Melissa Matthews


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The current and recurrent themes within my work are the politics, sometimes irony, humor, and violence of everyday life and subsistence in specific places in the world.

As I write this, I am struck by the fact that my art is expat art.

I was born and bred in Brooklyn, New York with a decidedly Trinidadian flair. As a first- generation American, I never felt fully American nor fully Trinidadian. When I lived in the U.S., my art and life were distinctly Trini. I was particularly interested in negotiating a space and life for myself that was innately tied to my West Indian culture and roots. My lens, my politics, my creativity—the three pillars of my work—were colored by being an outsider investigating the West Indian existence as an outlier of the diaspora.

Three years ago, I moved to Trinidad & Tobago, having claimed my citizenship by descent and built a life here. I have never felt so American. My lens, my political interests, my creative pursuits are now incisively and purposely in tuned with my American-ness. Moreover, my identity as a Black American Woman living abroad and at home simultaneously. Wrestling with the hopelessness of these facts. As an expatriate with the luxury of two passports and two homelands, the work that is presented in this portfolio investigates the maddening right to have an opinion on the goings-on from a plane ride away but the inherent inability to make “meaningful” change or have an impact apart from impassioned pleas on social media and two-week visits rallying behind those doing the “real” work. It is a commentary on the guilt of leaving mixed with the reverance of self-preservation that made me do so.

The works included in this portfolio speak directly to the issues of efficacy that I grapple with as an expatriate. When I left the states, I did so partially because I felt as though I could make a happier life for myself in a country where I did not have to contend with “microaggressions” daily. Many incidents/tragedies/violations surrounding black bodies have occurred since then and now I am a mother and I wonder if it is at all possible to ever go back. To raise my child in the country I was raised in without fear of how some of the recent and underlying issues of race seeping into her fragile self-esteem. It is through my exploration of these themes that I have created the Demise of A Queen Pin series which is a satirical look at the pre-school to prison pipeline. It examines the absurdity of the idea of toddlers being criminalized whilst– acknowledging the truth beared out by many studies that Black children are disproportionately villianized throughout their school careers– this work stars my daughter and her cousins. It is an intensely personal discourse on my own fears and confusion around the issue. Furthermore, I have included the Mchater’s series which examines hate as one of America’s most powerful vices. Through the use of the familiar fast food menu board, it presents an almost comical yet jarring collaboration of text and illustration to explore several high profile cases of hate and/or injustice in both a racial and religious context.