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Claiming Spaces: The African Story of the Sugar Mill

An Exhibition by Chalana Brown

Artist Statement

My work explores the identity of the Virgin Islands. The work aims to engage residents in dialogue to promote a stronger unified, and inclusive Virgin islands with a bold identity. As a Virgin Islander with ancestral lineage and ties to sister islands, the goal is to showcase the African diaspora's story in the Caribbean and its contributions to the international community. Each Caribbean island has similar colonial stories with nuances that have shaped each island's perspective identity. Utilizing the mediums of photography, mixed media artistry, and docu-cinema, my work revels in Caribbean people's bold identities. It removes the guise and false narratives of European narratives regarding people of color in the Caribbean. 

Stephanie Chalana Brown is a visual artist using the mediums of both photography and cinematography. Chalana's work explores coloniality and identity in the Caribbean, especially in the Virgin Islands, where she was born and raised. Her first fine art collection entitled, The Madras that Binds All Ah We," inspired by the poem from Virgin Islands writer, Richard Schrader, received strong praise. The art series was used to advocate for Bill 33-0226 of the Virgin Islands legislature establishing an official Virgin Islands madras. As a documentarist, Chalana has produced several broadcast programs, including Griot and Foodie Insider, which currently airs on local broadcast networks along with the Virtual Crucian Cultural Cuisine dialogues chronicling the Virgin Islands traditional foodways. Chalana is presently working on a project exploring the evolution of Virgin Islands identity thru history, fashion, photography, and fabric entitled "E³: Exploration, Evolution, and Effectuation" as well as "Claiming Spaces: A Re-discovery of Virgin Islands historic sugar mills and spaces."

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Aunt Mary Elisabeth Pratorius/Praetoriuswho was born on the Hogensborg Plantation and was my maternal 3rd great-grandmother's sister.
The Sobtoker family-owned Hogensborg. For a while, General War Commissioner Adam Levin Sobotker was the most influential landowner in the Danish West Indies. After his father's death in 1823, Johannes Sobtoker inherited Hogensborg and Constitution Hill. On the estate, Johannes constructed the first steam mill in the Danish West Indies.
As governor of the Danish West Indies, he replaced Peter von Scholten. Inequity manifests itself in the fact that I am able to gather so much knowledge on the Sobotker family and the merchant/slave dealer Praetorius, whose name my family inherited. However, I have been unable to locate the same amount of information regarding my forefathers. My family lived on Constitution Hill and Hogensborg estate for three generations. With the assistance of a local archivist, I discovered that Mary was at one point Peter Von Scholten's property. I am unable to read any articles about her, but I am comforted by the fact that they existed and that I am their legacy.

Wont you celebrate with me


Book of Light by Lucille Clifton

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

Among the black population, women play a role of great importance. They do the same work that the men do and their physical build and size render them formidable adversaries in the rough and tumble of fight. Throughout the disturbances they were more aggressive, vengeful and altogether more violent in their passion than the men

(Von Petersen Petersen 1855: 117)


HALL, N. A. T. “THE VICTOR VANQUISHED: EMANCIPATION IN ST. CROIX; ITS ANTECEDENTS AND IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH.” Nieuwe West-Indische Gids / New West Indian Guide, vol. 58, no. 1/2, 1984, pp. 3–36. JSTOR, Accessed 17 June 2021.

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The Mills

Mapping courtesy of Dondré M. Richardsy 

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