Ronald Williams shares a statement about ‘Alpha’

There has been some recent media coverage in the Nation Newspaper in Barbados surrounding a public art piece by local artist Ronald Williams, which was commissioned by Fresh Milk and Adopt A Stop as part of their collaborative Fresh Stops project.

Fresh Milk is very pleased to be able to share a comprehensive statement by Ronald about his artwork entitled Alpha, which can be seen on a bench in Independence Square, Bridgetown. Alpha combines imagery and references from contemporary black culture, based on the artist’s own observations from everyday life, with classic figures from Greek mythology to challenge Western standards of beauty.

We are proud to be supporting Ronald’s thought provoking work, and hope that the attention it is receiving will lead to further dialogue and understanding about contemporary art, its role in society and its value for our culture and environment.

Ronald Williams with his bench entitled 'Alpha'

Ronald Williams with his bench entitled ‘Alpha’

Alpha attempts to question traditionally dominant Western beauty standards. It injects a black consciousness alongside, and at times instead of, the established images found in Classical Greek, Renaissance and Baroque eras.

In appropriating the revered iconography from these eras, I sought to challenge the Western ideals which are so dominant in our culture and mind-sets. The characters are based on five of the Olympians from Greek Mythology (tales which were dominant in my own psyche as those were the first stories I remember really liking as a child).

While I removed the mythical Greek icons from their pedestals, the aim was to also critically investigate black culture and present a Barbadian/Caribbean existence in a new light. Therefore, I used ordinary people and mundane personalities as my inspiration. As a result the five characters take the form of the pretty boy, the party animal, the conscious one, the bad boy and the trickster.

The work, viewed as a collective, reflects African, European and East Asian influences, highlighting that even though we are a predominantly black county/region, it is the intermingling of these various cultures which has caused the Caribbean to be a unique space.

Apollo - Detail of 'Alpha' by Ronald Williams

Apollo – Detail of ‘Alpha’ by Ronald Williams

Apollo, described as the most beautiful Olympian and a ‘God’ of the arts, becomes the pretty boy. He is the personification of modern male fashion, which often goes beyond metrosexual and into effeminate/homosexual realms. The character sports a white face on a black body, highlighting the skin bleaching phenomenon (seen as a beautification process), which is prevalent in the black population in the Caribbean.

Dionysus - Detail of 'Alpha' by Ronald Williams

Dionysus – Detail of ‘Alpha’ by Ronald Williams

Dionysus, the ‘God’ of alcohol, drunken revelry and ecstasy is the party animal. Dressed as a Kadooment/Carnival masquerader holding a bottle of brandy and set against a smoky marijuana background, the character appears intoxicated and moody. The piece as a whole aims to underline the use of controlled substances when we ‘play mas’ or celebrate, while it simultaneously hints at the darker mood swings which can be a side effect of drug abuse.

Zeus - Detail of 'Alpha' by Ronald Williams

Zeus – Detail of ‘Alpha’ by Ronald Williams

Zeus, the supreme Olympian, takes the role of the conscious/spiritual one. He represents a state of serenity and oneness (an ideal level of consciousness many religious/spiritual teachings uphold that one should strive for). His modest natural wood frame (in comparison to the other metallic embellished frames) symbolizes a sense of purity and an immaterial view of the world.

Ares - Detail of 'Alpha' by Ronald Williams

Ares – Detail of ‘Alpha’ by Ronald Williams

‘God’ of war Ares naturally becomes the ‘bad’ boy. The aim of this piece is to exude an aggressive, violent vibe. The character’s ‘tattoos’, made from graffiti, his skull scarf and his horned mask all help to paint the picture of a sinister ‘gangsta’, while the red scarf background and the frame made from bullets sell the idea of a dangerous yet strangely glamorous lifestyle many from poor ‘ghettos’ seem to aspire to.

Hermes - Detail of 'Alpha' by Ronald Williams

Hermes – Detail of ‘Alpha’ by Ronald Williams

Hermes, the mischievous ‘God’ of trade, thieves and wanderers is the trickster. He has a clownish appearance, but the background of optical illusions and card suits indicate that there is some level of deception and gamesmanship involved. While Apollo haughtily wears his white mask, Hermes insincerely revels in his. He is the personification of a role many in the black population (Caribbean and worldwide) feel is necessary to play; a conformity to a dominant white culture.

Ronald Williams, Alpha, 2015

Ronald Williams, Alpha, 2015

Thank you to Ronald for sharing his work, to Adopt A Stop for entering into this partnership with us, and to all of the artists participating in the Fresh Stops project. You can learn more about their pieces here.

Re: Controversy around Bench in the ‘Fresh Stops’ Project

There has been some recent controversy in the local  Barbados media surrounding one of the benches commissioned by Fresh Milk and Adopt A Stop as part of our collaborative Fresh Stops Project.

'Alpha' by Ronald Williams.

‘Alpha’ by Ronald Williams, featured on a bench currently located in Independence Square, Barbados

Fresh Milk and Adopt A Stop have been involved in a dynamic partnership since 2014, creating opportunities for young Barbadian contemporary visual artists to produce new artworks in public spaces. To date we have commissioned five artists to produce images for benches which have been popping up around the island, including sites at River Bay, Bathsheba, Hunte’s Gardens, the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination (EBCCI) and Independence Square. The final bench in this current series is set to be released soon, and will be placed at the Barbados Community College (BCC). You can see more about the innovative project here.

The article published in the Nation Newspaper on Friday, 18th September, 2015.

The article published in the Nation Newspaper on Friday, 18th September, 2015.*

In the Friday, September 18th edition of the Nation Newspaper, there was an article referring to one of the benches featuring artwork by BCC Graduate, Ronald Williams, expressing concern about the nature of the images in the piece. Since being a student of the BFA programme at BCC, Ronald has been producing a body of work looking at stereotypical representations of black culture. Here is his statement for Alpha, the piece on the back of the bench in question:

Alpha attempts to question traditionally dominant Western beauty standards. It injects a black consciousness alongside, and at times instead of, the established images found in Classical Greek, Renaissance and Baroque eras.

Fresh Milk is also currently showing Ronald’s work in our public gallery space called the Fresh Milk ArtBoard.

full bench alpha

Ronald Williams, Alpha, 2015.

We have been in touch with the Nation in order to clear up this matter. The artist and representatives from Fresh Milk and Adopt A Stop are happy to discuss the work and the project further to generate a healthy discourse around contemporary art in Barbados.

*Please note that the bench was not, as stated in the newspaper article, donated by Massy United Insurance, and that they are not affiliated with the project.