Barbadian artist Kia Redman shares her first blog post about her Fresh Milk residency, reflecting as the 2019 recipient of the Colleen Lewis Research/Writing residency programme. Writing has always been something Kia wanted to explore more within her growing creative practice, and she is taking this time to immerse herself within the material the reading room has to offer, with a particular focus on ideas of ‘paradise’ and ‘escapism’ in a Caribbean context. Read more below:
Writing is not something I have ever done for myself. There has always been an assignment, an application or a job providing the catalyst for me to flip the switch in my mind from visual to literary. As such, I have never presumed myself worthy of the title of writer, despite how much I enjoy the process. A title can often grow to become part of your identity. I could not, in good conscience, claim one that I had not had the courage to actively pursue…until now.
While I am not yet ready to claim the title, perhaps I will gain new perspectives by the end of this residency. For now, I will just embrace the joy of being able to write for myself.
My first week as the first Colleen Lewis Research/Writing Resident at Fresh Milk was liberating. There is a peculiar kind of freedom that comes with having a vast expanse of knowledge at your fingertips and a vast amount of time with which you can peruse it all. It is somewhat akin to living while time stands still. The construct of days and hours lose all meaning. The change in time now only marked by the end of a chapter, the occasional pang of hunger, and the draw of my bed as the light shifts gradually darker in the sky. Throughout that time only one thought occupied my mind: How to Escape from Paradise.
The irony of the topic of my research was never lost on me the many times I laid in the hammock strung up just outside the studio, basking in the breeze and lush foliage, with one of the many books I felt compelled to read nestled in my hands. It has been a near constant topic on my mind since the final year of my studio art degree, two years ago, when I wrote on it as part of an assignment for Ewan Atkinson’s Contemporary Issues class. It almost seems like it was an inevitability that I would confront it again after he suggested that I would be interested in applying to this residency.
Initially, I was a bit apprehensive when approaching the topic. It had been ruminating around in my head for two years and I was nowhere closer to being able to translate my jumble of thoughts into something tangible. Moreover, I had somehow convinced myself that the topic was limited and there were not many avenues down which I could pursue my ideas. I was proven wrong within the first few moments of stepping foot in the studio. Before I even fully unpacked, Annalee graciously provided me with many starting points and perspectives that gradually turned into large stacks of books on my desk as the week progressed. While the jumble of information in my head did increase, the breadth of my understanding deepened and the constraints I had unwittingly placed on the topic, fell away to make room for new pathways I will enjoy exploring in the coming weeks.
One of my goals for this first week was to delve into the Colleen Lewis Reading Room Collection and engage with books that caught even an ounce my interest. I wanted to start with an open mind. My next goal was to explore the vibrant surroundings I found myself in and feed off of the tropical energy I’m attempting to translate into words. My final goal was to develop a structure for what I plan on writing throughout the residency.
The first goal was met within moments of the start, while the last two came to be on the last day of the first week: Annalee had just suggested I read a piece by Colleen Lewis, the namesake of the residency and very reason I found myself sitting amongst her treasured books. She rummaged around the shelves until she found “Pictoral Depictions of the West Indian Landscape in the 18th Century and Early 19th Century: The Sublime, The Picturesque, The Romantic” in the fiftieth volume of the Journal of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society and placed it in my hands. Within moments, her vivid descriptions of the history and form of the earliest means of paradise marketing in the Caribbean had me yearning to consume the words surrounded by all that she spoke of. I immediately grabbed the journal and said my brief farewells to Annalee and Ethan as I strode out of the studio with a fierce purpose. Seconds later I was back to grab my pen and notebook. It had taken me a moment to realize that the intense familiar calling I felt was inspiration. A couple hours and a few heated conversations with some cows later, I was back in the studio. I felt accomplished. I had not only come up with a structure for what I plan to write, but the walk and Colleen’s words in the journal had helped to solidify two years-worth of jumbled thoughts in my mind. I could finally start to see the form my visual work, under the same topic, will take.
The next following weeks will find me exploring:
- The link between Paradise and Escape
- The methods and motivations behind the creation of the Caribbean as a Paradise
- The realities that have paralleled the Paradise throughout the centuries
- Paradise as an exotic escapist destination
- The physical aspects of Paradise as a tool for escape and concealment, as seen with the Maroon societies, runaway slaves and escaped prisoners in more modern times.
- Paradise as a prison, for indentured laborers and slaves
- Paradise as a banal reality for those who live within its lush bounds and the means by which they indulge in their escapist fantasies.
It was a great first week. I can’t wait to begin the next!