Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe shares her reflection on Tilting Axis: Showing up as Caribbean creatives

Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe, artist, activist and co-founder of Groundation Grenada, shares her reflections on the conference Tilting Axis: Within and Beyond the Caribbean – Shifting Models of Sustainability and Connectivity which took place at Fresh Milk on February 27-28, 2015. Read an excerpt from her report below:

Malaika TA report2

‘I think it’s an act of rebellion to be a whole person… It’s an act of rebellion to show up as your whole self, and especially the parts that are complex, that are unfinished, that are vulnerable.’ – Courtney Martin

Two weeks before traveling to Tilting Axis: Within and Beyond the Caribbean – Shifting Models of Sustainability and Connectivity at the Fresh Milk Art Platform in Barbados, I listened to a podcast titled The Inner Life of Rebellion, a conversation which included Courtney Martin. During my presentation at Tilting Axis, about the vision and work of Groundation Grenada, I shared the above quote by Martin. Her reflections on the power of being able to make progress even with full recognition that we are imperfect and always in-the-making resonated with me deeply. It is this kind of ‘showing up’ as a whole complex person that Groundation Grenada seeks to support. As an organization our aim is to create safe spaces for people in our communities to explore the fullness of their experiences and express themselves in an environment that honors our differences. Tilting Axis was a unique moment to connect with founders and directors of initiatives that similarly work to support and enhance the growth of the Caribbean’s vast array of voices & creative visions.

Tilting Axis, held from February 27-28, 2015 aimed to promote greater conversations and engagement between artists and professionals working within artist-led initiatives across the wider Caribbean region, build and redefine historical relationships with those in the North, and establish open dialogue with active networks emerging in the Global South.

The space that the organizers Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc., ARC Inc., Res Artis and Pérez Art Museum Miami were able to create was a rich opportunity for discussing challenges and envisioning collaborative solutions.  They brought together several of the region’s arts initiatives to engage in face to face conversations. Also present were a number of professionals from outside the region interested in working with Caribbean-based initiatives such as Solange Farkas, founder and director of Videobrasil (Brazil), and N’Goné Fall, a founding member of the Dakar-based collective GawLab (Senegal). For a complete participant list and other details read the official post-conference press release (here).

There were many existing relationships and partnerships in the room and many possibilities for new collaborations discussed in formal sessions and during tea breaks. Technology has been an invaluable tool in facilitating the growth of what feels to me like a tangible movement in the region via the visual arts. Being in the same physical space as such a dynamic group of artists, curators, writers and organizers, and being able to have real conversations, was an invigorating experience. We all showed up as our full selves, open to discussing the complexities we are working with and through. It was an intergenerational setting with cross-pollination between organizations that were founded decades ago and seedling organizations that are now taking root and beginning to bloom.

Read the full report on Malaika’s website here.

Tilting Axis: Game-Changing Regional Art Conference on Sustainability in Caribbean Visual Arts held in Barbados

Participants of the Tilting Axis 2015 conference. All photographs by Sammy Davis.

Participants of the Tilting Axis 2015 conference. All photographs by Sammy Davis.

The visual arts conference, ‘Tilting Axis: Within and Beyond the Caribbean – Shifting Models of Sustainability and Connectivity‘, was held in Barbados on February 27-28, 2015 and was dedicated to forging infrastructure between several independent art organisations and museums operating across the Caribbean, U.S., E.U., and China. The conference is a game-changing development for sustainable economic development in regional visual art.

The two-day conference brought together the diverse leaders of these visual art development organisations to negotiate strategic regional and international alliances for the formalisation and further development of infrastructure, production and markets for Caribbean art.

The conference was organized by The Fresh Milk Art Platform, Inc., where the event was held, in collaboration with ARC Magazine, Res Artis and the Pérez Art Museum Miami. Tilting Axis was supported by the Arts and Sport Promotion Fund Committee (Barbados), the Davidoff Art Initiative, the British Council and the Prince Claus Fund.

