Damali Abrams’ Residency: Week 3 Report – Groundation Grenada

The first day of the performance workshop with Damali Abrams at Groundation Grenada.

The first day of the performance workshop with Damali Abrams during her week at Groundation Grenada.

I spent last week in Grenada and facilitated a two-day performance art workshop with Groundation Grenada. The workshop was absolutely amazing!

There were twelve very enthusiastic participants. Students, teachers, actors, models, photographers, writers, videographers and more, representing a wide age range.

The first day we were at The National Museum. I created a presentation showing as much of a variety of performance art as I could in an hour. Rather than presenting in chronological order, I went back and forth between contemporary and older examples. Sheena Rose’s recent Sweet Gossip performances in Barbados, Lorraine Ogrady as Mlle Bourgeois Noir, My Barbarian, Anna Mendieta, Michelle Isava in Trinidad, Yoko Ono and so on. I showed photos and videos. The group was very engaged and we had some compelling discussions about the topics raised in each performance as well as the methods utilized by the various performance artists. After the presentations we broke into smaller groups to plan public performance pieces for the next day. We placed topics in a bag and let a representative from each group choose. The topics in the bag were high unemployment rates; stigmatizing mental illness; domestic violence; and Grenada secondary schools expelling girls who become pregnant.

The second day we took it to the streets!

Malaika, Damali and Aisha during their public performance. Photo by Zoë Hagley

Malaika, Damali and Ayisha during their public performance. Photo by Zoë Hagley

We set up in front of the Esplanade Mall on a busy day. Ayisha and Malaika from Groundation Grenada and I decided to choose a topic from the bag and create a performance as well. Our topic was the fact that if a girl becomes pregnant in secondary school in Grenada, she is expelled. The three of us dressed in school uniforms with long navy blue pleated skirts and white shirts with peter pan collars. Ayisha and Malaika stuffed their bellies to look pregnant. I carried a swaddled teddy bear to look like my baby. We walked into the plaza in front of the Esplanade Mall. It was a Friday afternoon and there were a lot of kids and adults around. We set up three metal folding chairs. To our left was a sign that read “Cast the First Stone.” In the center about five feet in front of us was a large stone. (We made sure that it was large enough that if someone did decide to “cast” it at us, it would be too heavy.) We sat there and Malaika and Ayisha rubbed their pregnant bellies. I held and rocked my baby. People began to gather around, very curious about what we were up to. There was a huge circle of people around who only continued to gather as each of our groups performed.

The group that chose domestic violence was up next. The group decided to view the term domestic violence more broadly, beginning in the home with spousal abuse and child abuse, and spreading out to domestic violence as violence against the nation and on planet Earth, our collective home. The group designed elaborate costumes and props out of cardboard and acted out a scene where an oppressor dragged two people behind him, holding onto him by a long heavy metal chain.

The group doing a performance around domestic violence. Photo by Zoë Hagley

The group doing a performance dealing with domestic violence. Photo by Zoë Hagley

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The group doing a performance dealing with domestic violence. Photo by Zoë Hagley

The next group’s performance was about stigmatizing mental illness. They had a table in the center with four chairs. The three performers came out in different states of eccentric dress. On their plates instead of food they were “eating” cell phones, condoms and jewelry. The one male performer in the group blew up a condom like a balloon and stuck it into the one shoulder that his t-shirt was covering. Students from the crowd came close to see what was happening. One boy sat at the free chair at the table and began interacting with the group.

The group doing a performance dealing with the stigma around mental illness. Photo by Zoë Hagley

The group doing a performance dealing with the stigma around mental illness. Photo by Zoë Hagley

The final group’s performance was about high unemployment rates. They marched out in a circle and then performed various gestures under a long black cloth, symbolizing domestic violence, neglected children and prostitution, some of the affects of high unemployment. At the end the group dropped to the floor and just lay there with their heads covered by the black cloth for about ten minutes, completely still. The crowd was riveted and when the group finally stood up from the ground, the audience cheered.

