Mother Tongue, the curatorial duo of Jessica Carden and Tiffany Boyle, share their final blog post about their Fresh Milk residency, which concluded at the end of February 2015. They recount the last set of meetings they were able to conduct in their very full and productive schedule, including speaking with more artists & academics, visiting collections, and finally attending the Tilting Axis conference. Read the full post below:
The final two weeks of our residency with Fresh Milk were incredibly full and productive, and left us with little time to put down in words how things had been progressing for us. So, belatedly – and from our colder home climates – here is our final blog, as we begin to reflect more widely on our time and research in Barbados.
We began our fourth week at the Fresh Milk studio where the emerging Barbadian artist Versia Harris talked us through her latest videoworks. Versia has had a really busy couple of years with residencies and exhibitions across Europe, Russia, the USA and the Caribbean, so we were fortunate to have the opportunity to discuss her work in-person. In the afternoon, we led a curating workshop with the Fresh Milk Books group. Within this session, the group worked together to select an exhibition and then present to us an exhibition redux, making revisions, reimaginings and remodellings of the original exhibition’s concept and execution. The workshop proved to be a successful method of furthering the FMB groups’ understanding and expectations around curatorial practice, and how it yields a huge affect on the way their own work is framed and represented.
Mid-week we met with Dr. Aaron Kamugisha, Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies where we discussed his work on coloniality, cultural citizenship and freedom in the contemporary Anglophone Caribbean, as well as his role of editor for the ‘Caribbean Political Thought: The Colonial State to Caribbean Internationalisms’ (2013) which has been an influential reference point for our own research in Barbados. Also situated on the Cave Hill campus at UWI is the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination which offers BA and postgraduate degree programmes. At the EBCCI we met with the director, Gladstone Yearwood, who gave us a tour of the building and described some of the educational approaches the centre is taking in relation to arts education. Later in the day, we visited with Therese Hadchity the private collection of architect Mervyn Awon, whose collection has been amassed over a period of 40 years and predominantly consists of Caribbean modern and contemporary art.
Hosted within the capital’s Grande Salle, we attended the film screening of documentary ‘Chinee Girl’ by Natalie Wei which formed the later part of the Fish and Dragon Festival opening reception on the 19th. ‘Chinee Girl’ interweaves testimonials from twelve Chinese-Trinidadian women from all different walks of life to explore the various stereotypes and issues of identity they face daily in Trinidadian society. The end of the week was marked by our visit to the home of the artist Nick Whittle; an artist who has been making work in Barbados since the 70’s. Nick talked us through his recent works including his ongoing collaboration with his daughter and fellow artist Alberta Whittle, before allowing us to search through his print archive consisting of some of the older works. Nick was really instrumental in helping us to map the arts scene during the 80’s and 90’s, through his involvement in many of the local and regional exhibitions. Our visit ended with a very special reading from Nick; his poem ‘This Is Not My Land,’ is still echoing in our thoughts.
Our fifth and final week began with a visit to the National Cultural Foundation where we met with Andrea Wells, Chief Cultural Officer, and Rodney Ifill, Visual Arts Officer, focusing on their remits across the arts sector. We then travelled northeast across the island to make a studio visit with the prominent artist Ras Ishi Butcher. Previously working closely with the artist Ras Akyem, Ishi and Akyem left Barbados in the 90’s to study in Cuba. Ishi showed us new works, particularly focused on the female body and gender in the context of the Caribbean. We then viewed some of his older works whilst discussing his views on sustaining a practice on the island. That evening, we met with Dr. Anthony Richards, a biotechnologist based in Barbados who gave us a walking tour of the city centre. We discussed the spiritual meanings of the island’s flora and fauna, as well as being taken to a number of sites which are known to be important for the history of slavery and the sugar industry on the including the dockyard and city port.
On Tuesday we met with the dancer, choreographer and academic Dr. Yanique Hume. Co-editor alongside Aaron Kamugisha of the ‘Caribbean Political Thought’ volume, Yanique is also based within the Cultural Studies department of the University of the West Indies. Our conversation began with discussing the evolution of Yanique’s own practice in dance and choreography, before discussing her research into the arts in Barbados in the 70’s (primarily around Elombe Mottley’s ‘Yoruba Yard’ and Ras Akyem and Ras Ishi’s public painting projects), before discussing examples of exhibition-making focused around colonialism and race.
On Wednesday morning, we were very lucky to be granted access to the Barbados Gallery Association’s collection which is currently housed in the national museum’s storage facility in Holetown, located on the west coast of the island. We were accompanied by a number of the association’s committee members who talked us through their acquisitions process and future plans for the collection. We picked out works from the store to view, from artists including Stanley Greaves, Arthur Atkinson and Norma Talma; works which we had only previously seen in catalogues and books. On Thursday evening after visits to the British High Commission and the Ministry of Culture, we returned to Mojo’s bar on the south coast where we had met with the local artists and Fresh Milk team four weeks previously for welcoming drinks. This time, we were celebrating our four weeks and saying our farewells, whilst also welcoming a number of participants who had arrived early for the Tilting Axis international symposium which would be taking place at Fresh Milk later in the week. Directors Max Slaven and Ellie Royle arrived from David Dale Gallery, Scotland, alongside CCA Glasgow curator Remco de Blaaij.
Our final day before our residency came to an end was spent with the artist and curator Joscelyn Gardener. Joscelyn met with us in the Fresh Milk studio and described her experiences of being both an artist and curator in Barbados, her framing of her heritage as ‘white-creole’ and the challenges she faced whilst running the Art Foundry; a gallery space which has now closed but was an important landmark within the arts scene for bringing international work and challenging subject-matter to the island. An established artist now living in Canada, Joscelyn spoke about the difficulties facing all artists in Barbados and her role on various committees attempting to secure a national gallery throughout the 90’s.
The following two days were dedicated to the international symposium ‘Tilting Axis: Within and Beyond the Caribbean – Shifting Models of Sustainability and Connectivity’ which was held at Fresh Milk. A partnership between ARC Magazine, Res Artis, Perez Art Museum Miami and Fresh Milk, the aim of the meeting was to promote conversations and engagement between artists and professionals within artist-led initiatives across the wider Caribbean region, build and redefine historical relationships with those in the North, and establish open dialogues and networks emerging in the Global south. Alongside David Dale Gallery and CCA Glasgow, we were present and supported by the British Council Scotland, representing artistic activity across Scotland. The conference witnessed 34 participants from all across the Caribbean come together in order to exchange experiences and form strategies for future support and collaborations. It was a rich experience and one that will undoubtedly have lasting effects. We will be sharing a report on the conference, alongside all participants in the coming month. We will also be reporting back on the outcomes of our residency with Fresh Milk, as well as information on the return project to take place in Scotland – more coming soon!