Ark Ramsay’s Fresh Milk Residency – Week 1 Blog Post

Ark Ramsay shares their first blog post about the 2019 Fresh Milk ‘My Time’ Local Residency, which for the first time is focusing on research and writing practices. Ark speaks about the anxieties and concerns they have around returning to Barbados after completing an MPhil in Chinese Philosophy in Shanghai, while embracing the possibilities this residency has to offer and learning to re-inhabit the role of “Barbadian writer”.  Read more below:

Sonia Farmer’s “A True & Exact History of Barbados”

Honestly, I was worried about coming to Fresh Milk.

In the weeks before arriving, I burdened the space with a whole pantheon of anxieties. There were the familiar deities: Will-The-Work-I-Produce-There-Be-Any-Good (horned, feral, a biter); Is-This-Work-Even-Worth-Producing-At-All (tentacled, perpetually bored), and Will-I-Make-My-Page-Count (incarnated as everyone’s least favorite Primary School teacher).

I set about packing up my life in Shanghai, trying not to take notice of the fourth entity–larger than the others, skewed by perspective until all I could make sense of were the cracks in a cloven hoof–How-Do-I-Really-Return.

When I left Barbados, I abandoned writing altogether. I thought: “I’ll make a fantastic something-else”. I ditched narrative, dumped characters, and abandoned plots. I dislocated from the part of my brain that thought of itself as a ‘Barbadian writer’.

Or at least I tried to.

I still bought journals. Still scribbled notes in them. Still planned and orchestrated worlds. I could not seem to discard the machinery I had oiled so diligently for a decade.

So I returned to the island in the dark of memory. I smuggled back entire ships, boardwalks, car crashes, love stories, robots (who walked the length of Bathsheba), and dysfunctional families. I did all of this like a cat burglar until there were clear partitions between myself and the island. There was Ark the writer. Ark the islander. I began to feel like a tourist in my own dialect.

Arriving at Fresh Milk, under old-growth mahogany trees, I ruminated on what I hoped to achieve (and not achieve as in the ‘I’ of productivity, but achieve as in the summit that you reach in tandem with someone else)–I came to a realization. I wanted to be inundated with influences. To be upended.  To walk the long path home.

On the first morning, Annalee handed me a red box.

Even the design mirrors Ligon’s–even the paper feels like this text

It was Sonia Farmer’s strip-mining of Ligon’s “True & Exact History of Barbados”. She took his ‘accounts’ and reworked them, using his own words to uncover the silent-underneath. She questions the audacity of a “true” and “exact” anything. It was a simple gift: a reminder that the way back is via new trails in the oldest paths.

It liberated me into the rest of the week. I realized that this could become an artist’s retreat. The sense of retreat as wound-licking/marshalling the remaining forces/recalibrating. I looked around to find that the space was peopled not by anxiety-gods, but cows, and Mica–who must be some kind of Obeah Dog–because her presence brings with it an overwhelming calm.

Guarded by Obeah dog, Mica

I began to devour the library. It seemed to contain the exact mixture of books that I needed. I was handed a captivating review of Paulo Nazareth’s work–particularly News from the Americas (2011-2012)–where he left the state of Minas Gerais and travelled by bus and foot, traversing 15 countries before arriving in New York. He did this, without washing his feet, until he reached the Hudson. He carried the Americas on his body. Art as dirt that can be washed away.

This flowed into “Learning to Die: Wisdom in the Age of Climate Crisis”, meditative essays that try to retool traditional Socratic virtues so that they’re useful at the end of times–when the dirt of man catches up to the rest of us. Dirt. Dust. Carried on our skins or washed away forever. I read, surrounded by impossible beauty (and the lowing of cows), trying to bank all of these impressions.

No longer thinking, will this be useful, but trying to trust in the process.

