence, Invocation operates in a space to which we can all relate; that of territories that are significant, that we do not hail “from” but are “of”. For Ivan Forde, Buxton is undeniably one of these places.