Saada Branker and Powys Dewhurst – Week 4 Blog Post

In the last blog post about their time in Barbados, Fresh Milk‘s international writer-in-residence Saada Branker fretted about missing out on the beauty of the country. Given all that she and filmmaker Powys Dewhurst encountered in the first few weeks on the island as they diligently collected information and footage for their documentary memory project commemorating Hurricane Janet’s 60th anniversary, the obvious had escaped her. Read more about her final revelations below:

Standing on serene farmland with no beaches in sight

Standing on serene farmland with no beaches in sight

“You cannot leave Barbados without eating your mango in the sea.” I was told.

Experiencing such a rite of passage in my parents’ birthplace had me giddy. Before arriving in Barbados, I was all about the beach. I practically bragged to my Toronto girlfriends that I would interview and research everything I could find on the 1955 hurricane, but I also intended to make it out to sunbathe a couple times a week. “I’ll write daily, read, and relax on the beach,” I explained. “And I’m going to sketch—my feet in the sand and the waves rolling in.” Clearly, I was cocky in my delusion; as if there was only one place I could ground myself.

By our fourth week in the Fresh Milk residency, my ashy foot was still dry.

Truth told, on this residency, I was immersed in something deeper and more compelling than the thrill of only sun and sand. Being in landlocked St. George, I was walking in the country, divining dimensions of my environment and what it means to be touched by nature, yet humbled by our inability to control it. Case in point, the unknown series of events that resulted in a deluge of sargassum seaweed washing up along beaches in Christ Church and the East Coast —a hemorrhaging compared to what Barbados has received each year since 2011. Here was an inexplicable increase of the sea’s yield, which prompted the tourism sector to beg Mother Nature for mercy. Swimmers were wishing aloud for a quick return to the pristine beaches and crystal clear waters. Amid the frustration and near panic, the inquisitive Barbadians started asking what long-term environmental benefits could be gleaned from the endless mounds of foul-smelling seaweed. Could the sargassum help prevent soil erosion? Could it enrich agricultural soil as fertilizer?

At the start of our last week, the rain fell like currency from the sky. “Since January!” This exclamation was the outburst we’d often hear from Barbadians as they revelled in the close to a six-month dry season. For me and Powys, the first downpour dampened our mood because we had to reschedule two interviews that day. Any filming outdoors was a no-go. There were reports of flooding in certain areas, and one of our interviewees called to reschedule when her balcony accumulated too much rain water—the same spot she intended to have us set up. As the much-needed moisture soothed the scorched earth, I realized how narrow my perspective was about “good weather.” With the gift of raindrops, moods lifted. Bajans spoke of the daily drenching with appreciation. Again, I had been looking at it all wrong.

Our Hurricane Janet chase was really was about exploring these environmental gifts handed from nature along with the losses reaped. People we interviewed opened their homes to us and shared their gems. When the camera recorded, they spoke almost dutifully of childhood memories and family life, describing how Hurricane Janet fit within the layers of their experiences. After the filming, one host offered us freshly squeezed lemonade, compliments of the trees in her beloved yard. Days before leaving, we received a warm loaf of home-made coconut bread from another host. She surprised us the week earlier with the most scrumptious zucchini bread I’ve had in years. Another interviewee invited us back to her home for tea, and on that occasion she handed Powys two mangos picked from a tree in her garden.

The spirit of generosity was also present within the country’s institutions and businesses. Sitting at Barbados Government Information Service, we reviewed silent, black-and-white footage of Hurricane Janet’s aftermath. In it, forlorn Barbadians sifted through debris. I was reminded of the weakness of our constructed environment. The displaced families living in schools for weeks on end revealed a disturbing reality about the impact of a Category-3 hurricane on the economy. As Tara Inniss of UWI’s history and philosophy department explained on camera, a natural disaster like a tropical storm exposes “the deficiencies” in a country’s infrastructures. In Barbados sixty years ago, those vulnerable spots would be found in housing, fisheries and communications, especially involving hurricane preparedness.

To be standing in the sea’s rolling waves today, indulging one’s senses in the sweet juices of a much-revered fruit, is not a bad indoctrination at all. It conjures that heady spell we fall under, gazing at our environmental geography in all its beauty. Such exquisite gifts of nature often have us assuming they will always be there independent of humankind’s interference or incompetence. But times are cyclical in nature. During an economic downturn it becomes even more important to cultivate, protect and preserve our environment with the respect it deserves, and inevitably demands, as Barbados learned late September in 1955.

I did indulge in my gift of a mango picked from a yard tree. But instead of the sea, I sat eating my fruit on Fresh Milk’s studio platform minutes before we started a workshop on writing. It was my private moment to receive and give thanks. There on farmland, I got to pass my own rite—forever touched by the countryside’s warm breeze and cacophony of earthly melodies.

