Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe is Co-founder and Director of Groundation Grenada and C0-founder/Managing Instructor at Spice Harmony Yoga. She holds a Bachelors of Arts in Studio Art from Smith College (2008) where she was awarded a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Research Fellowship and worked in the education department at the Smith College Museum of Art. Malaika holds a Masters of Arts with Distinction from the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine (2014), her research focused on cultural memory and the Grenada Revolution & U.S. ‘Intervasion’. Malaika’s photographs and experimental short films have been exhibited internationally and regionally. Recent shows include: CaribbeanTales International Film Festival, Toronto, Canada (2013) Transforming Spaces, Nassau, Bahamas (2014), Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (2014) and her work is currently on view as part of the Jamaica Biennial 2014 at the National Gallery of Jamaica (until March 2015).
I have been at the Fresh Milk Contemporary Art Platform in Barbados for a week now. This is my first experience as a resident artist and I don’t believe there is a better space for me to be incubated at this stage of my journey. As someone who usually spends endless hours moving about to the yoga classes I teach, meetings for The Goat Dairy, interviews for my research on contemporary perspectives on the Grenada Revolution or helping my family with some errand…. it feels incredibly refreshing to spend my time between the Fresh Milk space and the apartment I am staying in just a short walk from here. This little nook in Barbados is offering me solitude that I have not embraced in a while. I love connecting and sharing with people, it energizes me, but I also know that I deny myself necessary alone time in the midst of nurturing others. Here I’m finding balance, building connections with incredible artists, activists and critical thinkers in Barbados while also carving out space for myself.
The challenge that I have set for myself in this residency is to create, in essence, my first short film of this nature. This is the first time I am phrasing it this way, probably because acknowledging the monumental nature of that task has the potential to scare me into inaction. But, I am past that stage. Sure, I have manicou in the headlights kinds of moments, however, as I continue to grow, I can snap out of those moments sooner and meet these beautiful challenges head on. A wonderful friend recently reminded me that often times when we are faced with things that, for whatever reason, arouse fear or anxiety, our instinct is to lean back. But consider the power of leaning in. What happens when we quiet our inner critic and open ourselves up to the risk of utter miserable failure? Well, realistically we are also making ourselves available to the possibility of utterly blissful success, in whatever ways we define success.
This week at Fresh Milk has been a lot of brainstorming as I begin to take this film from concept through the stages of development to a final piece. The last time I did this was under extreme circumstances but was actually also in Barbados, at the Caribbean Tales film festival in April 2012. I collaborated with B.l.i.p productions from Jamaica to participate in the 48 hour film challenge. It was such an intense experience to have to conceptualize, script, cast, shoot, edit AND render out a film in exactly 48 hours. On top, of that I didn’t know Henry and Adjani, the creators of B.l.i.p, at all before the festival – but the processes brought us together in the most powerful way. In an experience like that, the time is so tight that you just have to give yourself over to the creative process and we did. People felt it and the film was honored with the award of best director and screened as one of the top entries. This experience is different of course. I have the time to let this film develop in a unique organic process. I have the support of Annalee, a contemporary artist and director of Fresh Milk, and I am reaching out to my creative colleagues as well. One of the values of this experience is being able to get feedback and critiques. I miss that deeply from my days in the Studio Art program at Smith College. So, this week has been a process of building on previous experiences of ‘leaning in’ and I continue to give myself permission to ‘lean into’ this opportunity that I have been presented with.
Follow Malaika on Instagram @malaikabsl
One of the most incredible aspects of this Fresh Milk residency is the solidarity. This past week not only have I been able to engage with Annalee Davis, the Director, and Katherine Kennedy, Assistant-extraordiniare but also Holly Byone, Founder and Editor-In-Chief of ARC Magazine, was here collaborating on a grant proposal. The internet offers endless opportunities to build connections but there is something invaluable about sharing physical space with these dynamic women, who are each wells of knowledge and experience. In the midst of all the work that each of us was engaged in, we were able to find moments of pause (and venting and laughter) together. In a world that is focused on productivity, but also requires so much time out of us in order to manifest sustainable change, it can be so easy to downplay the value of taking the time to enjoy the company of the people who help to keep us going.
It has also been a blessing to collaborate with Varia Williams, a brilliant actor and Managing Director of Mustardseed Productions, as the character in the film that I’ve been creating while here in Barbados. I am not sure that I can even begin to articulate what the process of working with Varia has been like. We fell into a really natural rhythm, connecting to the film’s concept in unique ways that often overlapped. I started with an idea and went into a way more experimental direction, which only an actor with her ability to work in a more subtle and bodily way, could have carried. It has truly been a collaboration, her experience as an actor and her vibrant energy brought elements to the process that I couldn’t have conceived.
At some point before arriving here, I was considering what type of project to work on during this residency and set my sights on a narrative short film. As anyone who has ever proposed a project of any kind knows… things rarely go as planned. The more people responded to my initial concept the more I wanted to create a piece that was open and allowed people to interpret it in a way that spoke directly to their experience and so, started to feel myself drawn away from the narrative I had begun to create. Of course, openness is possible within the plot of a narrative. In fact this was recently demonstrated in the Fresh Milk space at Saturday night’s screening of A Hand Full of Dirt. Director, Russell Watson, and Producer, Lisa Harewood, engaged questions after the film and spoke about the ways that plot has connected with people across the globe in diverse audiences. As I watched the film for the first time that evening, I was struck by the nuanced way that they were able to weave together an engaging story that touched on so many things that were both unique to a Caribbean experience but also experienced in similar ways by other people as well: migration, corruption, tourism, masculinity, property ownership and cycles of violence, just to name a few. It was wonderful that an audience of people, who were mostly at Fresh Milk for the first time, were able to talk with the filmmakers afterwards about their own experiences of the film.
As for my piece, I’ve jumped head first into the pool of the experimental. Shooting is complete and the quality is incredible thanks to the equipment I rented through Andrew Jemmott at Caribbean Webcast. Now it is all about editing.
Follow Malaika on Instagram @malaikabsl