MUSINGS FROM THE MILKING PARLOUR STUDIO

Monthly Column by Annalee Davis For BARBADOS TODAY

August 2012

Katherine Kennedy interns as an art writer with ARC, a non-profit print and online contemporary arts publication concerned with the Caribbean and its diasporas. ARC ran this review of Katherine’s about the Fresh Milk VII event. Musings from the Milking Parlour is happy to share this month’s guest column with Katherine Kennedy.

FRESH MILK VII: The Opening of The Colleen Lewis Reading Room and a Review of ‘A Negation of Preconceptions’

 FRESH MILK has been taking leaps and bounds in ensuring there is a dynamic space in Barbados for artists and all interested persons to gather, share information, and foster creativity by hosting events and promoting animated discussions. The latest of these events was FRESH MILK VII held on Sunday 15th July, which not only launched the Robert and Christopher Publishers book Pictures from Paradise, but also marked the official opening of The Colleen Lewis Reading Room on site, as well as showcasing a selection of photographs in the exhibition A Negation of Preconceptions, curated by arts writer Natalie McGuire.

Annalee Davis

Caption: Annalee Davis giving the Opening Remarks. All photgraphs by Dondre Trotman

Colleen Lewis was born July 12th 1962 in Canada, and first met artist and founder of FRESH MILK Annalee Davis when she enrolled as a mature student at The Barbados Community College. During Sunday’s opening remarks, Annalee told us fondly of the friendship that developed between them, and the love and enthusiasm they shared for the arts, mentioning Colleen’s own collection – which included many of Annalee’s works. Alongside her expansive art collection, Colleen possessed a wide and comprehensive assortment of books accumulated during both her history degree in Toronto, and after she enrolled at The University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus to pursue a Masters in Cultural Studies.

Colleen passed away on September 6th 2006 in Barbados. It was her wish for Annalee to have the majority of her library, and Annalee notes that as you flick through the pages of many of the books she donated, you will find the comments she and Colleen wrote in them together. These are bittersweet reminders of the good times they had, poring over the pages and sharing thoughts and information, and Annalee says as she reads them, ‘...time and space collapse into a continuum of love and friendship.’

CLRR

Caption: The Colleen Lewis Reading Room

Although Colleen has passed on, her passion for life and learning is timeless. As you make yourself comfortable in the Reading Room, which looks out onto the St. George countryside, and browse through some of the 710 publications currently housed in the library – about half of which were given by Colleen – it is safe to say her desire to share and build on knowledge is very much alive thanks to Annalee’s entrepreneurship. It is her hope to keep expanding the library, and anyone who wishes to make donations to the Reading Room is invited to do so. Additionally, Annalee is keen to support any activities people may wish to set up such as a book club or reading session; anything which will create interest and discussion in this inspiring venue.

In the space preceding the Reading Room, A Negation of Preconceptions is currently on show, featuring the work of Grenadian artist Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe, Trinidadians Tracey Chan and Rodell Warner, and Barbadian Mark King, all of whom work with the medium of photography. The title of the exhibition is a line from a poem by Eugene Meyer in response to the famous art gallery 291, founded by photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who played a pivotal role in getting society to accept photography as a form of fine art and pioneered the Photo-Secession movement in the early 20th century. Like those in this movement who sought to overthrow opinions of what art had to be, the artists being exhibited use photography to undermine people’s expectations of what Caribbean art must conform to.

Viewers

Caption: Viewers take in 'A Negation of Preconceptions'

I spoke to Natalie McGuire about her selection of work to be included in the exhibition, which complements the photographs in Pictures from Paradise, creating a tangible link to it without mirroring it completely. It is a small sampling of inter-regional artists who masterfully tackle this theme, and Natalie made excellent use of the space she had, the photographs displayed relating well to one another despite each artist’s distinctive style. Natalie mentions that, in spite of this undercurrent of rejecting Caribbean stereotypes, the work is not necessarily actively responding to them. The artists are not taking the offensive; they are merely trying to represent what is real to them in their immediate environment, showing their side rather than a product of tourism.

For example, Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe runs a Caribbean women’s photography group called Ground Glass Collective (http://groundglasscollective.tumblr.com/), of which Tracey Chan is also a member. The group’s mission statement says it is ‘…dedicated to creating a supportive environment for the growth of our individual approaches & ideas…sharing our stories, critiques and new visions for the future.’ This reiterates that it is not about fighting a construct that outsiders have created of us – it is about addressing the topics of women in the Caribbean on a personal level, which will in turn lead to a change in the region from within.

