Musings from the Milking Parlour column in Barbados Today by Annalee Davis – check out pages 40 – 41 to read the article “Parallel conversations in a time of crisis – Debating the Cultural Industries Bill”.
for Barbados Today September 2011
There’s been lots of chat about the expansion of the cultural industries in Barbados. The Honourable
Minister Christopher Sinckler in the 2011 Budget Speech said “that the creative economy ought to be one of the pillars on which our future economic growth must be premised”, The Honourable Minister went on to say that we should move from “being a net importer to becoming a net exporter of cultural services to the World”.[i] To become a net exporter, the government will provide a facility for the borrowing of fifty million dollars to promote, market and distribute the efforts of artists. He also said that the Chinese are keen to develop a home in Barbados for the performing arts. (One can only hope that Barbados will not make the same mistakes that were made in Trinidad re the controversial Chinese built National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) – about which a prominent Trinidadian dancer said, re the quality of the dance floor, “you could snap a toe” while Mas Man, Peter Minshall said it looked like copulating caterpillars.)
Trinidadian journalist and blogger, Andre Bagoo [ii] wrote of the many technical blunders in the NAPA
building and said that the estimated budget of TT$500 million might need to be augmented with an additional TT$80 million dollars to correct the structural flaws. Trinidadians want to know why their government spent so much money without consulting stakeholders on the ground about what they actually need.
I was reminded of this Trini controversy when Bajans recently started to question the wisdom in building a Caribbean Wax Museum at Pelican Village to showcase full sized distinguished Caribbean persons in wax. The wax museum idea made me think about the students who graduate with Bachelor of Fine Art degrees from the Barbados Community College, and who wonder about post-graduation sustainability – both intellectually and economically. They wonder what infrastructure exists in the larger society to make room for artists who want to show cutting edge work and engage critically with the wider national and regional society and by extension, the world. The question really is about sustainability.
While the whole world is discussing sustainability we too in the Caribbean need to speak about how cultural practice can be sustainable and think carefully about the kinds of policies we craft. For example, do our ministers who formulate policies about culture, engage with culture? Do they have an art collection, attend theatre, read Caribbean literature? Do they know what they are talking about in relation to the economics of culture? Do our Ministers understand the cultural industries…do the decision makers know how to shape a dynamic cultural environment? How many people in the cultural industries are making a comfortable living in Barbados today? What will a wax museum and a performing hall do to expand the critical space and to increase sustainability for the practitioners? How can we plan for the expansion of an industry that we don’t understand? And how can we become a net exporter of culture globally when we don’t even have a sustainable industry locally, far less regionally and globally?
We cannot even get CARIFESTA right!
An extensive strategic plan titled “Reinventing CARIFESTA” was prepared for the CARICOM taskforce on
CARIFESTA in 2004. It was suggested that CARIFESTA was ripe for change and needed to become a more competitive festival.[iii] Recommended changes have not been implemented and the report is probably collecting dust on some CARICOM shelf in Georgetown. Why solicit the research in the first place if there is no intention to use it?
I attended CARIFESTA X in Guyana in 2008 and witnessed Nobel Laureate, Derek Walcott engage in a heated exchange with the President of Guyana about the futility of CARIFESTA and the disgraceful ways in which Caribbean governments treat their artists most of the time and that it was unacceptable for the state to pretend to support art at a regional festival for one month every several years and then completely abandon their artists the rest of the time. Why, he asked, should our actors and actresses have to wait tables in restaurants for two years and then participate in a regional arts festival so that Caribbean governments can feel they are doing something great for culture every couple of years?
So what do we need?
