Aliyah Hasinah’s Fresh Milk Residency – Week 3 Blog Post

UK-based writer and curator of Bajan and Jamaican heritage, Aliyah Hasinah, shares her third blog post about her Fresh Milk international residency. Aliyah continues to speak with Barbados-based cultural practitioners to form impressions about the island, its social landscape and stratification that exists in the space, in addition to visiting centres such as the Ngozi Farm and Cultural Sanctuary and the UWI Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination. Read more below:


This week’s residency was a meaningful one. I’ve spent a lot of time in conversations learning and listening so haven’t read as much as I would have liked. Nevertheless, it’s been another enriching week in Barbados.

My Monday started with an Interview being recorded of me for the Small Axe Podcast. Upon finishing this interview, I asked if the new series by Steve McQueen was to be aired in the Caribbean because I couldn’t watch it on iPlayer. I was met with an ‘I’m not sure actually’.

From this moment, the thing that has sat with me starkly this past week is the disconnect between the islands and diaspora and the very intentional legislation and governing bodies that enforce this as a progression from enslavement and colourist class stratification. Additionally, the 2nd or 3rd generation diaspora’s disconnect from the politics or culture of the lands they hail from, in not creating content or sharing it outside of the global north, also creates problems.

For the large part the Windrush experience is not taught in the school curriculum of the Island and the modern day Bajan political and cultural is not felt or bridged abroad. This disconnect and information exclusion means that a very intentional chasm is created purely from the absence of information and exchange. Steve Mcqueen’s ‘Small Axe’ not being available in the Caribbean is one such example. It is easy to then imagine the resentment that can begin to develop towards those who have left and the rose-tinted nostalgia or misunderstanding of the Island’s they knew of the diaspora. This dialogue between contexts is crucial in the art world, to both enrich the nuanced perspectives of Caribbeanness and likewise shift the axis from representation mainly being from the diaspora or of the light skin and white artists on the Island.

In Aaron Kamugisha’s essay on ‘Rihanna & Bajan Respectability’ under the section on the Caribbean Middle Classes, he recalls James Baldwin’s insights:

James’s analysis of the new elites closes with the ominoir observation that “the ordinary people of the west indies…. Do not want to substitute new masters for old. They want no masters at all… history will take its course, only too often a bloody one.’’ Over thirty years into a global neo-liberal project that has seen appalling levels of martial impoverishment for citizens of the global South, and soaring rates of violence in these societies, James’s warning appears more prescient than he could have ever imagined.’’

The function of the middle class in Barbados (as one of the largest of the Caribbean islands) has an intentional implementation to absolve the white ruling class and also white capitalists who sought a quick buck from buying up much of the island to further exploit the newly independent nation (through hotels and tourism). This class is very much segregated, almost apartheid like, on the Island. My British accent and redskin has made some of those I’ve interacted with a little too comfortable in the false assumption of my middle classness and acceptance of the status quo. The disdain for Black Bajan artists is abhorrent and I have to thank my elders Ras Ishi and Ras Akyem for their work and writing in the RA Journal in 1993 and how it still stands prophetic of what I have witnessed on the land my grandparents left almost 60 years ago.

I’m learning that there is a perception that Fresh Milk is elitist and inaccessible for most on the Island. Which I was unaware of prior to my residency. It got me thinking about the international intrigue of how blackness, where I grew up in Birmingham UK, was always more acceptable in gallery contexts when the black artist wasn’t from that place. Hence meaning white curators and institutions needn’t think about their complicity in upholding racist gatekeeping, because they’d distanced themselves from it but still represented blackness in an international context.

My plan when I came to do my residency was to focus solely on Black West Indian Art History and culture in the Caribbean. However, I have been confronted quite violently with the colonial history and enslavement period’s remnants in legislation and artist communities that have led to the unsustainable arts infrastructure on the Island. As a result I have delved deeper into this in order to understand the conditions and context the art I’m studying was moulded by. I hope to focus more on dreaming and making work in the last week of my residency, but believe my whole time here has been an immersive learning of Caribbean epistemology as well as embodied experiences – all of which will embolden my curatorial practice and projects.

