Ark Ramsay’s Fresh Milk Residency – Week 2 Blog Post

Ark Ramsay shares a blog post about week two of their Fresh Milk ‘My Time’ Local Residency. As last week was about trying back on the title of ‘Barbadian writer’ after time apart, this week Ark began working through what it means to reclaim that, setting things in motion for the start of a new novel while also undergoing personal transformations; all of which are part of the journey towards reckoning with and expressing their authentic self. Read more below:

In a moment of serendipity, I had read Brodber’s most famous book a few days before the workshop.

My work is always far bolder than I am.

I think of it as this separate, wilding mare (possibly why I distrust horses?), who occasionally bolts. And I, person-separate-from-writing, has to make my way after it.

I ‘came out’ (beyond a handful of friends), in 2014 at BIM LitFest, during a fiction writing workshop led by Erna Brodber.

She asked us to write a paragraph that encapsulated our Caribbean; I wrote two. I wrote something I desperately wanted to read, and something safe, sedentary. Something not mine at all.

When she called on me, I read–and it was halfway into the paragraph that I realized that my mouth was stumbling over a description of two men intimately entwined. The words themselves didn’t matter–I remember them being full of teenage angst and ennui–but the moments after–when I said, “Yeh, sure I’m gay,”–to a group of strangers, who then picked that up as fact (because I had said it as fact, and not in a small tremulous, backpedalling voice).

At that workshop I felt this impossible, unsayable, shameful wall–not exactly tumble down–but suddenly I was on the other side of it–not sure how, and not really prepared for my arrival there. It took me years to learn to navigate what the work had known all along.

This week, at Fresh Milk, that strange convergence of work leading life happened again.

I am writing a novel here.

It is in its newborn baby period–colicky, demanding–and like every newborn baby, it sheds its skin each night and is a different color come morning.

I titled this for the reading on Thursday (apologizing for its incomplete state even though nobody would see it)

On Monday, I was trying to work through a puzzle within the text: how do I talk about the main character stumbling into the realization that their gender is somehow not what they had always thought it was? The earliest pulling apart of intertwined threads that re-entwine when you look away (or look too close)? It has to be grounded in the Caribbean imagination; filled with the richness of being part of this place; and void of the platitudes marketed for mass consumption. In short, I want it to feel honest, mine.

I puzzled, and puzzled, and by Tuesday–I wrote something. And set it aside–feeling nothing but flux and uncertainty. Wednesday came, and I followed through with a promise, to model for a photoshoot celebrating Pride month, by being painted in high femme, high glam makeup. It was border-crossing makeup. It was a thick beard against smokey eyes and a full lip.

Model: Ark Ramsay
Photographer/#Lightweaver: Risée Chaderton-Charles of eye one visuals
Make-up: Mandy Cummins
On set assist: Artemis M Benn

Wearing a new face transforms you, but it can also reconcile you to yourself.

The work at Fresh Milk this week eased the psychological tension of that transformation–and then when I returned to writing–it felt like I had found a new way into the work.

I don’t think this will change, and I’m not sure I want it to. Sometimes I think that I would be trapped if it weren’t for my writing–an ouroboros where I am both head and tail–stepping back at the moment of crisis–and therefore never stepping out at all.

This week was about stepping out–saying yes in an emphatic voice that shelters a baby-bird-voice underneath. On Thursday, the ‘trio of residents’ (à la Katherine Kennedy’s nickname for us), were invited to a small gathering at the house of Fresh Milk patron, Dr. Clyde Cave. In a home where every surface is anointed with Caribbean art, and surrounded by community, I read my work for the first time in years.

Whenever I performed before, I was never present. It was a fugue state. I disappeared into a recurring anxiety: when will this be over.

This time was different. I was present–I was alive in the reading.

Week 2 at Fresh Milk was about transformations, but from this point, the way forward requires that I think about structure. Most of my writing, up to this point, has been short stories. A story under 7000 words has to have one defining arc, and all of the smaller, extraneous pieces are slotted together within this word-budget. A novel is expansive, with interconnected pieces that have to function independently–its many threads woven together—it’s a tapestry.

And I have little experience weaving.

I bring my new (and old) questions to the ocean

 

Ethan Knowles’ Fresh Milk Residency – Week 2 Blog Post

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.

The Archives at UWI Cave Hill Campus

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.

Playing “Peregrination” by Ewan Atkinson

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.

Kia Redman with kids from Workman’s Primary School

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.

Kia Redman’s Fresh Milk Residency – Week 2 Blog Post

Barbadian artist and aspiring writer Kia Redman shares a blog post on her second week in residence at Fresh Milk. Deviating from carefully laid plans, this week saw a whirlwind of activity for Kia through studio visits, openings, workshops and bonding sessions with her fellow residents. She has been going with the flow and taking in the action, hoping to return to research, writing and production moving forward, with these experiences to reflect on. Read more below:

My favourite part about making plans has always been witnessing the innumerable ways life will set them off course. The futility of it all and the sense of powerlessness it instigates is nothing compared to the exhilarating sense of serendipity that just overwhelms every derailed plan. This is the state in which my week progressed.

