Sowing the Seeds of an Invisible Presence in Barbados



In this contribution that allies research and an architectural vision, Mackenzie Luke examines the engrainment of the plantation, its enslaved labor and the sugarcane monoculture’s long-standing impact on both human and non-human ecosystems. She then explains how she envisions the architectural embodiment of the counter-plantation in the larger framework of the reparations struggle Barbadian activists have been leading.

Mackenzie Luke Funambulist 3
Sowing the Seeds of an Invisible Presence, canvas hand-sewn on cotton (2023). / Work by Mackenzie Luke.

They sowed in the depths the seeds of an invisible presence.
Édouard Glissant, Caribbean Discourse, 1981.

The Barbadian landscape is a direct reflection of the island’s colonial past and economic development. Distinguished by large agricultural estates to cultivate sugarcane, the island was radically altered in terms of human and agricultural migration, transplantation, and settlement by the British mariners who colonized the island in 1627. The economic purpose of settlement dominated, and with the arrival of sugarcane as the main plantation cash crop, the connection between people and place became solely an economic one. The tropical fruit trees, fauna, and flora were stripped from the land to make room for sugarcane. A mélange of crops could have been grown and harvested on this fertile land, but cane was seen as the quickest and easiest way to wealth. Monoculture took over the island, and like a palimpsest, the land was constantly reworked for the purpose of making as much profit as possible from one crop. In no time at all, Barbados became a total plantation, entirely in the hands of the British planters. It was mapped, denuded, organized, and under constant surveillance with the singular goal of extracting as much profit from the soil, no matter the human and environmental cost. Cartography exposes the histories that have yielded the manipulation of land and space up to this point. Traces of a Mediated Landscape depicts an outline of Barbados with the inscriptions of plantations that existed on the island. The use of graphite highlights the many layers of constant intervention and the histories of enforced labor, slavery and colonialism.