This week I also met with Russell Watson at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus, to look at the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination. It’s an exciting space that I’m sure will continue to do some incredible work in supporting the critical discourse within the art scene of Barbados. We also spoke about the responsibility and place of healing in the development of artists’ careers here in Barbados. This video of George Lamming for the NCF is an apt example of the arts’ importance in Barbados’ future and present.

I also had the honour of going to Ngozi Farm and Cultural Sanctuary with Pascale, Dr Yanique Hume and my friend Amyra.

I was very moved by Ireka Jelani and her weaving practice and how she built her farm and sanctuary piece by piece. The love she showed us was testament of her power and I wrote something short after the visit.

SISTER IREKA

She stared through me with a soft urgency
Commanding of me a spirit I had quietened.
The asking in her eyes said –
let it out
Let us free up
Say what needs must sweetgirl

‘This whole Island was once plantation’

Remember you are of the land as much as of mind,
Tend to both.

Her Cassava fingertips have mended broken backs they say.
How we soothe wholesome spirit
With time
With air
In rain
With bush
With needs must
With love
‘Cuh me ah sey we is a humble people’

We forged in this limestone,
a life led by our spirits’ soft urgency.

Have a great week and thanks for reading my tangential thoughts.

Aliyah x

Mother Tongue’s Residency – Final Blog Post

Mother Tongue, the curatorial duo of Jessica Carden and Tiffany Boyle, share their final blog post about their Fresh Milk residency, which concluded at the end of February 2015. They recount the last set of meetings they were able to conduct in their very full and productive schedule, including speaking with more artists & academics, visiting collections, and finally attending the Tilting Axis conference. Read the full post below: 

Walking Tour with Dr Anthony Richards

Walking Tour with Dr Anthony Richards

The final two weeks of our residency with Fresh Milk were incredibly full and productive, and left us with little time to put down in words how things had been progressing for us. So, belatedly – and from our colder home climates – here is our final blog, as we begin to reflect more widely on our time and research in Barbados.

Work by Versia Harris installed at Alice Yard, Trinidad

Work by Versia Harris installed at Alice Yard, Trinidad

We began our fourth week at the Fresh Milk studio where the emerging Barbadian artist Versia Harris talked us through her latest videoworks. Versia has had a really busy couple of years with residencies and exhibitions across Europe, Russia, the USA and the Caribbean, so we were fortunate to have the opportunity to discuss her work in-person. In the afternoon, we led a curating workshop with the Fresh Milk Books group. Within this session, the group worked together to select an exhibition and then present to us an exhibition redux, making  revisions, reimaginings and remodellings of the original exhibition’s concept and execution. The workshop proved to be a successful method of furthering the FMB groups’ understanding and expectations around curatorial practice, and how it yields a huge affect on the way their own work is framed and represented.

Mid-week we met with Dr. Aaron Kamugisha, Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies where we discussed his work on coloniality, cultural citizenship and freedom in the contemporary Anglophone Caribbean, as well as his role of editor for the ‘Caribbean Political Thought: The Colonial State to Caribbean Internationalisms’ (2013) which has been an influential reference point for our own research in Barbados. Also situated on the Cave Hill campus at UWI is the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination which offers  BA and postgraduate degree programmes. At the EBCCI we met with the director, Gladstone Yearwood, who gave us a tour of the building and described some of the educational approaches the centre is taking in relation to arts education. Later in the day, we visited with Therese Hadchity the private collection of architect Mervyn Awon, whose collection has been amassed over a period of 40 years and predominantly consists of Caribbean modern and contemporary art.

Hosted within the capital’s Grande Salle, we attended the film screening of documentary ‘Chinee Girl’ by Natalie Wei which formed the later part of the Fish and Dragon Festival opening reception on the 19th. ‘Chinee Girl’ interweaves testimonials from twelve Chinese-Trinidadian women from all different walks of life to explore the various stereotypes and issues of identity they face daily in Trinidadian society. The end of the week was marked by our visit to the home of the artist Nick Whittle; an artist who has been making work in Barbados since the 70’s. Nick talked us through his recent works including his ongoing collaboration with his daughter and fellow artist Alberta Whittle, before allowing us to search through his print archive consisting of some of the older works. Nick was really instrumental in helping us to map the arts scene during the 80’s and 90’s, through his involvement in many of the local and regional exhibitions. Our visit ended with a very special reading from Nick; his poem ‘This Is Not My Land,’ is still echoing in our thoughts.