It’s not like we don’t have a history. We have a history. I recently read the publication, “Art in the Caribbean – An Introduction” by Anne Walmsley and Stanley Greaves (2010 New Beacon Books, UK) which offers a useful time line highlighting notable art activity across the entire region from the seventeenth century – showing the art history in the Caribbean. In relation to Barbados some of the salient moments include the following: in 1948 Golde White set up the Barbados Arts and Crafts Council; in 1933 the Barbados Museum and Historical Society opened; in 1949, the Barbados Museum Art Gallery opened with Neville Connell as curator; in 1965, the Pelican Art Gallery was opened by the Barbados Arts Council, in 1977 the BCC opened a Division of Fine Arts and a few years later, in 1977, DePam was founded. Barbados hosted CARIFESTA in 1981 and the NCF was born in 1983 which then opened the Queens Park Gallery two years later in 1985. Representing Artists was formed in 1992, the Art Foundry in 1997, Zemicon Gallery opened in 1999 and the EBCCI in 2006. So there’s been institutional activity, yet many of them no longer exist and the ones that do, don’t have the capacity to take the visual arts where it needs to go.
In addition to the above list, many international exhibitions have been organised, often outside of the region, curated by people also from outside of the Caribbean. The exceptions to this rule were some of the first regional shows including the Biennial of Caribbean and Central America in the Dominican Republic at the Museo de Arte Moderno in 1992, 1994 and 1996 – which then became a Triennial in 2010; Carib Art which happened in Curacao in 1994 and Lips, Sticks and Marks at the Art Foundry in Barbados and in Trinidad at CCA7 in 1998. These were followed by a suite of externally driven exercises such as Karibische Kunst Heute, Kassel, Germany, 1994; Caribbean Visions, USA and Exclusion, Fragmentation and Paradise – The Insular Caribbean, Madrid, Spain – both in 1998; Identities – Artists of Latin America and the Caribbean, France, Mastering the Millennium: Art of the Americas, Argentina and Washington DC in the USA, ARTE di nos e ta, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, all in 2002; Caribbean Realities II – Roots and Routes, South Carolina, USA, 2003; Infinite Island – Contemporary Caribbean Art, Brooklyn Museum, NYC, 2008; Global Caribbean, Miami, USA, Sete, France and Puerto Rico, 2010/2011; Rockstone and Bootheel – Contemporary West Indian Art, at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut, USA and Wrestling with the Image, Washington DC, USA, 2011, among others.
Some of the difficulties with this amount of external activity is that (i) the most current work being produced by Caribbean practitioners is rarely seen in the region, creating a drag effect, a chasm if you will, between the cultural producers who continue to produce, often for an international audience, and their local audience who are ignorant of that production (ii) we don’t control how we are seen, read, and understood in the international arena, – and it’s not always done on our terms (iii) the local space is often not expanded as a result of these external activities – long term relationships are not born out of them.
Externally driven approaches in relation to the region are nothing new. Conversations about the Caribbean have been taking place outside of the Caribbean for centuries. We came into being because Europe chose to ‘born us’ and as Lloyd Best wrote, we are the first place where the economy preceded the society….so if things seem a little upside down, it’s because they are.
My concern is, how can we as post-independent states, ie. as owners of this region; shape and nurture dynamic centres of cultural activity nationally and throughout the archipelago in sustainable ways.
To my mind, artist led initiatives have been blazing the trail and allowing us to know ourselves better, bonding via the internet, erasing the boundaries in its wake. We saw the birth of several platforms that evolved (i) in direct response to the lack of properly functioning formal national structures (ii) out of a need to mitigate isolation and (iii) to build bonds across linguistic divides in the region and across the ponds to a wider Caribbean that exists in increasingly substantial numbers in the cities of North America, the UK and Europe. The artist led initiatives that I am aware of include the Image Factory in Belize (1990’s), and in the noughties, Popup Studios and The Hub in the Bahamas, the Ghetto Biennial in Haiti, Headphunk in St. Lucia, Groundation in Grenada, Alice Yard in Trinidad, Tembe Art Studio in Suriname, Representing Artists (RA in 1992) and more recently, Projects and Space and FRESH MILK in Barbados.
The reason these spaces matter is because they shape a more dynamic environment, they facilitate a greater awareness of who we are and they build a critical environment. Even though they are doing important work, there are still a lot of blanks to be filled in and the informal sector cannot address all of our needs on their own steam, such as turning us into net exporters of culture to the world. Major Caribbean writers have been successful because they left the region and moved to a country where the infrastructure was in place to support their craft including publishers, editors, critics, bookshops and readers – a complete functional environment that allows them to live off of their writing. We cannot export our cultural products when none of the architectural framework is in place to allow us to be viable on a local level first and when our cultural products don’t have an established value in the global arena.
