About Mother Tongue:
Mother Tongue is a research-led curatorial project formed by Tiffany Boyle and Jessica Carden, in response to individual periods of investigation in northern Scandinavia and West Africa. Our practice in exhibition-making intersects with research interests – including, but not limited to – (post)colonialism, language, heritage, ethnicity, whiteness, indigenousness, migration, movement, sexuality, and technology.
Since 2009, we have produced exhibitions, film programmes, discursive events, essays and publications in partnership with organisations such as the CCA: Centre for Contemporary Art Glasgow; Stills: Scotland’s Centre for Photography; Transmission Gallery; Africa-in-Motion Film Festival; Malmö Konsthall; and Konsthall C Stockholm, and undertaken residencies with HIAP in Helsinki, the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, and CreativeLab at CCA Glasgow. Mother Tongue participated on the 2011/12 CuratorLab programme at Konstfack, and we are currently both undertaking individual PhD’s – Tiffany at Birkbeck and Jessica at TrAIN: Research Centre for Transnational Art, Identity and Nation, University of the Arts London. In 2015, Mother Tongue will continue to collaborate with Variant magazine, Framework Scotland and the Creative Futures Institute at UWS on the ongoing discussion series, ‘Curating Europes’ Futures.’
Our first week at Fresh Milk simultaneously marks our first week in the Caribbean; a region whose artists and writers we have been engaging with from a distance for some time now. We arrived with a mix of anticipation and genuine excitement at the opportunities that lie ahead. We had previously met with Fresh Milk’s director Annalee Davis on her visit to Glasgow for the 2014 Commonwealth Games cultural programme, at the ‘International Artist Initiated’ panel discussion at David Dale Gallery, Glasgow, and had been in dialogue since then. Fresh Milk played a central role in the critical discussions unpacking the commonwealth as a loaded cultural event and its enduring impact for the Caribbean, whilst also representing artist-led activity in Barbados.
Our first day at the Fresh Milk residency space took the form of an introduction to the impressive collection within the Colleen Lewis reading room. Annalee talked us through the collection’s categories, and picked out for us seminal texts and exhibitions catalogues which have been helping to give us an overview of not only the current artistic activity and infrastructure in the region, but also the history of artistic practice in Barbados and its ties with elsewhere.
We were then introduced to the Fresh Milk Books team. After introducing our practice and discussing a number of our curatorial projects, we started to informally talk with the group about their experience of making work in Barbados, the support the Fresh Milk Books group provides for them, and the manner in which they position their work in relation to specialised interests pursued through this meeting point. The discussion then went off in a number of tangents, from notions of whiteness, skin and beauty ideals, both historically and contemporary. We’re going to be discussing with the group a format for understanding curatorial practice this week, which will lead to a kind of workshop in Week 3, the same week that we will be re-screening our 2012 Afrofuturism artist film and video programme for students at the Barbados Community College.
We were also delighted to bring with us a collection of publications generously donated from UK based organisations and individuals, which now call the Colleen Lewis Reading Room their new home. These include Map Magazine; Variant Magazine; Chelsea Space publication archive; University of the Arts London Graduate School; TrAIN Research Centre for Art, Identity and Nation; Flat Time House London; Lyndsay Mann, and Alex Hetherington’s Modern Edinburgh Film School. We hope these publications will be a welcome connection between the UK and Barbados.
We also took a trip into the capital of Bridgetown, and later in the week met with a group of local and visiting artists, Fresh Milk friends and the Fresh Milk Books group. After some rum punches at Mojo’s on the south coast, we had the chance to talk about our practice and our aspirations for the residency, as well as to connect with artists and discuss not only their work but their views on being Bajan practitioners. Among the artists we met was the wonderful Alberta Whittle, whom we have existing connections with from her studies and career in Glasgow. The evening was informal and provided a perfect introduction to the local arts community, before we set up further discussions in the weeks ahead.
For now, we are implementing all the planning the first week provided, and will spend our second week mostly outside the studio, meeting with practitioners, and looking towards our return UK project.
Whilst our first week in Barbados took the form of an introduction to Fresh Milk, the reading room collection and the studio space, our second week has been a flurry of meetings, studio visits and trips around the island to meet with various individuals, museums and organisations. It has been a week of connecting with a whole host of people who are instrumental to the arts scene here on the island – both in the past and in the present – with established and emergent practitioners. We have also consciously widened our scope to look at the rich histories outside of the arts, but which have been preoccupying local artists, such as the sugar industry, tourism and the colonial role in the horticulture of the island.
