Curated by Ana Maria Hernández
Olga Gabrielle's close relationship with the Aruban landscape comes from the limitations she experienced within the local infrastructure for arts and culture. It is on the harsh and untamed north coast of the island that Gabrielle found a tangible and metaphorical space where she could experience and perform her artistic practice. Gabrielle's relationship to the landscape goes beyond the 18th-century notion of the sublime. For Gabrielle, the Aruban landscape is an initiator of profound explorations into the human condition. The online exhibition Moving Through Imaginary Geographies explores how the concept of 'the other' played a role in Europe's colonial intervention in the Caribbean. The title of the exhibition is a reference to this objectification of territories and peoples through projected desires, perceptions, and fears. The creation of 'imagined geographies', perceptions about unknown territories that favored control over them, played a major role in the intrusion, domination, and exploitation of the Caribbean. The following works are explorations into the mechanics of this social construction.
Terra Incognita (2015-19) is a site-specific performance documented through photography, where Gabrielle engages in dialogue with the landscape through movements of her body. This interaction is an act of introspection where the artist reflects on the boundaries within the self. It is also a reflection of how fictional geographic boundaries around unknown territories, seen as unclaimed territories, were transgressed by Europe's desire for expansion.
The title references a term in cartography for unknown territories during Europe's Age of Discovery (roughly between the 15th and 18th centuries). Mapping out the places that still haven't been 'discovered' was the first step in the practice of objectification and domination of the territories of the Caribbean. Terra Incognita is an invitation to indagate into these processes, but with receptivity and silence instead of force and violence.
Sotavento (2020) is a video work where the landscape is presented as a fragment of reality and reveals its condition as a cultural construction. The work references the changes that came to the Caribbean landscape through the colonization of the land. These changes caused by occupational interventions to the land also disrupted these people's self-perceptions of identity. The title of the work is borrowed from the nautical term for the direction of the winds. It was by this flow that the wind was complicit in facilitating the displacement of ships during the period of colonialism. Gabrielle creates in this work a solemn space where a symbolic encounter can take place between spirituality and the disruptions of cultural self-awareness.
Her latest work Arcadia (2021) takes the construction of 'imaginary geographies' out of its historical context and finds a new expression in the present-day issues around human mobility. It talks about the current migratory crises of refugees seeking better futures in distant lands. The idealization of territories is no longer taking place from a position of power and dominance. It is now coming from the powerless and less-fortunate refugees seeking to escape difficulties and life-threatening conditions. The title of the work is the name of a real place that existed in antiquity and then became a term used for idealized lands with untouched nature. It is a promise.
The search for a place that offers a better future. In Arcadia, Gabrielle is seen standing at the place which has been the adversary for immigrants trying to enter the island by sea. It is on this rough coast that many refugees have lost their lives. The sea stops being the hope, the way towards safety, and becomes a guard blocking their way, swallowing their dreams. The artist's use of the color purple signals both the sense of mourning and power caused by these waters.