On Wednesday, we were visited by Ewan Atkinson (visual artist/most engaging person in a room), who showed off one of the pieces from his mind-bogglingly intertextual work, “The Neighbourhood Project”. He built a board game that is a kind of ‘found object’ within the narrative of this fictional neighbourhood. While setting it up he reiterated what had become gospel by this point, that the filtration process–the coming together of ideas–is a slow, slow burn. Something found today can be used in twenty-five years.

The “unbeatable” Neighbourhood Game, “Peregrination!” by Ewan Atkinson

The lesson of week one seemed to be: time.

So I tried to give myself time, and space, to hack away at what I am working on. Hack being the right word, but a cruel word. To move from short story writing, to novel writing, feels like stripping naked in Broad Street–but forgetting (halfway through) how buttons on clothes work. It’s a fumbling, stumbling, soul-baring process.

But this seems a good place to begin.

Most complex problems become solvable if you add a dog to the equation

Daisy Diamond’s Fresh Milk Residency – Week 1 Blog Post

Fresh Milk shares the first blog post by US-based international resident artist Daisy Diamond. Daisy had an eventful start to her residency, which began right on the heels of Fresh Milk hosting an exhibition & artist talk about Sonia Farmer’s piece ‘A True & Exact History’. Discussions held at this event, as well as conversations in the studio throughout the week, fed Daisy’s conceptual ideas by giving her regional context and multiple entry points for her research, as the main focus of her work in Barbados is the history & contemporary reality of Judaism in the island. Read more below:

I feel overwhelmed with unabashed gratitude for all the incredibly talented individuals I’m getting to know, contemporary art I’m learning about, and the artistic exploration I’m doing while at Fresh Milk. A huge thank you already to Katherine Kennedy, Annalee Davis, and the rest of the Fresh Milk team for all of the political/artistic discussions, books pulled from the Colleen Lewis Reading Room, and generosity with their help & time. I’m also excited to learn more about connections between collage, multiplicity, identity, and stereotypes in the work Ronald Williams, the other artist in the Fresh Milk studio space, is creating. The openness and unfolding of ideas this past week has stretched my expectations of what my first residency, a self-driven time of creating and learning without the limitations/expectation of traditional educational experiences, can be.

A True & Exact History by Sonia Farmer

My first two nights on the island overlapped with Sonia Farmer’s exhibition and conversation with Ayesha Gibson-Gill and Tara Inniss about her erasure poem of Richard Ligon’s text, A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes (1657). I thought the conversation brought out some of the deeper interdisciplinary themes and ideas in Ms. Farmer’s poetry.

Ms. Gibson-Gill connected the practice of erasure poetry to a technique she learned while studying theater, where actors and actresses would, as a collective, narrow each act down in a tedious, deliberate manner until the text was reduced to just its essential lines: the “spine” of the story. Once in this state, the cast would perform these selected lines before diving back into the full play to imbue each scene with a deeper emotional backbone. Although the process and intention of erasure poetry is quite different from this practice, Ms. Farmer’s poem similarly pulled out a core, emotionally intelligent, 21st century perspective on Ligon’s position of power, dehumanizing language, and poetic phrases. Ms. Gibson-Gill then also posed an opportunity for a further project of creating an erasure poem out of this erasure poem to emphasize the importance of revisiting and reinterpreting texts from multiple perspectives as an ongoing process of collective meaning-making.

Dr. Inniss discussed historiography and her research on people (particularly women, children, and people of color) whose perspectives and experiences have been erased from historical accounts. The existing records, like Ligon’s text, force contemporary audiences to search for these people between the margins of “archives of pain,” as Dr. Inniss described. Since this talk, I’ve been returning to these comments again and again and thinking of many parallels in the study of art history and similar acts of appropriation in artistic creation.

I came with goals of painting and learning about the history of Judaism in Barbados. I visited the Nidhe Israel Synagogue and Museum and created several drawings of the interior of the synagogue and the tombstones, in varied conditions, while there. Essays from the Journal of the Barbados Museum & Historical Society introduced me to the Jewish community and this sacred space. The focus of these essays has ranged from Jews in a Caribbean Colonial Society, their acts of both resistance and accommodation, roles in the sugar economy, and how they created their own identities.

