Ronald Williams’ Fresh Milk Residency – Week 4 Blog Post

Barbadian artist Ronald Williams, the recipient of the 2018 Fresh Milk ‘My Time’ Local Artist Residency, shares his final blog post. Ronald describes the last stretch of his residency as “bittersweet” for a number of reasons. Taking part in the second session of fellow resident artist Daisy Diamond‘s reading group yielded fruitful discussions, but was coupled with having to bid her farewell shortly after. Ronald also felt a renewed sense of clarity and conviction about the work he has been creating, but this was catalyzed by an unfortunate event that is telling of serious societal issues in Barbados. Read more below:

Last blog post I stopped at the end of Tuesday afternoon’s meeting with the class 4 students at Workman’s Primary. That same evening turned out to be an equally enjoyable exercise of a different sort. I had the pleasure of being a part of a sacred reading session, spearheaded by Daisy, where we engaged in a critical dissection of a few paragraphs of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I thought the discussions that arose from the text, as well as the tangential ones, were all pretty dope. Reading and learning like this is something I’d recommend to any person(s) seeking an in depth appreciation for what they are studying.

Unfortunately, the rest of the week took a bittersweet turn with an emphasis on the bitter portion of that concoction. Tuesday evening was to be the last day I saw Daisy, as her time in Barbados came to an end shortly after. A shame, as I felt I had gotten to know more about her in the last few times we were in the space together. I wish her the best.

Then on a heavier note, serious, senseless but thankfully not tragic events unrelated to Fresh Milk occurred on what was to be my last day of the residency. While not affecting the space, these events did have a negative effect on my state of mind and mentality. It also got me thinking about the multiple times I’ve been asked why my work deals with certain subject matter by strangers and even family members. If I needed something to galvanize the conviction I have for what I’m trying to do with my work, it was what happened that morning.

I did manage to finish the piece I’d been working on the week before. That’s the silver lining from the latter half of week 4. I called it Noose-sense. An obvious play on the word nuisance, but I don’t think the reading of the piece will be as obvious. I like that.

All in all, what can I say at the end of these 4 weeks? It was quick, much quicker than I thought it’d be. I didn’t get as much done from the production side as I intended, but it doesn’t feel like a waste. If anything there’s a significant clarity in exactly what I want to do; now it’s just a matter of execution.

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 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.

Levi King’s Emerging Director Residency – Week 3 Blog Post

Fresh Milk shares the third blog post by Barbadian actor & director Levi King, the current participant in the Emerging Director Residency Programme held in collaboration with the National Cultural Foundation (NCF). The third week came with its own set of obstacles to overcome, in terms of casting choices, remaining on schedule and evaluating strengths and weaknesses; but Levi has risen to the challenge, keeping in mind that a residency is best experienced as a space for growth and problem solving rather than a point of pressure. Read more below:

Third week curses

So, I heard one time that productions are sometimes plagued in the third week (that is, productions with a four week rehearsal time). This means that in the third week it looks like things are about to fall apart, much like the mid-point of a screenplay.

NARRATOR (O.S.)
Will they be able to do it? Can they overcome the obstacle?

Well this third week was challenging. On good advice from my mentor, I had to recast a part in the production. Finding someone was a challenge, but I finally was able to get someone to agree to be part of the production, which comes with its own challenges. How will I fit all these schedules into a workable rehearsal schedule. I have no idea. Then I start to worry about whether I’ll be able to get the actors to work well together, will I be able to get them to the places the material will take them to and bring them back? Questions, questions, questions, problems, problems, problems.

Anxiety.

I hadn’t spent much time at Fresh Milk due to other challenges, but also because I only have so many hours and can’t spend all of them just reading.

So I have my actors, I am confident in their abilities, I am hopeful about mine, I still have challenges with scheduling (to be honest this is one of my weaker points that I need to work on, I am good at organising myself and my vision, but need help with production management and stage management).

NARRATOR (O.S.)
Will he be able to rise to the challenge?

Challenge… accepted? If there is one thing this residency has made me confront, it is some of my weaknesses, and I know one residency isn’t what I need to fix every issue I have as an aspiring director. It also has made me realise two important things, this third week slump:

  1. I began to focus on all the problems I was having and went from a state of merely whelmed, to slightly overwhelmed.
  2. I forgot one of the most basic pieces of advice I give to everyone else in my life. Focus more on solutions (not politically affiliated), especially in the middle of the problems.

I had to remember to be solution minded. Couldn’t get the situation to go mostly how I wanted it, so why not just roll with the tides and be glad for the fact that there is momentum until I can figure out how to make that momentum faster (Shout out to Luci for working through a slight issue I had today, shout out to Rosette on that convo this morning for giving me that strong reminder).

So I’m still in the process of figuring it out, granted this is what it’s all about. It’s taking it to questions, questions, questions, solutions, solutions, solutions.

Still anxiety though.

Till next time folks.

NARRATOR (O.S.)
Tune in next week for…

LEVI
Big man, who is you and why you all up in my blog?!

NARRATOR (O.S.)
anotherblogfromLeviabouttheresidency.
(runs away)

Third week blessings.

___________________

ncf mark rgb2This project is a collaborative initiative, funded by the NCF Barbados

Levi King’s Emerging Director Residency – Week 2 Blog Post

Fresh Milk shares the second blog post by Barbadian actor & director Levi King, the current participant in the Emerging Director Residency Programme held in collaboration with the National Cultural Foundation (NCF). This week, Levi reflects on his first session with his mentor for the residency, Barbadian performance artist, theatre director, writer and educator in theatre arts Sonia Williams. Their discussion reminded him that as important as it is to be detail oriented, it is equally critical to focus on the fundamentals of a project, ensuring there is a solid foundation to build upon. Read more below:

K.I.S.S.

So when taking on something as important to your development as a first residency, it is easy to overlook some things. Having spent some hours this week speaking to my mentor Sonia Williams, I came to a conclusion. I was so focused on details, that I was not giving the right focus to the whole project. In the conversation, my mind started to go where it usually does; following the trail the words are creating til it comes across something seemingly unrelated, but which pieced together well in my head. It went a little like this:

Mentor: *asks a basic question expecting a simple answer*
Me, an intellectual: *responds with long winded thing that is barely part of the answer*
Mentor: *asks same question again*
Me, clearly not intellectual enough: *dials it back and sees the actual question being asked, tries to answer that*

Then we move on.

This process basically took my ears and wrung them, dug into the file-o-fax in my brain and produced a saying I saw or heard somewhere a time ago: K.I.S.S – Keep It Simple Stupid. I was missing the forest for trying to look at each tree, I was missing the whole painting for looking at each brush stroke. I wasn’t on the wrong path entirely, but I was making it harder for myself than I needed to, because I wasn’t asking myself the basic questions I should have been.

I wasn’t keeping it simple. By keeping it simple I don’t mean abandoning any intricate details of what I envisioned. I simply mean that I was leaving out some fundamental basic things that would strengthen the work I was doing. I had to revise my approach to these fundamental aspects of how I was working and keep it simple. In this case, keeping it simple meant, for me, not to overlook the fundamentals.

My lesson this week was about these fundamentals, even though the conversation was about Grotowski, Brecht, Boal, Stanislavski, working with actors, and going through the script. Damon Wayans said in a performance (and I’m paraphrasing from the show My Wife and Kids), “Don’t forget the fun-da-mentals, because that’s what makes da mentals fun.” So lemme go forward and do de rest uh dis werk. Til next time ppls.

___________________

ncf mark rgb2This project is a collaborative initiative, funded by the NCF Barbados