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:
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.
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.
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.