So the question to be asked at this moment, or the conversation to be had, before we build the wax museum and the big Chinese building on Spring Garden is, what do the arts need in Barbados to flourish? How can we build an environment that will nurture a culturally dynamic space and how can artists become sustainable? If I cannot put food on my table and pay my bills, I cannot afford to make my art or craft, write my book, sing my song or act in my play. This is a wonderful moment in the region, there is a lot of exciting work being made. But in many ways, we are still at step one when it comes to the required architectural support and cannot, as the Trini dancer said, afford to ‘break a toe” when we still learning how to walk. So tread carefully, Ministers.
For Barbados Today August 2011
On August 13th at the Milking Parlour Studio located in St. George, FRESH MILK, (www.freshmilkbarbados.com/) an artist led initiative offering an informal platform for exchanges among contemporary practitioners, writers and makers; was launched. The inaugural event offered a rich programme including an artists’ talk, an exhibition and a screening of sixteen video shorts from around the region. The focus of the FRESH MILK event was the launching of ARC III, a quarterly Caribbean art and culture print magazine published out of St. Vincent and the Grenadines by Holly Bynoe and Nadia Huggins. (www.arcthemagazine.com)
But first, a bit of background – what is FRESH MILK?
The idea for FRESH MILK has developed over years of conversations with other practicing artists around the need for artistic engagement amongst contemporary practitioners living and working in Barbados who are concerned with a contemporary Caribbean space – which maybe in Bridgetown, Toronto, Port of Spain or East London. My interest in founding FRESH MILK was renewed after having returned to teaching in the art department at BCC after a five year hiatus and realizing (again) that students with BFA degrees had no where to go once they graduated to share their ideas, be mentored or become part of a creative community that acknowledges their practice.
FRESH MILK’s aim is to support interactions across disciplines and contribute to an increasingly rich discourse surrounding creative production within the informal networks of the Caribbean. Its seasonal programming will offer events in the Wet Season and the Dry Season in its commitment to bring people and ideas together. This venture is connected in spirit to the increasingly rich informal artist-led networks spawning from the Bahamas in the North to Suriname in the South.
FRESH MILK is located in the Southern Caribbean, a region often referred to as a hybridized space, well known for its capacity to fuse various elements and remake itself over and over again. In this tradition, FRESH MILK appears to be a singular space – a simple wooden deck used as a private eating area for a family but which on occasion transforms into a platform for ideas – bridging the divide between private and public, disciplines or territories; transformable into a gathering space for contemporary creatives who are thirsty to debate ideas and share works.
The humble FRESH MILK space straddles my residence with my working studio and gallery. It is literally a wooden deck – a platform if you will, that connects my home with the place where I think, write, and make things; becoming a point of connection between living and working environments as well as between myself and others.
THE EVENT THAT LAUNCHED FRESH MILK
The evening’s proceedings began with my conversing with Holly and Nadia about the birth of ARC – a delicious magazine which “offers insight into current creative industries, while bridging the gap between established and emerging artists.”[i] The founders spoke to their interest in creating something beautiful and worthwhile to showcase the work coming out of the region and also about their need to develop a collaborative project to mitigate isolation – especially for Holly who was returning to quiet Bequia from energetic NYC. Their interest was to honour creative practitioners and provide a space for people to come together. The founders acknowledged that embarking on the ARC project was a huge leap of faith. Now into preparing the fourth issue, they feel as though they are being understood in the Caribbean and that their jump of faith has resulted in being ‘caught’ as manifested by the encouraging support they have received throughout the region. Holly closed by speaking about our need to form a united front, to think about the power of coming together and the need to harness this energy right now and acknowledge the groundswell taking place.
