David Knight, Jr.
You might recognize some of the faces featured in “Faces of St. John,” a collection of photographs by Imran Stephen featured in the newest issue of Moko Magazine.
But don’t go looking for it on the newsstands. Moko Magazine (www.mokomagazine.org) is strictly an online publication at this point, although its publishers plan to produce a “hold-it-in-your-hands” paper magazine in the not-so-distant future.
Moko Magazine is the brainchild of David Knight Jr., a writer whose family has lived on St. John since the 1930s, and Richard Georges, a poet and lecturer at H. Lavitty Stoutt Community College (HLSCC) on Tortola.
The two men met at the Islands Between Conference held at the University of the Virgin Islands in 2012 and discovered that they shared a common dream — to promote poetry, fiction, art and criticism from artists throughout the Caribbean. They published their first issue in November 2013. The third issue of Moko Magazine debuts on July 1.
The magazine has its folk art elements. Much of its poetry and fiction is written in one of the many English Caribbean Creoles, the languages spoken in kitchens and bedrooms throughout the region. But the visual art has little to do with pictures of palm trees and sunsets that are so popular in local galleries.
“We want to publish contemporary art with a Caribbean focus,” Knight said. “The work has to reflect the Caribbean heritage or experience.”
Knight added that it is often difficult to define “who qualifies as a Caribbean artist since this might include people in the diaspora or transplants who are not strictly speaking ‘from’ the region. You meet very few Caribbean artists who haven’t moved around a lot. In our new issue we have artists based in Australia and Sweden.”
One piece in Moko Magazine’s second issue, entitled Bato Disik, is described in the magazine as “a site specific installation comprised of a large water bath filled with multiple boats similar to the batos used by Mauritian fishermen in their villages. The boats are cast out of sugar. Over time the boats disappear, mirroring the disappearance of the fishing trade in Mauritius.”
“Along with the sugar batos, an 8-minute video entitled Bain De Mer is displayed. The video is inspired by the tragic story of Le Morne, a coastal mountain in Mauritius where an entire village of escaped slaves leaped to their deaths to avoid recapture.”
Although Mauritius, located off the east coast of Madagascar, is thousands of miles from the Caribbean, the connections with the Caribbean experience are plain. The fishing industry, based on boats known as “bateaux” in other islands further down the Caribbean chain, is also dying. There are several places in the Lesser Antilles named “Le Morne.” And the stories of slaves leaping to their death to avoid recapture are told about Mary Point and Ram Head on St. John. Finally, the artist, Andrea Chung, is of Jamaican heritage.
Most of the Moko Magazine’s artists and writers live in Europe, the United States, and other Caribbean Islands. “The faces of St. John,” by St. Lucia-born photographer Imran Stephen, is the first feature that deals with St. John. “Moko is aiming to bring V.I. artists to the region as much as we want to bring a regional awareness to the V.I.,” Knight explained.
Local writers and artist are encouraged to submit their work to Moko Magazine. (The guidelines for submission are on the website.) Knight said that they tend to receive more submissions from independent Caribbean nations rather than territories. “A lot of the independent nations in the Caribbean have invested more in the humanities than the dependent territories.”
The magazine does not pay for submissions or make any profit from advertisements. It’s a labor of love, as is Knight’s newest venture, an overview of art history in the Virgin Islands from pre-Columbian Taino art to contemporary culture.
Working with Le Vaughn Belle, who teaches Humanities at University of the Virgin Islands-St. Croix, and curator Priscilla Hintz- Rivera, Knight is now researching artists including Camille Pissaro and Albert Daniel. They’re planning to unveil the project, including a possible exhibit, in 2017, around the time of the centennial commemoration of the Virgin Islands’ transfer from Denmark to the United States.
They’re also hoping to publish their work in book form.