Malaika

Caption: Malaika Brooks Smith Lowe - 'Handle with Care' and 'All Dressed up and Nowhere to go'

 Malaika’s photographs in this exhibition reflect this theme of exploration of identity. The piece Untitled (2011) is a self-portrait, but her ghost-like appearance suggests she is not fully anchored to the world she lives in. It is as if this search for her identity has not yet been resolved. Her pieces Handle with Care and All Dressed up and Nowhere to go (2011) are similarly showing a certain lack of identification, the faces being hidden or indistinct in both. It is interesting to observe that each photograph features a different woman, although it is hard to tell because of the nature of the pieces. This move away from individuality, this idea that one woman is every woman, brings up the notion of Malaika speaking not only on her own behalf, but depicting the Caribbean woman on a whole. It is why groups like Ground Glass Collective become so important to Malaika – to find a way for us to support one another and solidify this identity as we discover our true selves.

 Tracey Chan’s chosen subjects are not people, but birds perched on telephone lines. Trinidadian tourism often includes brightly coloured ‘tropical’ birds, but the stars of Tracey’s series Upon Us (2011) are not remarkable or majestic; they are the kind of common place image you can see walking down the road. This is what she wants to bring to the fore, these urban birds as metaphors for Caribbean people. Our day to day life is not exotic, every scene is not a postcard. Even the angle at which these pictures are taken was that of someone glancing up, no pretence to be anything other than a glimpse out of daily life, which contradicts the lives we are portrayed by the media to live. Like Malaika’s images which unify Caribbean women, these images also hold a link to all Caribbean people, making them relatable while still making their statement about our reality.

Tracey

Caption: Tracey Chan from the Series 'Upon Us'

 Rodell Warner similarly uses an image that we could encounter just walking down a street, but while Tracey’s images are not linked to a specific location to give them a more universal feel, location is key to understanding Rodell’s work. Lady Chancellor Road is in an elite neighbourhood in Port of Spain, and as such his pieces Lady Chancellor's Secret II (2010) and Lady Chancellor's Secret XI (2011) act like an exposé of this area. The large photographs of used condoms become even more highlighted by the inverted colours, making them especially bold. This mixture of ‘high’ and ‘low’ society has a dual effect, negating the outsider’s Caribbean stereotype we have been referring to all along, as well as tackling West Indians’ own views of our culture. These elite neighbourhoods or gated communities are often revered to an extent by Caribbean people, and Rodell has knocked these ‘perfect’ places off their pedestals. We are, as has been the whole point, made to look at ourselves from an insider’s perspective and consider what stereotypes and assumptions we may actually be making about ourselves.

Rodell

Caption: Rodell Warner's 'Lady Chancellor's Secret II'

 Another inside look at Caribbean culture comes from Mark King’s series Call And Response (2012). This is a tongue in cheek look at the severity of religion in Barbados, and signs similar to those Mark has put up on poles for the purpose of his project can be found around the island – minus the graffiti. The series is not meant to be opposing religion directly, but crafting a humorous ‘what if’ situation with these messages that we are bombarded with. It is light hearted in a sense, but still questioning the strict, black and white view of religion that is enforced in our society. It is worth noting that these signs were left up after being photographed, but were removed almost immediately by a third party. This underscores the entire point of the satirical series – many people here are not comfortable with anything remotely challenging or questioning their steadfast views when it comes to religion. Aesthetically, in the set up of the exhibition, real nails were used to display Mark’s work unlike the thin pins used for the others, bringing an element from the subject matter into the actual display of the image.

Mark

Caption: Mark King's Series 'Call and Response'

FRESH MILK accomplished yet another well put together, multifaceted and thought provoking event, to which there was a tremendously positive response in all regards. A Negation of Preconceptions ran from the 15th – 27th of July, and sessions in the Colleen Lewis Reading Room may be booked by contacting freshmilkbarbados@gmail.com. Everyone is invited to come out and participate in these events - become part of this driving force celebrating contemporary art throughout the Caribbean. Katherine Kennedy is an artist and writer. She graduated from Lancaster University, UK with a degree in Creative Arts; her combined major of Fine Art and Creative Writing helped develop her keen interests in both visual and literary pursuits. She has won multiple awards for her artwork and writing in her home Barbados, and has exhibited internationally in London. Since returning home, she has remained immersed in creativity, completing a local artist residency, contributing to ARC Magazine of Contemporary Caribbean Art by writing for their online forum, and most recently working with The FRESH MILK Art Platform Inc.

 

May 2012

Parallel Conversations in a Time of Crisis - Debating the Cultural Industries Bill

I have attended a number of symposia this year discussing both the Cultural Industries Bill (CIB) and the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) in relation to the creative sector. There was an odd sense, at many of these gatherings, that parallel conversations were taking place and artists from all sectors working within the creative industries had a distinct impression of not being heard by those in positions of power.