The group doing a performance dealing with the consequences of unemployment.

The group doing a performance dealing with the consequences of high unemployment rates.

The group doing a performance dealing with the consequences of high unemployment rates.

The group doing a performance dealing with the consequences of high unemployment rates.

It was an exhilarating experience for all of us. It was intense to create these performances around such weighty topics.  It was also a bonding experience. We took a huge risk thrusting ourselves into the public sphere and there was great reward and a feeling of camaraderie. I felt creatively rejuvenated and inspired by the entire experience and seeing what all of the workshop participants came up with. There was a certain level of freedom performing in a place where I don’t know anyone. But I also felt nervous about doing an unsanctioned performance in a public place. I couldn’t imagine how people would react. I also didn’t know if as an outsider I had a right to claim this space and comment on these issues in someone else’s country and community. Those issues remain unresolved for me, but I feel inspired to find ways to continue this kind of work wherever I am.

Infinite thanks to Groundation Grenada for inviting me and allowing me the space to share my passion for performance, as well as making my week in Grenada unforgettable.

Damali Abrams

FRESH MILK XIII

FMXIII final draft

FRESH MILK is pleased to invite you to our upcoming public event FRESH MILK XIII, which will be held on Thursday, October 24th 2013 from 6:30 – 8:00 pm at the Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc., St. George, Barbados. See our About page for directions.

The event will feature a screening of the full length documentary Fresh Performance: Contemporary Performance Art in NYC & the Caribbean, created by New York-based, Guyanese  performance/video artist Damali Abrams, who is currently on a joint residency with Fresh Milk and Groundation Grenada.

Fresh performance poster

Damali has been working with Fresh Milk since April this year on the Fresh Performance Project, which has seen her interviewing one Caribbean-based and one New York-based performance artist each month and editing the footage into a six-chapter series of short videos. Given that performance art in the Caribbean is practiced by a small number of artists, this project has opened up a critical dialogue contributing to expanding the creative arena, and offering support to performance artists who often work in isolation. The project aims to build cultural bridges between the U.S. and the Caribbean and generate understanding and community through the arts. Damali has been using her time in the Caribbean to produce a full length documentary on this subject, as well as undertaking public outreach components in both Barbados and Grenada. Her progress will be screened at FRESH MILK XIII, and a Q&A session to further the conversation will be facilitated.

ici logo

Also being shown at the event will be a selection from Project 35 Volume 2, a traveling exhibition produced by Independent Curators International (ICI), New York. The exhibition is made possible, in part, by grants from the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, and the Robert Lehman Foundation; the ICI Board of Trustees; and donors to ICI’s Access Fund. Among the curators who took part in this project is Trinidadian artist and writer Christopher Cozier.

Fresh Milk will also use this event as a platform to launch two very exciting projects – our new public gallery space the FRESH MILK ARTBOARD and the Fresh Milk Virtual Map of Caribbean Art Spaces. The Artboard, which resides in a field of cows bordering a public road on the way to Fresh Milk, will be used to feature the work of contemporary artists, increasing visibility and awareness of their practice to a wide audience. Kick-starting our new public gallery space will be Barbadian artist Evan Avery, whose work was taken to Brazil as one part of the Visual Arts component of the recently held Barbados trade mission to Sao Paulo. The graphic he designed is currently displayed at the informal art space Casa Tomada in their ‘A Casa Recebe’ programme, a street facing window showcasing work from artists locally and internationally, until March 2014. Having his work running concurrently in both spaces for a period of time deepens the relationship we are building with Casa Tomada and the arts community in Sao Paulo, and we look forward to hosting pieces from Brazilian artists on our Artboard as a part of this cultural exchange.

The Fresh Milk Virtual Map of Caribbean Art Spaces

The Fresh Milk Virtual Map is a freely accessible, interactive online cultural map of the Caribbean, which clearly delineates the existing spaces for the arts in the region, from the nineteenth century up to the present time.

