When I received the email from Caribbean Linked telling me that I had been accepted to a three-week artist residency program in Aruba, I could never have anticipated what was in store for me. I attempted to formulate ideas about what the experience would be like, trying to summon images of a place and people, but as the residency progressed it was apparent that I was involved in something that was much vaster than myself. My experience turned out to be beyond what I was capable of imagining and it defied many previous conceptions about who I thought I was, what I considered myself to be capable of, and what it means to be from the Caribbean.
Caribbean Linked is true to its name in many ways. On its most obvious level it links the islands through bringing the artists together from different Caribbean countries. This was an invaluable exchange as we formed strong personal relationships and also artistic relationships. We enjoyed the immediacy with which we all bonded, and the honesty that we employed in our dealings with one another.
Another iteration of the “linkage” was that I became reconnected to a sense of my personal cultural identity as a Caribbean person, which was becoming eroded, living for so long in the diaspora in New York. Before the residency I was feeling disconnected from the Caribbean community and uncertain about my relationship to the region. Old conversations of displacement and colonial spectres were milling around in my mind and I was dedicated to exploring my Caribbeanness, but I was full of dusty, un-invigorated ideas that seemed almost obliged to be there. Of course our past is integral to our identity, but the history was weighing me down, and I needed to discover that being a Caribbean person is as much about the immensely exciting possibilities for our future as an artistic vanguard, as well as the recognition of our difficult past.
The connections that Caribbean Linked has provided are essential to elevating the importance of Art in the region, and to encouraging artists that are separated geographically but are connected by a shared mission and shared responsibility. I see programs such as this residency as absolutely integral to a sustainable and healthy Caribbean future. The world without Art is a drab and thirsty place. It is ironic that we have to struggle to get people to accept the nourishment that Art offers, but that struggle is now something that we can endure together. We must remember that the act of being an artist in the Caribbean is a radical act. It goes against what is conventionally accepted and encouraged as a career. It is not prioritized in our historical narrative or current political narrative. Annalee mentioned this to me over breakfast shortly after she arrived in Aruba. She emphasized the importance of Caribbean Linked in defying these neo-colonial forces that continually seek to separate us from one another. As I learned more about everyone’s work and I saw how different all the work is, I understood that while we are physically separate we are working together for a vision that we all share. I am so grateful to recognize myself within these efforts, and hope that my work can continue to serve the Caribbean and that I continue to have an inspiring exchange with these new friends.
Apart from becoming “linked” in the ways I’ve described above, I’ve also become linked to another aspect of my creative abilities. During the residency I decided to work in a format that I’ve never worked in before: installation. Much of my work has been in filmmaking, mostly as a documentarian. But I decided to use Caribbean Linked III to truly throw myself into something new. While I love to work in documentary, I’m also pulled toward the experimental and poetic, and have been exploring ways to join these two seemingly contradictory impulses. Caribbean Linked III provided this invaluable space to feel free enough to abandon myself to a totally new form of expression.
And so… the experience has been a whole network of connections, reconnections, discoveries and rediscoveries. A profound realization that the residency inspired in me is that while the quality and potency of the final production is very important, there is another deeper texture also involved. Art is a way of being, a way of engaging. It’s a choice about how you want to experience the world, who you want to spend time with, what you want to surround yourself with. It can wash you up on all sorts of shores and is something that exists outside of oneself that is constantly trying to teach you things about your nature as an individual and as a member of a collective global community. Art is not just product, but it is a way of life, a means of discovery, a way to exist.
I am forever grateful to the artists MJ, Jodi, Simone, Leo, Leasho, Ronald, Manuel, Natalie, Alex, Natusha, Razia, Diego and organizers Holly, Elvis and Annalee, all of the local Arubans that hung around Ateliers ’89 and became an indispensable part of the experience. Thank you for all the laughs, for taking care of me when I was upset or had heartburn! I hold this experience in tremendously high regard and hold you all there with it. I am looking forward to our beautiful interconnected future together.
Aiko Maya Roudette is a visual artist, poet and filmmaker from the island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. She was born in 1990 in England, but moved to the Caribbean when she was only a few months old. As her mother is an artist, she grew up in an environment steeped in creativity. In 2013 she received her B.A. in Film Production from Bard College, in upstate New York. She has since screened work in London, Nevis, Trinidad, St. Vincent, Toronto and New York City among others, and has had work included in permanent online collections. She currently lives in New York City where she is pursuing her masters and is employed as a freelance video editor. She was drawn to film as a principle way to effect ideology due to its nature as a medium of mass communication.