I was startled at one meeting to hear that the Caribbean could be marketed to Europe as an ‘exotic’ place….as though this is a novel idea. I thought we had passed through that paradigm already and felt dismayed that those driving these consultations did not advocate anything more sophisticated - given the output of artists in this region. This tired framework implies that those who are making decisions that affect the lives of cultural practitioners are out of touch with the contemporary work being produced today across all of the creative sectors.

Vintage Caribbean PostcardEvan Avery

Caption:  Vintage Exotic Caribbean Postcard. Caption: Installation shot of Evan Avery’s ‘Life through Miniis’ BCC 2012 Graduate

How many of these technocrats, I wonder, can name ten contemporary visual artists, dancers, writers or filmmakers working in Barbados and the wider Caribbean at present?

This is not a facetious question. This question is important. If the scribes of the CIB are not aware of the works produced, or of the creatives themselves and, the challenging context within which they work, how could they possibly draft a strategic document that will allow us to compete in the twenty-first century? If tourism is a fickle industry and the creative economy is one that is supposed to drive our economic future, is it not prudent to have all stakeholders on board as well as the relevant expertise required, to study well-drafted cultural industry legislations internationally and be sure we get this one right?

Storm Saulter

Caption: Still from Better Mus’ Come, Directed by Storm Saulter, Jamaica

The cultural industry is complex. It’s not like selling pepper sauce, jams and jellies. To make this bill work, know-how in the area is needed.

Current national debate within the cultural sector is concerned that the CIB is being pushed through without taking on board serious recommendations made by those who have spent their lives working in the field.

At the 22nd Meeting of the Council on Human and Social Development (COHSOD) in Georgetown Guyana on 3 February 2012 it was agreed to take into consideration the use of the Draft Barbados CIB as a possible model legislation that other Member States could use as a guide for drafting their own legislation. This, among many other reasons, is why we need to draft a perfect bill. We don’t want our legislature and those of twenty other CARICOM countries to amend flawed or deficient bill over the next few decades. The stakes are too high.

Khalil 1Khalil 2

 Caption: Barbadian Dancer, Valencia James and Barbadian Dancer John Hunte, both shot by Khalil Goodman

(Which forces me to ask the obvious question…why doesn’t the region pool their expertise and draft a regional cultural industries bill?)

At the National Cultural Foundation’s Cultural Industries Symposium – Taking Your Art to Market – Culture’s Leap from Sector to Industry, March 30 and 31, Dr. Keith Nurse spoke about the need to focus on building a creative economy – to not just train artists but train creative entrepreneurs which would allow the country to embrace a new scenario and provide synergy between content and distribution.

This is the challenge, Dr. Nurse noted, for Caribbean countries whose economies and development strategies are based on an old framework. Example - the Pelican Village, which he noted, does not have enough in it to draw you back there, or the Four Square Rum Factory – lovely buildings complete with amphitheatre, but no audience. Lovely buildings and UNESCO world heritage status is not enough, unless, Nurse noted, we can get people moving through these facilities.

The Caribbean needs an infrastructure to build the intellectual property and not just develop the artists…the demand for Caribbean content is there - untapped potential that our fragile economies cannot afford to do without, especially given the recession we are experiencing.

In some on line fora, concerns have been expressed that the CIB is vague, that the link between creating culture and creating economic value is not clear in terms of a strategy outlined by the CIB, that copyright and intellectual property have not been adequately addressed in the CIB and that the potentially tight control in the CIB by government officials who may well be proficient in their particular area of expertise but not about culture, is not the way to move forward given the potential of the cultural sector.

Versia

Caption: Still from animation by Versia Harris, BCC 2012 Graduate

There is even an online petition http://www.petitions24.com/fix_the_cultural_industries_bill requesting citizens to voice their concern and agitate to have the bill fixed. One comment published in the online debate suggested the CIB in its current format should be dumped.

“This proposed Bill has all the hallmarks of having been cooked up by a bunch of students and academics at the UWI and bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to the realities of the international entertainment industry.

My suggestion is to chuck the draft into the garbage, hire an experienced LA consultant, look to the systems of Canada, Israel and the Isla of Man and formulate a Bill around that consultant’s advice on how to slightly undercut Canada, Israel and the Isle of Man to secure at least a part of this multi-billion dollar industry for Barbados. THAT would be money well spent.”

The writer continues “I personally think that, given the scope of the real stakeholders, this is far too large and complex an undertaking for the Ministry of Culture and, given the enormous size of the income that, properly done, this could generate, it deserves to be overseen from the Prime Minister’s office.”

What I find interesting about the CIB and the debate it has generated is what the process of developing the bill says about the relationship between the individual and the state as a post-independent nation. Creatives feel marginalized. However, government cannot afford to isolate the artists. It is critical for elected officials and stakeholders to shape equally beneficial programmes to effectively build Caribbean societies that may compete in the global arena.

