Fresh from a residency in Europe, I embarked on my trip to Aruba for this three-week residency anxious to work alongside artists and other art professionals from the Caribbean region. I was anxious because I looked at Caribbean Linked as an opportunity where finally my work would make sense to someone else besides me. Finally, I wouldn’t need to write a thesis statement about my work for people to get it. I looked at this as both a blessing and a curse, because they could actually call my bluff if something didn’t add up, or challenge me to devote even more critical thought to my practice.
The CL experience has challenged my art practice, where I had to work with materials that are accessible in a nomadic studio. I came to Caribbean Linked with the intention of doing sculpture, but had to ensure that it was still reflective of the direction my practice is going. I thought about materials that I could fold up or break down, that are not over 50 pounds and could be put in a suitcase. Raffia and cloth were the first things that came to mind. On top of the challenge to make these sculptural pieces, I wanted the forms to be triangular which presented another issue. I was pointed towards a nearby studio, which I like to call the ‘Boom Box’ with Robert Tromp, to help make the angled cuts I needed to build this piece. Without his assistance, the sculpture Pestilence may not have been realized.
I think of pests as necessary organisms in our ecosystems, and the ones associated with the region are flies and mosquitoes; it was interesting to not have been bitten by a mosquito every day in Aruba, and I photographed the rare occasions I saw a fly there. Something the Bahamas does share with Aruba is our heavy reliance on tourism. This piece reflects on the necessity of the hotels in our ecosystems, yet how they can also be seen as a Pestilence. With the time constraints, I definitely placed a challenge on myself with this piece. However I could always count on Gwladys Gambie to be in the studio working alongside me, which encouraged me to see it come to fruition.
On one of the tour days, director of Ateliers ’89 Elvis Lopez told us he was going to be on a radio talk show and encouraged us to listen in. One of the radio hosts brought up the issue of the authenticity of souvenirs sold on the island by the vendors in kiosks. Venezuelan and other souvenirs from the region are brought in, and ‘Aruba’ is being written on them. She went on to speak about a Haitian vendor married to an Aruban who was making very ‘authentic’ and unique craftwork. This conversation stuck with me because, as a daughter of a vendor, I have written ‘Bahamas’ or had little gold stickers that had the country’s name to place on various souvenirs. This led me to create a costume to turn myself into that souvenir, being ambiguous enough to fit into any country in the region and yet holding a place to write Your Country Name. The questions that arose in this talk show are aligned with the questions I ask in my practice. What is authenticity in the region, when it comes to authorship of souvenirs? Is it ok to sell these products as our own once the pieces come from within the region because we have similar narratives?
When performing in this costume, I had an amazing team in Sharelly Emanuelson as photographer, Adam Patterson as costume director and the fabulous Franz Caba as the art director. With this team and a limited amount of time, I was pushed into situations to take these photos in the nearby neighbourhood of Rancho and in Caya Grandi. The stark disparity between both places asks the question of where this souvenir belongs? Who made it? How is it looked at in those places? What is its value?
From August 6-27, I opened myself up to these expectations and met some amazing individuals. We were so compatible it seemed as though the CL team found the perfect algorithm to choose this group of artists to put in a pressurized think tank together, make a lifelong connection and have a serious impact on one another’s lives and practices.