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’
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, 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, 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, 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
‘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, 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
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.