As Mervyn Claxton wrote in a study on culture and development in 1994 for UNESCO, “Participation is implicit in a type of development that is not only for, but also by, the people. In the context of development action, experience has shown that consultation of the beneficiary populations, and their participation to as great a degree as possible, in the formulation and the implementation of development strategies and projects, invariably, and often dramatically, increases the chances of their success.The absence of such consultation and participation, on the other hand, has often been identified by development agencies, in post-project evaluations, as one of the principal causes of the failure of many projects to attain their objectives.”

Claxton goes on to write that the end result of groups of people who feel marginalized from the democratic process not only loosens the bonds these groups have within the society but the society itself stands the loss of their potential contributions.

The tragedy of this fallout is that the marginalization experienced, acts as a destabilizing force that affects the very coherence of the society itself, according to Claxton. Our economy is not in a position where we can afford a stand off between the government and the stakeholders on this issue of drafting, refining and perfecting the CIB.

The stakes are too high and if we want to compete economically in a global framework we need to be excellent. If the CIB in its current draft is not excellent then we as a post-independent Caribbean nation to whom all other CARICOM nations may look to as the leader in the drafting of their own legislation, need to have the maturity to reflect honestly and acknowledge that we can do better.

There is no doubt in my mind that we have the capacity to draft a fine piece of legislation – one that will carry us forward with what is best - not for the party in power, not for the opposition, and not for one particular creative sector - but for the nation as a whole.

On another level altogether, I am amazed that in spite of both our history and the lack of a developed industry to support cultural practitioners, it is nothing short of a miracle that we are still a creative people. And given it’s the creatives who are providing this nation with options for the future – respect due, please.

I close with a quote from George Lamming’s introduction to his lecture ‘Sovereignty of the Imagination” given at UWI, Mona in 2003 where he quoted Martin Carter in 1974 as saying “It is precisely in times of crisis that we must examine our lives and bring to that re-examination contempt for the trivial, and respect of the riskers – those who take the risk of going forward boldly to participate in the building of a free community of valid persons…”

Martin Carter

Caption: Martin Carter - Guyanese Poet and Writer

There is no doubt that this is a time of crisis. It is incumbent upon all of us to re-examine the CIB, take the risk to admit that we can do better and allow the consultative process to include all beneficiaries, leading to a more cohesive community and a stronger, more successful bill. What’s the viable alternative and at what cost?

 

October 2011

The Curacao Connection

I write this month’s column from where I am currently located at the Instituto Buena Bista, more often referred to as the IBB in Curacao, the Netherlands Antilles.  I was invited to participate in a residency at the IBB after having a series of conversations with one of the co-founders at an exhibition we both participated in a year ago in Martinique at the Fondation Clement.IBB

The IBB is a bottom-up network co-founded and managed by Tirzo Martha and his colleague, David Bade to offer what they call an ‘Orientation course’ over two years to specially selected young Curacao students. To complement their teaching, practicing visual artists are invited throughout the year to the IBB to offer new views, or Buena Bistas, on contemporary art to the students.   Being the only post high school space for young people who are interested in the arts to gather and learn, the IBB is important in Curacao as the location to nurture and harness emerging talent.  

On completion of the ‘Orientation course’, the opportunity is there for the students to receive financial aid to attend art universities in the Netherlands with support offered by the IBB for the application process.  The IBB maintains contact with the students throughout their time in the Netherlands.  At this time the IBB has 16 of their former students at art schools in The Netherlands and 27 students currently enrolled at the centre.  In 2012, the first set of IBB students will graduate from Dutch Academies and the IBB is keen to provide studio spaces for those who return to the island.

The IBB is marking its fifth anniversary and I am here to be a part of these anniversary celebrations through one of their platforms – the International Project Platform.  Two other platforms intersect – an Artist in Residence and an Educational Track – providing students with a dynamic and interactive centre which receives funding from several Dutch entities.  In the past five years the IBB has hosted more than 30 international artists in their residence programme.  These visiting artists support the IBB initiative through teaching, making their own work and donating an artwork which contributes to a growing collection of contemporary art for the IBB.

IBB ResidencyThere is no financial support for the IBB from the local government.  Funding is exclusively from the Netherlands.  Curacao has recently developed semi-autonomous status and is a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.  The connection with the Kingdom is strong and the space feels quite different to what many of us in post-Independent Caribbean states experience.  A polyglot society - many people in Curacao including most of the students at the IBB, speak four languages including Papiamentu, Dutch, Spanish and English.