The visuals on the tombstones were particularly interesting. Similar ones kept appearing on a whole range of tombstones, some mostly buried and falling apart stones from the 1700s and some well-preserved ones from more recent decades. How does a visual lexicon of symbols of remembrance signify shared values within a community? The hand of God cutting down a tree of life, the divine intervention of the end of life? I found myself curious about intentions, other meanings, and the stories of all of these individual lives. How were they involved in the slave trade? How did their knowledge about technology, windmills, and sugar production affect the land and the people in Barbados? Was their historical involvement in merchant domains outside the plantocracy related to an ethical justification, or was it simply their lack of legal ability to own slaves because of their status in society? How have Jews acknowledged these legacies? This community was relatively quite small, but their impact was not. I have lots of questions I hope to continue to pursue.

I intentionally selected which materials I want to use while here. Distracting projects and limited time have motivated me to focus without an explicit goal, but an acknowledgement that I have more time to create work than just during this month, and I hope to continue to use the next few weeks to begin to work through visual and conceptual ideas for larger, future projects. Although currently my main medium is painting, I also love experimental & hand drawn animation. This morning, I watched an incredible animated film, Dante’s Inferno (2007) by Sean Meredith, with multimedia artist Sandra Vivas. We were both very inspired by the techniques, sound design, and puppetry in this story. I think I need to rewatch it, but with a pen and notebook, to record every innovative scene, movement and transition.

I look forward to the experiences, creative rituals, and many conversations that will fill the next three weeks here.

Fresh Milk hosts ‘A True & Exact History’ by Sonia Farmer

On Monday, April 30th, 2018 Fresh Milk hosted an exhibition & panel discussion around ‘A True & Exact History‘ – an erasure poem by Bahamian writer & artist Sonia Farmer, using Richard Ligon’s publication A True & Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes (1657) as its source material.

Sonia was in conversation about her work with Ayesha Gibson-Gill, Cultural Officer for Literary Arts at the National Cultural Foundation, and Tara Inniss-Gibbs, Lecturer in the Department of History and Philosophy at The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.

Thanks as always to our photographer Dondré Trotman for these images!

Artist Statement for A True & Exact History

I consider my writing practice a tool for disrupting and investigating existing narratives, forming a response that is not necessarily preoccupied with making new narratives to replace them, but rather exposing different narratives as a parallel, ultimately calling into question the inherent power structure in the existing narrative (such as historical accounts, folktales, mythologies, canonical books, etc). Experimental process of generation, such as erasure, found text, mistranslation, technological intervention, or other restrictive methods, are especially exciting opportunities to create direct responses to existing narratives by using its own language against itself. The resulting text then becomes the content for my final projects.

The core of my artist book A True & Exact History is an erasure of one of the most formative descriptions of the English Caribbean in the seventeenth Century, Richard Ligon’s 1657 guidebook, “A True and Exact History of Barbadoes.” This project began during March 2016 at a writing residency at Fresh Milk, an art platform in St. George, Barbados, where I encountered Ligon’s book through their Colleen Lewis Reading Room. Using the language, imagery, and thematic drives at the core of this text to disrupt the teleology of colonial Caribbean history, these unbound poetic fragments scattered among a shifting landscape simultaneously re-create and resist narrative as a device of cohesive history, ultimately calling into question what it means to write “a true and exact history” of anything.

A True & Exact History – An Exhibition & Poetry Installation by Sonia Farmer

Fresh Milk is excited for our next public event, an exhibition & panel discussion on A True & Exact History – an erasure poem by Bahamian writer & artist Sonia Farmer, using Richard Ligon’s publication “A True & Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes” (1657) as its source material.

