Bahamian writer Ethan Knowles shares his second blog post about his Fresh Milk residency. This week included further research and exploration of Barbados, including a trip to the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, a visit from Barbadian artist Ewan Atkinson, and attending the launch of the exhibit “The Enigma of Arrival: The Politics and Poetics of Caribbean Migration to Britain” at the Barbados Museum & Historical Society. Read more below:
As I write this week I sit listening to the sounds brought on by the rain. Chirps, whistles, coos and croaks spill into the flat as fronds all around me shed the last drops of their watery loads. A phone rings. Engines fade. And every now and then, a rooster’s call claws the air, interrupting the plip plop of puddles. Nothing moves, and yet it all feels alive. It is in this chorus that I am repeating the week, looking back at what has happened and what I have, in some way or another, happened upon. Here we go.
Walking to the studio at the start of the week, I met the third and final member of our residency trio, Ark Ramsay. We spoke about ourselves and our research, and before long Ark was handing me, much to my delight, a copy of Shani Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night. Having spent the week reading and thinking about this text, about the way it blurs binaries and pushes back against notions of paradise in the Caribbean, I find myself feeling more motivated than ever to imagine my own stories in the coming two weeks.
On Tuesday, I rode with Annalee to the University of the West Indies – Cave Hill campus. She had gotten word that a plant in a living installation of hers needed replacing, and so we headed to the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination to check it out. The piece, produced in collaboration with Kevin Talma and Ras Ils, speaks to the importance of biodiversity and local systems of knowledge in the wake of an environmentally, socially, and culturally traumatic sugar economy. Thinking about the work, I could not help but draw connections to bush medicine in The Bahamas and how it’s often dismissed as backward or out of date, barely even recognised at the cultural level for its significance.
Flora at the forefront of our thoughts, we headed to the archives just down the road where I eventually parted with Annalee, hoping to meet and speak with any available UWI professors in the humanities department. With some much-appreciated guidance from a high school friend, I eventually sat down with Dr. Charmaine Crawford and had a highly informative talk about identity, politics and activism in both Barbados and the wider Caribbean. Before heading back to the flat for the day I took a ZR van into town and photographed the harbor with my film camera. One busy bus ride later and I was back at the flat, wondering what my next cooking situation would come to.
Later in the week, Barbadian artist Ewan Atkinson stopped by the studio with some of his recent work. He discussed his ongoing undertaking, The Neighbourhood Project, and its examination of the individual, community and the ways a society makes meaning. One artefact he brought with him for us to engage with was “Peregrination” – a vintage-style board game complete with Neighbourhood personas and a moral agenda. Naturally, we played the game. It was very witty, and after some heated debate around the occasionally ambiguous instructions, Kia emerged as its winner. For me though, the most interesting part about Ewan’s work was the story at its heart. An idea exists – a place and its people – and it all comes alive at the intersections of the artworks he creates.
Then Friday came along and it was time for Kia’s photography workshop at Workman’s Primary School. Ark and I came with to help out as a class of soon-to-be primary school graduates spent the morning documenting the spaces and faces which made up their time at Workman’s. It was a really moving experience, seeing the kids so excited to create and curate the story of a time that would, in just a couple of weeks, come to a close. I would be lying if I didn’t say I got some ideas of my own from their antics.
Eventually we were off to the Barbados Museum and Historical Society for the opening of “The Enigma of Arrival: The Politics and Poetics of Caribbean Migration to Britain.” The exhibition recounted the experience of West Indian migrants in the planning, departure, arrival and acclimation stages of their emigration to Britain. Produced by the University of the West Indies in partnership with EU-LAC Museums, the travelling exhibition incorporates quotes from writers of the Windrush generation, recorded stories of elders from the Caribbean and its diaspora, and even hard copies of travel literature written for prospective emigrants. Beyond noting reasons for departure such as economic hardship and the importance of remittances for Caribbean economies, “The Enigma of Arrival” also confronts the institutional racism black West Indians faced when searching for housing, applying for work, or merely attempting to gain access to services which their white British counterparts were afforded without question. Reflecting on the exhibit, Katherine, Kia, Ark and I would close out the week at Bubba’s Sports Bar with some Bajan fish cakes and lively conversation.
In the coming week, I look forward to leading my collage workshop, crafting a story, and continuing to explore Barbados.