Opening the 2011-2012 exhibition season at the University of the South Art Gallery in Sewanee, Tenn., is Greg Pond's documentary video installation "Born in Trenchtown." The installation weaves together social, architectural and political histories of the area, allowing Trenchtown residents to tell their own stories.
Trenchtown, Jamaica, has a complex history. Founded by cousins Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley, the first housing district had utopian aspirations. Modeled on communal rural living with shared verandahs and courtyards, the initial development housed World War II veterans and rural Jamaicans migrating to Kingston to look for work. It is credited with fostering much of the music and cultural heritage for which Jamaica is known worldwide.
The district's housing, however, soon became a political tool. In the pursuit of parliamentary seats, further development was designed to accommodate large numbers of political supporters of either the Jamaican Labor Party or the People's National Party. Designed to serve the needs of those at the highest levels of Jamaican society, newer development no longer provided residents with the same social and cultural opportunities.
Violence between the political gangs of these rival neighborhoods began in 1976 and spread throughout Jamaica. It persists today in a culture that connects the most impoverished neighborhoods in the capital with the highest levels of power in the government.
"Born in Trenchtown" unfolds across three screens and is programmed to create a dynamic experience of the complicated history of the district. Viewers traveling the maze of holes in the walls between tenement yards that were punched through when it was too dangerous to walk on the streets will observe the conditions that created Trenchtown and hear the stories of residents. Many of the older inhabitants have witnessed the entire history of the district unfold. The perceptions of younger residents, who did not know the community before the violence started, are markedly different.
The installation will be on view through Oct. 2.
University Art Gallery, 68 Georgia Ave., is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (all times Central). Call 931-598-1223 for more information.