Ras Ishi Butcher

Ras Ishi Butcher

Our fifth and final week began with a visit to the National Cultural Foundation where we met with Andrea Wells, Chief Cultural Officer, and Rodney Ifill, Visual Arts Officer, focusing on their remits across the arts sector. We then travelled northeast across the island to make a studio visit with the prominent artist Ras Ishi Butcher. Previously working closely with the artist Ras Akyem, Ishi and Akyem left Barbados in the 90’s to study in Cuba. Ishi showed us new works, particularly focused on the female body and gender in the context of the Caribbean. We then viewed some of his older works whilst discussing his views on sustaining a practice on the island. That evening, we met with Dr. Anthony Richards, a biotechnologist based in Barbados who gave us a walking tour of the city centre. We discussed the spiritual meanings of the island’s flora and fauna, as well as being taken to a number of sites which are known to be important for the history of slavery and the sugar industry on the including the dockyard and city port.

On Tuesday we met with the dancer, choreographer and academic Dr. Yanique Hume. Co-editor alongside Aaron Kamugisha of the ‘Caribbean Political Thought’ volume, Yanique is also based within the Cultural Studies department of the University of the West Indies. Our conversation began with discussing the evolution of Yanique’s own practice in dance and choreography, before discussing her research into the arts in Barbados in the 70’s (primarily around Elombe Mottley’s ‘Yoruba Yard’ and Ras Akyem and Ras Ishi’s public painting projects), before discussing examples of exhibition-making focused around colonialism and race.

On Wednesday morning, we were very lucky to be granted access to the Barbados Gallery Association’s collection which is currently housed in the national museum’s storage facility in Holetown, located on the west coast of the island. We were accompanied by a number of the association’s committee members who talked us through their acquisitions process and future plans for the collection. We picked out works from the store to view, from artists including Stanley Greaves, Arthur Atkinson and Norma Talma; works which we had only previously seen in catalogues and books. On Thursday evening after visits to the British High Commission and the Ministry of Culture, we returned to Mojo’s bar on the south coast where we had met with the local artists and Fresh Milk team four weeks previously for welcoming drinks. This time, we were celebrating our four weeks and saying our farewells, whilst also welcoming a number of participants who had arrived early for the Tilting Axis international symposium which would be taking place at Fresh Milk later in the week. Directors Max Slaven and Ellie Royle arrived from David Dale Gallery, Scotland, alongside CCA Glasgow curator Remco de Blaaij.

Our final day before our residency came to an end was spent with the artist and curator Joscelyn Gardener. Joscelyn met with us in the Fresh Milk studio and described her experiences of being both an artist and  curator in Barbados, her framing of her heritage as ‘white-creole’ and the challenges she faced whilst running the Art Foundry; a gallery space which has now closed but was an important landmark within the arts scene for bringing international work and challenging subject-matter to the island. An established artist now living in Canada, Joscelyn spoke about the difficulties facing all artists in Barbados and her role on various committees attempting to secure a national gallery throughout the 90’s.

The following two days were dedicated to the international symposium ‘Tilting Axis: Within and Beyond the Caribbean – Shifting Models of Sustainability and Connectivity’ which was held at Fresh Milk. A partnership between ARC Magazine, Res Artis, Perez Art Museum Miami and Fresh Milk, the aim of the meeting was to promote conversations and engagement between artists and professionals within artist-led initiatives across the wider Caribbean region, build and redefine historical relationships with those in the North, and establish open dialogues and networks emerging in the Global south. Alongside David Dale Gallery and CCA Glasgow, we were present and supported by the British Council Scotland, representing artistic activity across Scotland. The conference witnessed 34 participants from all across the Caribbean come together in order to exchange experiences and form strategies for future support and collaborations. It was a rich experience and one that will undoubtedly have lasting effects. We will be sharing a report on the conference, alongside all participants in the coming month. We will also be reporting back on the outcomes of our residency with Fresh Milk, as well as information on the return project to take place in Scotland – more coming soon!