On Monday we met with the Barbadian artist Alberta Whittle, who we were originally introduced to in Glasgow whilst she was studying at Glasgow School of Art. Alberta gave us a tour of the National Museum of Barbados, and provided a brilliant insight into her position as a Barbadian artist who has become established outside of the island but returns regularly to make work here as an invested member of the arts community. Alberta also introduced us to our very first Caribbean snow cone, which consists of crushed ice, sugar syrup and condensed milk; perfect for a Scottish sweet tooth! We attended a lecture at the museum which was focused on the evolution of the tourist industry here in Barbados from the early 19th century onwards, and how it has become central for the islands’ economy, which was for such a long time monopolised by sugar cane.
Having become aware of their work through various Caribbean art publications in the Fresh Milk reading room, Director Annalee set-up studio visits with the artists Ewan Atkinson and Mark King. We were really lucky to have caught a sneak preview of Ewan’s exciting new work for the Havana Biennial which he will be taking over later this year. He also gave us some really interesting background information to his recent series ‘The Neighbourhood Report’, which comprises of several fictional characters exploring notions of identity, sexuality and gender representations. In our conversation with artist Mark King, he charted his journey from the US and Holland, and why he has chosen to return to Barbados to make it his base, while he continues to exhibit internationally.
This week we have also been really fortunate to spend some time with the artist Holly Bynoe, who is also the Co-Founder and Director of Caribbean Arts and culture magazine ARC. Throughout her career as an artist, researcher, curator and writer in the Caribbean, Holly has been an invaluable source in providing references and links to artists and projects across the region. We were able to discuss the role ARC magazine has been taking as a platform for many projects – written and beyond – over dinner with Holly and Assistant to the Director Katherine Kennedy, who is also an artist and an integral member of the Fresh Milk team.
On Friday we were introduced to the artist Denyse Menard Greenidge, who founded Dayrells Art Gallery in Barbados in the 70s, and continues to curate the work of Barbadian artists locally and internationally. Talking us through documentation from the 70’s and 80’s, Denyse was able to provide us with an overview of how governmental support for the arts has changed over the years and how this has impacted the current activity on the island. We visited her husband Newlands Greenidge‘s self-founded Springvale Indigenous Folk Museum, which is located in the Scottish district on the east of the island. The museum hosts a collection of artefacts which describe what life would have been like on the island in the early 19th century. Created through a labour of love by Newlands and Denyse, their passion for the island’s history is clear through the wealth of information they provided about the collection and its significance for Barbados.
In our second week, we were also visited in the Fresh Milk studio by Sean Carrington, Professor of Plant Biology at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus. We had a really stimulating conversation about the importation of species into the island, indigenousness and plant life, and the problems language causes between islands in the region, in terms of classification and keeping track of plant populations. Following our meeting with Sean, we went to meet Dr. Anthony Kennedy, Director of the West Indies Central Sugar Cane Breeding Station. The station is one of the most successful breeding centres in the world, whose work and research helps to develop sugar industries across the Southern Hemisphere. During our visit we were talked through the history of sugar on the island, and how it formed and influenced the way we see not just the agricultural formations but the human geography and architecture of the island too. This history is so significant for any attempt to understand the island, and it’s something that we’re trying to grasp as best as we can during our visit.
We look forward to a busy third week that will include two presentations at Barbados Community College on curating, and a re-screening of our ‘Afrofuturism’ programme, originally developed for the Africa in Motion Film Festival 2012.
As the third week of our residency here with Fresh Milk draws to a close – and with only a little over a week left to go – we are continuing to make the most of our time here in Barbados, whilst also beginning to formulate ideas for the return UK project. As with last week, we have primarily been focusing on meeting with artists, writers, curators and academics, in order to further understand the arts infrastructure on the island and how this is affecting practitioners across the board. We have had many productive and engaging conversations about the shape our modest return project may take – both internally and externally – and we’re very focused on producing something that can be meaningful for Barbados and the UK.
