The Chicken is Just Dead First, Racquel Rowe – Art Talks at ARTSPLACE (Livestream, June 3, 2023)

Livestream - Racquel Rowe Art Talk, The Chicken is Just Dead First (June 3, 2023)

Racquel Rowe’s The Chicken is Just Dead First encapsulates work made between two places, Canada and Barbados. The works range from solo performance pieces featuring Racquel undertaking various culturally specific tasks such as taking out her braids or washing rice, as well as pieces that involve the matriarchs of her family where she plays a supporting role as they either care for her or teach her how to make certain recipes. Interspliced throughout the exhibition are short scenic videos of the East Coast of Barbados that are used to break up the tension present within the other performance works.

“The chicken is just dead first is a phrase borrowed from Zilka Reid-Benta’s collection Flying Plantain, short stories about the complexities of a first generation Jamaican-Canadian growing up in Toronto. As she grows up, the protagonist realizes that she is ‘othered’ in different ways both in Canada and Jamaica; she thus belongs in neither place. Rowe’s exhibition features work made between Canada and Barbados.

Rowe quickly learned that many people have preconceived notions of what living in a ‘tropical paradise’ is like: they range from assuming that no one has a ‘real’ or ‘normal’ job and people spend all day relaxing, and live in huts on the beach.

This pushed Rowe to create artworks with a distinctly Caribbean setting, using contexts that were deliberately not familiar to a ‘Canadian’ audience.

Knowing that this work might cause confusion with a predominantly white audience, Rowe also knew that her work would be legible to those who shared her lived experience. Like the protagonists in Zalika Reid-Benta’s stories, Rowe found herself in the position of slowly blending aspects of two cultures (Barbados and Canada), first starting with food. This blending of culture resulted in this growing body of work.


Artist Profile - Racquel Rowe

  • Video wall projection in which the artist sits on the floor partially dressed, making dough on the ground and her body. Detail from Racquel Rowe's exhibition titled

    Racquel Rowe is an interdisciplinary artist from the island of Barbados currently residing in Canada. Travelling back and forth between the two countries, Rowe calls various places home, most recently Sackville, New Brunswick. She’s exhibited across Ontario, the Maritimes and Montreal, and holds a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Waterloo and a Bachelor of Arts in History and Studio Art from the University of Guelph.

    Current projects include an ongoing program with Soulpepper Theatre Company in Toronto, focused on reimagining historic sites and creating a site-specific work at Scarborough Museum launching this summer. As well as being one of the 2021 recipients of the PXR (Performance and Virtual Reality) IBPOC Fellowship, with Single Thread Theatre Company and Electric Company Theatre in Vancouver.

Artist Statement

My practice encapsulates my lived experience as a Black woman from Barbados who moved to a small city in Southern Ontario. I came to Canada at the age of 18 and this changed and shaped both my understanding of contemporary art and what my practice could be. My research is focused on how the complex history of the Caribbean, including social and cultural practices around food, various preconceptions of the Black female body, ideas surrounding Black hair, cultural rituals, and the history of colonialism intersect with the lived experience of Black women.

The global effects and legacies of British colonialism that affect how Black women are perceived largely remain the same. Recognizing that Black women across the Commonwealth have experienced very different form of racism, my work examines and calls forth the many similarities that come from our shared legacy of colourism and misogyny. Moving away from Barbados enabled me to see how the systems played out on a larger scale and perhaps also globally.

history places a big part in my practice and understanding that Black peoiple have arrived in the region, North America, through a number of migrations, many in search of semblance of a better life, I am interested in the complexities the have shaped outward migration and the many developments of the Caribbean Diaspora that call Turtle Island home.