Among the more than thirty invited participants were Annalee Davis, Founding Director of The Fresh Milk Art Platform (Barbados); Holly Bynoe, Co-founder and Editor-in-chief of ARC Magazine (St. Vincent & the Grenadines); Tobias Ostrander, Chief Curator, and Maria Elena Ortiz, Assistant Curator, of the Pérez Art Museum Miami (USA); Mario A. Caro, President of Res Artis (Amsterdam); David Codling, Director Arts, Americas, British Council (Colombia); Natalie Urquhart, Director of the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands; Amanda Coulson, Director of art fair VOLTA NY and Director of the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas; Deborah Anzinger, Artist and Director of Kingston-based visual art initiative NLS (Jamaica); Nicholas Laughlin, Co-founder of Trinidad and Tobago-based backyard space, Alice Yard; David Bade and Tirzo Martha, Co-directors of Instituto Buena Bista (Curaçao); Elvis López, Director of Ateliers ‘89 (Aruba); Remco De Blaaij, Curator at the Centre for Contemporary Art (Glasgow); Max Slaven and Ellie Royle, Co-Directors of the David Dale Gallery & Studios (Glasgow); Jessica Carden, Co-founder of Mother Tongue (Glasgow); Solange Farkas, Director of Videobrasil (Brazil); N’Goné Fall, Independent Curator and Co-Founder of GawLab (Senegal); Raquel Paiewonsky, Co-founder of the artist collective Quintapata (Dominican Republic); Kira Simon-Kennedy, Co-founder China Residencies (USA/China); Malaika Brooks-Smith Lowe, Co-founder and Director of Groundation Grenada, Marsha Pearce, Senior Editor of ARC Magazine (Trinidad); Caryl* Ivrisse Crochemar, Director of 14°N 61°W (Martinique). And from Barbados participants included Janice Whittle, curator of Queens Park Gallery and representative of the National Cultural Foundation; Therese Hadchity, Art Historian; Joscelyn Gardner, Artist; Llanor Alleyne, Artist and Writer; Katherine Kennedy, Artist and Directors’ Assistant at ARC and Fresh Milk; Versia Harris, Artist and Fresh Milk volunteer; Sammy Davis, Fresh Milk volunteer and Tonika Sealy, Independent Cultural Producer.

L-R: Mario A. Caro (President of Res Artis), Annalee Davis (Founding Director of Fresh Milk), Tobias Ostrander (Chief Curator at the Pérez Art Museum Miami) and Holly Bynoe (Co-founder & Editor-in-chief of ARC Magazine).

L-R: Mario A. Caro (President of Res Artis), Annalee Davis (Founding Director of Fresh Milk), Tobias Ostrander (Chief Curator at the Pérez Art Museum Miami) and Holly Bynoe (Co-founder & Editor-in-chief of ARC Magazine).

According to co-organisers Holly Bynoe and Annalee Davis, the conference seeks to create opportunities for visual artists living in the Caribbean and provide professional and economic development in the region through formal collaborations between key art organisations and foundations across the Caribbean and beyond. The conference also aims to build and redefine relationships around cultural exchange between the Global North and the Global South.

“It is not just about contemporary art. One of the tasks we have undertaken at the Pérez Art Museum Miami is the building of Caribbean art histories in the consciousness of the American public. We see the Pérez Art Museum as strategically placed to undertake this,” stated Tobias Ostrander.

From the conference, a strategic action plan for continued collaboration was developed after a reflection on the two-day discussion.

“In creating markets for contemporary art in the Caribbean, we are developing the ecosystem and all the underlying components that drive that market: The environment for artists to make great work; art writers, researchers and funders to help make that work accessible to the public; international museums and galleries to show the work; advisors and dealers to get the work placed in collections. Shared programming, exchanges, and educational initiatives developed between the institutions present addressed these key components,” stated Deborah Anzinger.

Tilting Axis 2015

Tilting Axis 2015

One of the mandates issued to the participants of the Tilting Axis conference is to tighten strategic networks in their home countries. The organisers of the conference also expect to expand the invited participant list for the next meeting which will take place in 2016.

Annalee Davis stated in her welcome address that “Many of us working in the region have been speaking with one another, in some cases for many years, but today is the first time that artist-led initiatives have come together from the Dutch, Spanish, French and English territories to meet physically in the Caribbean. It is critical that this gathering is taking place on Caribbean soil, and that we consider the visual arts sector from within the archipelago as a counterpoint to the many decisions that have been and are often made about the region externally.”

Mario A. Caro expressed his enthusiasm for the collaborations to be developed between members of Res Artis, a worldwide network of art residencies, and organizations in the Caribbean. “It is clear that the cultural sector in the Caribbean is undergoing exciting and, at times, dynamic changes, and many of these have to do with relationships being established with new partners around the globe. The increase in the mobility of artists through art residencies, both into and out of the region, is one critical factor.”

Holly Bynoe echoed positivism: “The meeting of professionals who are actively engaging and challenging collaborative strategies acknowledges the changes rippling across the Caribbean, and reaffirms the critical value of innovative emerging networks. As more eyes are turning to look at this space, we need to be cognisant of what they are seeing, and consider how and what we want them to experience. Tilting Axis aspires to become a conduit; supporting the professionalisation of artists and formalising engagements, leading to greater visibility and accessibility of contemporary Caribbean art.”