The opening night & artist talk will be held at 6:30 PM, Monday April 30, 2018 at Fresh Milk, Walkers Dairy, St. George, Barbados,  and the exhibition will also be open for viewing on
Tuesday May 1, 2018 between 10 AM – 2 PM.

Sonia will be in conversation about her work with Ayesha Gibson-Gill, Cultural Officer for Literary Arts at the National Cultural Foundation, and Tara Inniss, Lecturer in the Department of History and Philosophy at The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.

This event is free and open to the public. Directions to Fresh Milk can be found on the About Page of our website here.

RSVP to the event on Facebook here.

Artist Statement for A True & Exact History

I consider my writing practice a tool for disrupting and investigating existing narratives, forming a response that is not necessarily preoccupied with making new narratives to replace them, but rather exposing different narratives as a parallel, ultimately calling into question the inherent power structure in the existing narrative (such as historical accounts, folktales, mythologies, canonical books, etc). Experimental process of generation, such as erasure, found text, mistranslation, technological intervention, or other restrictive methods, are especially exciting opportunities to create direct responses to existing narratives by using its own language against itself. The resulting text then becomes the content for my final projects.

The core of my artist book A True & Exact History is an erasure of one of the most formative descriptions of the English Caribbean in the seventeenth Century, Richard Ligon’s 1657 guidebook, “A True and Exact History of Barbadoes.” This project began during March 2016 at a writing residency at Fresh Milk, an art platform in St. George, Barbados, where I encountered Ligon’s book through their Colleen Lewis Reading Room. Using the language, imagery, and thematic drives at the core of this text to disrupt the teleology of colonial Caribbean history, these unbound poetic fragments scattered among a shifting landscape simultaneously re-create and resist narrative as a device of cohesive history, ultimately calling into question what it means to write “a true and exact history” of anything.

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About Sonia Farmer:

Sonia Farmer is a writer, visual artist, and small press publisher who uses letterpress printing, bookbinding, hand-papermaking, and digital projects to build narratives about the Caribbean space. She is the founder of Poinciana Paper Press, a small and independent press located in Nassau, The Bahamas, which produces handmade and limited edition chapbooks of Caribbean literature and promotes the crafts of book arts through workshops and creative collaborations. Her artwork has been exhibited throughout Nassau including at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. She is the author of “Infidelities” (Poinciana Paper Press, 2017) which was longlisted for the 2018 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. She has also self-published several chapbooks. Her poetry has won the 2011 Prize in the Small Axe Literary Competition and has appeared in various journals. She holds a BFA in Writing from Pratt Institute and is currently pursuing her MFA studies in Book Arts at the University of Iowa. 

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About Ayesha Gibson-Gill:

Ayesha Gibson-Gill M.A Arts Management (Greenwich), B.A Theatre Studies (Acadia) is a writer, director, actor, drama tutor, arts administrator, producer, former radio announcer, sometime vocalist and always mother.   In 2017 she conceptualized and artistically produced a signal CARIFESTA XIII event, Word for Word- Night of the Literary Masters, along with other literary engagements. She has been the Cultural Officer for Literary Arts at the National Cultural Foundation Barbados since 2012.

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About Tara Inniss:

Tara Inniss is a Lecturer in the Department of History and Philosophy at Cave Hill Campus, The University of the West Indies (UWI). Her focus areas include: history of medicine; history of social policy; and heritage and social development. In 2002-03, she received a Split-Site Commonwealth PhD Scholarship to study at the UWI/University of Manchester. In 2007, she completed a Masters in International Social Development at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Dr. Inniss has served as a delegate for the Government of Barbados on the World Heritage Committee, and was a member of the Research Team which assembled the Nomination Dossier for UNESCO World Heritage Property Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison. She currently sits on several committees for the Barbados World Heritage Committee, Barbados Museum and Historical Society and is Secretary-Treasurer of the Association of Caribbean Historians (ACH).

