Tracy McMenemy’s current base in a long practice of location-specific art making is Grand Cayman Island, where she works alternately between a rooftop overlooking the ocean and palm trees, and on the land itself. Her current series, Hibiscus Thatch, explores two of the island’s prominent plants, and their relationship to each other, their environment, and ourselves.
McMenemy’s processing of her Grand Cayman surroundings incorporates the sun and air into a focus on the Silver Thatch Palm and the Hibiscus flower. She places large canvases flat on the floor or the beach, and covers them with Silver Thatch leaves. She then sprays and paints washes over these with hibiscus plant pigments, which stain and dry into the canvas in the open air, light, and wind. This process is a form of natural light exposure, as the elements at play combine to colour the canvas around the plant silhouettes. McMenemy literally immerses her materials in elements of their own natural surroundings, with her presence only lightly intervening.
Silver Thatch Palm, the island’s national tree, strikes visitors in its presence on thatch roofs and in artisanal weave baskets, hats, and rope. McMenemy’s further research inspired her to celebrate the tree’s history, and the many people involved with it. The romance and durable pragmatism of this plant, harvested at its strongest during the full moon, and forged as rope for wide, lasting use and export, invited exposure to, and sharing with, viewers. The significance of Silver Thatch Palm is as central to the many families historically who worked together to harvest and process it, as to the culture itself.
Hibiscus flowers came to McMenemy’s attention through a chef she met during an artist residency here. Her introduction to hibiscus flower water and hibiscus stew was as visually enticing as it was culinary. The interaction of the pigments of this flower with water and heat suggested wider aspects of the flower’s place within the island’s natural dynamics. Setting the Silver Thatch as the foundation for the piece further enhances this sense of place, reflecting the founding history of this essential tree itself.
McMenemy’s immersion, and the unique visuals that result, capture these dynamics, both aesthetically and literally. They re-inspire our wonder at this island’s ecosystems, and the value of stewarding them.