The IBB is physically located at the Caprilles Clinic outside of Willemstad.  A Jewish founded psychiatric clinic, it offers care to patients who suffer with psychiatric disorders, drug and alcohol addiction.  The IBB has a reciprocal relationship with the clinic in so far as there is an open door policy allowing patients to wander into the IBB and pick up a paintbrush or just say hello.  One student has been clean for two years after a thirty-year crack addiction.  She entered IBB via her art therapist who recognized her ability and enrolled her in the programme on a full time basis.  The day I entered IBB, a short-term patient joined my group the same day.  An accountant, she is taking time out from the demands and stresses of contemporary life and using the IBB as a place to reconnect with her creativity.  Having said all this, the IBB is not an art therapy clinic.  It sees itself as a catalyst for young aspiring artists who benefit from being exposed to a wide variety of practitioners from around the world today.  Some well known visiting artists include US based artists Kara Walker and Guillermo Gomez Pena.   Many also come from Holland. 

THE BCC/IBB INTERNATIONAL PROJECT PLATFORM

The project that I am working on here at the IBB includes students from both Barbados and Curacao.  It uses aesthetics as a way to connect artistic communities and opposes the notion of the Caribbean as a region separated by water and language.  I see my role here at the IBB as a facilitative one to engender a connection between students at the Barbados Community College (BCC) and students here at the IBB.   This International Project Platform is the conduit for the connection and the working process is as important as the final result which will take the form of a video and a blog called “Let Me Tell You Something About Who We Are”. 

In our conversations about this project, I have stressed the importance of making connections in a Caribbean context, IBBsuggesting that we think about broadening our sense of who we are and make a conscious effort to embrace the entire archipelago as a significant space to work in.

The project is conceptually grounded in Edouard Glissant’s paper titled “The Poetics of Relation” and Nicolas Bourriaud’s “Relational Art Theory” offering a theoretical framework that links contemporary art practice with our understanding of the hybridized creole space we inhabit as individuals and as a region. 

WHO ARE GLISSANT AND BOURRIAUD?

Born in Martinique in 1928, Glissant is recognized as on of the great writers, literary critics and influential thinkers of our time.  On returning to Martinique in the mid-1960’s Glissant’s focus on ‘Relational Aesthetics’ prepared the groundwork for the “Creolite” movement, advanced the concept of ‘Caribbeaness’ and opposed the idea that the Caribbean could be described only in terms of African descent.  Glissant rejected French dominance in the French Caribbean while acknowledging a Caribbean identity informed by ex-slaves, indigenous people, European colonisers, East Indian and Chinese indentured servants.  Glissant believed our identities are constructed through telling, listening and connecting, thereby transforming how we think about who we are and how our societies function.  Glissant speaks about the notion of the rhizome - a root-like system that functions like a network on the ground or in the air.  The project takes this model of the rhizomatic network in the air, facilitated by the world-wide-web, as the mechanism connecting us throughout the Caribbean transforming our community and therefore our identity.

For the purposes of this project, I link Glissant’s concept with the idea of Relational Aesthetics as theorized by Nicolas Bourriaud who acknowledges the internet as the vehicle which opens up and changes mental space.  Bourriaud defines Relational art as “a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.”

As an example of how connected this Caribbean space is, the students were asked to complete national family trees noting the names of the country where they were born, and where their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were born.  What emerged demonstrated that this region was the first globalised space in the world.  The two sets of students have the blood of the world running through their veins.  They hail from Curacao, Barbados, China, India, the UK, Panama, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Suriname, and many islands in the Caribbean.  Whether or not we acknowledge it, as Michael Jackson said, we are the world and while some maintain an assertion of the region as a suite of insular nation states, this claim is at odds with the lived reality.IBB

THE BCC AND IBB STUDENT PROJECT

The notion of a divided Caribbean separated by water and language has past its time, and this collaborative project insists that what connects us is stronger than what can possibly separate us.  To commence the exchange, nine BCC students made a video to show the IBB students what their art school environment is like at the College in Barbados.  It is lighthearted and whimsical.  The video was uploaded to the student’s blog at www.rcaacademy.tumblr.com  which also offers a page for each of the students to share their works and ideas using image and text.

I arrived at the IBB and shared the BCC video and blog as a way to introduce the project idea and work with the Curacao students to facilitate the second part of the project.  Their job is the same.  To create a video that is offered as a gift to the BCC students that tells them something about who they are.  Likewise, this video will be posted to a dedicated IBB blog complemented by each student showcasing an individual page showcasing examples of their works.

On the third day of my IBB residency, I scheduled a virtual class using skype to have our first interactive session and introduce students in Barbados and Curacao to each other.  The students were very excited to be in the same space and to meet each other.  The energy was electric.  Students had to negotiate the space and determine how to present themselves and interact with each other. 