Our third week began with the first of two presentations made by us to the BFA Degree programme students at Barbados Community College. Our afternoon session for the first, second and third year students was a talk and re-screening of our 2012 programme, ‘Afrofuturism: Revisions Towards a Place in Modernity,’ which was originally developed for the Africa In Motion Film Festival 2012. The programme included five works in total by Neïl Beloufa, Philip Mallory Jones, The Otolith Group, Rico Gatson and the Glasgow-based artist Michelle Hannah. Then on Thursday morning, we made a presentation to the third year students speaking with them on the history of curating and exhibition-making, and an introduction to our practice. The students do not have a curating module here, but the dialogue following our presentation was really impressive. We have found the various discussions with students at the college really helpful for our outlook on contemporary art here in Barbados, especially for understanding the conditions under which emergent artists are producing. Whilst at BCC, we took the opportunity to sit in on art historian and curator Therese Hadchity’s seminar on ‘Caribbean Art,’ which explored modern and contemporary Caribbean art with a focus on post-independence practitioners in Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados. After the lecture we had the opportunity to briefly discuss Therese’s role as the founder and director of the former Zemicon gallery, which formed a central role in supporting the work of Barbadian artists throughout the 90’s.
Continuing to gather information about the arts in Barbados, particularly during the 90’s and early 2000’s we met with art historian Alison Thompson who talked us through her regional and international work and upcoming projects. We were also fortunate enough to meet with the established artist Alison Chapman Andrews, who allowed us full access to her wonderfully active studio and large archive of sketchbooks and prints dating back to the 1970’s. Alison wrote a long-running column on art for local press, and flicking through her – very well arranged – collection of these, gives a real sense of a vibrancy in the local art scene during the 80s and 90s. Alison’s house is also something of a gallery in itself: with paintings, drawings and sculptures adorning every wall from the various artists she has known and admired over her long a career as an artist. We also took a visit to meet Clyde Cave, a renowned art collector, whose house is also arranged around, and in tribute to, his fascinating collection of Caribbean contemporary art.
After a discussion with Fresh Milk’s Director Annalee Davis surrounding our interest in the art networks between the Caribbean islands, she made an informal presentation to us on Fresh Milk’s ‘Caribbean Art Spaces’ online mapping project, which maps-out the variety of art spaces and artist-led initiatives across the Caribbean from Jamaica to Trinidad to Guyana, the Dominican Republic, to Martinique. It’s a fantastic resource and really important in crossing the many language barriers between the islands and mainland. Over these past three weeks, our many conversations with Annalee have been some of the most insightful and constructive dialogues, as we attempt to come to an understanding of the arts infrastructure here.
Finally, we met for a second time with Professor Sean Carrington, this time at the University of the West Indies Biology department where he lectures, to be given a tour of the herbarium. Sean opened up their vast archives, talking us through the many specimens that have been collected from all over the Caribbean for hundreds of years. The visit helped push along our thinking around the colonial elements of horticulture, flora and fauna, and its significance in the work of Caribbean artists. We’re working hard to fit in as much in our fourth week as possible – we look forward to reporting back!
The final two weeks of our residency with Fresh Milk were incredibly full and productive, and left us with little time to put down in words how things had been progressing for us. So, belatedly – and from our colder home climates – here is our final blog, as we begin to reflect more widely on our time and research in Barbados.
We began our fourth week at the Fresh Milk studio where the emerging Barbadian artist Versia Harris talked us through her latest videoworks. Versia has had a really busy couple of years with residencies and exhibitions across Europe, Russia, the USA and the Caribbean, so we were fortunate to have the opportunity to discuss her work in-person. In the afternoon, we led a curating workshop with the Fresh Milk Books group. Within this session, the group worked together to select an exhibition and then present to us an exhibition redux, making revisions, reimaginings and remodellings of the original exhibition’s concept and execution. The workshop proved to be a successful method of furthering the FMB groups’ understanding and expectations around curatorial practice, and how it yields a huge affect on the way their own work is framed and represented.
Mid-week we met with Dr. Aaron Kamugisha, Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies where we discussed his work on coloniality, cultural citizenship and freedom in the contemporary Anglophone Caribbean, as well as his role of editor for the ‘Caribbean Political Thought: The Colonial State to Caribbean Internationalisms’ (2013) which has been an influential reference point for our own research in Barbados. Also situated on the Cave Hill campus at UWI is the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination which offers BA and postgraduate degree programmes. At the EBCCI we met with the director, Gladstone Yearwood, who gave us a tour of the building and described some of the educational approaches the centre is taking in relation to arts education. Later in the day, we visited with Therese Hadchity the private collection of architect Mervyn Awon, whose collection has been amassed over a period of 40 years and predominantly consists of Caribbean modern and contemporary art.
