Generosity and the practice of art making
I – In Genesis
‘Our identities become determinate through processes of sympathetic and imaginative identification which respond to our present. These responses happen in a context set by our consciousness of our past, still present to us in bodily awareness. The ongoing forging of identities involves integrating past and present as we move into the indeterminate future; and the determining of identities is at the same time the constitution of new sites of responsibility.”
In 2012, I was invited to Aruba to have a series of meetings over the course of a week with fellow art activists, curators and educators Elvis López, Annalee Davis, John Cox, Rocio Aranda Alvarado and Paco Barragan. During the initial stages of the programme, we spoke about working towards an encounter that would transform and/or combat rampant issues of mobility that we face in the region.
Scanning that memory, I think I remember the heat more than anything else, and the general infatuation that everyone must experience with one of the most fluid and dynamic languages on Earth, Papiamento. I have small memories from that moment; it was the first time that I perused the catalogue for Caribbean Crossroads of the World. I took portraits of the team with random objects in Osaira Muyale’s home studio and I remember thinking that, within this heated cultural landscape, something else was being birthed. We couldn’t name it then, though we tried. It was upon reflection, listening to the conversations that were captured and streamed into the world that I started to understand the weight of that moment. Only on reflection.
In 2013, and I am not quite sure how we managed, but Caribbean Linked – the residency and exhibition component – was launched, and the core directors López, Davis and myself squeezed blood out of bone to make it happen. We hustled for funds, Skyped for endless hours to make this meeting manifest. I must admit that I was taken aback by the intensity of it and the way it engendered a kind of Caribbeanness that I very rarely feel.
I dont feel it at conferences, nor at most exhibitions or art fairs or at talks. These things don’t give me shivers, they don’t send my mind racing into a panic or an understanding that I have found something real. These moments are undoubtedly few and far between. After that meeting in 2013, we took a break. We took a break to analyze the creative structure and to look for funding to make it all possible. We took a break to get to understand each other in the distance and to have the fire of our passions and our ideas come alive with that distance. We took a break to figure out what artists and writers wanted, what was urgent in their worlds, and we took some time to understand our working methodologies and ideologies around the development of this platform.
I am careful nowadays to start far away from the projection of ideals and needs. To not call things definite and to give room to all for criticism and space for us to find the ways in which we need to grow within our various organizations. After all, we are mostly working above and beyond our capacities.
Caribbean Linked feels different this year. It is different, and maybe I wasn’t paying attention or maybe I was paying so much attention that the decisions we made organically with a certain kind of administrative speed has simply become our – Annalee’s and my – velocity together, in such that everything became a blur.
Angels descended on the project early last year. From my recollection, we were hustling to complete the project grant information, and it was on a flight from Barbados through Miami to the Dominican Republic, on our way to the Davidoff Art Initiative studio/project groundbreaking at Altos de Chavon, that we worked to quiet our nerves as the airplane filled with this burning plastic scent. The petulant smell lasted for a good twenty minutes and made a lot of passengers uncomfortable. There was one fell swoop of people up and about getting all necessary drugs to calm themselves. As I closed my computer to put it away, just in case of any pending disaster, I looked at Annalee and was thankful that if this was my last moment at least it was with her. We were pounding away on this proposal, refining it to make mobility and exchange possible while we were ourselves in motion in the sky.
To clarify, aircrafts have mechanical backups in triplicate. They have two pilots.
Our angels are Margriet Kruyver and Gerrit van der Hout. After a few meetings and submitting the document, they let us know that they were able to find funds from the Stichting Doen Foundation, the Mondriaan Fonds and the Prince Claus Fund to continue the work that we started. This capital funding will keep the project operational for two iterations, which gives us time to develop and solidify the objectives, plans for scholarship and to interrogate the model and take time to be critical about its needs. It will give us time to meet and build relationships with the artists, writers, scholars and researchers to give it the life and time it deserves.
And now at the dusk of the third meeting, I am sitting in my living room in Nassau with a bit of a heartache. There is this knowledge, this knowing within knowing and being within being that makes me fully confident that the group this year got it, and they have left a mark on me.
They understand the nature of it;
The nurture of it;
Its hidden parts;
Its vulnerability and its audacity;
Its truth and function;
They understand its impossibility and they are grateful.