“Let Me Tell You Something About Who We Are” asks us to rethink the human Caribbean narrative.  It reinforces connection and builds community through a connective aesthetics as a socially engaged practice.  Making art becomes an opening for human exchange.  The gesture of making the video and the blog becomes an encounter which collapses the distance and opens a dialogue that could go on and on.

WHAT’S NEXT?

This project opens up the possibility of knowledge, connection, collaboration and dialogue with the intention of student/tutor exchanges happening between the BCC and the IBB.   On November 3rd here at the IBB in Curacao, the BCC students video and blog will be projected alongside their IBB counterparts’ project for their fifth anniversary event; and again on November 19th, the students’ video projects will be shared on the FRESH MILK platform in Barbados as part of a broader series of conversations happening there.  For more information on that event go to www.freshmilkbarbados.wordpress.com

 

i Participation (Whitechapel: Documents of Contemporary Art) by Claire Bishop

ii Participation (Whitechapel: Documents of Contemporary Art) by Claire Bishop

 

September 2011

What does Barbados need to create a more dynamic cultural arena? Some thoughts in response to the recent Budget Speech.

                           
There’s been lots of chat about the expansion of the cultural industries in Barbados.  The Honourable Minister Christopher Sinckler in the 2011 Budget Speech said “that the creative economy ought to be one of the pillars on which our future economic growth must be premised”, The Honourable Minister went on to say that we should move from “being a net importer to becoming a net exporter of cultural services to the World”.   To become a net exporter, the government will provide a facility for the borrowing of fifty million dollars to promote, market and distribute the efforts of artists.  He also said that the Chinese are keen to develop a home in Barbados for the performing arts.  (One can only hope that Barbados will not make the same mistakes that were made in Trinidad re the controversial Chinese built National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) - about which a prominent Trinidadian dancer said, re the quality of the dance floor, “you could snap a toe” while Mas Man, Peter Minshall said it looked like copulating caterpillars.)

 

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NAPA, Port of Spain, Trinidad

 

Trinidadian journalist and blogger, Andre Bagoo wrote of the many technical blunders in the NAPA building and said that the estimated budget of TT$500 million might need to be augmented with an additional TT$80 million dollars to correct the structural flaws. Trinidadians want to know why their government spent so much money without consulting stakeholders on the ground about what they actually need.

I was reminded of this Trini controversy when Bajans recently started to question the wisdom in building a Caribbean Wax Museum at Pelican Village to showcase full sized distinguished Caribbean persons in wax.  The wax museum idea made me think about the students who graduate with Bachelor of Fine Art degrees from the Barbados Community College, and who wonder about post-graduation sustainability – both intellectually and economically.  They wonder what infrastructure exists in the larger society to make room for artists who want to show cutting edge work and engage critically with the wider national and regional society and by extension, the world.  The question really is about sustainability.

 

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Art Gallery, Morningside, Barbados Community College, 2011. Photo by Corrie Scott

While the whole world is discussing sustainability we too in the Caribbean need to speak about how cultural practice can be sustainable and think carefully about the kinds of policies we craft.  For example, do our ministers who formulate policies about culture, engage with culture?  Do they have an art collection, attend theatre, read Caribbean literature?  Do they know what they are talking about in relation to the economics of culture? Do our Ministers understand the cultural industries…do the decision makers know how to shape a dynamic cultural environment?  How many people in the cultural industries are making a comfortable living in Barbados today?  What will a wax museum and a performing hall do to expand the critical space and to increase sustainability for the practitioners? How can we plan for the expansion of an industry that we don’t understand?  And how can we become a net exporter of culture globally when we don’t even have a sustainable industry locally, far less regionally and globally?

 

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The Honourable Minister Christopher Sinckler

We cannot even get CARIFESTA right!

An extensive strategic plan titled “Reinventing CARIFESTA” was prepared for the CARICOM taskforce on CARIFESTA in 2004.  It was suggested that CARIFESTA was ripe for change and needed to become a more competitive festival.  Recommended changes have not been implemented and the report is probably collecting dust on some CARICOM shelf in Georgetown.  Why solicit the research in the first place if there is no intention to use it?

I attended CARIFESTA X in Guyana in 2008 and witnessed Nobel Laureate, Derek Walcott engage in a heated exchange with the President of Guyana about the futility of CARIFESTA and the disgraceful ways in which Caribbean governments treat their artists most of the time and that it was unacceptable for the state to pretend to support art at a regional festival for one month every several years and then completely abandon their artists the rest of the time.  Why, he asked, should our actors and actresses have to wait tables in restaurants for two years and then participate in a regional arts festival so that Caribbean governments can feel they are doing something great for culture every couple of years?

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Cover of recently published Art In The Caribbean – An Introduction.

