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

 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

The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing – #CCF

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Looking. We do it all the time, often without considering the fact that we are indeed looking. Just looking. Aside from the obvious inclusion of an adverb, what is the difference, if any? Implicit in both is the idea that the eyes are observing people and objects, and the brain is processing information (however trivial) about these things. James Elkins in his book titled The Object Stares Back posits that there is no substantial difference between looking and just looking. The same action is involved and the intention is often the same in both cases. We look because our interest has been piqued. But perhaps the addition of the word “just” is an indication that our interest has been piqued for a shorter time because the person or object being looked at has not kindled enough interest.

The above description is from Dominique Hunter’s guest review of  The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing by James Elkinsthis week’s addition to the Fresh Milk Books Tumblr – the online space inviting interaction with our collection in the Colleen Lewis Reading Room.

For new Critical. Creative. Fresh reviews, look out for our #CCF responses and see the great material we have available at Fresh Milk!

Fresh Milk on VOB’s radio show: 630 with David Ellis

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Fresh Milk director, Annalee Davis, and recent resident artist Thais Francis were both interviewed for the June 10th edition of the Voice of Barbados (VOB 92.9) radio show 630 with David Ellis. Their segment became part of a larger programme featuring Annalee’s father and brother, Vere and Paul Davis, who spoke about Walkers Dairy (on which Fresh Milk is located), its history and the work being done.

Listen to Annalee and Thais’ contribution in the excerpt below, and to hear the full podcast, click here for Part 1 here and here for Part 2 here:

Thais Francis’ Residency – Week 4 Blog Post

Thais Francis shares her fourth and final blog post about her recently completed Fresh Milk residency. Looking back on her time in Barbados, Thais is happy with the the focus that having a dedicated, peaceful working environment has afforded her, as well as the work she was able to do with the children at Workmans Primary School, overall leading to a very productive and inspiring residency period. Read more from Thais below:

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“I heard you on the radio, are you here in Barbados?”

When I saw those words, I felt sad – because the answer was no. I am no longer in Barbados, I am back in America, and maybe I missed my opportunity to sit with you and thank you. Thank you for opening my eyes to a world of Caribbean literature, for introducing me to the Orishas and for being a pioneer. Who would have thought my NYU professor from 5 years ago would remember me and even find my email address? Who would’ve known he’d be listening to the radio right at the moment when I came on? He was the person who taught me how to look at words through an Afro-Caribbean point of view, thus shaping the person I am becoming. Kamau Brathwaite great writer and Barbadian, thank you. The next time I’m in Barbados you will not find out through the radio.

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Had it not been for this residency, I would not have known my weaknesses. Have you ever had time to just sit and think? Sit under a tree, and read a book, or write in your journal, without any distractions? Thinking can be quite intense sometimes, but then it can be quite revelatory. You know how Stella went to Jamaica to get her groove back? It felt a little like that – thankfully I’m still young and I have not lost my groove, but I empathize with Stella. I got something in Barbados. I got the ability to fully see and carry on – even in the midst of not knowing. This is beginning to sound like a chapter from Eat Pray Love so I’ll be moving on with my point.

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I have 136 pages of a screenplay. It may be good or it may be bad but I DID IT. I sat down and wrote, even when I was bored I continued, even when I wanted to go to the beach – I did it (sometimes I couldn’t resist the beach though). 136 pages later, I’m ready to continue. Writing a screenplay and seeing that into fruition on a screen seems like a never-ending process, but there is a skeleton, and writing in the studio really helped. Working with the children helped too. I figured I should share my gift. It’s fun to write for your own projects, but even better when you’re able to show kids that art is fun. Playing is fun. Dressing up, saying your name loudly, bowing when your classmates clap, imagining worlds and storytelling is fun. Life should be fun. I hope they learned as much from me as I did from them. I salute teachers. I salute Mrs. Bradshaw and Ms. Gatsby the principal of Workman’s and Annalee and the Fresh Milk team for making the space so aesthetically inviting.

All in all, it was a great experience. My quarter life identity crisis issues have somewhat abated, and now I must proceed. I’ll let you know when the movie comes out. Maybe I’ll have a screening in Barbados. Okay?