This map addresses the lack of available information about Caribbean arts at the formal, informal and educational levels. The region is mapped to show arts entities, listed with links to the websites of spaces, and maintained to keep information current. This map is not only a pivotal information hub and educational tool, but a place to form new bonds and to make connections among practitioners in the Caribbean and worldwide. We would eventually like to expand the map to include our partner institutions throughout the diaspora as well. We wish to acknowledge the amazing tour de force we have in Kriston Chen who has managed and designed the virtual map project.

Finally, we are also proud to showcase some of the beautiful new publications we have purchased for the Colleen Lewis Reading Room. Our collection has continued to grow through the generosity and support of donors, funders and organizations, and as always we invite people to email us at freshmilkbarbados@gmail.com to schedule appointments to make use of this valuable resource.

Some of the new additions to the Colleen Lewis Reading Room

Special thanks to the US Embassy in Barbados for supporting Damali’s residency and contributing to the expansion of the Reading Room; to the Maria Holder Memorial Trust for supporting the Virtual Map as well as expanding the library collection; Groundation Grenada for taking part in this collaborative residency with us; the ICI for sharing Project 35; and to Musson Realty for donating their billboard for Fresh Milk to use as an exhibition space. We are extremely grateful for all of the relationships we have formed, which assist us in carrying out our mission.

Damali Abrams’ Residency: Week 2 Report

Damali's glitter covered dress

I presented my work to art majors at BCC (Barbados Community College) on Monday. Seriously one of the toughest crowds ever. They seemed to have a lot to say based on facial expressions and whispering amongst themselves but would not say much to me no matter how I tried to engage them. I learned afterward that this is common among students here. One student also told me privately after class that the fact that I framed my work as feminist made the males afraid to respond based on what other guys might think of them. He also thought that the young women in the  class might be afraid to respond, not wanting the guys to think that they were man-haters. When I mentioned feminism, one male student sadly asked “Why feminism? Why not something that includes everyone?” I tried to quickly define feminism and told him that it does include everyone. Then I prescribed some bell hooks.

I went back the next day with just Annalee’s class (a much smaller group than the day before) to watch Herb & Dorothy. It’s a really sweet documentary about this average couple (librarian & postal worker) who live in a cramped one-bedroom apartment and and spend their 40-something year marriage cramming the space with an amazing art collection worth millions. And then they refused offers to sell the work and instead donated the entire collection to the National Gallery.

After the film there was some very lively debate about what art is and what it is isn’t. Some of the students were quite offended that I’d said in my presentation the day prior that I believe that everything is art. They didn’t raise it during my talk but apparently talked a lot about it  afterwards. It was great to hear the students’ views and I really enjoyed engaging with them and getting to see one student’s work after class.

At the end of the week I went with the same group to a gallery called ArtSplash where a local artist exhibiting there spoke with the class about his work. It was nice being able to interact with a local artist and hearing about his practice and process.

I feel like my consciousness is expanding in so many ways. I have been consuming so much beauty here on a daily basis. I have been absorbing art and conversations. I have experienced new levels of solitude. It takes me a long time to process things so I have no idea how all of this is going to manifest in my art in the long-run…

I have been filming a lot (as always). The scenery is magical and I want to capture everything. I also make sure to pause at moments to take it all in without the camera. On Saturday Mark King, another local artist, took me to Bathsheba Beach so that I could get some footage. It was overwhelmingly beautiful and I’m really thankful that he was willing to be so generous with his time.

On Thursday Katherine invited me to her zumba class. It was absolutely amazing! Nothing but soca and dancehall music and a fun opportunity to wine up and wuk up! I learned some new moves to bring back to New York.

