Zakiya McKenzie

Testimonies on The history of Jamaica Vol 1


Zakiya McKenzie
Testimonies on the history of Jamaica Vol. 1
Published by Rough Trade Books Spring 2021 

£7.99 GBP



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About the publication


History was written—England captured Jamaica from the Spaniards under Oliver Cromwell in 1655. Much of this history has been retold by Edward Long, best known for his first socio-economic and political study The History of Jamaica. His polemic supported the enslavement of African and Caribbean people and the monopolies and monocultures played out through the natural environment.

These testimonies address some of Long’s claims. A slave woman tells of the naming of Catherine’s Peak and the erasure of the achievements of Black Jamaicans in the field of natural history. A mystic takes us back to the Spanish occupation. The maroons Juan de Bolas and Juan de Serras grieve their fate and the tragic future that came with sugarcane. These are imaginings of what the people who lived through this wrestling of Jamaica might have said, given the chance.

From October–December 2021, McKenzie was in residence at Studio Voltaire. During this period, she explored what happened to the environment of Jamaica during British colonisation of the island, beginning in the 17th century.

As a starting point, McKenzie has studied a number of natural resources and places in Jamaica – in particular the Lignum vitae tree and the summit of Catherines Peak in Saint Andrew Parish. The artist has sought to create first–person responses questioning how these vital resources were incorporated into the culture of England’s empire.

In a new sound work, characters from the Court of Caribbean Reconciliation in McKenzie’s debut pamphlet, Testimonies on the History of Jamaica Volume 1 (Rough Trade Books) are played by members of the Jamaican–based Equiknoxx Music collective. Characters from her Elegy for Lignum Vitae essay in The Wild Isles: Best of British and Irish Nature Writing (Head of Zeus, 2021) also make an appearance to give witness before the crowd. The display also includes accompanying photo and video collages comprising material found in digital archives on the Caribbean.


About the artist

Zakiya McKenzie was born in South London, raised in Kingston and now lives in the southwest of England. In 2019 she was Writer in Residence for Forestry England and, at Ujima 98FM in Bristol, she was a Black and Green Ambassador in 2017. McKenzie is a PhD candidate at the University of Exeter with the Caribbean Literary Heritage project, researching Black British journalism in the post–war period. 


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