Marianne Keating – First Blog Post

Irish artist Marianne Keating shares her first blog post about her Fresh Milk residency. During her time in Barbados, Marianne’s focus will be  on the migration of indentured labourers from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales who arrived in the island in the seventeenth century. She intends to explore this complex history both through the physical and social landscape of the country, beginning by conducting site visits and reflecting on the journeys of those who have long since traversed this space. Read more below:

Marianne Keating presenting to the students at Barbados Community College

During the last six years, I have spent my time as a practice-based researcher exploring and tracing the multiple trajectories of the migration of the Irish to Jamaica during Ireland’s colonial rule by Britain. My beginning point in the complex histories of Irish emigration to the Caribbean is the movement of Irish indentured labourers from Ireland to Jamaica beginning in 1835 until its abrupt end in 1842, and their resulting legacies in contemporary Jamaica.

My practice-based research combines many hours spent in national archives, libraries, onsite research, interviews and location shooting before combining all these research methods in my studio, where my multi-disciplinary outputs include a series of video pieces and written accounts. My research has now expanded to include the Irish diaspora in Barbados – bringing me back once again to the beginning –with a new direction in my research in an unknown land, surrounded by a new landscape, history, culture and people.

Although my research subject is the same, there are vast differences in all aspects between the Irish migration to Jamaica and Irish migration to Barbados of which I am still attempting to wade through and come to grips with during my first few weeks of onsite research.

To Begin
LAND – Ireland, Jamaica and Barbados

“By land is meant not merely land in the strict sense of the word, but the whole of the materials and forces which nature gives freely for man’s aid in land, water, in air and light and heat.” – Alfred Marshall.

I have always been fascinated by the geology of land, how the soil under our feet has been formed, who has passed this way before and the frequency of such movement. I think of our homogeneous desire to follow the same, well-worn path and manoeuvre inside the marks created in the landscape by those who have come before. These lie in stark contrast to the rawness of other areas, where few now walk allowing the natural world to continue ownership or reclaim the land back to its original form; removing all traces of life that passed through before.

Path of migration within a cane field, St. George, Barbados

As economist Alfred Marshall discusses, the word ‘land’ refers to not just the soil beneath our feet, but instead encompasses all of nature’s resources including the minerals underneath the soil and the trees above. “The term ‘land’ thus embraces all that nature has created on the earth, above the earth, and below the earth’s surface.”

Land holds the memories of past lives. The coral and limestone sediment on which we stand embeds what has come before and consumes the archives of past experiences, leaving us with few traces with many details never to be recovered. We trail through all manners of the past archaeology, anthropology and sociology to attempt to reconstruct the narrative, but often the land holds onto more traces than it reveals.

I think of the importance of our place in the landscape, and its gradual erosion by the constant migration of people over thousands of years, crossing the land back and forth on daily journeys and the eroding and erasure of the ground by natural or human-made means. It highlights the experience of all who have emigrated and continue to migrate from one country to another whether by choice, necessity or force. The formation of land over millions of years is a culmination of its coral and limestone structure and the inedible marks left in the soil by those that have passed through.

Many conflicts have been fought, whether on global or localised scales, over the ownership of land. But as Mason Gaffney discusses in his essay Land as a Distinctive Factor of Production, we are all only present for a time before the land is handed down over and over again, recycled as the limit of land is determined; its value may change due to circumstances, but its supply is finite. “Land is reusable. All the land we have is second-hand, most of it previously owned. Our descendants, in turn, will have nothing but our hand-me-downs. As there is never any new supply, the old is recycled periodically, and will be in perpetuity, without changing form or location.”

The importance and weight of land can never be diminished, and people’s connection to the land is universal. As each new generation is born, their attachment to the land continues, both of the lands of their birth and of that of their ancestors.

There are many points of connection between the three countries of my research through which I trace the migration of the Irish to Jamaica and Barbados. They all have the collective experience of being island states, their connection by the Atlantic Ocean and their colonisation by Britain till the 20th Century. This is not where these connections end, but it is instead the starting point for my exploration in Barbados.

To look at the lands of Ireland, Jamaica and Barbados, there are vast physical differences. Barbados, the eastern-most Caribbean island, was created by the collision of the Atlantic crustal and Caribbean plates, along with a volcanic eruption. It comprises low-slung terraced plains, separated by rolling hills, with eighty-five percent of the island’s surface consisting of coralline limestone. The island is small in comparison to the others, measuring 23km at its widest point, 34km long and a small surface area of 430 square km, with Mount Hillaby – the highest point on the island – at 340 meters above sea level.

Barbados is geologically unique, being two land masses that merged over the years with the deep ravine visible across the island. The distance by sea between Ireland and Barbados is approximately 6,357km, and I am imagining time spent by the Irish on their migratory path travelling across the Atlantic Ocean, knowing there was little chance of returning to the soil of their birth.

________________

This residency is supported by the Arts Council of Ireland

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