Matilde dos Santos writes on CATAPULT Awardee Camille Chedda for Madinin’Art

Martinique based historian, art critic and independent curator Matilde dos Santos, who was one of the guest curators/mentors selected to conduct studio visits with 6 of the 24 CATAPULT Stay Home Artist Residency participants, has generously offered to write features on each of the artists she engaged with during the programme. The third piece focuses on the practice of Jamaican artist Camille Chedda!

Read the article, originally published in French on Madinin’Art: Critiques Culturelle de Martinique (December 11, 2020), in English below!

Last August, Fresh Milk (Barbados), Kingston Creative (Jamaica) and The American Friends of Jamaica (USA) introduced CATAPULT | A Caribbean Arts Grant. This program, through six different initiatives, directly provided financial support for five months to over 1000 artists and other Caribbean creative practitioners confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic. One such initiative was the Stay Home Artist Residency (SHAR). Twenty-four artists were chosen, and the residencies spread out over three groups from September 21st to December 11th. I was lucky enough to be one of the visiting curators, and am pleased to share these virtual visits with you.  Each meeting brought me something different; each artist moved me in their own way. I was particularly pleased to meet Camille Chedda, whose work I knew only through photographs.

Camille Chedda, Untitled, 2020, Installation on view at The Olympia Gallery, Kingston. Photo by Charles Allen. Courtesy of the artist.

Camille Chedda (Manchester, Jamaica, 1985 ) lives and works in Jamaica. She is a Visual Arts graduate of Edna Manley College and holds a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. Her work is polymorphic and questions the post-colonial identity. Using materials from everyday life, she traces the decomposition inherent in all construction, notably in the perpetually ongoing construction: identity; her own personal identity merged with a possible Caribbean identity. Her works have been exhibited at the National Gallery of Jamaica, the Museum of Latin American Art, the Portland Museum of Art, and at the Wallach Art Gallery at the University of Columbia, among others. Recipient of numerous awards, such as the Albert Hume prize, the Reed Foundation scholarship, the first prize in commemoration of Dawn Scott, and the TAARE program prize from the British Council, she was also a resident artist at Alice Yard in Trinidad and Tobago, Art Omi in New York and at Hospitalfield in Scotland. A teacher at the Edna Manley College, in 2016 she became the director of the artistic and social project InPulse Collective, financed by Rubis Mecenat to support young Jamaican artists.

I was familiar with Camille’s paintings on plastic bags, such as Shelf Lives (2011), where she painted in acrylic a whole series of mini portraits of ordinary people on transparent plastic bags.  These portraits on disposable bags produced the disturbing sensation of lives also being disposable, expressing, in a simple yet highly effective way, the little value that can be given to the lives of the most precarious populations. I left Brazil a long time ago, but Brazil never left me, and everything I see reminds me of my country. That is surely why these characters, drawn with a few simple strokes, ready to be used and replaced, upset me so. On the same support, the artist created Wholesale dégradable, a series of portraits of people who have been killed by Kingston police, taken from official statistics and drawn from photos. Some of the characters, those for whom the artist could not find any photos, were replaced by other acts of violence, not necessarily current or Jamaican. In this way, the artist established a link between actual ordinary violence and the systemic violence of colonial history. There too, I can’t help but explain recurrent police brutality as a product of colonial history perpetuating itself.  The idea of a throw-away society is accentuated by the evanescence of the portraits evoked in Built-In obsolescence. Acrylic paint on plastic can break up in pieces, and this allowed her to play with time, notably with the notion of the expiry date.

Camille Chedda, Untitled (Built-in Obsolescence series, 2011-12), mixed media on plastic bag.

