David Knight Jr.

In the middle of the mission statement found on the website of the now four-years-running Caribbean Linked artist residency program, there is, sandwiched between uplifting commentary on the benefits of cross-cultural connections, a somewhat more barbed manifesto.

Caribbean Linked, the statement reads, was developed as an act of rebellion, a defiant stand against the Caribbean region’s “failing political and resolute nationalistic systems.” In other words, a residency program for emerging Caribbean contemporary artists is understood to take place within a context of a broader lack, one that recurs across various societies and results in a deadening kind of disconnectedness.

And yet the easy comradery among the eleven artists who have taken up residence in Aruba’s Ateliers ’89 for Caribbean Linked’s fourth iteration, the buoyant atmosphere generated by their friendship, creates an impression of something different than the drama of endless fragmentation and deficiency.

Oil tanks beyond a wall in San Nicolas, Aruba.

Oil tanks beyond a wall in San Nicolas, Aruba.

During my first week as writer in residence at Caribbean Linked IV, I have witnessed a great deal more hopefulness than cynicism when it comes to the potential for community, collaboration and solidarity among emerging Caribbean artists. Over the next two weeks, I’ll have the privilege of watching new works develop out of the international exchanges that this residency has made possible, and introducing the artists and their practices through this website.

If many of our governments and institutions throughout the region remain trapped either in habits of insular nationalism or the catastrophe of total dependence, the thinking of many young creatives around the region appears already to have adapted to embrace other possibilities. Those possibilities are, importantly, ones that Caribbean Linked’s organizing institutions – Ateliers ’89 Foundation, Fresh Milk Art Platform and ARC Inc. – have been doing the tireless work of shaping and supporting, alongside other individuals and institutions, for some time.

True, the distance that creatives throughout the Caribbean can feel from each other isn’t always a theoretical problem that can be solved by a simple shift in awareness. The nature of the arrivals of Caribbean Linked IV’s residents, complete with overnight travel delays, counterintuitive flight paths, and at least one immigration hassle, spoke with some immediacy about a few of the practical obstacles to being easily present together. The internet has obviously increased the capacity for new forms of community-building – many of the artists here began their journey towards a greater feeling of Caribbeanness in the virtual realm via websites, blogs, social media – but there remains nothing as effective as physical presence when it comes to building networks of relation.

Aruba’s dynamic coast.

Aruba’s dynamic coast.

The island of Aruba seems to hold the potential to feel like something close to neutral ground for those artists who have travelled from other parts of the region. In many places across the Anglophone and Hispanic Caribbean, the substantial Dutch colonial heritage of the region, the incontestable presence of the Papiamento language and the flat and arid landscape of Aruba often do not occupy the space they deserve in imaginings of “The Caribbean” – a concept with notoriously ambiguous geographic and cultural borders.

For the Papiamento-speakers of the group, those from societies linked in some way to Holland, those for whom the word Caribbean freely conjures images of vast expanses of desert coastline, perhaps there will be a similar destabilization of identity involved in living amongst peers with competing notions of Caribbeanness.

Caribbean Linked IV residents visit the coastline near Alto Vista Chapel, Aruba

Caribbean Linked IV residents visit the coastline near Alto Vista Chapel, Aruba

As for my own impressions of Aruba, they have not been without the sometimes pleasant, sometimes startling feeling of recognition. Most of all I cannot ignore a nativeness I feel to certain social discourses here. The frenzied discourse of the tourism marketing machine. The often evasive discourse of the small community trying to make sense of its migrant make-up. The tense discourse between insularity and cosmopolitanism.

Aruba’s “One Happy Island” slogan, which appears again and again on signs, license plates, and t-shirts may not have the same desperate ring as my own islands’ “America’s Paradise” but it nevertheless feels familiar in the way that it invites scrutiny. The same is true of other bits of “official” narrative, encountered nearly everywhere, about the diversity and harmony of Aruban society. The frequency with which such facts are relayed to me as an outsider serves to heighten my awareness of contradictions, often more subtly present, linked to the island’s post-tourism trajectory.

What impressions Caribbean Linked IV’s resident artists have formed thus far of their encounters with each other, Aruba’s landscape, its cultural milieu over the past week will likely manifest themselves in surprising ways in the work they make here at Ateliers ’89. The residents have been given the space to create those impressions and experiences that will mold the ideas they have brought with them to develop during their remaining time here in Oranjestad. Links have been established; now, the work begins.

A trail through Aruba’s desert landscape.

A trail through Aruba’s desert landscape.


 

To read David’s individual features on each of the resident artists at Caribbean Linked IV, see below:

Charlie Godet Thomas

David Knight Jr. on Bermudian artist Charlie Godet Thomas

Shanice Smith

David Knight Jr. on Trinidadian artist Shanice Smith

Oneika Russell

David Knight Jr. on Jamaican artist Oneika Russell

Tessa Mars

David Knight Jr. on Haitian artist Tessa Mars

Nowé Harris-Smith

David Knight Jr. on Bahamian artist Nowé Harris-Smith

Dominique Hunter

David Knight Jr. on Guyanese artist Dominique Hunter

Frances Gallardo

David Knight Jr. on Puerto Rican artist Frances Gallardo

Simon Tatum

David Knight Jr. on Caymanian artist Simon Tatum

Travis Geertruida

David Knight Jr. on Curaçaon artist Travis Geertruida

Laura de Vogel

David Knight Jr. on Aruban artist Laura de Vogel