The project I came here to work on feels stagnant right now. I am trying to breathe new life into it but I’m not sure how. I feel extremely inspired but it’s like I’m in a completely different dimension than when I began working on the Fresh Performance  interviews way back in April. On the positive side, editing the work means deep listening to the words of the artists I’ve interviewed and I am gaining a lot of inspiration and insight from them as well.

And as you can see in the photos and video, I’m still enjoying covering things in glitter.

Damali Abrams

Damali Abrams’ Residency: Week 1 Report

damali1

Damali Abrams making a presentation to the BCC Fine Arts students

For the past six months I have been participating in an off-site residency, collaborating with Fresh Milk on the Fresh Performance project. To find out how performance art manifests in New York City and the Caribbean, I have been conducting a series of interviews with artists who engage performance in different forms in their work. This includes performative photos and videos as well as live performance. Each month from April through September, I interviewed one artist in NYC and one in the Caribbean via the internet. Each month the interviews had a different theme including defining performance art; gender & sexuality; and how performance communicates. Now I am here in Barbados to edit the interviews together into a full-length documentary.

The first week of my residency here on the Fresh Milk platform was lovely, though I also felt a bit anxious. I have about six hours of interview footage from the past six months, though the videos that I have been posting online have only been about ten minutes each. I finally have the opportunity to add in all of the interesting things that the artists said that I had to edit out. Though it is an interesting project, it is somewhat daunting as well.

When I’m at home in New York and I am working on editing video projects, I often take dance breaks to shake out my body as well as my brain. I’m too shy to do that here but I have been taking collage breaks, collecting images from books and magazines that Fresh Milk provided and covering them with glitter. I’m not sure how any of this will turn out or if it will even turn into anything concrete, but it is an enjoyable way to take breaks from sitting in front of the computer all day.

Damali Abrams

Fresh Performance Chapter 6: Intuition & Vision in Performance

FRESH MILK in collaboration with Damali Abrams presents Chapter 6 in the Fresh Performance Project: Intuition & Vision in Performance

Being an artist means being able to trust one’s intuition. Intuition may be viewed as an abstract concept. Some may even think it is nonsense, the kind of foolishness that intellectuals or sensible people do not discuss. Since artists are often dismissed as senseless dreamers, intuition is risky territory for us to cop to. Contemporary art is about research and rigor, strong concepts and aesthetic concerns. Of course all of these elements, as well as technique and skill are crucial to the work. Yet that does not diminish the importance of intuition.

Growing up I remember hearing my mother exclaiming in frustration, “I should have followed my mind!” anytime she ignored her intuition and faced negative consequences. This always stuck with me and as a result I try to follow my own intuition as much as possible, especially when it comes to making art. My practice is very research-based and I love to read and write about a project extensively before, during and after creating it. But at some point I have to surrender to my muse and follow the art wherever it takes me.

Suspecting that other artists might approach their processes similarly, I interviewed Brooklyn-based artist Maria Hupfield, who is a member of Wasauksing First Nation, and Jamaican artist Olivia McGilchrist. Both use their own bodies to explore issues of culture and race in order to address universal concepts such as connectivity and alienation. They both also utilize costumes and props in creating the scenarios in their performances. These artists begin with a clear concept, an ideal vision of how their performances will manifest. But at some point they let go and allow the performance to carry them in order to create change by furthering dialogue about pertinent issues in their respective communities.

Maria Hupfield is a multi-disciplinary artist who creates the objects that she uses in her performances along with bodily gestures and her voice. These tools facilitate her performances, which are part of what she deems “new conversations.” However there is simultaneously a timeless as well a futuristic quality to her work. I met with Maria in her studio in an industrial area of Brooklyn. In performance, Maria is bold and confident. Yet in casual conversation she is soft-spoken and very careful about her thoughts and words. Talking with her it became clear that she applies the same careful consideration to her work so that by the time she arrives in front of an audience she can embody that sense of confidence and clarity.