So what do we need?
It’s not like we don’t have a history.  We have a history.  I recently read the publication, “Art in the Caribbean – An Introduction” by Anne Walmsley and Stanley Greaves (2010 New Beacon Books, UK) which offers a useful time line highlighting notable art activity across the entire region from the seventeenth century – showing the art history in the Caribbean.  In relation to Barbados some of the salient moments include the following: in 1948 Golde White set up the Barbados Arts and Crafts Council; in 1933 the Barbados Museum and Historical Society opened; in 1949, the Barbados Museum Art Gallery opened with Neville Connell as curator; in 1965, the Pelican Art Gallery was opened by the Barbados Arts Council, in 1977 the BCC opened a Division of Fine Arts and a few years later, in 1977, DePam was founded.  Barbados hosted CARIFESTA in 1981 and the NCF was born in 1983 which then opened the Queens Park Gallery two years later in 1985.  Representing Artists was formed in 1992, the Art Foundry in 1997, Zemicon Gallery opened in 1999 and the EBCCI in 2006.  So there’s been institutional activity, yet many of them no longer exist and the ones that do, don’t have the capacity to take the visual arts where it needs to go.

 

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Opening of Tonya Wiles’ exhibition at Zemicon Gallery, Barbados

In addition to the above list, many international exhibitions have been organised, often outside of the region, curated by people also from outside of the Caribbean.  The exceptions to this rule were some of the first regional shows including the Biennial of Caribbean and Central America in the Dominican Republic at the Museo de Arte Moderno in 1992, 1994 and 1996 – which then became a Triennial in 2010; Carib Art which happened in Curacao in 1994 and Lips, Sticks and Marks at the Art Foundry in Barbados and in Trinidad at CCA7 in 1998.  These were followed by a suite of externally driven exercises such as Karibische Kunst Heute, Kassel, Germany, 1994; Caribbean Visions, USA and Exclusion, Fragmentation and Paradise – The Insular Caribbean, Madrid, Spain - both in 1998; Identities – Artists of Latin America and the Caribbean, France, Mastering the Millennium: Art of the Americas, Argentina and Washington DC in the USA, ARTE di nos e ta, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, all in 2002; Caribbean Realities II – Roots and Routes, South Carolina, USA, 2003; Infinite Island – Contemporary Caribbean Art, Brooklyn Museum, NYC, 2008; Global Caribbean, Miami, USA, Sete, France and Puerto Rico, 2010/2011; Rockstone and Bootheel – Contemporary West Indian Art, at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut, USA and Wrestling with the Image, Washington DC, USA, 2011, among others.

Some of the difficulties with this amount of external activity is that (i) the most current work being produced by Caribbean practitioners is rarely seen in the region, creating a drag effect, a chasm if you will, between the cultural producers who continue to produce, often for an international audience, and their local audience who are ignorant of that production (ii) we don’t control how we are seen, read, and understood in the international arena, - and it’s not always done on our terms (iii) the local space is often not expanded as a result of these external activities – long term relationships are not born out of them.

Externally driven approaches in relation to the region are nothing new.  Conversations about the Caribbean have been taking place outside of the Caribbean for centuries.  We came into being because Europe chose to ‘born us’ and as Lloyd Best wrote, we are the first place where the economy preceded the society….so if things seem a little upside down, it’s because they are.

My concern is, how can we as post-independent states, ie. as owners of this region; shape and nurture dynamic centres of cultural activity nationally and throughout the archipelago in sustainable ways.

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Rockstone and Bootheel catalogue cover designed by Richard Mark Rawlins

To my mind, artist led initiatives have been blazing the trail and allowing us to know ourselves better, bonding via the internet, erasing the boundaries in its wake.  We saw the birth of several platforms that evolved (i) in direct response to the lack of properly functioning formal national structures (ii) out of a need to mitigate isolation and (iii) to build bonds across linguistic divides in the region and across the ponds to a wider Caribbean that exists in increasingly substantial numbers in the cities of North America, the UK and Europe.  The artist led initiatives that I am aware of include the Image Factory in Belize (1990’s), and in the noughties, Popup Studios and The Hub in the Bahamas, the Ghetto Biennial in Haiti, Headphunk in St. Lucia, Groundation in Grenada, Alice Yard in Trinidad, Tembe Art Studio in Suriname, Representing Artists (RA in 1992) and more recently, Projects and Space and FRESH MILK in Barbados.

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Tembe Art Studio, Moengo, Suriname

The reason these spaces matter is because they shape a more dynamic environment, they facilitate a greater awareness of who we are and they build a critical environment.  Even though they are doing important work, there are still a lot of blanks to be filled in and the informal sector cannot address all of our needs on their own steam, such as turning us into net exporters of culture to the world.  Major Caribbean writers have been successful because they left the region and moved to a country where the infrastructure was in place to support their craft including publishers, editors, critics, bookshops and readers – a complete functional environment that allows them to live off of their writing.  We cannot export our cultural products when none of the architectural framework is in place to allow us to be viable on a local level first and when our cultural products don’t have an established value in the global arena.

