📷 Artist David Berg of Blackwood Imaging will have works on display at Jacob Edwards Library in September. Photo courtesy David Berg
By Sarah Champagne, Managing Editor
SOUTHBRIDGE/ST. CROIX – A woman is seen submerged in a large clear body of water, with rays of sun emanating beneath the surface. Although the image has obvious beauty and elegance, there is still something unsettling in the photo. It is unclear whether the woman is dancing or even whether she has chosen to be there.
This image and other similar ones appear throughout the artistic photography of David (DAH-veed) Berg. Berg is an artist from St. Croix with ties to the local area. His underwater photography interprets the part of the African slave trade known as “the middle passage,” when slaves were brought in horrifically crowded ships from the West Coast of Africa to the Americas.
Berg’s photography and artwork will be featured at Jacob Edwards Library in Southbridge for the month of September. An opening reception will be held at the library Thursday, Sept. 6 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The show and Berg’s photography is a part of his artistic company, Blackwood Imaging.
Berg’s artistic work documents brighter aspects of St. Croix culture as well, including colorful and inviting portraits of island life. Berg’s work includes festive images of street carnivals and the island tradition of mocko jumbie. This lively and beloved island tradition involves festive dancers balancing on stilts in colorful costume.
Mocko jumbie contributed to Berg’s artistic path in more ways than one. The artist grew up participating in the performance of mocko jumbie until an injury during a college wrestling match limited his ability to participate in both the beloved mocko jumbie tradition and other physical activities.
Berg became very discouraged after his injury. He was a student at Mitchell College in New London, Connecticut, at the time. A professor gave him a camera and encouraged him to try photography as a creative outlet. This fateful gift introduced Berg to a hobby that would soon develop into a passion and a career as a professional artist.
That professional path has led him to international success as an artist. Berg has displayed in various countries, from Denmark to Cuba, and from the “mainland” United States to his home in St. Croix (a U.S. territory).
Berg also met a lifelong friend, Pedro Aponte, at Mitchell College. Aponte is a Southbridge native and resident who often collaborates with Berg in photographic and graphic design projects.
St. Croix is the largest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, along with St. John and St. Thomas. Because St. Croix is a U.S. territory, residents can be drafted and serve in the U.S. military and they pay U.S. taxes. However, they cannot vote in U.S. elections and have only a limited representation in the U.S. political system.
Berg notes that many people aren’t familiar with the relationship between the United States and St. Croix, and notes that the United States is even larger than most people realize, encompassing territories and many cultures as well as the “mainland.”
This is something that Berg regards as an unknown strength, and he is glad to use his striking artwork to communicate this message.
“I like showcasing my culture in remembrance and in celebration. I like bridging the disconnect through my art, to start a conversation,” comments Berg.
Berg’s artistic statement for the show at Jacob Edwards Library is as follows:
“As an artist, I synthesize my research of the Transatlantic slave trade by examining its impact on history in the Carribean. I am uniquely positioned to undertake this work, as an artist of Danish and African ancestry, born and raised in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. From that vantage point, my work focuses on the slave trade as it was devised in Denmark, executed in Ghana and implemented in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
My work provides an emotional encounter with the history of slavery, colonization and the current process of decolonization of African diasporic peoples whose ancestors were subjugated to the horrors of the Transatlantic slave trade. My work in this area began with an image of a woman underwater with a chain and torch – a reference to the slave trader’s brutal practice of throwing their human “cargo” overboard when they were deemed undesirable as property. The photo series responds to that with images of former victims in positions of strength and no longer enslaved. Other photo series illustrate the effects of, and resistance to, colonialism with images of African cultural traditions such as mocko jumbies and African diasporic people.
As part of my artistic process, I am deeply involved in the research of the Middle Passage by examining archives in both Denmark and St. Croix. This has inspired me to want to go beyond documentation and capture the emotional trauma of historical events and present-day relationships between the people and culture of Denmark, Ghana and St. Croix.”