Transformation of an Island

July 17, 2020

My source of inspiration came from a lecture on paintings and images of slave society presented at the Barbados National Museum. The painting by Issac Sailmaker entitled “Island of Barbados” visually depicts the transformation of the island’s geography due to the creation of sugar plantations in 1694. Sugar not only transformed the physical landscape of this mostly uninhabited land, but also would impact the social, political, and economic institutions that were created as a result. This painting symbolizes the totality of sugar on this small island and sets the stage for the ensuing nickname, “Britain’s crowned jewel.” One of the reasons I was drawn to this painting for inspiration is due to my own experiences on the island over the last week of learning and exploring. Driving through the different parishes and seeing how the landscape differs in various regions is a stark contrast to this image from 1694 showing mostly port cities and the beginning of European transformation on the interior to create space for large scale sugar farming. When looking at maps from the 18th and 19th centuries, the island of Barbados is transformed even more due to the profits and demand for sugar in a new global economy. This image is a snapshot of an island in transition, but lacks the conflict and division sugar production will create in the future. The profits from sugar will create a hierarchy between plantation owners and those working the fields and mills as slaves. Although this image depicts the beginning of British influence and domination over the island of Barbados, the narrative will continue to evolve as sugar projection reaches an all-time high and the thirst for profit will result in the dehumanization of an entire group of people.