The second component of the launch included Project and Space, founded by Barbadian artist, Sheena Rose. This initiative was also born out of a need to mitigate isolation and to develop collaborative projects with others by using both her private studio space and public venues for monthly meetings with younger practitioners. Having just returned from a three-month residency at the Tembe Art Studio in Suriname where she felt isolated at the programme’s deeply rural location, she felt surprised on returning to Barbados that the isolation was ever present here as well and decided to do something about it. Sheena thought that the separate circles of artists, writers and filmmakers should come together “and make one big circle.” Project and Space participated in the Fresh Milk launch by co-curating a small exhibition with ARC, to showcase the works of five Barbadian artists working in photography, mixed media, sculpture and painting. This collaborative action was in keeping with ARC’s intention to inspire and give voice to a new generation of emerging artists, and provided the opportunity for the audience to see some of the new work evolving while alleviating the isolation many practitioners experience.
The third feature of the launch consisted of the viewing of video shorts produced by sixteen artists from the region. A home made screen was suspended from my children’s very tall swing set, large blankets were laid out on the lawn, and more than seventy people viewed a fifty-one minute selection of video works curated by the ARC founders.
One of the artists who attended the event wrote to say that it was the arts event of the year. I do not know where these people came from…many I did not know. The audience spanned generations and the excitement felt by recent graduates and young practitioners was palpable. Some confessed their eager anticipation about the event and everywhere someone was meeting someone else for the first time….we were getting to know ourselves….still! A young animated Barbadian man is entering his second year in Arts Administration at Goldsmiths in London, an eager Art Historian returned to Barbados three weeks ago with degree in hand from the University of Leicester, a recent graduate from BCC is now in Kenya at an arts residency, another just back from one at Alice Yard in Trinidad.
As Holly suggested, there is a groundswell in the arts. It is a moment to be harnessed and a time to be savored. The shift is happening, and our challenge is to keep up the momentum.
Just as Holly and Nadia were leaving to return home and prepare for their next stop at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival where they will present a new media programme at this September event, my parting gift to them was copies of RA, a quarterly publication of the informal group, Representing Artists from 1993/1994. RA was an artists’ union and watchdog organization, co-founded to, again, mitigate isolation, born out of the lack of acknowledgement and support expected from the formal art institutions. Re-reading my editorials from that comparatively humble publication eighteen years ago reveals what has and has not changed in the region. What has not changed is that many formal institutions are still dysfunctional and in dire need of rehab but are in denial about their failure to function properly….part of the general malaise and crisis of leadership we all know too well and which continues to mash up the region. The other thing that has not changed is that the oxygen being pumped into the art community continues to come from the blood of artists – not state institutions whose mandate it is to grow the arts.
What has changed is that the internet has democratized access to information and to each other, making it impossible for those who once controlled access to maintain absolute control. I was reminded that the RA publications were reaching out to the region in the same ways that ARC is doing today…the six issues a precursor to the efforts of Holly and Nadia who are offering a much more sophisticated publication, carefully designed and printed so beautifully in a fancy art house printery in Iceland and not by a primitive machine in black and white. ARC’s mission to “foster and develop dialogue and opportunities for individual and collaborative visual artists across the region and to stimulate sharing and creativity by providing an outlet for self-expression and uniqueness” was in essence the mission of RA.
The fact that visual artists are still working to alleviate isolation and build opportunities means that their own production wanes, making the efforts sweeter because the sacrifice is so great. And it is this sacrifice that makes each of us complicit in the failure or success of all the artist led-initiatives throughout the region. As an artist-led initiative, ARC magazine is made possible by the subscription and support of its readers. In other words, if we don’t support it, it cannot sustain itself. And isn’t this the question for the Caribbean as a whole?
May 2011 Article – Barbados Today
On May 5th, nine Studio Arts BFA students celebrated the opening of their exhibition at the Morningside
Gallery at the BCC. Senior Tutor, Allison Thompson noted in her message in the catalogue, “As a centre of learning that focuses on both Visual and Performing arts, the Division nurtures, develops and showcases the future of cultural production in the region.”
