Simon Tatum

I sit by the door that is the front entrance for Osaira Muyale’s new installation art space. According to Ms. Osaira, the space should be entered alone in order for it to have a stronger impact on the viewer.  I have been waiting my turn for the past half-hour and watching other members of the Caribbean Linked IV artist residency program enter the space before me. I decide to take my attention away from the door and look down at my shoes, which are now covered with protective socks. I was told to wear these socks in order to keep the installation space clean from stray marks. They make me think of elf shoes from a holiday cartoon, but they also remind me of the protective uniform of a sanitation worker. I chuckle softly to myself. It is amazing how an observed subject can provoke two entirely different experiences to a person’s mind.


I look up and see Osaira Muyale approaching the door. I hop from my seat excitedly, for  I know that my turn to enter the installation space has finally arrived. Ms. Osaira begins by giving instructions which I have now heard her recite about half a dozen times. She begins her instructions – “close your eyes.” I obey willingly and do what she says. She then puts her hand on my shoulder and I hear her open the door to the installation space. I am directed inside. “Watch your step” – as she says this I feel a small change in the level of the floor going into the room. I also feel a change in the atmosphere. It seems slightly colder. I hear the sound of the door closing behind me, and it brings with it a sense of solitude. Right before the door latches shut Osaira gives her final instruction – “you can open your eyes now.” This instruction I do not obey. Instead I choose to stand in the installation space with my eyes remaining closed.

To be honest, I am not ready to open my eyes. I suppose it is because I do not know what awaits me, and I have built a very high expectation for it. This might be harmful to my experience, I am aware of this. I am also aware that having high expectations is a habit I have acquired within the last several years of my life. I often ask a lot of an experience, of a place, of a person, of myself and of my work. Is having high expectations really a problem? And how could I not have high expectations? Within the last four years of my life, I moved from being a high school graduate from the Cayman Islands to being an aspiring  young artist who is allowed to travel the world in order to expand his education and his work. This is an unbelievable transition. It is a transition that rarely happens for a young person from the Cayman Islands. Moreover, I know that this transition was not brought about by chance. It was brought about by hard work, the pursuit of opportunity and the continued support and advice of the people I love. I owe a great debt to my family, my friends, my mentors, my advisors, and to the generous strangers who affect the trajectory of my work from afar. I will always be grateful to these people, and I will always be grateful for the opportunities that have brought me to where I am today. Perhaps this is why I have high expectations for myself and for others. It is because I know that under the right circumstances, high expectations can always be exceeded. Now I stand in the private gallery of Osaira Muyale, waiting for my expectations to be exceeded once more.

Osaira is an acclaimed Aruban artist. She is also one of a select group of Caribbean artists which I actually knew about before arriving in Aruba to take part in the Caribbean Linked IV program. Why is this? Because her work expands beyond the borders of her home country. She has managed to get her work catalogued and documented through international exhibitions like Caribbean Crossroads. Maybe this is why I have such a high expectation for her work? I think back on Osaira’s presentation, which was given before our invitation into her gallery. We asked her about her reason behind the blue colour, which she famously uses to cover many of her 3-dimensional artworks. Her response was that the blue colour is used to represent the sea. I found this answer to be quite unsatisfying. What does the sea stand for, especially to young Caribbean artists like myself and my peers in the Caribbean linked program? We all come from Caribbean backgrounds, and these cultures have deep, intimate relationships with the sea. The sea is a force which we all grow up respecting and challenging. It serves as a gatekeeper or a physical barrier separating us from other places and people. The only way we are ever allowed to pass it is if we abide to the conditions it has set for our travel through its elemental nature. Getting beyond this barrier is almost impossible for some of us, and it defines the course of our lives. Yes, the sea in itself is a very complicated subject, so can that really be a sufficient answer for us? Should there be a more specific explanation? I feel my doubts starting to flood my mind and I know that I can wait no longer. I open my eyes.

I finally get to observe my surroundings, and I am immediately thrown off by this space. The lighting for the entire enclosure has a heavy blue hue which is challenging for my eyes to accept. They slowly begin to adjust and I start to look around what appears to be several rooms connected through open doorways. I see why Osaira was so keen on us wearing the protective socks. The entire space is spotless. From floor to ceiling every exterior surface is sterile and painted white. The surfaces seem to glow blue from the light that bounces off of them from the ceiling bulbs. I then take my attention away from the walls and spot for the first time a strange (you guessed it) blue form in front of me. I begin to move around it and realise that it is a humanoid figure made from plaster which is missing a head and arms. Instead of the figure’s regular attachments, there is a cone shape which extends from the torso and eventually folds on top of itself. This cone figure also appears to be embellished with painted artificial flowers and other foliage attachments, which become part of its body. This is due to the fact that every element on the figure is painted the same colour blue. I take a step back and then turn to look through the other rooms. Every room is activated by the same atmospheric effect of the blue light bouncing off of the white exterior surfaces. And every room is accompanied by blue hybrid figures. Some of the figures occupy a room alone and other figures are partnered with mutated horse figures (these figures are also made of plaster and painted blue). Some are also suspended from the ceiling, while others spin in circles with the aid of rotating pedestals placed below them.

Work by Osaira Muyale.

Osaira Muyale, Paradise Park.

After going through each room and looking at the figures from different angles, I decide to return to the entrance door and take a seat on the ground. I think about Osaira’s presentation. The colour blue represents the sea. Is that enough of an explanation to help the viewer experience this work? I take a look around the room and observe the hybrid figures once more as they dance in their blue environment. I then decide to look down at my shoes and the protective socks which cover them. I chuckle to myself softly. It is the duality of experience which can be provoked from a subject. That is what the sea represents. When I look at these figures, I am provoked to think of both male and female, human and animal, human and plant, race and gender, past and present. These pieces which dance in this space seem to be stuck in a period of limbo. They serve as totems of invited variables, which with the right viewer can provoke multiple experiences which are entirely different according to their nature. I think that most artwork has this effect. The difference with this installation is that it embraces this dual relationship through the constant, elemental force of a singular color. Blue in this installation represents the sea because like the sea it is a constant which fosters an environment. Moreover, in the dialogue of a Caribbean artist, the sea can be seen as the force which is constant from one context to another. So no matter which time or environment you feel apart from, you can always remember that the sea, which acts on the trajectory of your life, also acts on the trajectory of others. The same conditions which we learn to abide from the sea have existed before our lifetime, and they will continue to exist after it. Perhaps this is what she meant?

Good work Osaira, you have exceeded my expectations. I get up from the floor and leave the installation space.