Another material very present in her work, the one she will use while in the CATAPULT residency, is cement blocks or cinder blocks. Depicted on carbon drawings in the series  Drop it low, 2016, these blocks refer back to videos that went viral in Jamaica in 2015 showing women lying on the ground on their backs during dancehall block parties, breaking cinder blocks between their thighs. Dancehall is often presented as a place for women to liberate themselves; but, these videos depicted mainly simulations of violent sex and women earning small change from the public for displaying their talent for breaking concrete blocks with their crotch, talents that can lead to serious health problems. For a black woman in Jamaica to criticise dancehall is not a comfortable position; but, it is the one Camille chose to take by showing her drawings of a woman destroying herself only to please others. And when we speak of self-destruction of black bodies, coloniality surely has something to do with it. Cinder blocks were also present in the installation Rebuild, shown at the Ghetto Biennale 2017 in Haiti. The piece referred back to the destruction of the city of Port-au-Prince in 2010 and its rebuilding still in progress, but also to the fragility of cement blocks, generally believed to be resistant but made fragile by the greed of manufacturers who put sub-standard blocks on the market. Such imitations were probably implicated in the destruction of Haiti by the 2010 earthquake. This material has accompanied Camille since 2016, and recently, on the Net, I saw her photos of body parts buried in a sea of sand and cinder block. I very much like the idea of construction/deconstruction and the link the artist makes with the body (and indeed the spirit, which she does not state, but very well could have).

Camille Chedda, Drop it Low at famous Wednesday,  2016. Charcoal on paper

For her CATAPULT residency, Camille chose to work with a stack of cinder blocks, a work that I discover at its very beginnings and which will develop quickly, to be shown first in a collective exhibit “…And I Resumed the Struggle at the Olympia Gallery, in Kingston from December 10th. The work, in its current state, was entirely done in the framework of the CATAPULT residence, also with the support of WARE (The Wattle and Red Earth). At the time of the visit, the piece was still in the early stages, and it’s still a work in progress.

Camille Chedda, work in progress. Screen shot.

In this work, Camille wanted to explore the notion of heritage in decolonial terms. The artist sees heritage as a sort of construct, an exogenous gangue totally oriented towards tourism and that does not consider (nor honour) the black population, which comprises the majority of the Jamaican population.

The origin of the piece goes back to 2019, but the actual making of it began last October. This piece is to be considered in association with The Three Disgraces, a collage from 2019, showing a wall being climbed over, at the same time blocking out three dancehall dancers, surrounded by images of money, the public, and children. According to the artist, these children are exposed to something presented to them as their culture and heritage. Starting from the idea of the wall and heritage, Camille began to conceive her new piece about the social construction of identity.  The cement blocks are stacked into a wall, and the openings in each concrete brick are filled either with tablets playing videos or with photos or objects… When seen from far away, it gives the impression of a tower of apartments from the outside. This evokes, simultaneously, the notion of construction and compartmentalisation, foundation and immuration; the raw finish and the unfinished assembly imply construction, the small occupied nooks, and the visible defaults suggest a ruin. This all made me think of the popular song by Caetano Veloso: “Here all seems to still be in construction but it’s already a ruin.” Caetano was speaking of Rio de Janeiro, but it is reminiscent of Camille’s work. Ruins under construction. A construction that breaks down in the very process of being constructed. More than programmed obsolescence, a sort of denaturalisation; where the foundation of ruins, that which builds, demolishes; that which elevates, cuts down.

During our conversation, Camille, who first wanted to depict the sea at the top of the wall, changed her mind and thought instead to perhaps fill in the top part with photos of heritage buildings, notably Rose Hall, an ancient mansion dating from the first half of the XVIII century.  Very imposing, the Georgian style home had been abandoned and fell to ruins in the ’60s, then renovated near the end of the ’70s by Americans who made a museum out of it. This museum displays a story of the plantation and the legend of the white witch of Rose Hall, a fiction. And it is this kind of fictional character who romanticised colonial heritage that Camille would like to question. Built during the pandemic, the piece evolved to give more and more space to screens, which with the pandemic have become practically the only means of socialisation for the confined population. On the theme of social and memorial constructions, the piece made me think of the installation sculpture of Cildo Meireles, Babel (2001). This monumental installation (over 9 meters high) is composed of a pile of 800 radios from different brands and epochs, tuned to different radio stations set at distinct yet hardly audible volumes.  Around the room, a bluish penumbra immersed the audience in the sound of languages from all over the world. I also thought, from having seen it in another CATAPULT program, the Lockdown Virtual Salon, of the piece Grand Crus, appellations contrôlées le retour by Richard-Viktor Sainsily Cayol, which is also a construction based on materials that have built our memory. The work of Sainsily Cayol has two versions, both made of oak barrels organised in pyramids placed on a triangular base under blue light. The first version (Dakar Biennale, 2014) presented barrels marked “compagnie des indes,” and on which are also engraved various names of African ethnic groups.  In the second version (Havana Biennale, 2019), unmarked barrels are bristling with prickles.

