I’d like to open this evening with a quote from George Lamming’s address ‘In Defence of Cultural Sovereignty’ delivered at the Second Conference of the Regional Ccommittee of Caribbean Cultural and Intellectual Workers in Trinidad in 1984.
“The original meaning of the word, culture, had to do with the tending of plants and the caring of animals. In other words, this work, and the process it describes, has its roots in the practice of agriculture, and it has never lost this sense of nurturing; of feeding, of cultivating, whether it is a body or a mind that is under consideration.”
It is important what we are doing here this afternoon. The bringing together of the work of contemporary creatives from the region – nurturing, feeding and cultivating the labour of creative practitioners, engaging in critical questioning of the efforts of artists and writers, fostering human relations across generations and across the region. Our work as contemporary creatives on a platform such as this one defies what we in the region were originally designed to do – provide labour or raw material to generate wealth for someone from somewhere else. To make our own creative practice central and critical to this space, this island and this region – not marginal or peripheral to a metropolitan centre – while cultivating visions that as Lamming says ‘return a society to itself’- is no easy task.
FRESH MILK’s aim is to create an open and freely accessible space to contemporary creatives in Barbados, the region and the diaspora. It is at once an art project, an experiment and a cultural lab.
Our gathering here this evening is one part of what FRESH MILK does….the bringing together of people and minds to engage with work and ideas. In addition we are cultivating projects which are geared at encouraging a more expansive arena. I’d like to give you an idea of some of the projects we are currently engaged with. At this moment, we are supporting an off-site residency with performance artist Shanika Grimes, a BCC 2012 BFA graduate. Shanika is producing one performance a month for six months. The documented performance is being shared with a review group including Ewan Atkinson of Barbados, Venezuelan performance artist Sandra Vivas, based in Dominica, Michelle Isava in Trinidad and curator/art historian Tatiana Flores based at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Each will offer constructive feedback to Shanika encouraging her to produce her work in a critically supportive environment.
We are working with cross media veteran, McLean Greaves of Bajan birth and based in Toronto, to produce an extended audio work for basic.fm which is an online arts radio program located in Newcastle in the UK. For this project, we have launched an open call for 90 second sound pieces from anyone anywhere all of which we will send to McLean who will work with the data to produce an extended sound work to be broadcast for three weeks in September at basic.fm. The theme of this collaborative project is The Sound of Now.
We also have a summer programme and are pleased to have Russell Watson on board to teach a five day workshop beginning tomorrow. It’s called Uncommon Knowledge – please sign up this evening if you have not done so already and bring whatever camera device you have and a laptop and create your own photomontage projects. Open to beginners and people working in the field.
The second part of the summer workshop is being offered by Yasmine Espert, one of Barbados’ Fulbright Fellows. She will present a one day grant writing workshop on July 21st. We are also offering scholarships to these workshops so please do not let the basic fee deter you from registering. We want to create a supportive community where ideas and skills can be exchanged and transferred.
The August Summer programme is still under construction and those details will be released. Other projects in the making include a visiting Rapper and Hip Hop artist from Boston – a graduate of Berklee with Barbadian ancestry. Her name is Shea Rose and she will work on her music for social change project called ‘My Angel wears a Fro’. BCC graduates, currently at Berklee – Jomo Slusher and Mistral Baldeo will be assisting her. As a result of this residency Fresh Milk has been in conversation with the admissions office at Berklee and pulling together a group of people who will facilitate auditions to be held at BCC in 2013 for young musicians from the Southern Caribbean.
Alberta Whittle, currently on a residency in South Africa, will be coming onto the FRESH MILK platform for a 10 week residency from September through November.
FRESH MILK is building partnerships with the Instituto Buena Bista (IBB) in Curacao which will see the directors of that institute coming to Barbados and FRESH MILK sending a team to Curacao to work there for two weeks. FRESH MILK is working with colleagues from ARC, the NAGB and Popop Studios of the Bahamas to coordinate a series of talks and a panel at the Youth Bienal in Aruba in October of this year.
I am thrilled to report that FRESH MILK has recently received some funding from the Arts and Sports Promotion Fund which will lend support to the Summer programme, the Residency programme as well as to the hiring of a part-time intern for six months. We are very appreciative to the committe for their support. The open calls for the intern and the various projects are all on the blog and the fb page and some flyers are available for those of you here this evening.
