Kriston Chen

The dutch word for nonprofit or foundation is ‘stichting.’ If I was to say this word in Trinidad somebody would, chances are, respond:

“Stick ting…ehh?”

The equivalent of Yards in Trinidad are the Alleys of Oranjestad in Aruba. Or from an urban standpoint, they’re spaces that are intended to connect the city, spatially and culturally. Attention is being given to these makeshift spaces to blur the boundaries of Aruban society.

The stilt workshops I’m hosting during my Caribbean Linked residency are being dubbed ‘Stick Ting In D’ Alley’ — a mix up of the languages we speak, to begin to own it communally.

Rancho, where I’ll be hosting these workshops these few days, neighbours a place called Caya Grandi or Main Street. It was once a vibrant shopping area for Arubans and also to hang out. However, because of continued development of hotels on the island, the commerce has shifted and while attempts have been made to revitalise the street, many local shops struggle to stay in business. Main Street was developed to connect the cruise ship terminal to the center of town by a tram and accommodation for pedestrians to improve foot traffic — business remains slow, evident by the number of empty shops and spaces available for rent.

Rancho feeds into Main Street with its alleyways. Citizens are tasked with reimagining and redefining how the public perceives and uses these alleys. While addiction is an ongoing concern for citizens in Rancho, there are new signs of community activity happening. Art is viewed as being necessary for the area to improve. I’m convinced of the community’s commitment through projects like Muchi Mondi and Stichting Rancho‘s initiative  Adopt-an-Alley, and informal conversations with artists and creative members that live nearby or commute to work there.

My personal introduction to Rancho was through a short tour early on during our Caribbean Linked residency. I felt many strong connections in relation to the work I’d been doing in Alice Yard in Trinidad, with #1000mokos and the Sticks In De Yard sessions. There is no word for ‘stilts’ in Papamiento, the main language in Aruba. The closest thing is wood or palo. Alley translated is ‘hanchi’. Palo Hanchi might be something nice to develop. What helps is that Carnival in Aruba is very popular, vastly different than Trinidad, but appreciated by everyone I’ve spoken to here so far. This is a direct result of our oil history. This Caribbean connection gets deeper in areas like San Nicolaas, where much of the West Indian population lives. What started as something very naively in the yard in Trinidad, this conversation about moko jumbies and stiltwalking has suddenly found another layer of meaning and connection in Aruba. There’s a particular urge for people to want to find their own identity in the places they live. Caribbean Linked offers an impromptu space to bridge this conversation.

With projects like Toofprints and Sticks In De Yard, the art is important but its the process of artistic collaboration in relation to building community that matters most right now for me.