Tilting Axis 2015

Tilting Axis 2015

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’s Presentation for the e-CREATE Barbados Symposium 2013

Annalee Davis introducing FRESH MILK

On Friday April 12, FRESH MILK gave a presentation to the visiting delegation of professionals involved in the Brazilian creative industry as part of the e-CREATE Barbados Cultural Industries Symposium and Showcase 2013. The symposium was a three and a half day initiative organized by the National Cultural Foundation (NCF), Barbados which featured seminars, discussions, and networking opportunities focused particularly on introducing local creatives to the thriving contemporary arts markets opening up in São Paulo, Brazil.

The visiting arts delegates included curator and cultural producer Bel Gurgel, head of marketing and sales at Galeria Millan in São Paulo Vivian Gandelsman, Program Director of Videobrasil Thereza Farkas and Founding Director of Urbanflo Creative Consultancy in the UK Jenni Lewin-Turner. They were greeted at the FRESH MILK studio to freshly baked banana bread and coffee, and then shown to the gallery space to view a few pieces on display before the presentation. Founder of The Fresh Milk Art Platform Annalee Davis introduced the organization, speaking about its mission to support production and excellence in the contemporary arts, notably by giving young emerging talent a nurturing space to create, make connections and circulate innovative ideas. She also shared information and images from FRESH MILK’s programming so far, and some of its upcoming plans.

A few artists who have been involved with FRESH MILK then had the opportunity to present their work, showcasing firsthand some of the local and regional talent being supported. Performance and visual artist Shanika Grimes, visual artist and Assistant to Director at FRESH MILK Katherine Kennedy, artist and photographer Janelle Griffith, artist, educator and board member of FRESH MILK Ewan Atkinson and photographer and fine artist Mark King, who recently completed his residency on the platform, all spoke articulately about their work, while Annalee introduced the work of artists Sheena Rose, Grenadian artist/activist Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe and Versia Harris in their absence. This diverse range of work from gifted artists rounded off  a morning which encompassed what FRESH MILK stands for:  building connections within an inclusive environment in the hopes of broadening our community, and creating opportunities for Caribbean talent in the global arts arena.

We would like to thank the NCF and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth for making this event possible, and all of the visiting delegates for coming out to see what Barbados has to offer. We are very excited about the possibilities which have arisen from e-CREATE Barbados, and look forward to strengthening the bonds formed with all of you through reciprocal exchanges in the future.

Photo credit: Mark King, 2013

Reflection on Week 2 of the Fresh Milk residency by Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe

One of the most incredible aspects of this Fresh Milk residency is the solidarity. This past week not only have  I been able to engage with Annalee Davis, the Director, and Katherine Kennedy, Assistant-extraordiniare but also Holly Byone, Founder and Editor-In-Chief of ARC Magazine, was here collaborating on a grant proposal. The internet offers endless opportunities to build connections but there is something invaluable about sharing physical space with these dynamic women, who are each wells of knowledge and experience. In the midst of all the work that each of us was engaged in, we were able to find moments of pause (and venting and laughter) together. In a world that is focused on productivity, but also requires so much time out of us in order to manifest sustainable change, it can be so easy to downplay the value of taking the time to enjoy the company of the people who help to keep us going.

It has also been a blessing to collaborate with Varia Williams, a brilliant actor and Managing Director of Mustardseed Productions, as the character in the film that I’ve been creating while here in Barbados. I am not sure that I can even begin to articulate what the process of working with Varia has been like. We fell into a really natural rhythm, connecting to the film’s concept in unique ways that often overlapped. I started with an idea and went into a way more experimental direction, which only an actor with her ability to work in a more subtle and bodily way, could have carried. It has truly been a collaboration, her experience as an actor and her vibrant energy brought elements to the process that I couldn’t have conceived.

At some point before arriving here, I was considering what type of project to work on during this residency and set my sights on a narrative short film. As anyone who has ever proposed a project of any kind knows… things rarely go as planned. The more people responded to my initial concept the more I wanted to create a piece that was open and allowed people to interpret it in a way that spoke directly to their experience and so, started to feel myself drawn away from the narrative I had begun to create. Of course, openness is possible within the plot of a narrative. In fact this was recently demonstrated in the Fresh Milk space at Saturday night’s screening of A Hand Full of Dirt. Director, Russell Watson, and Producer, Lisa Harewood, engaged questions after the film and spoke about the ways that plot has connected with people across the globe in diverse audiences. As I watched the film for the first time that evening, I was struck by the nuanced way that they were able to weave together an engaging story that touched on so many things that were both unique to a Caribbean experience but also experienced in similar ways by other people as well: migration, corruption, tourism, masculinity, property ownership and cycles of violence, just to name a few. It was wonderful that an audience of people, who were mostly at Fresh Milk for the first time, were able to talk with the filmmakers afterwards about their own experiences of the film.

As for my piece, I’ve jumped head first into the pool of the experimental. Shooting is complete and the quality is incredible thanks to the equipment I rented through Andrew Jemmott at Caribbean Webcast. Now it is all about editing.

Follow Malaika on Instagram @malaikabsl