Tonight, I commit and reinforce to myself as a cultural instigator, that I want to continue working to develop a way to nurture creativity with presence and an abundance of generosity. Night after night and visit after visit on site as mentor and administrator, I listened to stories of fledgling identities, of traumas, the impossibility of honesty through memory and language, of cultural affinities echoing across instruments, bodies and rooms. I found myself in heated debates on homophobia and ethics in our countries and within our creative communities, the role of women and men, the value of artists, about the invisibility that most of them contend with in their cultural landscapes.
We spoke about subjectivity, new visualities, and being co-opted by the stereotype of the Caribbean and the crucial moment that we find ourselves in now. There is a shift, and they are at the centre of it. I am not sure if they understand this in its entirety, and I am not sure if they will continue to interrogate positionality, but a part of me thinks that they will; that this opportunity will further the development of their voices within their local spaces and act as an antithesis to the ennui and shared disregard that many of us experience.
II – In Presence.
“From a metaphysical or even a spiritual standpoint, this gift of art, as the gift of both artist and work to their recipients, is a demonstrable giving of a re-inaugurated original space, of a poietical space which defines and empowers human experience in the generosity of an art.”
I held stares for too long and wet hands when tears came. I gave hugs as wide as the world and received the universe back in moments. I felt needed again. It’s been a while, at least at that level. I provoked when I knew that there was more inside, and I sat in awe as these artists shone. And I am not talking about a dim light; I refer to some white hot light in minutes of clarity when they got to share with a room about their insecurities, about their doubts, about, in essence, a process and language that was frustrating, inspiriting and deepening their knowledge of self.
I sat proud some nights, detached from the project’s birth and growth, in order to think about the materials and content. Selfishly, I fought for them to discover the landscape and richness. To see its paradox and get to know this arid landscape, this mystical space that rings with a history right below its surface, a history of contention and a history of secrets. We took them to see the cacti, the Brazilwood, the Divi divi a.k.a local windswept bonsai, the East and North during sundown. We took them to indulge in the heat of the landscape and to move through a juxtaposition of dust, boulders, azure skies, fine sand that gets everywhere, monochromatic verdant greens, basalt and limestone pebbles and the grey beauty of thorns that seem to stretch for miles and miles.
I’ve been to several deserts, and the grey in Aruba is sharper than I considered. It took me back to my childhood when my island, Bequia, wasn’t so developed and we had drought filled summers. Aruba became more enthralling as I settled into its dreamscapes. I became enraptured and lured into its crevices and caves; from Quadirikiri, to the terrain of the Seroe Colorado, to the Northern coast with the tempestuous Atlantic beating against its caverns.
We were privy to secret coves and late night runs to the infamous food trucks scattered all over Oranjestad (Ruiz #1, holla) and it was at my first long night on site at the Ateliers, that I understood why this was such a monumental moment. The ladies’ room is where they all congregate, where they meet till all hours of the morning, sometimes till sunrise, to share aspirations, untapped histories, dreams and ideas about their current state of affairs – personal and otherwise. As Ronald sat and sketched in his notepad, then on some transfer paper, the environment of the space begins to bustle. MJ prepares to tattoo several of his pieces on his back, arm and wrist area. I hear that there is a signup sheet and many of the residents are being adorned. They are making memories, they are linking. By the time I left, Aiko had a beautiful indigenous mask on her shoulder and Leo, the logo of his film production company, Breach, on the underside of his arm; abstracted as landscape, seascape, and earthscape.
Conversations become loose and they speak about love, family, film, music, mythologies, loss and trust. Families drop by for visits, local artists scope out possible connections. CL II alumni lurk in the halls, ensuring that things are in place, that the newcomers get to see the island – that they get to experience something authentic. Something that would leave an impression.
The transition into the second week happened seamlessly from getting to know each other to being comfortable, open.Germille and Kevin are here, buzzing from the energy of soon to be friends, and there is a synergistic reverberation. Something piercing, something beautiful is happening. They are enacting and activating our vision and making it functional and public. They are taking a traditional residency model where people of diverse histories gather and expressing themselves creatively, discussing emergent social issues, learning, and practising the ideas and skills which can transform our society in more fundamentally just ways.