I ended the first week with a clear vision in mind for the goals I was planning to achieve during my second week at the Colleen Lewis Research/Writing residency. I had planned to get a start on writing and tackle some of the topics I had narrowed down. Life had other plans for me. Monday morning I pitched my idea for my community outreach, and the rest of the week went by in a blur of activity, excitability and camaraderie: One moment you could find us chilling on the studio floor with Ewan, as he shared his work with us. The next I was beating everyone at Ewan’s “unwinnable” game Peregrination. There was the invention of our “fish cake crawl” and its strict judging criteria. Our visit to the opening of The Enigma of Arrival -The Politics and Poetics of Caribbean Migration to Britain at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society and our hyped up selfie session. It was a dynamic week.

When I wasn’t off learning and bonding, I planned and prepared for my workshop I called ‘The Time Capsule Project’. Geared toward the class 4 students who will soon be leaving Workman’s Primary School, I thought it would be both a fun and important exercise to create a digital time capsule with them. We are all shaped by our histories. Our past memories, decisions, interactions and tales are the building blocks that form our foundations and influence our personalities, and inform our futures. History is something to be respected, cherished and most importantly, documented. Who better to chronicle the stories of a time than those living in it?

Friday morning I arrived at Workman’s Primary with Ark and Ethan, who had agreed to help me out. We were escorted to a classroom and I greeted the kids the only courteous way you should approach children forced to sit in a classroom all day: with snacks – more specifically Shirley Biscuits. I played them my stop motion animation,“HOME”, in which the little house from a Shirley biscuit traverses obstacles in an effort to find its way home. It was an example to show them how I chose to record my personal history. What followed was a brief chat on the importance of documenting their personal histories and memories, during which they shared with me the best memories they have from their time at Primary School. Using the cameras donated by a past Fresh Milk resident, I set them free and they spent the next couple hours playing, exploring and capturing whatever they deemed most important.

I won’t say what I foresee for this upcoming week. Regardless of what happens, I’m sure it will be an enjoyable one. I do hope that I will get more reading and writing in though…I really miss my hammock time.

Ark Ramsay’s Fresh Milk Residency – Week 1 Blog Post

Ark Ramsay shares their first blog post about the 2019 Fresh Milk ‘My Time’ Local Residency, which for the first time is focusing on research and writing practices. Ark speaks about the anxieties and concerns they have around returning to Barbados after completing an MPhil in Chinese Philosophy in Shanghai, while embracing the possibilities this residency has to offer and learning to re-inhabit the role of “Barbadian writer”.  Read more below:

Sonia Farmer’s “A True & Exact History of Barbados”

Honestly, I was worried about coming to Fresh Milk.

In the weeks before arriving, I burdened the space with a whole pantheon of anxieties. There were the familiar deities: Will-The-Work-I-Produce-There-Be-Any-Good (horned, feral, a biter); Is-This-Work-Even-Worth-Producing-At-All (tentacled, perpetually bored), and Will-I-Make-My-Page-Count (incarnated as everyone’s least favorite Primary School teacher).

I set about packing up my life in Shanghai, trying not to take notice of the fourth entity–larger than the others, skewed by perspective until all I could make sense of were the cracks in a cloven hoof–How-Do-I-Really-Return.

When I left Barbados, I abandoned writing altogether. I thought: “I’ll make a fantastic something-else”. I ditched narrative, dumped characters, and abandoned plots. I dislocated from the part of my brain that thought of itself as a ‘Barbadian writer’.

Or at least I tried to.

I still bought journals. Still scribbled notes in them. Still planned and orchestrated worlds. I could not seem to discard the machinery I had oiled so diligently for a decade.

So I returned to the island in the dark of memory. I smuggled back entire ships, boardwalks, car crashes, love stories, robots (who walked the length of Bathsheba), and dysfunctional families. I did all of this like a cat burglar until there were clear partitions between myself and the island. There was Ark the writer. Ark the islander. I began to feel like a tourist in my own dialect.

Arriving at Fresh Milk, under old-growth mahogany trees, I ruminated on what I hoped to achieve (and not achieve as in the ‘I’ of productivity, but achieve as in the summit that you reach in tandem with someone else)–I came to a realization. I wanted to be inundated with influences. To be upended.  To walk the long path home.

On the first morning, Annalee handed me a red box.

Even the design mirrors Ligon’s–even the paper feels like this text

It was Sonia Farmer’s strip-mining of Ligon’s “True & Exact History of Barbados”. She took his ‘accounts’ and reworked them, using his own words to uncover the silent-underneath. She questions the audacity of a “true” and “exact” anything. It was a simple gift: a reminder that the way back is via new trails in the oldest paths.

It liberated me into the rest of the week. I realized that this could become an artist’s retreat. The sense of retreat as wound-licking/marshalling the remaining forces/recalibrating. I looked around to find that the space was peopled not by anxiety-gods, but cows, and Mica–who must be some kind of Obeah Dog–because her presence brings with it an overwhelming calm.

