Minter’s work is an invitation, to engage, and to contemplate. His work speaks to global and African Diasporic complex identities, and cultural discources that assure the topic of Malaga is relevant and essential to the recalling (re)telling, — the rectifying the story of African American life.
Minter situates the narrative of Malaga in the complex web of continued and ongoing discourse of black experiences in the United States and the Americas more broadly. In doing so, Minter’s work performs a rupture in the pervasive master narrative surrounding black life. The story of Malaga is not unique in that it participates in the persistent description of injustice, racism, and forced dislocation peculiar to African Americans. However, the particularities of the Malaga story harbors a distinctive horror which Minter respectfully acknowledges and honorably addresses.
On July 1, 1912, the people of Malaga Island were evicted by the state of Maine. The houses carried away. The schoolhouse was removed. The graves were exhumed, and the remains that were not lost were piled into three unmarked mass graves on the mainland. Families were separated, and some residents were institutionalized at the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded.
Until the eviction, the 41-acre island at the mouth of the New Meadows River was home to a small fish- ing community of black, white, and mixed-race people. But coastal Maine was becoming an increasingly popular summer destination, and the state was interested in branding itself as “Vacationland.” This, combined with the racist eugenics movement popular at the time, motivated the state to take action.
The yellow journalism described the community as “peculiar” and “degenerates;” the island was pronounced “disgusting.” Not wanting such a stain on the state, Governor Fredrick Plaisted drafted a declaration mandating that the residents leave the island.
Today the island sits abandoned. It was not until 2010 (over a century after the eviction) that the State of Maine acknowledged the appalling treatment of the residents of Malaga and the governor issued a formal apology. The expression of regret arrived after the archaeological evidence that disrupted the myths and rumors of the African American community. Often referred to as one of the least diverse states, Maine, like many New England states were home to more black communities at the turn of the century than today.
The Malaga story is important. Interests of African American life in the United States cultural history has focused mostly on the African American experience in the south. Attention to Malaga is a result of shifts in scholars attention to other contested racialized spaces and narratives more broadly.
We know at the turn of the century, in New England and Maine, in particular, there were communities and towns created and existed by people of African Descent. Malaga is one of the most documented communities of African American life in New England, sadly because of the negative media attention. Malaga is one of many locations and narratives, at risk of erasure and thus prey to a racial cleansing of the historical record for the predominate master narrative.
Daniel Minter’s work laments a past but looks toward a future of possibility grounded in the political astuteness that disturbs the normality of everyday life. His work, the Malaga series, evokes conversation, a dialogue, and even spawns community building, all around discussions about race, geography, loss, and dislocation. The series emerges from Minter’s engagement with the island and its descendants. At the commencement of his arrival to Maine in 2003, Minter has labored to bring attention to the narrative of Malaga in several ways including co-founding the Maine Freedom Trails which was pivotal in having the island designated a public preserve. The classification put into motion the official apology from the State of Maine. In the 2019 exhibition installed at the University of Southern Maine in the Fall 2018, Minter, further destabilized the historical record by situating the Malaga nar- rative for a “coming time.” The installation consisted of paintings and wood carvings, as well as found objects from the island. A stunning level of detail and aesthetical coolness is ever so present in the paintings, and his woodcarvings suggest an adroitness and dexterity of artistic craftsmanship. Each image demands a detailed viewing as to read the multiple narratives of loss, despair, and dislocation. In the paintings the recurring symbol of a house suggests the quest of an inner home, and the symbol of water recalls the cross-Atlantic voyage of the enslaved. Minter is indicating the archive cannot be contained in the past. The textured beauty of the carved work and similarly distinct in the paintings are but a reflection of the thin and tender line between the beauty and horror of race relations in the United States. Minters art making does not sacrifice form for the content; it is an art making that does not overlook the details.
Daniel Minter’s work is an invitation, to engage, and to contemplate. His work speaks to global and African Diasporic complex identities, and cultural discourses that assure the topic of Malaga is relevant and essential to the recalling, (re)telling, –the rectifying the story of African American life. It is current, pertinent and prescient—for it alarms of other vital and hidden narratives of black communities that exist and whose archives are ready to speak. Minters work not only retells but tell anew and thus participates in an ongoing archiving of Malaga, and African American history. Naturally, the Malaga series reveals Minters commitment to amplifying awareness of this atrocity.
Dr. Myron Beasley
Associate Professor American Studies