I am interested in how we get to the “future of cultural production in the region.” The future for art graduates anywhere in the world is challenging and in the Caribbean it is even more so. Many BCC graduates spend more time decorating windows in retail outlets, making jewelry or teaching at primary or secondary school rather than making art. Very few get signed onto a gallery, produce work full time, exhibit locally, regionally and internationally, and make a living off the sale of their works? This begs the question, what happens after the lights are turned off at Portfolio 2011
The Principal’s catalogue message gives much food for thought. Dr. Best states that there is “currently much emphasis on the development of the cultural industries in Barbados” and “due to the dedication of students and staff in the various programmes that the quality of visual and performing arts in Barbados has improved in immeasurable terms to the point where these are recognized as fields in which careers may be built.” Do we even know how art careers are built? There are persons (consultants, advisors, technocrats, experts, directors etc) who build their careers around the arts in this country, but it’s not the artists.
Let’s begin with the BCC programme – the engine that shapes the young artists. I asked Ms. Thompson what the programme lacks. She said “we need funds for the day-to-day running of the programme and maintenance of the physical plant. The dance programme is located off campus. The Performance Hall needs major repairs but has always been completely inadequate. We need a serious performance hall that can seat a minimum of 200 people. We rent tents and have people sit outside in the sun and rain to watch our performances. We have to fight for chemicals for printmaking and photography. We don’t have enough cameras. We should have internet access in our classrooms. We need more classrooms.”
As someone who has recently started back teaching at the College, I am also aware that the library is not up to par.
In terms of the emphasis on the development of the cultural industries, the reality on the ground is that we are a ‘developed’ nation without a National Gallery of Art and the cultural industries legislation is yet to be passed. There is nowhere for artists to display experimental, unconventional works that push the
boundaries of artistic practice.
Does the BCC, for example, have a collection of art, based on the regular acquisition of work from their graduating students? How do we measure growth in the cultural industries? Where is this immeasurable improvement that the Principal makes reference to?
Dr. Best suggests that the Portfolio ‘is arguably the most important exhibition and provides the base for the initial exposure and growth in confidence for graduates.” The five-year journey for the art students is undeniably important in terms of their own personal growth and development. That is clear. My concern is what happens next. Where do these students go once they leave the nest of BCC?
Dr. Best goes onto to write that ‘as more emphasis is placed on the development of the cultural industries we would likely see the names of the exhibitors in Portfolio 2011 featured because these students and their tutors will drive the growth of the industries.” The BCC is training artists and ushering them into the society – but does that mean that the cultural industry is growing in the way that these students or professional artists need? Which of the readers of this article have come or will come out to the see the show and when is the last time any of you bought a work of art? Without visibility and without sales, there is no awareness of the production, no insight into the creative research being advanced by the practitioners and no growth – intellectually or economically.
All throughout the Anglophone Caribbean, the only oxygen keeping the visual arts alive, comes from the informal networks – the non-funded, independent artists and collectives, who at great personal costs, keep on keeping on. Which leads to a positive note – at the Portfolio 2011 opening, the Lesley’s Legacy Foundation – an informal initiative, gave the inaugural cash award of $500.00 to Ireka Jelani, the BFA student with the highest GPA. The Division supports this award by offering the graduate the opportunity to hold a solo exhibition in the Morningside Gallery in the next 12-24 months. I challenge the BCC to contribute to this support and to the growth of the cultural industry by initiating the college’s own art collection by acquiring works every year from the Portfolio. This will expand awareness of the cultural industry, contribute to an enriched cultural space and economic growth; and by extension, sustainable livelihoods for cultural producers.
Come Out Tings – Portfolio 2011 runs until Monday May 16th daily from 9am – 8pm. Come out and see the show. Students are on hand to give you a tour. Purchase a catalogue for $5.00 which helps cover the costs of producing and printing the catalogue. Acquire a work of art from the students – the 10% commission goes to running the Gallery. Proceeds from the raffle of Ras Akyem-i’s limited edition lithograph go to the Creation Foundation which hopes to establish a scholarship for Graduate Studies in Art for graduates of BCC.
Photo credits – I gratefully acknowledge Corrie Scott who has kindly allowed me to use her photos of Come Out Tings. http://www.corriescott.net
by Annalee Davis
A reader of my last article expressed confusion over the term contemporary art. She wondered how it was that Joscelyn Gardner, (www.joscelyngardner.com) could be considered a contemporary artist even though she is working within the old tradition of lithography using stone.
