It’s been a very busy week at the IBB in Curaçao!
This Tuesday I had my first interview for FRESH MILK’s Satellite Programme, with the help of IBB students Tamika Lont, who is assisting me and taking notes on the project, Rashid Pieter and Friefabian Plantijn, who are both filming and editing the interview footage. I spoke with art historian and curator Jennifer Smit, who was born and raised in Curaçao, and has been instrumental in the advancement of the contemporary art scene. She curated the pivotal exhibition Arte ’99 in Curaçao, co-founded the ArteSwa foundation in 2004, and curated the show Antepasado di futuro in 2010, which also marked Curaçao becoming an autonomous country within the Kingdom. It was a privilege to be able to discuss her views on the art scene locally and regionally, and especially her passionate views on how important it is for us to recognize ourselves as being from the Caribbean, no matter what island we are from, and to collaborate and come together through the arts to celebrate this connection – especially as there is no governmental framework for this, and it is an initiative pioneered by the artists and creatives themselves. It was a fantastic way to begin the interview process.
On Wednesday, Tamika, Rashid, Fabian and I traveled to the studio of Dutch artist Herman van Bergen, who has lived and worked in Curaçao since 1989. He was also fascinating to speak with, from hearing his story about traveling to the Caribbean because he met a beautiful girl, to also falling in love with the environment and way of life he found when he moved to Curaçao. He has been inspired by the landscape he found here in contrast to Europe, which he appreciated through his art as, but the environment and landscape also have also been a double edged sword in his work. His current materials of choice are thorns which grow all over the island called Acacia Tortuosa, which began to cover the island after colonialism when all the native trees were cut down to build slave ships. He referred to human beings as ‘the thorns of the world,’ and described the thorns as mother nature’s way of fighting against the horrors humans force her to witness, from slavery to the wars that wage today. We even got the first glimpse of the piece he is currently working on, a tremendous work called ‘Cathedral of Thorns’ which will be an entire labyrinth constructed of Acacia Tortuosa, lit up through the walls to cast breathtaking shadows on the viewers as they actually move through the piece. In the center there will be a space for other artists to exhibit as well. This makes the work very interactive and community based – which factored into our discussion about coming together as artists to create and grow together in the region.
Thursday we visited the curator at the Landhuis Bloemhof, Nicole Henriquez. The gallery was officially opened under the name Bloemhof in 2002, and is dedicated to Nicole’s parents May and Max Henriquez; the studio of May Henriquez is also a permanent exhibition of the gallery, and we were lucky enough to be shown her sculptor studio and her work by Nicole, who inherited her love of the arts from her mother. During our tour of the studio space, she told us she insisted on keeping the same walls where her mother had done sketches before creating her work, even after the renovations that took place. We also spoke about the current exhibition in the gallery, which is of photographs of spaces that existed in Curaçao in the 70s called High Flying Parks; areas where the youth of the island would come, hang out and make their own – a kind of community artwork in itself. We also discussed the idea of community from the perspective of other Caribbean islands – not only the need for it, but also touched on the difficulties concerning travel and transport of works from island to island. She mentioned visiting the exhibition Caribbean: Crossroads of the World in New York, and that she thought it was beautiful to see work from throughout the region together in this way.
My last interview of the week was back at the IBB, this time in the studio space of the current local artist in residence, Ailsa Anastatia. In addition to her own practice, Ailsa is an art teacher at a secondary school, and we talked about the difficulties involved with balancing your own work with the responsibilities of being an educator. Having loved the arts her entire life, she finds a way to strike that balance, even if it involves working through vacations, because it part of who she is. It is also why initiatives like the IBB become important not only for the students, but for the arts in Curaçao on the whole – although she is primarily a painter, Ailsa will also be experimenting with three dimensional work during her residency, because she has the space, materials and time set aside to develop her practice, which is crucial for all artists; but sadly not something many Caribbean practitioners often have locally. Ailsa also participated in a residency in Holland, which was also an opportunity for her to develop her practice and connect with other artists, but has not traveled regionally in the arts as much as she would like; it is something she would love to do, and she is also supportive of the mission FRESH MILK is striving for with the IBB to bring the arts network closer.
It has been a long week – but a fruitful one, with so many stimulating conversations to be inspired by. Meeting the artistic figures here on Curaçao, as well as getting to know my way around the studios of the IBB and the staff and students here has been great so far, and I look forward to what next week will bring – especially now that Holly Bynoe has arrived, and will begin her new media Master Class titled The Five Obstructions starting Monday!