So the question to be asked at this moment, or the conversation to be had, before we build the wax museum and the big Chinese building on Spring Garden is, what do the arts need in Barbados to flourish?  How can we build an environment that will nurture a culturally dynamic space and how can artists become sustainable?  If I cannot put food on my table and pay my bills, I cannot afford to make my art or craft, write my book, sing my song or act in my play.  This is a wonderful moment in the region, there is a lot of exciting work being made.  But in many ways, we are still at step one when it comes to the required architectural support and cannot, as the Trini dancer said, afford to ‘break a toe” when we still learning how to walk.  So tread carefully, Ministers.


http://www.nationnews.com/articles/view/budget-speech-2011-part-2-of-3/

Reinventing CARIFESTA: A Strategic Plan, Keith Nurse 2004

 

August 2011

The Launch of FRESH MILK – an artist led initiative in Barbados

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Photos Credit – Dondre Trotman   “The FRESH MILK platform”

On August 13th at the Milking Parlour Studio located in St. George, FRESH MILK, (http://freshmilkbarbados.wordpress.com/) an artist led initiative offering an informal platform for exchanges among contemporary practitioners, writers and makers; was launched.  The inaugural event offered a rich programme including an artists’ talk, an exhibition and a screening of sixteen video shorts from around the region.  The focus of the FRESH MILK event was the launching of ARC III, a quarterly Caribbean art and culture print magazine published out of St. Vincent and the Grenadines by Holly Bynoe and Nadia Huggins.  (www.arcthemagazine.com)

But first, a bit of background - what is FRESH MILK?

The idea for FRESH MILK has developed over years of conversations with other practicing artists around the need for artistic engagement amongst contemporary practitioners living and working in Barbados who are concerned with a contemporary Caribbean space – which maybe in Bridgetown, Toronto, Port of Spain or East London.  My interest in founding FRESH MILK was renewed after having returned to teaching in the art department at BCC after a five year hiatus and realizing (again) that students with BFA degrees had no where to go once they graduated to share their ideas, be mentored or become part of a creative community that acknowledges their practice.

FRESH MILK’s aim is to support interactions across disciplines and contribute to an increasingly rich discourse surrounding creative production within the informal networks of the Caribbean.  Its seasonal programming will offer events in the Wet Season and the Dry Season in its commitment to bring people and ideas together.  This venture is connected in spirit to the increasingly rich informal artist-led networks spawning from the Bahamas in the North to Suriname in the South.  

FRESH MILK is located in the Southern Caribbean, a region often referred to as a hybridized space, well known for its capacity to fuse various elements and remake itself over and over again.  In this tradition, FRESH MILK appears to be a singular space – a simple wooden deck used as a private eating area for a family but which on occasion transforms into a platform for ideas – bridging the divide between private and public, disciplines or territories; transformable into a gathering space for contemporary creatives who are thirsty to debate ideas and share works.

The humble FRESH MILK space straddles my residence with my working studio and gallery.  It is literally a wooden deck – a platform if you will, that connects my home with the place where I think, write, and make things; becoming a point of connection between living and working environments as well as between myself and others.

THE EVENT THAT LAUNCHED FRESH MILK

The evening’s proceedings began with my conversing with Holly and Nadia about the birth of ARC – a delicious magazine which “offers insight into current creative industries, while bridging the gap between established and emerging artists.”   The founders spoke to their interest in creating something beautiful and worthwhile to showcase the work coming out of the region and also about their need to develop a collaborative project to mitigate isolation – especially for Holly who was returning to quiet Bequia from energetic NYC.  Their interest was to honour creative practitioners and provide a space for people to come together.  The founders acknowledged that embarking on the ARC project was a huge leap of faith.  Now into preparing the fourth issue, they feel as though they are being understood in the Caribbean and that their jump of faith has resulted in being ‘caught’ as manifested by the encouraging support they have received throughout the region.  Holly closed by speaking about our need to form a united front, to think about the power of coming together and the need to harness this energy right now and acknowledge the groundswell taking place.

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Photo Credit – Dondre Trotman.  From left to right – Holly Bynoe and Nadia Huggins, ARC Founders in conversation with Annalee Davis, FRESH MILK Founder - on the platform.”

The second component of the launch included Project and Space, founded by Barbadian artist, Sheena Rose.  This initiative was also born out of a need to mitigate isolation and to develop collaborative projects with others by using both her private studio space and public venues for monthly meetings with younger practitioners.  Having just returned

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