These actions forged by connectivity open up lines of self awareness. They bring into play divergent understandings of art history and conceptual practice; of normative ways of being and existing in the world and all opposing possibilities. These meetings highlight central concerns connected to the development of self. Each participant can work to find comfort, increase levels of displacement, or rummage through insecurities and doubt to arrive at a distinct language that is beneficial to him/herself.
This active gift of generosity – not only through the practice of making art – but the constructed ecosystem around Caribbean Linked, is very new for me. It functions like a healthy space; one focused on developing a language to inform our identities and one that is critical of narrative disjuncture.
III – Projections, without being projections at all.
“The solid presence of art demands from us significant effort, an effort anathema to popular culture. Effort of time, effort of money, effort of study, effort of humility, effort of imagination have each been packed by the artist into the art.”
Throughout my research, inquiry and curatorial work, I continue to encounter an unending quest for the development of new points of departure that act as a way to counter and defy how the Caribbean continues to be marginalized within a first world account and western market. Left with questions about our placement and the way we have decided to establish our institutions and organizations’ schematics to support creative works, some clear problems have been revealed involving how we shape our space, working methodologies, ideologies and language.
Within this, I find freedom, the ability to think about the creative environ sensitively and with distance. The distance becomes extremely important as we think about personalities, works, nuance and crafting a moment for nurture. There is a disembodiment that I oftentimes experience as I pull away to consider poetics and narrative development, along with the voice of the artist.
At times impressions are made in passing and at times, I have several chances to enhance my familiarity with practices. Nonetheless, these confrontations are continuously filtered, and as I move into the acceptance of these creative moments, challenges and gifts, I am left with a few questions and reflections for the project and its evolving mission.
Caribbean Linked as a locale to develop the regional imaginary: Questioning what it would mean to value and capitalize on our creative acumen; how would that change our vision of ourselves and in turn how would it influence what we put out into the world? What would the new mirrors of duality be in our consciousness once these things are realized? How would these different estimations of our future affect the evolution of our creative economies?
Caribbean Linked as a social and cultural agitator: Programming that extends into our local and regional communities remains underdeveloped due to preconceived notions or lack of education and sensitization to the space. How do we break behaviour and establish new narratives to attract more dynamic, on the ground support from local publics? How do we identify with our rapidly changing audience, remaining cognizant of new demographics and collective needs? How does collaboration and cultural identity/diplomacy shift as we assess social mobility, market value and access?
Caribbean Linked as a connector and conduit: Why isn’t there more circulation across the Caribbean? If partner and shared projects can be developed, then how can we start a more concerted engagement? What are the benefits of thinking locally and regionally? What would it mean to hone in and offer support to local practitioners and how would that work to provide further means of professionalization? With opportunities like Caribbean Linked, you can see a clear and distinct correlation. If the Caribbean functions as a fragment of individualized national spaces, given our political infrastructure and governance and the way in which we have constricted our borders, can an adapted model/models working in a unified and autonomous way function to counteract the national systems? What does this battle look like? Is it for artists? Can they be outside of its trenches?
Caribbean Linked as a Think Tank: An active collective of contemporary artists are used as a creative think tank to assess the needs of the visual art industries within their locales. As someone who is paying attention to the small growth, there is a built in assumption that this group will give testament to concerns around cultural/educational development, collaboration, innovation and exchange. I am specifically interested in how technology is affecting our sensibilities and the creation of work and how this will continue to manifest with the ubiquity of social media and advancing technologies, lending to experimentation and play with New Medias.
Caribbean Linked as a window to the future: If there is embedded value, then to who and what more can be done to ensure that our target demographic is widened and that programming can bring out more awareness and cultural change?
These questions have pervaded the space I work in, and are the root of most of the programming that is being developed and supported through my practice. The understanding of the need to have care, engagement, passion and healthy practices spill over into our everyday lives, will affect the future placement of art from the Caribbean and other geographies, and developing industries that share these affinities.
 Moira Gatens & Genevieve Lloyd. Collective Imaginings: Spinoza Past and present. London and New York: Routledge, 1999). pg 80
 Poiesis and Art-Making: A Way of Letting-Be by Derek H. Whitehead
 Jeanette Winterson. Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery. Vintage books. London 1997