Tilting Axis 4 – Caribbean Cultural Ecologies: Connecting Pasts, Presents and Futures

Tilting Axis 4 – Caribbean Cultural Ecologies: Connecting Pasts, Presents and Futures was hosted from May 31st – June 2nd, 2018, by Centro León and Centro Cultural de España in Santo Domingo, in collaboration with Curando Caribe, Santiago and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

The fourth convening of Tilting Axis aimed to shift its location and context to the Hispanophone Caribbean with the theme ‘Caribbean Cultural Ecologies: Connecting Pasts, Presents and Futures’. Artists, curators, stakeholders, instigators and activists gathered to debate ideas about the Caribbean’s interdependent future in relation to culture, the nature, technology and the role of institutions while sharing creative ways which reimagine our collective futures in relationship with our particular environment and with each other.

 

View the full programme for Tilting Axis 4 here

See below for video documentation of the conference, courtesy of the
Centro Cultural Eduardo León Jimenes Youtube Channel:

 

Daisy Diamond’s Fresh Milk Residency – Week 3 Blog Post

Fresh Milk shares the third blog post by US-based international resident artist Daisy Diamond. Daisy recounts her return to the Nidhe Israel Synagogue in Bridgetown, where she contemplated the Jewish mikveh ritual and related it to her wider experiences in Barbados. The first session of her sacred reading practices group also took place this week, and the collaboratively chosen text for thoughtful reflection was Paulo Freire’s ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’. Read more below:

I returned to the Nidhe Israel Synagogue early this week to visit one of the oldest mikvahs in the Americas. Mikvahs are traditionally used for ritual purification practices in Judaism and ones like this with fresh running water are said to contain “living water.” According to the Old Testament, the spiritual (rather than physical) cleansing power of this natural water source moved through this bath. If the water became blocked within the vessel, it became “drawn water” and was invalid for mikveh rituals. This reminded me a bit of other rituals of immersion, whether in literal, social, or mental spaces and how stagnancy or movement affect those processes.

There are also connections between these ritualistic, religious submersions and the intentions of those doing them. Some people say pre-written prayers of intention or individual prayers from their heart, like what they hope to experience from their immersion. In some ways, I felt a parallel again between this and the experience of feeling submerged in unfamiliarity with specific intentions to learn and create.

Later in the week, I held a sacred reading practices group at Fresh Milk. I tried to create a space with intention for the folks who showed up to have an engaging conversation. After discussing several religious reading practices, we collectively chose to read Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, a book about education, humanization, relationships within society, and so much more. We took turns reading out loud and tried out some of the sacred reading techniques. These naturally led to conversations about how to define oppression, understand/address disparity, and take responsibility for action.

By framing this conversation in a certain way, we meaningfully engaged with a text and had a very challenging, thought provoking discussion that will be continued at a second reading group during my last week. I have been thinking about how these conceptual frameworks translate to visual symbols or could be explored further in images. I have also been looking at encyclopedias of sacred symbols and myths in the Colleen Lewis Reading Room and taking notes. Visuals are slowly coming together and writing/reading has been a huge part of that process…

A quick drawing of fires in the sugar cane fields I passed while driving near St. George.

 

Daisy Diamond’s Fresh Milk Residency – Week 2 Blog Post

Fresh Milk shares the second blog post by US-based international resident artist Daisy Diamond. Inspired by material in the Colleen Lewis Reading Room, Daisy has continued to research the Caribbean, Barbados, and Judaism’s role in society. She has been reflecting on the tremendous effects of complex histories on contemporary realities, and questioning how we can acknowledge this impact while reclaiming, reinventing and growing through our lived experiences and practices. Read more below:

My notebook and sketches from the synagogue and visual motifs from the graveyard

As a medium that lends itself more to imperfect (incomplete) exploration, drawing doesn’t allow for erasure or concealment. To draw could mean to visually conjure something from will or to extract something (meaning, guidance, connection) from a source (history, art, conversation). ‘Drawing’ is a tool, a verb, to pull on a thread and weave together thematic threads gradually. Midway through this residency at Fresh Milk, I continue to build on the ‘spine’ of my visuals and learn more about Barbados beyond what can be discovered at the easel.