Our very special thanks to Andrea King, Janice Whittle, Charles Phillips, Natalie McGuire, Top Car Rentals Barbados, Barbados Government Information Service, Barbados Museum & Historical Society, Above Barbados, The National Cultural Foundation of Barbados, The University of West Indies History and Philosophy Department, Southern Rentals Barbados, St. George Parish Church, ArtsEtc, and Fresh Milk Barbados for their contributions and for facilitating our interviews during our stay.

Colección Cisneros shares the debate ‘The Tropical: Resistance or Cultural Tourism?’

Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, a platform for debate concerning the immense contributions of Latin America to the world of art and culture, shares the online debate ‘The Tropical: Resistance or Cultural Tourism?‘ featuring input by Fresh Milk‘s Founding Director Annalee Davis.

Leandro Cardoso Nerefuh, Churrasco Tupinambá, 16th Century (Variable dimensions). Part of the Arquivo Banana [Banana Archive].

Leandro Cardoso Nerefuh, Churrasco Tupinambá, 16th Century (Variable dimensions). Part of the Arquivo Banana [Banana Archive].

About the debate:

The “tropical” has helped to increase visibility in the global art market for contemporary art produced in Latin America (particularly from the Caribbean, Central America, and Brazil). Its vibrant, colorful, and extravagant iconography can be easily read by a broad audience. On one hand, the tropical can empower a worldview that is different from the “western” mainstream that dominates the global art world. On the other, it can be accused of reproducing an exotic colonial gaze that has historically constructed the tropics as only a place of desire and leisure. Has the tropical become a contemporary aesthetic trend that continues to primitivize the “Other”? How has the Latin American art market boom contributed to promoting a particular form of legibility for practices made in tropical climates? Can the tropical be a useful artistic strategy today or is it condemned to banality?

Join the debate here.

Moderators: Carla Acevedo-Yates and Cristiana Tejo carla and cristiana Participants: Mario García Torres, Moacir dos Anjos, Annalee Davis and Leandro Nerefuh

Director: Annalee Davis. Photo credit: Charles Phillips of Monochrome Media

Annalee Davis. Photo credit: Charles Phillips of Monochrome Media

About Colección Cisneros:

The Colección Cisneros website was created to offer a forum for information about, a platform for debate concerning, and a spark for the ignition of interest in the immense contributions of Latin America to the world of art and culture. The site’s inspiration and launching point is the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros (CPPC), but its ambition is discovery, and its mission is to weave a multi-lingual, virtual network for people and ideas. Founded in the 1970s by Patricia Phelps de Cisneros and Gustavo A. Cisneros, the CPPC is based in New York City and Caracas. Its mission is to enhance appreciation of the diversity, sophistication, and range of art from Latin America, and to advance scholarship of Latin American art. The CPPC achieves these goals through the preservation, presentation, and study of the material culture of the Ibero-American world—ranging from the ethnographic to the contemporary.

Saada Branker & Powys Dewhurst – Week 3 Blog Post

Fresh Milk resident artists, writer Saada Branker and filmmaker Powys Dewhurst, share more about their time spent in Barbados. For their third blog post, Saada writes a three-part reflection on artistry and education in the island, outlining the creativity, diversity and tenacity she and Powys have seen and engaged with while working on their  documentary memory project commemorating the 60th anniversary of Hurricane Janet. Read more below:

Education and for the finest at UWI. Roaming chickens remain camera shy.

Education for the finest at UWI. Roaming chickens remain camera shy.

Where Education Can Take You in Barbados

Before we dismiss art as a sidetrack, consider how creative classes have always grown their ideas by finding methods to execute, launch and celebrate their overarching concepts. Today through layered highways of social media, an ever-expanding audience is poised to tune in to the language and persuasion of the artist. In this three-part blog, I celebrate artistry and arts education in Barbados. As I learned during my third week in the Fresh Milk international residency programme, its producers are well positioned to express and represent to a shrinking world.

All traveling week 3 was made possible courtesy of Southern Rentals Barbados.

Part 1: Literacy begat Education

In the Cave Hill courtyard of the renowned University of the West Indies, chickens walk freely on campus alongside aspiring and established scholars. Each time I turned into paparazzi to capture a feathered creature doing its thing, I lost focus and was turned back to the task at hand: interviewing. Later packing up equipment, Charles Phillips, our assistant director, nonchalantly mentioned that he saw one rooster come out of a locker. “He just stepped out.” The jokes ensued about the free-roaming fowl having opportunity to better their education and go places.

At the root of our humour is a well-nurtured truth about Barbados and its heightened affinity for literacy and education.