Guarded by Obeah dog, Mica

I began to devour the library. It seemed to contain the exact mixture of books that I needed. I was handed a captivating review of Paulo Nazareth’s work–particularly News from the Americas (2011-2012)–where he left the state of Minas Gerais and travelled by bus and foot, traversing 15 countries before arriving in New York. He did this, without washing his feet, until he reached the Hudson. He carried the Americas on his body. Art as dirt that can be washed away.

This flowed into “Learning to Die: Wisdom in the Age of Climate Crisis”, meditative essays that try to retool traditional Socratic virtues so that they’re useful at the end of times–when the dirt of man catches up to the rest of us. Dirt. Dust. Carried on our skins or washed away forever. I read, surrounded by impossible beauty (and the lowing of cows), trying to bank all of these impressions.

No longer thinking, will this be useful, but trying to trust in the process.

On Wednesday, we were visited by Ewan Atkinson (visual artist/most engaging person in a room), who showed off one of the pieces from his mind-bogglingly intertextual work, “The Neighbourhood Project”. He built a board game that is a kind of ‘found object’ within the narrative of this fictional neighbourhood. While setting it up he reiterated what had become gospel by this point, that the filtration process–the coming together of ideas–is a slow, slow burn. Something found today can be used in twenty-five years.

The “unbeatable” Neighbourhood Game, “Peregrination!” by Ewan Atkinson

The lesson of week one seemed to be: time.

So I tried to give myself time, and space, to hack away at what I am working on. Hack being the right word, but a cruel word. To move from short story writing, to novel writing, feels like stripping naked in Broad Street–but forgetting (halfway through) how buttons on clothes work. It’s a fumbling, stumbling, soul-baring process.

But this seems a good place to begin.

Most complex problems become solvable if you add a dog to the equation

Ethan Knowles’ Fresh Milk Residency – Week 1 Blog Post

Bahamian photographer and writer Ethan Knowles shares his first blog post about his Fresh Milk residency. His first week has been spent familiarizing himself with Barbados and embarking on research into Caribbean identity, the archetypes/stereotypes associated with it, and how we see ourselves and shape our own identities from within the region. Read more below:

“Yet every place is both local and foreign. The same place is the site of two very different experiences.” – Lucy R. Lippard

Two planes took me from Bahamian to Bajan soil and soon enough I found myself in the shotgun of a friend’s car en route to Chefette. It was late, around midnight, and in my groggy but giddy state I chose the channa roti. It was a light unto my empty stomach.

The next day was a holiday, Whit Monday, so I started off the morning with a jog to get my bearings. I passed cows, fields of sugar cane, and more than a couple puzzled looks. It was a pretty hot day, so I’m guessing these guys were wondering why I was running. It wasn’t long before I began to ask myself the same question.

Around midday, I met the ever-welcoming Annalee Davis and went on a quick shopping trip with my flat mate during which I forgot many things and continued to fumble the rather simple currency conversion of 2:1. It didn’t matter though, because before long we were all at the beach in the glowing company of Annalee’s dog Mica. The afternoon wrapped up with calm thoughts about how Barbados and The Bahamas seem to have both more and less in common with each other than I expected.

The next day I met fellow resident researcher Kia Redman and Fresh Milk’s communications manager Katherine Kennedy. We discussed plans for the residency ahead before going on to explore the ample collection of the Colleen Lewis Reading Room.

The next few days would fly by as I read contentedly for hours on end, diving into everything from gender theory to regional tourism to the poetry of Andre Bagoo.

See Me Here: A Survey of Contemporary Self-Portraits from the Caribbean

One text which caught my attention in particular was See Me Here: A Survey of Contemporary Self-Portraits of the Caribbean. This collection, produced by Melanie Archer and Mariel Brown of Robert & Christopher Publishers, seeks to investigate how Caribbean artists are crafting their visual identities and, by extension, how the region constructs its own images. Beyond the one-dimensional idyllic representations of the tourism industry, how are we portraying and expressing our own diverse identities?

In considering this question, I began to think about how I navigate my own Caribbeanness. I began to think about all those Caribbean meme pages I follow, about how culture, history and lived reality intersect in my own life. About how, in some ways, I conform to the archetypal image of the Caribbean male and, in others – if such a model even exists – depart from it entirely.

Another day passed before I would settle on the idea of conducting a collage workshop on Caribbean identity as part of my residency at Fresh Milk. I brought this plan to Annalee and she gave me a wonderful book on the work of the Kenyan collage artist Wangechi Mutu to consult in my planning process (funnily enough she is also a UWC graduate!). It was in dialogue with her work, and in the ongoing planning of my workshop, that I examined Stuart Hall’s insightful essay “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” which discusses a less conventional view of cultural identities as “the names we give to the different ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves within, the narratives of the past.”

At this stage I am still working on finalizing the details of the workshop but look forward to it taking shape. Here ends my first week at Fresh milk, complete with raining mahogany pods, raining rain, and the occasional roar of a cow.