Hosted within the capital’s Grande Salle, we attended the film screening of documentary ‘Chinee Girl’ by Natalie Wei which formed the later part of the Fish and Dragon Festival opening reception on the 19th. ‘Chinee Girl’ interweaves testimonials from twelve Chinese-Trinidadian women from all different walks of life to explore the various stereotypes and issues of identity they face daily in Trinidadian society. The end of the week was marked by our visit to the home of the artist Nick Whittle; an artist who has been making work in Barbados since the 70’s. Nick talked us through his recent works including his ongoing collaboration with his daughter and fellow artist Alberta Whittle, before allowing us to search through his print archive consisting of some of the older works. Nick was really instrumental in helping us to map the arts scene during the 80’s and 90’s, through his involvement in many of the local and regional exhibitions. Our visit ended with a very special reading from Nick; his poem ‘This Is Not My Land,’ is still echoing in our thoughts.
Our fifth and final week began with a visit to the National Cultural Foundation where we met with Andrea Wells, Chief Cultural Officer, and Rodney Ifill, Visual Arts Officer, focusing on their remits across the arts sector. We then travelled northeast across the island to make a studio visit with the prominent artist Ras Ishi Butcher. Previously working closely with the artist Ras Akyem, Ishi and Akyem left Barbados in the 90’s to study in Cuba. Ishi showed us new works, particularly focused on the female body and gender in the context of the Caribbean. We then viewed some of his older works whilst discussing his views on sustaining a practice on the island. That evening, we met with Dr. Anthony Richards, a biotechnologist based in Barbados who gave us a walking tour of the city centre. We discussed the spiritual meanings of the island’s flora and fauna, as well as being taken to a number of sites which are known to be important for the history of slavery and the sugar industry on the including the dockyard and city port.
On Tuesday we met with the dancer, choreographer and academic Dr. Yanique Hume. Co-editor alongside Aaron Kamugisha of the ‘Caribbean Political Thought’ volume, Yanique is also based within the Cultural Studies department of the University of the West Indies. Our conversation began with discussing the evolution of Yanique’s own practice in dance and choreography, before discussing her research into the arts in Barbados in the 70’s (primarily around Elombe Mottley’s ‘Yoruba Yard’ and Ras Akyem and Ras Ishi’s public painting projects), before discussing examples of exhibition-making focused around colonialism and race.
On Wednesday morning, we were very lucky to be granted access to the Barbados Gallery Association’s collection which is currently housed in the national museum’s storage facility in Holetown, located on the west coast of the island. We were accompanied by a number of the association’s committee members who talked us through their acquisitions process and future plans for the collection. We picked out works from the store to view, from artists including Stanley Greaves, Arthur Atkinson and Norma Talma; works which we had only previously seen in catalogues and books. On Thursday evening after visits to the British High Commission and the Ministry of Culture, we returned to Mojo’s bar on the south coast where we had met with the local artists and Fresh Milk team four weeks previously for welcoming drinks. This time, we were celebrating our four weeks and saying our farewells, whilst also welcoming a number of participants who had arrived early for the Tilting Axis international symposium which would be taking place at Fresh Milk later in the week. Directors Max Slaven and Ellie Royle arrived from David Dale Gallery, Scotland, alongside CCA Glasgow curator Remco de Blaaij.
Our final day before our residency came to an end was spent with the artist and curator Joscelyn Gardener. Joscelyn met with us in the Fresh Milk studio and described her experiences of being both an artist and curator in Barbados, her framing of her heritage as ‘white-creole’ and the challenges she faced whilst running the Art Foundry; a gallery space which has now closed but was an important landmark within the arts scene for bringing international work and challenging subject-matter to the island. An established artist now living in Canada, Joscelyn spoke about the difficulties facing all artists in Barbados and her role on various committees attempting to secure a national gallery throughout the 90’s.
The following two days were dedicated to the international symposium ‘Tilting Axis: Within and Beyond the Caribbean – Shifting Models of Sustainability and Connectivity’ which was held at Fresh Milk. A partnership between ARC Magazine, Res Artis, Perez Art Museum Miami and Fresh Milk, the aim of the meeting was to promote conversations and engagement between artists and professionals within artist-led initiatives across the wider Caribbean region, build and redefine historical relationships with those in the North, and establish open dialogues and networks emerging in the Global south. Alongside David Dale Gallery and CCA Glasgow, we were present and supported by the British Council Scotland, representing artistic activity across Scotland. The conference witnessed 34 participants from all across the Caribbean come together in order to exchange experiences and form strategies for future support and collaborations. It was a rich experience and one that will undoubtedly have lasting effects. We will be sharing a report on the conference, alongside all participants in the coming month. We will also be reporting back on the outcomes of our residency with Fresh Milk, as well as information on the return project to take place in Scotland – more coming soon!