Sonia Farmer’s Residency – Week 4 Blog Post

Bahamian artist and writer Sonia Farmer shares her fourth and final blog post about her residency at Fresh Milk, which took place during March. Continuing her creative journey after the residency – which marked the beginning of a series of new adventures, including a recent workshop hosted by San Diego Book Arts – Sonia looks back on her time in Barbados, realizing that the ideas planted here will continue to grow organically; not tied to a physical space, but to an ongoing process of discovery and dismantling of experiences. Read more here:

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Just as my time flew by in Barbados, so has the time on my journey post-Barbados. Being my first residency, I was not sure what to expect, but I did believe I had a lot of time at my disposal…which wasn’t entirely true. That is the lesson I’ll carry to any future residencies: you don’t have all the time you think you do while you are there. But—at least in this instance—the piece doesn’t exactly have to live within the confines of the residency itself.

I am barely halfway through my erasure project of Ligon’s A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes. I harbored some anxiety about finishing the entire erasure within the environment of its origin, but I also knew the desire was unrealistic, given my major commitment to teach a four part workshop during my time there, which took up half of my studio time overall.

But this desire to start and finish the text within Barbados was unrealistic in another way too, which has been revealed to me as I continue to visit the text on trains and buses moving through landscapes just as unknown to me as the island: the poem I am culling from this text so concerned with establishing a sense of place in fact removes that recognizable place. Or perhaps, more accurately, its underlying anxiety to locate place drives an obsessive challenge to interrogate that very idea, dismantling it not necessarily for reconstruction but rather for dismantling’s sake, the very unsettling result the actual desired result:

“But being here a prisoner
is the greatest art
that I am exactly made for”

There is a loose narrative, a voice that belongs sometimes to a traveller, sometimes with a companion, and other times belongs to a collective. Place, time and body collapse and expand, melt away and come into focus, but remain always in an abstract, deconstructed and unsettled state. I’m enjoying the little insights this provides into our historical foundation and current realities in the Caribbean space. It makes me think about what I said it week one, that visiting other Caribbean spaces is like an exercise in magical realism—this text is the written experience of that feeling, a constant rush of déjà vu.

I think it is appropriate to continue this exploration as I myself remain an explorer for these next few months, finding refuge in the strange but also exciting nature of this act even outside of the Caribbean. Because I’m still captivated by this idea, the in-progress poem and its imagery became my subject during a three day workshop in San Diego, ‘Sketch Book Stitch’, taught by Cas Holmes and hosted by San Diego Book Arts.

Less about creating a finished product and more about encouraging experimentation, the class helped to break open my obsessions with Ligon’s text and the themes I’m exploring in the erasure. I brought together decorative papers, found imagery, maps, and Ligon’s own drawings to create mixed media collages that respond to the poem. Just like the poem, these pieces are in no way finished, but they have allowed me to keep dig deeper into this project began at Fresh Milk. I think I’m gaining clarity on another theme that interests me while I deconstruct this text and also visit other spaces, which is how violence plays into the physical and social formation of landscape, and how violence inflicted upon one ties into the other. That definitely came out in the imagery, and I’m still turning it over in my head. We will have to see how it plays out.

I’d like to take this last opportunity to thank Fresh Milk for such a life changing experience. This residency has helped me tap back into my creativity with confidence and playfulness. I have been so fortunate to meet some incredible creative thinkers while there and also light a fire for book arts through my class. After our last class together, many of my students seemed pleased with the course. They walked away with many book structures to explore through their own creative practices, and we left three collaborative books in the Colleen Lewis Reading Room as a tribute to our time together. I’m so proud of them and I hope they continue to explore the craft! Thank you, Fresh Milk, for giving me the opportunity to teach again.

I’m at a rare rest moment in a months-long nomadic journey, but soon I’ll pack my bag and head to the next city on a train or bus, discovering new landscapes and their strange histories, carrying the voice of the narrator inside of me:

“I suffer to remain

Saint of a wild
mad land”

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