The use of the word ‘contemporary’ is confusing because it can suggest that all art made now is contemporary art. But this is not the case. The term ‘contemporary art’ has become a catch all phrase suggesting that there aren’t other movements happening and that all work produced conforms to some commonly understood manifesto. The reality is more layered and the term ‘contemporary art’ both does and does not make things clear.
So what’s considered contemporary art?
I schooled in the USA in the eighties. Although the work being produced at that time falls into what we still call ‘contemporary art’, there were many different kinds of work being produced at that time. I spent weekends traveling mostly to NYC, as well as to Philadelphia, and Washington DC where I saw Appropriation Art, Video Installation Art, Graffiti Art, Postmodern Art, and Institutional Critique among other types of contemporary art. The education I received visiting museums and galleries was supported by interacting with tutors who were very successful as contemporary visual artists, including Martha Rossler, Emma Amos and Leon Golub. In addition we attended the MFA visiting artist class and were exposed to visiting luminaries such as Hans Haacke and Adrian Piper.
Since my return to the Caribbean throughout the nineties and the noughties I have witnessed the advent internationally of Internet Art, Digital Art, New Media Art, Information Art and the rise of the Young British Artists and more recently VJ Art, Videogame Art, Virtual Art and Relational Art, among others.
Does contemporary art include all of the above? Yes. Does it include everything else being produced by all artists, everywhere, at the same time? No. So what’s the difference?
Many museums of contemporary art state that their collections include works made after the second world war. In addition, one of the defining characteristics is that contemporary art refers to works that offer something new in terms of their ideas and/or technical manifestation. In other words, there’s something unexpected and innovative conceptually and/or technically; the work makes us notice something in a fresh way. In response to my reader’s question, contemporary artist Joscelyn Gardner uses the ancient art of stone lithography in a subversive way to explore her identity as a (white) Creole Caribbean woman, with a novel twist to the labour intensive medium she employs as a white woman visually acknowledging the historical toil of black female workers.
Contemporary Art in the Caribbean
There are many people in the Caribbean making artistic things at this particular moment in time, many of which are displayed in scores of art galleries throughout the islands. This often includes watercolours and acrylic or oil paintings that portray the flora, fauna, land and seascapes and portraits of people in ways that may (or may not) stress the technical virtuosity of the practitioner. Buyers of this work may enjoy the technical proficiency and beauty of these pictures. Or, sometimes the images rendered are reminders of a beautiful location and buying this painting allows us to hold the memory in a more tangible way. And yes, it might, on rare occasions, even include a lithograph portraying a riverside scene in a tropical forest.
This is emphatically different from the work contemporary art that I am interested in following and learning more about. It’s work that surprises me when I see it because I have not seen the formula before. Maybe I understand its reflection or its sentiment, not because I am already familiar with the particular image/performance/sound/installation/still or moving image but because it has a curious nature about it which resonates with my own inquiring mind. I respond to this work at a visceral and an intellectual level – the work becomes an experience. And it doesn’t happen often.
When we view the painting of Bottom Bay by English artist, Steve Bonner, those of us who have been to Bottom Bay on the east coast of Barbados, will recognize the rocky coastline and the wide expanse of beach. Some might like this image because it’s familiar or because it evokes a fond memory even though it does not offer a new perspective on our reading of the beach.
Staying with the beach theme, we might view the subversive artwork by Blue Curry, a London based Bahamian artist, which was recently shown at the 6th Liverpool Biennial.
This installation uses an aquamarine coloured, customized cement mixer filled with twenty litres of sun cream. The strong scent of the sun cream elicits memories of a tropical beach and relaxed moments of lying in the sun. On closer examination, we understand that our tropical fantasy has been high-jacked and turned into a humorous even if frightening reflection on a region built as a playground for people from somewhere else, churning out all-inclusive, hedonistic getaways that local Caribbean people work at but don’t leisure in.
Both of these works were made in the same decade – Steven Bonner’s aged representation of a Caribbean seascape was painted in 2009, and Blue Curry’s satirical interpretation of tropical paradise was conceived and manufactured in 2010. Although both art pieces were produced in a similar time about a similar space, they could not be further apart. My sense is that a contemporary art museum might want to acquire only one of these works. Which one do you think that may be?