Camille Chedda, Untitled, Installation, The Olympia Gallery, Kingston, 10 décembre 2020. Photo by Veerle Poupeye.

Because memory is also a construction, sometimes with blocks of bad quality, Camille made me think of  Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, where Aimé Cesaire praised  those who have never invented or tamed anything. Perhaps we are not builders of cathedrals, but we do build, never-the-less.

– Matilde dos Santos – Historian, art critic and independent curator

Appreciation to the partners of the CATAPULT programme: The American Friends of Jamaica, Kingston Creative and Fresh Milk.

The SHAR participants described their experiences in blogs that you can read on the Fresh Milk platform here.

For further information:

On the work Babel by  Cildo Meirelles:

On Grands Crus versions 1 and 2,  see the artist’s website:

Aimé Césaire, Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, 1956 © Seuil, 2006.

*Nous ne sommes pas des bâtisseurs de cathédrales is the title of a work by the Martinicain artist  Jacqueline Fabien

Matilde dos Santos writes on CATAPULT Awardee Natusha Croes for Madinin’Art

Martinique based historian, art critic and independent curator Matilde dos Santos, who was one of the guest curators/mentors selected to conduct studio visits with 6 of the 24 CATAPULT Stay Home Artist Residency participants, has generously offered to write features on each of the artists she engaged with during the programme. The first piece focuses on the practice of Aruban artist Natusha Croes!

Read the article, originally published in French on Madinin’Art: Critiques Culturelle de Martinique (November 25, 2020), in English below!

Recognizing the impact of COVID-19 on the arts sector, the American Friends of Jamaica facilitated a $320,000 fund in collaboration with Kingston Creative and The Fresh Milk Art Platform to support artists, creatives and cultural practitioners from the Caribbean region. These funds constitute the CATAPULT programme which, through six different initiatives over five months, provides direct financial support to more than 1000 Caribbean artists working on the themes of culture, human rights, gender, LGBTQIA+ and climate justice.

One such initiative is the Stay Home Artist Residency (SHAR). There are twenty-four award winning artists, spanning thirteen distinct territories and four linguistic areas of the region (English, Spanish, French and Dutch).  I had the honour of being a visiting curator for six of the resident artists.

My first virtual visit was to artist Natusha Croes’ studio.

Born in 1991, at Oranjestad, Aruba, Natusha Croes studied fine arts as a teenager at Ateliers ’89 in Aruba. After that, she continued her studies in Audio Visual Fine Arts at the Gerrit Rietveld academy in Amsterdam and she obtained a Master of Arts degree in Performance Making at Goldsmith College of London. She participated in residences in Aruba (2015, Caribbean Linked III) and in Berlin (2017, SomoS).

Her present work is a derivative of TACTUS, a creation in which she explored the possible acoustics of playing various shapes of cactus found in certain Aruban landscapes. Tapping on the thorns produced sounds, creating rhythms to which the artist sang and played. The performance was recorded in a short video. This particular attention given to the nature of a specific landscape, where she grew up, drives her current research

Natusha Croes – TACTUS screen shot video, courtesy of the artist.

Her maternal grand parents left Madeira island for Venezuela, and then left Venezuela for Aruba.  Natusha was born in Aruba to a Dutch father. Raised by her mother and her mother’s family, in a Luso-Spanish household, she discovered the Dutch language and culture at school. After college, she leaves to study in Amsterdam; comes back, leaves again, attends some residencies; after seven years of living abroad, she returns to her homeland guided by the need to reconnect with this space.

Strangely enough, she finds a representation of cultural diversity in the landscape, itself a hybrid between land and sea, with rock formations in layers to empathise with and relate to. Through her contact with the environment, Natusha stalks the memory of rocks, shells, leaves and water; a memory buried in the earth and which goes back for millions of years

Starting from the idea of touch, already present in TACTUS, Natusha creates CARICIA, a project to caress the earth, take care of it, honour it, as she says. The word is beautiful and accurate and, in keeping with the ancestral cultures, free of any colonial framework.

The situation in Aruba before the pandemic was already precarious, hers as an artist even more so, but grants such as those provided by Foundation FARPA or UNOCA allowed her to begin her project: find a studio, a team and film material.

