Art and Films > Spirits of the Flowers Keep Watch: My Jeanne Dubernat

Spirits of the Flowers Keep Watch (2018-ongoing) is a research-based fine arts project investigating the life of Jeanne Baret Dubernat, an 18th-century French herbswoman who, disguised as a man, became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. Using photographs, videos, and still-life arrangements, I create narratives that transcend Jeanne's life and circumstances, connecting her story with my own: my passions, sympathies, and belief in the universal power of art to heal the world's inequities.

Howver it was my love for flowers, specifically the tropical bougainvillea vine that first led me to Jeanne. An avid herbswoman, Jeanne was supposedly the first Westerner to identify the plant. For me, it was bougainvillea's vibrant petals that first attracted me. But I soon learned that bougainvillea's flowers are actually tiny and white and hidden amongst the flashy, multi-colored bracts that I had mistaken for petals.

This idea of objects hiding in plain sight is one of the themes I explore in this project.

Although Baret Dubernat did much of the work during her nearly two years at sea, her accomplishments were hardly mentioned by her shipmates or by history. Thankfully there has been renewed interest in her story thanks to writers like Henriette Dussourd, Glynis Ridley, Danielle Clode, and Nina Rattner Gelbart. However, major questions and discrepancies exist in each retelling of Jeanne's life and travails.

Today the plant Baret Dubernat helped botanize, the ubiquitous bougainvillea, is known throughout the world. But her full story, like so many stories of women and other marginalized people throughout history, may never be fully known or told.

This project is my attempt to remedy the unknowing.