On April 8th, 2011, Powys Dewhurst and I were in the audience after a Reel World premiere screening of Russell Watson’s feature film, “A Handful of Dirt” in Toronto. Watson, an acclaimed Bajan director, took a question and in that moment said something that stuck with me fast for four years. His reply got us thinking of slave rebellions in the Caribbean region. What did it mean to rebel against an inhumane system? How was it done? As context for the resistance that took shape throughout the tropical islands, Watson spoke of Jamaica having its Maroon history. Conversely, Barbados’ very distinct flat lands made the African slaves’ escape to mountains impossible. Still, as seen in today’s depiction of broken shackles around Bussa’s raised hands, the desire for emancipation burned during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. What Barbados ran with year after year to fight the suffocating weight of slavery was literacy, said Watson. By learning to read, our ancestors opened their world to education, namely to critical thinking and philosophic ponderings and ultimately an awakening about the human right to self-actualization and self-determination. That understanding was passed on to children.With that burgeoning awareness, they also opened themselves to the influences of art.

An emancipated Bussa symbolizes a full-bodied rebellion in Barbados

An emancipated Bussa symbolizes a full-bodied rebellion in Barbados. Photo credit: Powys Dewhurst

 Part 2: Education begat Art

I no longer see education as book smarts. In Canada, we have shifted noisily from embracing only hallowed halls of learning to running through open fields for art education or both. I experienced as well in some Bajan circles, a palpable openness to converse and learn about artists who build, create and produce.

When we stop to reflect, no matter where we are in the world, we can always count on artists to be found somewhere and everywhere. Expect artists to carry a message that puts your brain to work. Expect their minds to race above and beyond as they do that. Through their produced works, they dare audiences as much as they encourage them to be critical thinkers and join a forging movement that will exist whether or not you choose to travel alongside. Therefore, expect artists to dedicate precious time to help us imagine, expand our consciousness and sometimes consider solutions together. We’re talking gifted people, traditionally rendered invisible because they dared to be passionate about the non-scripted life, and would sit or dance or paint or build or produce or capture or write or sketch or sing or study or rehearse for long hours that stretched into months; their lives at a standstill, their work speaking loudly and their motivation contagious.

Taking time with my celebrated filmmaker Powys Dewhurst and acclaimed author Robert Sandiford

Taking time with my celebrated filmmaker Powys Dewhurst and acclaimed author Robert Sandiford

 Part 3: Art begat Art Education

I caught on to the support and the rallying calls from curators during my third week in Barbados. Through casual conversations with these facilitators, I’m learning about the promotion of Bajan artists and what it takes to help them get their work out and into the world. I learned from Annalee Davis, artist and founder of Fresh Milk Barbados, Robert Sandiford, co-founder of writer of ArtsEtc Barbados, Ebonnie Rowe, producer of Honey Jam in Toronto and Barbados and now Honey Jazz, and Beverly Smith-Hinkson, founder of Chattel House Books.

So, sitting and typing in the Fresh Milk artists’ platform, I found space and peace of mind to observe and ponder what I needed to say. There is no missing that the space was made for that very reason. On my third Monday in Barbados, as I worked in the studio researching and chasing interviews, I met illustrator Simone Asia, a former local resident at Fresh Milk. Her meticulous sketching evokes feelings worth exploring, and for a couple hours we shared and talked out finer points of how and why she creates. Our village indeed has gone global so I knew, gazing at her dimensional patterns, that I wouldn’t be the only one to appreciate her hand’s illustrations.

On a few occasions, Powys and I found our way into Chattel House bookstore to leaf through and purchase the works of Matthew Clarke, Omar Kennedy, Robert Sandiford and Karen Lord. Their commitment to literature, fantasy and art thrills us. Barbados indeed has its very own social generation of nerds, eloquent visionaries and ambitious pointy heads with a gift for illustration. We also turned the pages of stunning photography books like Barbados Chattel Houses by Henry Fraser and Bob Kiss (2011) which captured the richness of Barbados architecture and its accompanying history. With each visit, we chatted about these artists and historians with manager Russell and employee Jason. There was a consensus on how thisgrowth of talent in Barbados and the documented history can amplify Barbados on a world stage. Meanwhile, as we pontificated, children walked into the store and plucked items from the shelves. On the Chattel House couch they sat quietly, focused, and with book in hand, pored over pictures and words—their brains revving. Seeing them, I look forward to many more talented Bajans stepping out.

Fresh Milk featured in the 2015 Business Barbados Publication

An article by Fresh Milk‘s Director Annalee Davis was featured in the 2015 edition of Business Barbados‘ annual publication. The piece is titled ‘Supporting the Visual Arts to Enhance National Development‘, and addressed the work that Fresh Milk is doing on this front.

Click here to read more:

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Article by Annalee Davis

Fresh Milk was also listed as one of the non-profits/charities doing important work in the article ‘Opportunities for Philanthropic Investments in Barbados’ Social Infrastructure‘ by Peter Boos, Chairman Emeritus, Ernst & Young Caribbean.

Click here to read more:

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Article by Peter Boos