La Belle Creole: The Shape-shifter of The Atlantic

Lisandro Suriel

Since the dawn of women, Creole has haunted the junctions between merging civilizations, changing her name and appearance to suit her circumstance. Who is Creole? What does she look like? Does she even exist?  Many think she is birthed from empire, however, that is only where she got her name.  Appearing in many guises throughout the ages of the Black Atlantic, her true form is enshrouded by ideologies about beauty, race, class, and gender. Creole is merely a name imposed upon her through the mythicizing gaze of others. Ultimately, La Belle Creole only appears to you by reflecting your own understanding of race, gender, and identity, casting her true ontology to the realms of Black imagination.

La Belle Creole is inspired by the cultural exchange of the medieval Black Atlantic that took place between the Caribbean, Mesoamerica and the flourishing Mandingo Empire. Many griots spoke of this time before Creole got her name, when there existed an emperor who was said to be obsessed with what lay on the other side of the Ethiopian Sea, known today as the Atlantic Ocean.  As the richest man to ever exist, the emperor called on the peoples of Kama (Africa) to fulfill his desire of traversing the vast ocean. Intending never to return, he set out with 200 ships and established an African presence in the Americas predating European expansion.  This was the last time the world and Creole remained unnamed and unchained by the dogmatic shackles of Western imperialism. One can imagine a time when people might have had entirely different conceptions about what constitutes borders, racial identity, gender, and sexual orientation.

Rather than shackles, the freedom of wealth and curiosity brought our ancestors across the Atlantic in waves of diaspora. Trans-model Jasmine Hassan in La Belle Creole represents a trans-Atlantic identity rooted In a Free State. La Belle Creole venerates forgotten histories, values, and peoples we must strive to remember. 

Lisandro Suriel is a Photographer and Artistic researcher born and raised in Saint Martin. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Photography at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague and received his Master’s of Art by research in Arts and Culture: Artistic Research at the University of Amsterdam.  As part of his Master’s thesis he analyzed early twentieth century illustrations of West-Indian mythology in relation to cultural aphasia. This research forms the foundation of his on-going artistic research project Ghost Island in which he visually deconstructs the New World-imagination of the African Diaspora. 

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