“Nobody is no longer controlling your narrative”
Those were the powerful words of one half of ARC’s founders, Holly Bynoe, as she addressed the creative network which had descended on a Bajan dairy farm last saturday for the launch of ARC III and FRESH MILK. The former is an extensively expressive regional art magazine highlighting sometimes otherwise overlooked contemporary artists in the Caribbean. The latter, a new open platform for generating creative discussions and presentations of new and established artists. These, combined with a 2D/Video exhibition co-curated by Projects and Space, comprised the stunning and groundbreaking event, to mark how contemporary art in the Caribbean is shifting, and how so too the comprehension of the viewer must also shift.
The evening started with viewers being guided through the select 2D works of five local artists: Alicia Alleyne, Joanna Crichlow, Ireka Jelani, Mark King and Sheena Rose.
Alicia’s splash of bold coloured shapes in her three works seemed to reflect the atmosphere of the evening: why stay in the boundaries of a shape when you can go outside the lines and be something so much more creative? The pieces made abstract art relevant to young Caribbean artists.
Joanna’s reflections on finding familiarity in anomalous surroundings even just within the Caribbean through her Blackbirds series subtly highlighted the need for more unity in the region within the creative realm. The Blackbird aspiring to engage with the mountainous regions of Trinidad was the most striking in this way.
Ireka’s rattan cane and wire sculptures provided an aspect of cultural commentary, whereas a traditional Caribbean craft method has evolved from being something to use, to being something to view. In some ways it is positive to interchange practice with aesthetics, but to how much extent is it making the practice irrelevant?
Mark’s photographs provided a new way to approach imagery in the Caribbean. If there is one area where there is a glut of certain stereotypical iconography, photography is it, but Mark’s prints shattered the stereotypes and presented viewers with a fresh and completely contemporary perspective of our surroundings. Not only that, the agitated colours on a muted plain created a spectacular visual that would be comfortable displayed anywhere.
Sheena’s outlook in life can be seen as absolutely emulated in her pieces Fashion Police: finding bursts of colour in the everyday mundane. What was distinct was the twists on daily interaction by confronting the fashion prejudice and showing the beauty in uniqueness. The viewer is walked through the artist’s experience and reaction to situations such as going into Town dressed somewhat unorthodoxly. Side notes of finding identity through fashion were also explored through these works.
The next aspect of the evening was a conversation between FRESH MILK founder Annalee Davis and ARC founders Holly Bynoe and Nadia Huggins, as well as the present stimulated audience. Issues such as the creation of ARC, it’s relevance towards the metamorphosis of art in the Caribbean, and it’s impact on the founders as creative professionals themselves was covered. The atmosphere was electric and those present could feel the restraints of Caribbean Art being released in an attempt to free itself from the stigma of the past and the commercial suppression of the present. No one could deny the passion and determination of the speakers, just as they could not deny this was just the beginning, and to push forward the collective would have to keep those qualities.
After the intellectual work out, everyone was treated to refreshments and then the presentation of the video aspect of the exhibition. The open air setting under an abundant moon, the projection onto a converted swingset, the blankets and the bugs. It was just all so appropriate for the viewing of 16 video art pieces from 13 Caribbean artists, and suddenly the traditional ‘white cube’ installation spaces seen internationally seemed outdated. The 70 plus congregation were delighted with an un-interrupted slew of what our region has to offer in the way of contemporary video art: from Nile Saulter’s romanticism in The Young Sea to Russell Watson’s neo-realism through his Dust Bodies: Fatima series, to Annalee Davis’ political confrontations in The Hatchling (A Requiem). With each work the emphasis of talent and understanding of how to convey video art became more powerful, and by the completion it was hard to ignore that this medium may be the strongest to voice the shift in this region’s art. And, when studied, this seems logical: Video Art itself is a fairly current category in the art world, and has little history within a Caribbean context. Also, it is not an easily sellable commodity and therefore is not bound by the cultural-tourism-commercial ropes that has other art mediums under wraps. As Holly said there is nothing “controlling your narrative”.
To conclude, the 13th August 2011 is a date that will be etched in the invisible timeline of shifting perception in Caribbean Art. The reaction of viewers, the topics raised, and the positive atmosphere is one that must have been relative to when Duchamp displayed a urinal in a gallery, Degas blurred his painted reality, or Kosuth stuck a couple chairs in a room. In other words, get ready, because things are going to change ’bout hay .
– NATALIE MCGUIRE