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

FRESH MILK XVI Review

Fresh Milk Books‘ Team Leader Amanda Haynes reviews our last public event FRESH MILK XVI. Read more below:

Photograph by Dondre Trotman

Photograph by Dondre Trotman

On Thursday June 26th, the Fresh Milk Art Platform hosted FRESH MILK XVI, the Barbados Launch of See Me Here: A Survey of Self Portraits from the Caribbean, edited by Melanie Archer and Mariel Brown of Robert and Christopher Publishers. Organised into a moderated panel discussion and an open Q & A, it was one of those rare times the second segment outran the first.

The event opened with a succinct presentation by visual artist Ronald Williams and my brief chat about Fresh Milk Books, before launching into the feature of the night: a conversation with See Me Here editor Melanie Archer and contributing Barbadian artists Ewan Atkinson, Annalee Davis, Joscelyn Gardner and Sheena Rose.

Skilfully moderated by Barbadian artist Russell Watson, dialogue revolved around the motivation and content of each artist’s unique self-portraiture, as well as the editors’ decision to compile an anthology with self-portraiture as its point of departure.

Annalee, Joscelyn, Ewan and Sheena’s responses were nuanced, embodying their personal expression of self and a distinct awareness of social identity as a political circumstance. In each case, their creative process reveals an understanding of this tension. For example, Joscelyn’s reflection on her work highlighted its ‘naïve’ perspective as she grappled to comprehend the complex racial and social climate of the Caribbean and being ‘white creole’. Similarly, Annalee shared her experience as being a white creole artist from Barbados, and the way in which Fresh Milk can be read as a self-portrait of this journey.

The more unapologetic, ‘socially vague’ visual art of Ewan and Sheena provoked especially provocative questions. As the discussion was opened to the audience, the question of self-portraiture as a zeitgeist of current Caribbean contemporary artists whirled into thoughtful questions and critically introspective answers. Major concerns expressed included the implications of this preoccupation with ‘self’ in today’s art practice, including the lack of a collective social agenda of current contemporary Caribbean art when compared to the socially oriented work of previous generations. Is this phenomenon indicative of an abandoning of ‘the national project’, or is it reflective of contemporary deconstructions of place as the root of one’s identity? How does this trend fit into the phenomenon of self-portraiture in general art history; is there a common social climate of these times?

In the context of contemporary mediated social media, the question of the performativity of art practice also raised poignant questions about the commodification of art, the role of the marketplace in the creative process, and criteria of authenticity: Who is the audience of this performance? How does this influence how, where and what we create? More importantly, what is the point of what we do? Should there be a point, anyway?

The mic was passed from artists, curators, scholars, students, men, women, the young, the older and the old. In a safe space for our perspectives to clash, clang and mingle, the night confirmed how much place does matter. In particular, the exchanges implied the radical potential of contemporary Caribbean art; more than ever before in the history of our region, we have the opportunity to create, control, consume and distribute perceptions of our visual and cultural identities. See Me Here signifies this moment—what comes next, we are not entirely sure.

Just after 9:30, Russell brought the lively conversation to a coherent close. Most of us stayed to mingle, purchase See Me Here, view the intimate exhibition and browse the CLRR. You wouldn’t guess that three hours before, FRESH MILK XVI was weary of the rain. Thankfully, Annalee and Katherine’s decision to host the night’s proceedings in the open space of the porch and lawn was magical. The atmosphere was relaxed and open, and the rain decided not to drench the projector or those of us sitting under the stars.

All photographs by Dondre Trotman 

FRESH MILK XVI: Book Launch and Conversation for ‘See Me Here’

FM XVI Flyer - Final

The Fresh Milk Art Platform is pleased to invite you to our last public event before our summer break, FRESH MILK XVI – the Barbados book launch for Robert & Christopher Publishers’ (R&C) latest title, See Mere Here: A Survey of Contemporary Self-Portraits from the Caribbean, edited by Melanie Archer and Mariel Brown. The event will feature a small exhibition and panel discussion with the Barbadian artists featured in the publication – Ewan Atkinson, Annalee Davis, Joscelyn Gardner and Sheena Rose – and editor Melanie Archer, moderated by Barbadian artist Russell Watson.

See Me Here will be available for purchase at Fresh Milk on the night of the launch at a discounted price of $100 BBD, and thereafter at $110 BBD. The book has also been added to the collection in the on-site Colleen Lewis Reading Room (CLRR). In the spirit of celebrating this ever expanding archive of beautiful and critical publications, there will also be a short presentation on our new initiative Fresh Milk Books, introducing the team and sharing ways in which the public can get involved with this space for the interactive exploration of the CLRR.

FRESH MILK XVI takes place Thursday, June 26, 2014 from 6:30-8:00 pm at the Fresh Milk Studio, St. George (directions can be found here) and is free and open to the public.

See Me Here_book cover 720

About See Me Here

See Me Here is the second book in R&C’s thematic explorations of contemporary art in the Caribbean – it follows the imprint’s successful first title, Pictures from Paradise (2012), which was picked up for distribution by North America’s most prestigious art book distributor, and is also being made into a major exhibition in Toronto, Canada, in May.

