Water Graves: The Art of the Unritual in the Greater Caribbean

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Water Graves considers representations of lives lost to water in contemporary poetry, fiction, theory, mixed media art, video production, and underwater sculptures. From sunken slave ships to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Valerie Loichot investigates the lack of official funeral rites in the Atlantic, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico, waters that constitute both early and contemporary sites of loss for the enslaved, the migrant, the refugee, and the destitute. Unritual, or the privation of ritual, Loichot argues, is a state more absolute than desecration. Desecration implies a previous sacred observance--a temple, a grave, a ceremony. Unritual, by contrast, denies the sacred from the beginning. In coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Miami, Haiti, Martinique, Cancun, and Trinidad and Tobago, the artists and writers featured in Water Graves-an eclectic cast that includes Beyonce, Radcliffe Bailey, Edwidge Danticat, Edouard Glissant, M. NourbeSe Philip, Jason deCaires Taylor, Edouard Duval-Carrie, Natasha Trethewey, and Kara Walker, among others-are an archipelago connected by a history of the slave trade and environmental vulnerability. In addition to figuring death by drowning in the unritual-whether in the context of the aftermath of slavery or of ecological and human-made catastrophes-their aesthetic creations serve as memorials, dirges, tombstones, and even material supports for the regrowth of life underwater.