Books I’ve been reading from the Colleen Lewis Reading Room collection

One of the books I’ve been reading is The Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique, an author from St. Thomas, an island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Annalee Davis, artist and founder of Fresh Milk, recommended this incredible work of magical realism and generational family sagas when I asked for an introduction to contemporary Caribbean literature. The novel is a collage of ideas and experiences with shifting perspectives and a variety of writing styles.

Here are two quotes I’ve been thinking about from this book:

“History could do that, change a person’s name. History was something so simple and insistent that none of us has escaped it.”

“People can need each other like water.”

The water that surrounds each island shapes and serves as a witness to its history. A collective history “so simple and insistent that none of us has escaped it,” not our own, each other’s, or the one being written now. In what ways do acts of artistic creation and consumption situate us in a dialogue with history? Rather than in a position of repression or swallowing the legacies of colonialism? The water that swallows the lives of several characters in this story is impartial to their guilt, innocence, or their value to the people who depend on them, who might “need each other like water.”

I recommend this book for its poetic language and thought-provoking, critical analyses of intersecting family histories as Dutch rulers gave way to American ones in the early 1900s in the Virgin Islands. Here is a video of Yanique reading from a passage about protests, beaches, tourism, and so much more.

I also spent one morning this week walking on Bathsheba beach alongside a few swimmers who seemed intimately knowledgeable about the water’s tides and sweeping currents. We were all there, but had acutely different relationships to the waves cyclically consuming themselves. But perhaps not? Maybe they were visitors and in awe just as I was (the limitations of projection). I was reminded of a quote by Hilton Als from an essay, “Islands,” published in 2014. “The sky’s largeness and generosity reminded me of how pitiful I can feel on islands, where one’s ideas about the place amount to so much sentimental or ideological bullshit.” Similarly, Barbados occupies an active place in many imaginary realms as a ‘paradise.’ I have found powerful counterexamples to this homogenous narrative daily through literary, political, and artistic communities and news while at Fresh Milk.

Sir Paul Altman (left), walking on the grounds by the cemetery during a filmed interview

Later in the week, I returned to the Nidhe Israel Synagogue to listen in on an interview of Sir Paul Altman, a leading advocate for the restoration efforts of the synagogue that began in 1986, by Judy Dennison, a cinematographer from Trinidad, and her film crew. Sir Altman described his efforts with the restoration of the synagogue as a “labor of love.” It was fascinating to learn more about the Altman family’s advocacy for the Jewish community and their dedication to preserving history.

During the interview, I also learned more about connections between Barbadian Jews and synagogues in the United States. America’s oldest synagogue, the Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island, where I spent eight months this past year as a student, was founded by Jewish settlers from Barbados. A synagogue in Philadelphia, where I grew up, was financially supported by and had a rabbi who spent years in the Jewish community in Barbados. Again, I was reminded of how this small group of individuals has had a disproportionately large impact across time and geography.

Sir Altman also discussed his horror at the city’s one time plan to build on top of the sacred land where the Jews are buried outside the synagogue. This notion raised a lot of questions for me about how to memorialize sacred land within and beyond this graveyard that was also the site of so much historic trauma and violence – slavery, mass murders, and the displacement of communities. How does the absence of a memorial to this terrible legacy get in the way of a community’s understanding of their ties to history and prevent healing? I have so many questions about how echoes of colonialism and political control are used as justifications for ownership (of land, people, and history) in Barbados and across the world.

In this landscape of sand, sun and sea, I can’t help but think of other ancient land with thousands of years of conflicted ownership and migrations from stolen land to stolen land. Here, we are witnesses through our screens to the horror of the deaths and injuries at ongoing protests in Palestine against the jarring backdrop of formalities performed at the opening of the new US Embassy in Jerusalem.

I am reminded over and over again of Tiphanie Yanique’s insight that “history was something so simple and insistent that none of us has escaped it.” I am thinking of the ongoing protests in Palestine and the land theft justified in the legacy of colonialism and in the name of religion. Reconstructionist Judaism at its core acknowledges our history as one religious civilization among many with parallel histories. It also explicitly seeks to reinterpret and reject Jewish thought that has been historically used to justify the oppression of others. My background in this relatively recent branch of Judaism (founded in 1968) has spurred my interest in ways to engage with spiritual traditions to bring meaning, understanding, and community into daily, and perhaps even explicitly secular, life.