This is just to give an idea of the breadth of FRESH MILK. Who would have thought this kind of programming would ever have come out of the yard of a former plantation?
Before the feature event this evening which is the conversation between Aaron, Mariel and Melanie, I would like to give some background to the woman who this reading room is named after.
I am pleased to be able to honour my friendship with Colleen Lewis this evening who I know is here in spirit. I am very happy that Colleen’s husband, Peter Lewis and his new wife, Elizabeth are also here this evening.
Colleen Heather Lewis (nee Shaw) was born on July 12th 1962. She would have turned 50 on Thursday gone. We met briefly at a social gathering when I had just returned from being at art school in Italy – maybe in 1984. The encounter was fleeting. It was not until a decade later – in 1995 I recall, that we met again when Colleen was enrolled at the Barbados Community College as a mature student. She was writing a research paper and it was within the context of this paper that our paths crossed again. She came to interview me to learn more about my work as an artist and what it was like to be a woman artist in Barbados and the Caribbean at that time. Years later, she told me that at that interview, she decided that we would become friends. And that we did. The very best of friends were we.
Many hours of our friendship revolved around discussing what we were reading and of course, discussions about art were endless. Colleen developed a small art collection which included the acquisition of several of my own works. After BCC she decided to go back to school to complete a degree in Art History at the University of Toronto where she was a student of Political Science back in the 80’s. On her return to Barbados, she enrolled in the Masters in Cultural Studies programme at Cave Hill. Many of the texts Colleen gave to me came from her programmes of study in Canada and Barbados.
After Colleen died on September 6th 2006, and on her wishes, I brought the majority of her library to my home. Going through the books reminded me of our time together. I often find notes or postcards that I wrote to her while she was away at school in Toronto or seeking medical attention in the USA or the UK, tucked into the pages, used as book marks. She underlined and wrote notes in the margins of books as I do. When I read these books, it reminds me of our conversations stimulated by these very texts. I cannot help but feel Colleen’s presence through the traces of her hand which I encounter on these many pages in sentences underlined or comments made in the margins…here’s her thought then, right next to mine, now – collapsing time and space into a continuum of love and friendship.
Colleen was an immensely generous human being. I know that she would want her books to be widely shared and read by everyone. I could not think of anything more fitting to remember her by, than to create a freely accessible reading room for all of you and hopefully many others to share in and to grow as a result of all the knowing encased in these pages.
The intention is to build on this collection of books, at least half of which have been gifted by Colleen. At this time, FRESH MILK is happy to make this collection freely accessible to anyone who might like to come and read here in the reading room. It is a humble space and small collection, but enough for one person, or a few, to sit, read and have a conversation.
We have made a call through our Facebook page, blog and through ARC’s site, to say that FRESH MILK is happy to receive donations to the reading room collection…they must of course be fitting. We do not have a lot of space so we need to be somewhat selective about receiving donations. If you are relocating and want to find a home for your books, if you want to make a long-term loan of your books, if you want to gift a subscription to an art magazine, text, catalogue or journal, these are all various ways to donate to the reading room. If you wish to donate your time by volunteering in the reading room, archiving new acquisitions, creating a reading club and organising a reading group session – this we are also open to here at FRESH MILK. The idea is to allow the collection to be freely accessed, respectfully used and loved. This is a sacred space – one that reveres learning and ideas, and values the exchange of knowledge. Thank you so much for being here and for helping me to celebrate Colleen’s life, love for learning and my friendship with her in this fitting way.
And now I’d like to officially welcome everyone to this evening’s event. I have immense pleasure in welcoming Mariel Brown and Melanie Archer to FRESH MILK to speak with Aaron Kamugisha about their recent, important and beautiful publication Pictures from Paradise – Contemporary Caribbean Photography, copies of which are on sale this evening at BDD$120.00. And of course we are happy to have our very own copy in the Reading Room.
Mariel and Melanie are based in Trinidad and are co-editors with Robert & Christopher Publishers. Mariel is also a documentary filmmaker while Melanie is the art director of the T&T film Festival. Aaron is a lecturer in Cultural Studies programme at Cave Hill and will be in conversation with Melanie and Mariel. Welcome all to the Fresh Milk platform!