COVID has put this project on hold. In confinement, she could no longer maintain the film crew and it was no longer possible to drive around the island looking for remote places where the connection with the earth seemed stronger to her. Having a studio, on the other hand, allowed her to gather material and bring it back there: leaves, fungus, earth, shells, rocks, a bit of everything, as if to bring the seaside home. It is at this moment that she receives the CATAPULT grant. At her studio, Natusha begins to develop “one on one” actions that she considers more like mutually healing exchanges than performances.

Natusha Croes, CARICIA, courtesy of the artist.

The simplicity of her artistic gestures and of her artefacts recalls Lygia Clark (Belo Horizonte, 1920 – Rio de Janeiro, 1988), precisely for her excitement in telling Hélio Oiticica (Rio de Janeiro, 1937-1980) about the little stone that she found on her path one day in the very middle of Paris (Lygia Clark e Hélio Oiticica, letters 1964-1974). A little stone that, once balanced atop a bag filled with air, became the creation Pedra e ar (1966) demonstrating the relationship between weight and movement. It was the beginning of a journey that brought Lygia to art therapy. A possible path for Natusha too, who considers well-being as an integral part of her practice and performs her artistic gestures as acts of healing.

When Natusha lays leaves and rocks on the workshop floor, I think of Favor quitarse los zapatos (1970), an installation by Margarita Azurdia (Antigua,1931- Guatemala City 1988), where the public had to cross barefoot over a room full of small irregular mounds of wet sand. Just like Natusha, Margarita mingled poetry, performance and sculpture with hybrid and sometimes fictional religious myths, as in Homenage à Guatemala (1971-1974). The idea of homage resonates with the reverence Natusha gives to space.

She reclaims a “state of reverence”, which brings her closer to Ana Mendieta (La Havane, 1948- New York, 1985). Ana is, understandably, the most evident reference in Natusha’s performances, especially the series Siluetas; same need to reconnect with the earth, her homeland. The underwater video of Natusha reminds one evidently of the short Super-8mm film by Ana Mendieta, Creek filmed in 1974, but also of performances Still dance by Anna Halprin (Winnetka, 1920) surrounded by nature.

Natusha Croes, CARICIA research video, screenshot, courtesy of the artist.

The study period in Europe was experienced by the artist as a rupture. It seems to be the same story for many young people from the Caribbean. At a given moment they must leave; once over there, why return? Those who return want to give back the love they received from their birthplace, and understand the rejection while back in the place too. Natusha is surprised: “I really did want to come back, and now I have to fight to stay.”

Because she wants to be in close communion with her island, Natusha swims against the current until she’s grounded, and the gap between her and her island gently fills.

While she draws, installs, performs, dances, feels, writes a story, her manner is just the opposite of spectacular, and that’s what draws me to her work. Natusha sings in Spanish and in English, caressing the land in all her languages. And it is of love that she speaks when she tells of her return to her birth land – “I was everywhere like a fool in love.” Right now as she caresses the rocks, I imagine her touching the bottom of time with the tip of her fingers.

Ana Mendieta made love to her homeland as well. She also started from a precise point, places she thought were charged with power, to finish with the understanding that a connection to the universe is possible everywhere, because the universe is one. To speak of her work Natusha uses the expression ‘Create from a state of reverence’. Eloquent,  and to the point. Also radically decolonial.

– Matilde dos Santos – Historian, art critic and independent curator

Appreciation to the partners of the CATAPULT programme: The American Friends of Jamaica, Kingston Creative and Fresh Milk.

The SHAR participants described their experiences in blogs that you can read on the Fresh Milk platform here.

For further information:

Lygia CLARK et Helio OITICICA, organised by Luciano FIGUEIREDO, Cartas 1964-74 edited by UFRJ, Rio de Janeiro, 1996.

Cecilia Fajardo-Hill e Andrea Giunta, Mulheres radicais: arte latino-americana, 1960-1985, Pinacoteca de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo , 2018. (see Azurdia p.60)

Ana Mendieta. Le temps et l’histoire me recouvrent, catalogue of the exhibit, Jeu de Paume, Paris, 2018

Anna Halprin Still Dance (1998–2002) – Anna was photographed by Eeo Stubblefield when she performed the score of Stubblefield,  Still dance. These actions and other performances in nature were documented by Andy Abrahams Wilson in the film Returning home