Tiffany Wellington: Duppy Water May 31 — June 24, 2023 Public Gallery 91 Middlesex St London E1 7DA
‘There’s duppies in the water’ screamed Mehala Smith 80 years ago, when she discovered that themineral rich springs in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, could catch on fire. Duppies are evil spirits, and indeed the ‘fire waters’ have proven to be a mixed blessing: bringing income but also disgruntled tourists to that part of the island. That is, if artist Tiffany Wellington is to be believed, but they have a history of making things up.
The names, places and basic information might be true, but it’s difficult to separate facts from myth, either in their work or in the original story. But who gets to decide the truth anyway? Usually those with the most power, and identity is often tied to origin stories that can’t be verified. We are all mythic.
Those that come to the ‘fire waters’ looking for wellness treatments and authentic spiritual experiences often leave disappointed. ‘[They] fooled us into believing this rubbish’ reads one unhappy visitor on TripAdvisor. Others complain of the spartan conditions, authentic but not exactly the luxury spa treatment they anticipated. Duppies seek their revenge, and they often get the last laugh, like Anansi the African trickster spirit.
Perhaps the purification that the waters promise treat the locals not the tourists, healingthe wounds of the past, the colonial forces that brought first the inhabitants and then the visitors. Nothing is entirely clear in this story, but as philosopher Edouard Glissant argued, there is such a thing as ‘a right to opacity’. We have a right to be unclear, where to be understood means to be assimilated into the language, culture and values of another.
Better to lose some things in translation, to look for them is print, the low resolution, in order to keep hold of a sense of self. Anyway, given the mythic origins ofmost people’s, identity always exists in the realm of illusion or the fuzzy land of the half-truth. At least it does for Wellington, who slides uncertainly between authenticity and imposter syndrome, having been born in Jamaica, but not brought up there, not exactly a local, but not a tourist either.
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