See Me Here calls attention to recent directions in self portraiture throughout the region, by focusing on artists who frequently or significantly use their physical selves, or those to whom they are linked by blood or significant experience, as an avenue for exploration and expression. In so doing, the book asks: How do we really see ourselves? How accurate is the image we present? What formative roles do our cultures and upbringings play? And, what role does the Caribbean as a physical and mental space have in the creation and perception of our own personal, visual identities?

Edited by Melanie Archer and Mariel Brown, See Me Here features a critical essay by Marsha Pearce, and more than 380 images from 25 artists. These works range across a variety of media, from drawing and painting to photography, sculpture, installation and performance. Eleven of these artists – Akuzuru, Ashraph, Susan Dayal, Michelle Isava, Jaime Lee Loy, Che Lovelace, Joshua Lue Chee Kong, Steve Ouditt, Irénée Shaw, Roberta Stoddart and Dave Williams – are from or are based in Trinidad & Tobago. The book’s other artists – Ewan Atkinson, James Cooper, John Cox, Renee Cox, Annalee Davis, Laura Facey, Joscelyn Gardner, Lawrence Graham-Brown, Anna Ruth Henriques, Nadia Huggins, O’Neil Lawrence, Olivia McGilchrist, Sheena Rose, and Stacey Tyrell – are either based in the Caribbean or have ties to the region, which are addressed through their works selected for the book.

About the Presenting Artists

 

Ewan Atkinson:

Ewan Atkinson was born in Barbados in 1975. He received a BFA from the Atlanta College of Art and an MA in Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill.  He has exhibited in regional and international exhibitions including the 2010 Liverpool Biennial, “Wrestling with the image: Caribbean Interventions” at the Art Museum of the Americas in Washington DC, and “Infinite Islands” at the Brooklyn Museum in New York.

Atkinson is the coordinator of the BFA in studio art at the Barbados Community College where he co-founded the Punch Creative Arena, an initiative for creative action based in the college gallery. An arts educator for over a decade, he is also on the executive board of Fresh Milk, a Caribbean non-profit, artist-led, creative support organization. Atkinson also works as a freelance illustrator and designer.

Annalee Davis:

Annalee Davis is a Visual Artist living and working in Barbados. She has been exhibiting her work regionally and internationally since 1989. She works part-time as a tutor in the BFA programme at the Barbados Community College.

Her explorations of home, longing and belonging question parameters that define who belong (and who doesn’t) in contemporary Caribbean society, exposing tensions within the larger context of a post-colonial history while observing the nature of post-independent (failing?) Caribbean nation-states.

In 2011, Annalee founded and now directs the artist-led initiative The Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc. An experiment, a cultural lab and an act of resistance, Fresh Milk supports excellence among contemporary creatives in the Caribbean, its diaspora and internationally.

 

Joscelyn Gardner:

Joscelyn Gardner was born in Barbados and lived there until 2000 when she moved to Canada. She now teaches Fine Art at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, and works as an artist between Canada and the Caribbean. She holds an MFA degree from the University of Western Ontario and her work has been exhibited widely in solo exhibitions in the USA, Canada, Spain, and the Caribbean, and in numerous international exhibitions including the Sao Paulo Biennials and major European and Latin American printmaking biennials.

Recent awards include the Biennial Grand Prize at the 7th International Contemporary Printmaking Biennial in Quebec (2011), awards at the Open Studio National Printmaking Awards (Toronto, 2012) and the 22nd Maximo Ramos International Biennial Award for Graphic Arts (Spain, 2012), and a Canada Council for the Arts grant for a major research project in the UK (2013). Gardner’s work is found in many public and private collections and can be viewed on her website.

Sheena Rose:

Born in 1985, Sheena Rose has a BFA from the Barbados Community College. Rose’s work is comprised of hand drawn animation combined with photographs, mixed media, transfers and comic strips. The animations have a surreal quality and deal with daily life, space and the stereotype of her country.

Rose has exhibited extensively, both regionally and internationally. Her work has been shown at Real Art Ways, Hartford Connecticut, Queens Museum, New York, Uitnodiging Amsterdam, Holland, Havana Biennial, Cuba, ACIA, Madrid, Spain, Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, D.C, Greatmore Art Studios, Cape Town, SA, International Curator Forum, Bristol, England, CMAC, Martinique, Museo de Arte, Contemporaneo de Puerto, Puerto Rico, Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft, Kentucky, US, Aruba Biennial, Aruba, Panama Biennial del Sur, Panama and Alice Yard, Port of Spain, Trinidad.

_________________________________________________

About Robert & Christopher Publishers

Robert & Christopher Publishers (R&C) is a Trinidad-based art book imprint. R&C’s primary concern in its art series is to produce quality books that document and elucidate our Caribbean story, as seen through the eyes of Caribbean artists. R&C aims to produce the highest quality of relevant art books that will be accessible to a wide reading and creative audience in Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean and internationally.

Robert & Christopher’s mission is to help open up critical dialogue for and amongst Caribbean people, and to explore and record the work of regional artists from a local perspective. By keeping a low price point on all their titles, R&C aims to create go-to texts that are accessible to artists, students of art, art lovers, and critics within the region. And, by maintaining high intellectual and production standards, R&C aims to appeal to international art and publishing markets.

In addition to See Me Here, Robert & Christopher has also published: Pictures from Paradise: A Survey of Contemporary Caribbean Photography, Che Lovelace: Paintings 2004 – 2008, Meiling: Fashion Designer and Barbara Jardine: Goldsmith.