I hope to explore and experiment with religious techniques outside their original contexts to draw meaning and everyday relevance from a text we collectively decide on (poetry, short story, essay, etc.) this Thursday evening, May 17th from 6-8pm, at the Fresh Milk studio space in St. George. Information about this Sacred Practices Reading Group can be found here. Please be sure to RSVP to freshmilkbarbados@gmail.com if you are interested or have any questions! Again, no religious practice or belief is required, just an open curiosity! Hope to see you there.

Sacred Practices Reading Group

Join us for a series of sessions facilitated by our current international resident artist Daisy Diamond, applying traditional spiritual reading practices to non-religious, contemporary or critical material focused on arts, culture and Caribbean thought collaboratively selected from Fresh Milk’s Colleen Lewis Reading Room. These collective ways of reading will be used to analyze and have meaningful, open ended conversations about the texts and how they may relate to lived experiences. The first session will be held on Thursday, May 17th, 2018 from 6pm-8pm at Fresh Milk.

RSVP to freshmilkbarbados@gmail.com to confirm your interest! Directions can be found on the ‘About Page’ of our website.

Statement from Daisy about the Reading Group:

Come together in an open-ended conversation where we will select a text to treat as “sacred” by guiding our reading with a series of spiritual reading practices. The texts will not be religious in content. We will just use these traditionally religious tools to analyze, dig deeper, and test our assumptions. The only requirements for this are an open curiosity and a commitment to dialogue within a community.

As an introduction to sacred reading practices, here are two examples which enable a semi-structured study of texts without a teacher/student hierarchy. Havruta is an ancient, Jewish practice where one student within a group poses a question about a text the group is familiar with. The student who asks the question then proposes one potential answer to their own question and explains their reasoning to the group. The group then challenges, opposes, or builds upon the initial response to the question. This platform for conversation builds both nuance and clarity. Lectio Divina is a Catholic practice for studying Scriptures. One person in the group will randomly select a sentence from the text. We will then pause on it and discuss what the word or passage is calling us to do or become. The random selection generates a surprising point to intentionally and thoughtfully build on.

The point of these practices is not to come to one, unified conclusion. Meaning and purpose proliferate in the disagreement, conversation, and unfolding exploration of interpretations and applications. I am not a theologian, but I am a student interested in building upon my understanding of engaging with texts intentionally and passionately within a community. If you have an understanding of tools to study texts, please come and be a part of this opportunity to teach and learn with others!

I’m interested in discussing a text from the Colleen Lewis Reading Room at Fresh Milk related to creative rituals, collective art practices, arts and revolution, or the influence of cultural tradition on contemporary artists. If any of these topics interest you, or if you have another direction you would like to go in, please join me Thursday, May 17th, 2018 to begin to discuss which text we will use and the methods for sacred reading.

_______________

About Daisy Diamond:

Daisy Diamond is a painter, animator, and student originally from Philadelphia who values interdisciplinary and intersectional collaborative exploration. She is currently pursuing a BA in Studio Art from Bates College and spent this past year as a visiting student at Rhode Island School of Design. While she is a resident at the Fresh Milk space, she plans to research the history of Judaism in Barbados and the relationship between ritualistic sacred practices and artistic creation.

 

Daisy Diamond’s Fresh Milk Residency – Week 1 Blog Post

Fresh Milk shares the first blog post by US-based international resident artist Daisy Diamond. Daisy had an eventful start to her residency, which began right on the heels of Fresh Milk hosting an exhibition & artist talk about Sonia Farmer’s piece ‘A True & Exact History’. Discussions held at this event, as well as conversations in the studio throughout the week, fed Daisy’s conceptual ideas by giving her regional context and multiple entry points for her research, as the main focus of her work in Barbados is the history & contemporary reality of Judaism in the island. Read more below:

I feel overwhelmed with unabashed gratitude for all the incredibly talented individuals I’m getting to know, contemporary art I’m learning about, and the artistic exploration I’m doing while at Fresh Milk. A huge thank you already to Katherine Kennedy, Annalee Davis, and the rest of the Fresh Milk team for all of the political/artistic discussions, books pulled from the Colleen Lewis Reading Room, and generosity with their help & time. I’m also excited to learn more about connections between collage, multiplicity, identity, and stereotypes in the work Ronald Williams, the other artist in the Fresh Milk studio space, is creating. The openness and unfolding of ideas this past week has stretched my expectations of what my first residency, a self-driven time of creating and learning without the limitations/expectation of traditional educational experiences, can be.

A True & Exact History by Sonia Farmer

My first two nights on the island overlapped with Sonia Farmer’s exhibition and conversation with Ayesha Gibson-Gill and Tara Inniss about her erasure poem of Richard Ligon’s text, A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes (1657). I thought the conversation brought out some of the deeper interdisciplinary themes and ideas in Ms. Farmer’s poetry.

Ms. Gibson-Gill connected the practice of erasure poetry to a technique she learned while studying theater, where actors and actresses would, as a collective, narrow each act down in a tedious, deliberate manner until the text was reduced to just its essential lines: the “spine” of the story. Once in this state, the cast would perform these selected lines before diving back into the full play to imbue each scene with a deeper emotional backbone. Although the process and intention of erasure poetry is quite different from this practice, Ms. Farmer’s poem similarly pulled out a core, emotionally intelligent, 21st century perspective on Ligon’s position of power, dehumanizing language, and poetic phrases. Ms. Gibson-Gill then also posed an opportunity for a further project of creating an erasure poem out of this erasure poem to emphasize the importance of revisiting and reinterpreting texts from multiple perspectives as an ongoing process of collective meaning-making.

Dr. Inniss discussed historiography and her research on people (particularly women, children, and people of color) whose perspectives and experiences have been erased from historical accounts. The existing records, like Ligon’s text, force contemporary audiences to search for these people between the margins of “archives of pain,” as Dr. Inniss described. Since this talk, I’ve been returning to these comments again and again and thinking of many parallels in the study of art history and similar acts of appropriation in artistic creation.

I came with goals of painting and learning about the history of Judaism in Barbados. I visited the Nidhe Israel Synagogue and Museum and created several drawings of the interior of the synagogue and the tombstones, in varied conditions, while there. Essays from the Journal of the Barbados Museum & Historical Society introduced me to the Jewish community and this sacred space. The focus of these essays has ranged from Jews in a Caribbean Colonial Society, their acts of both resistance and accommodation, roles in the sugar economy, and how they created their own identities.

The visuals on the tombstones were particularly interesting. Similar ones kept appearing on a whole range of tombstones, some mostly buried and falling apart stones from the 1700s and some well-preserved ones from more recent decades. How does a visual lexicon of symbols of remembrance signify shared values within a community? The hand of God cutting down a tree of life, the divine intervention of the end of life? I found myself curious about intentions, other meanings, and the stories of all of these individual lives. How were they involved in the slave trade? How did their knowledge about technology, windmills, and sugar production affect the land and the people in Barbados? Was their historical involvement in merchant domains outside the plantocracy related to an ethical justification, or was it simply their lack of legal ability to own slaves because of their status in society? How have Jews acknowledged these legacies? This community was relatively quite small, but their impact was not. I have lots of questions I hope to continue to pursue.

I intentionally selected which materials I want to use while here. Distracting projects and limited time have motivated me to focus without an explicit goal, but an acknowledgement that I have more time to create work than just during this month, and I hope to continue to use the next few weeks to begin to work through visual and conceptual ideas for larger, future projects. Although currently my main medium is painting, I also love experimental & hand drawn animation. This morning, I watched an incredible animated film, Dante’s Inferno (2007) by Sean Meredith, with multimedia artist Sandra Vivas. We were both very inspired by the techniques, sound design, and puppetry in this story. I think I need to rewatch it, but with a pen and notebook, to record every innovative scene, movement and transition.

I look forward to the experiences, creative rituals, and many conversations that will fill the next three weeks here.