About Aliyah Hasinah:
Aliyah Hasinah is a curator and writer of Bajan and Jamaican heritage, raised in Britain. Her practice focuses on decolonial approaches to amplifying nuanced Black storytelling through installation art, film and exhibition.
She has curated for Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Southbank Centre, Eastside Projects, Ort Gallery, Wolverhampton Museum and Art Gallery and more. In 2019 Arts Council funded her research in ‘Decolonising the Curatorial’ that took place in the UK, Barbados, New York & Bahia, Brazil.
Whilst on residency at Fresh Milk Aliyah aims to learn more about West Indian Art History and Black conceptual immersive art in the modern day.
It’s been a week since I started my residency at Fresh Milk with the intention of immersing myself in study to learn more about the art world and cultural policy in Barbados. Having not had the means to attend university, I’m always profoundly grateful for moments to study away from the day-to-day grind of trying to pay your rent in London, so hearing monkeys (my favourite animals) on the library roof has been a well welcomed change. I’d also like to thank Arts Council England for funding this residency because I’ve been LEARNING, I’ve been learning *Beyonce voice*.
Prior to this, I met with Annalee Davis last year when starting my research into ‘Decolonising the Curatorial’, as funded by Arts Council England. My research was looking at the role of Crop Over as a space for exhibition outside the white walls of the gallery, a topic Claire Tancons discusses well in her essay ‘Curating Carnival’, and how galleries can never do justice to the embodied experience of carnival.
Through my research, I sought to further understand the colonial history and how rebellions birthed art practices – or continued them – as we’ve always found ways to make art. Having only scratched the surface last year, I was keen to take more time to understand the layers and nuance of Bajan Art and cultural expression, outside of what was familial and familiar to me.
Just to prefix, I’m a loud mouth when it comes to explaining or calling out the manifestations of coloniality in the modern day in England. However, I’m very aware of my positionality as a curator from Britain researching in Barbados. My gaze does not come from one of authority but is an opinion formed from the research and conversations had with some of the island’s artists, art producers, essays as well as what I observe.
One of the writings I’ve been reading this week that deeply resonated with me was Winston Kellman’s ‘Between A Rock And A Hard Place’ published in Sustainable Art Communities, as edited by Leon Wainwright and Kitty Zijlmans. Kellman explores several historical threads to bring us to the modern day, including the relationships with the UK and US following Barbados’ independence in 1966.
Kellman’s particular highlighting of how western modernity has shunned Caribbean art practice of landscape painting and sculpture, alluding to it being devoid of conceptual fervour is, in my mind, linked to a colonial mindset that deems ‘conceptual art’ in a particular way.
This perspective ignores the context of the space and time that these artworks were created in, and instead attributes an archetypal aesthetic to the notion of contemporary art as opposed to understanding that sculpture and painting of the island has a deeper rooted contextualisation in the resources i.e. clay, and historical craftsmanship of the land – and is therefore contemporary if it is being made in the present. This disregard for painting and sculpture subconsciously alludes to artworks, often by Black artists, specifically in the Caribbean, being inferiorized because of a lack of contextual understanding of how the work came into being, and is additionally sidelined in national and international discourses surrounding contemporary conceptual art. All due to a lack of understanding of the context of the work.
Anywho, I could go on for days about the learnings of the last week, all to say I’m very excited to deepen my study and continue learning about policy, sustainability and the hopes/dreams of emerging artists on the Island. The culture is very much being pushed forward by multiple artists. It is with thanks to those who have laid the foundations that younger artists today are scoping out what is possible in the process of building visual arts communities and infrastructures across Barbados that do not solely privilege the tourist economy (more on that real soon, hold tight tourism as neo-colonialism and insert Mo the Comedian saying ‘Barbados’).
I’m excited to start my new week, meeting more artists, collectors and academics. I may also post some of my readings and thoughts on my instagram (@aliyahhasinah) as I jump into my second week at Fresh Milk.
To end lightly here are 5 songs I’ve had on loop this week:
- Dreams by Fleetwood Mac – thanks to the PMSplash boys
- Confidential by Lagoon Wavey
- Fall On Me by Sonny Meraki
- Long Time Love by Krisirie
- Made in Lagos (all of the album) by Wizkid
Until next week.
Lots of love and take care
P.s. Here’s some of what I’m reading / have been the last week and will continue to delve into this week, and hold tight Caleb Femi on the release of his new poetry book ‘Poor’ which everyone should cop if they can. (Feel free to send me reading and art recommendations on twitter @aliyahhasinah)
It’s been another week at Fresh Milk and I’m definitely learning so much about the structuring of Barbados’ economy, class system and art communities.
This week’s been one full of meetings, socials, studio visits and many an emotion. Firstly my homie Amyra Leon flew in from New York to see me and that in itself has been a huge blessing and spiritual moment.
At Fresh Milk I started the week off by focusing on learning more history of the African presence on the Island and so watched Hilary Beckles’ Ermie Bourne lecture.
I’ve summarised my learnings in this tweet.
Understanding the rebellious history and brutal quashings of Africans in Barbados has really brought me to a space of understanding some of the dynamics I see play out on the Island today.
The White presence on this Island is very interesting and precarious to me. It feels like I am back in Britain when I’m in spaces White people occupy here. The segregation and power still held by the colonial plantocratic society here scares me, but I also know it well having been surrounded by Whiteness in England my whole life. The way in which White People in Barbados inhibit space and the way I have seen some of them talk of Black Bajans in my presence disgusts me. History makes perfect sense in this regard. I am even more motivated to only centre Black Art and knowledge production in my curatorial practice. I have no time for pandering to whiteness or solution making for white people whilst I am on this Island, knowing the extent to which they segregate and benefit from the reparations of enslavement to this day.
Moving forward, on Wednesday I met the incredible Versia Harris, we spoke of contexts, dreams and installations of a fantastical nature. I’m very honoured to have met her and hope to work with her in the future. I also got the opportunity to meet some of the artists Fresh Milk suggested at Mojos this Wednesday.
On Thursday I dropped into one of Annalee’s classes at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill and heard some of the ways we can map out cultural sectors on the island and what is needed for young artists to thrive. Annalee also gave a brief synopsis of the touristification of the island too, and how Brand Barbados has created a new dependency on foreign investment. Colonisers started the culture of external imports to the point where most food on the Island today is imported despite the wealth of agriculture on the land. Also interesting to find out that Palm trees were not native to the island and were planted in place of deforested Mahogany.
On Friday I had a lovely studio visit from Kraig Yearwood. We spoke about all sorts of things and I got the chance to see some of his work and catalogue. Amyra also captured some of this which I’ll be sure to share at some point.
I have treasured my conversations with fellow resident Pascale Faublas and learnt a lot about Haiti’s resistance culture and spiritual practices being indicative of the earlier period of decolonisation through the Haitian Revolution. Pascale reminds me that ‘Haiti is a lot more African in spirit’, which makes sense in alignment with their history.
This week I’ll be planning shoots, writing up my learnings, reading more and visiting more artists. I’ll also be organising a workshop before I finish my residency with my friend Amyra Léon to work with Black Artists on the Island on dreaming about futures, artistic possibilities and securing the bag. Stay tuned.
Thanks so much and I’ll see you next week
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 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.
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 needs must
‘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.