Olivia McGilchrist was born in Jamaica to a French mother and a Jamaican father. She spent most of her life in Europe and suddenly had to return to Jamaica two years ago. This is the impetus for her alter ego “Whitey.” This work is not only about Olivia’s experiences of whiteness in Jamaica. She hopes to raise questions about whiteness in the Caribbean context. Olivia is using performance to help process these heavy personal as well as societal concerns.

This is my final posting for my six-month off-site residency with Fresh Milk. I am so grateful to Fresh Milk and all of the amazing artists that I have had the opportunity to speak with and learn from during this time.

What I did not reveal is that the six chapters of the Fresh Performance Project were based on the chakras, which are energy centers throughout our body. There are seven that people tend to focus on and I used these as the template for this project, inspired by the work of performance artist Linda Montano.

The first chakra is the root chakra and it is the place of grounding. So chapter one was about defining performance art in order to ground the project.

The second chakra is the sacral chakra and concerns sexual matters and chapter two focused on gender and sexuality.

The third chakra is the solar plexus and is our power center so of course chapter three was about performance and power.

The fourth chakra is the heart chakra and is all about love, as was chapter four.

The fifth chakra is the throat chakra and governs communication. Chapter five discussed how performance communicates.

The sixth chakra is our third eye, which is the space of intuition and here we are at chapter six: intuition and vision.

The seventh chakra, the crown chakra, is about Divine connection and oneness. Instead of a seventh chapter, this chakra will be represented by a full-length documentary bringing together all of the artists I have interviewed over the last six months. The intention of Fresh Performance was to learn about the connections and differences amongst artists working with performance in NYC and those in the Caribbean. I have learned a tremendous amount, not only about performance art and contemporary Caribbean art, but also about kindness, generosity and the ways in which we are all connected.

For the next four weeks I will be in residence at Fresh Milk as well as Groundation Grenada completing this project. I will contribute weekly blog posts to FreshMilkBarbados.com documenting the experience. Please also check out damaliabrams.tumblr.com for less formal updates.

Thank you so much to all of the artists who have participated and a huge thank you to Fresh Milk and Groundation Grenada! Also, thank you the U.S. Embassy for funding this amazing residency. I am infinitely grateful for this opportunity.

Damali Abrams

About Olivia McGilchrist

Born in Kingston (Jamaica) in 1981 to a French mother and a Jamaican father and educated in France and the U.K., Olivia McGilchrist moved back to Jamaica in 2011 after completing a Photography M.A. at the London College of Communication (2009-2010). Since this sudden return, her current practice has incorporated her body, remapping it within the tropical picturesque through photographic tableaux and multi-layered videos. She has indulged her alter-ego Whitey in her appropriation of this space of utter difference, Jamaica, by exploring trans-location and physical expressions of emotional states in the search for her cultural identity. McGilchrist was recently awarded the prize for Best New Media artist at the 2013 trinidad+tobago film festival.

About Maria Hupfield

Maria Hupfield (born 1975) is from the Georgian Bay region Ontario, Canada and currently based in Brooklyn New York. She is of Anishnaabe (Ojibwa) heritage and a member of Wasauksing First Nation. Hupfield holds an MFA in sculpture from York University, Toronto. She recently participated in: A Conversation on Performance Art: Women Redrawing/Performance, organized by The Feminist Art Project at SOHO20 Chelsea NY; (2013) Wave Hill’s Winter Workspace Program, Glyndor Galley, Bronx, NY; and (2012) Artist Leadership Program, National Museum of the American Indian Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC. She has performed at ACCOLA GRIEFEN GALLERY, Chelsea NY, Grace Gallery, Brooklyn NY and (2012) 7a*11d International Performance Festival, Toronto ON. Hupfield’s work is currently in the traveling exhibitions Beat Nation and Changing Hands III.

Hupfield’s work was featured in the 2011 winter edition of Black Flash Magazine on performance photography and in the North Edition of Fuse Magazine winter for the collaborative artist project “From the Moon to the Belly” with Laakkuluk Williamson.