No need for handshakes
Other artists that have attended previous editions of Caribbean Linked did mention their experience to me, but in no way could I have really understood the value and importance of such an event until I experienced it for myself. In my case, having deliberately chosen to move back to the Dutch Caribbean, Caribbean Linked became a unique opportunity for me. It allowed me to be in a space where I could learn more about Ateliers ‘89, experience Aruba again, and produce new work amid artists from the region.
For this edition V, we were 9. The first person I got to meet was Raily Stiven Yance from Maracaibo, Zulia. He arrived right after me and while there was not much verbal exchange at that time, I remember that I made sure to let him know that I am not too shy to speak Spanish. After dropping us at Ateliers, Laura went back to pick up the rest and soon after I met Averia Wright, whom ended up being my favorite co-pilot ever and Franz Caba whose masculine looking beard totally contrasted his sweet & funny diva self. As the day progressed and we got to meet everybody, I remember lying in bed the first night and thinking how the affirmation of my Dutch Caribbeanness showed when warm hugs were a reply to my dry “correct and protective” handshake. I was shown that I was not in Amsterdam, nor in Holland nor Curacao or some hostile environment that I need to shield myself from others. On the first day I was shown that there was no need for a handshake.
Ku dos pia riba dushi Tera | “With two feet on the dushi ground”
Even though Aruba was familiar to me, I really came with an open mind and told my family that I would be staying at Ateliers ‘89 to spend day and night with other artists who would familiarize themselves with Aruba and would create new work for an Exhibition in the Main Street “Caya Grandi.” For me, an extra plus to it all was that I could also experience Elvis Lopez and his team at Ateliers ’89 taking care of us and coordinating this wonderful initiative.
Being used to always performing “multiple selves” I have developed over the years and still am as an artist, filmmaker and cultural producer, it was a long-desired opportunity for me to be able to have space and time to just create new work. I was happy I could have these 3 weeks to get a feel of what “ku dos pia riba Dushi tera di Aruba” would feel like as an artist.
Keep on Coming, Coming, Coming!
The daily tours at the beginning of CLV were a great way to give everybody an impression of the landscape, history and community. And so, the idea of the “tour guide” as a “contemporary” historian, a knowledge carrier was formed as an important component in my work “En Mi Pais.” The Dutch Caribbean being isolated from the English, French and Spanish speaking Caribbean island still has a lot of work to do in terms of discovering and investigating its own histories and ways of being. Most that has been written and valued has been imposed or factualized by non-locals.
We live in a time where information, knowledge and values are more and more being constructed, adapted and distributed through branding efforts and marketing strategies. It becomes worrisome when together with those incentives, one also notices that the younger generation’s own cultural knowledge became insignificant and is now merely being used to receive income from tourism, or that culture, tradition, norms & values and history just does not have a natural importance like it does for the older generation. Traces of denial of the island’s colonial (slave) history or a denial of its rich and diverse migration history were visible in conversations with the community, and another major sign was of the social problems the island is undergoing when it comes to the socially marginalized addicts and Aruban families that have had several encounters with drugs, alcohol, domestic violence and abuse. These things are also part of the “Happy Island” that need attention but are being covered or ignored.
One of the main reasons for the existence of “tour guides” is the knowledge sharing purpose for the foreigner instead of its own community. The proud Aruban, and the family structures I was introduced to growing up, are fading away. Generations are passing, and the norm and values have changed. What is the real value if the information and knowledge of what one’s country has to offer merely becomes a repeating dictation without a self-awareness or understanding of context and cause and effect? In this fast pace capitalist world, we as humans have plenty of incentive for development. The island’s desire for development is visible in its desire for more buildings, hotels, bridges and trams, even though there are many rooted cracks, memory losses, empty buildings, abuses, addictions and those in need of social help. Who is investigating, documenting, narrating and showing our multiple selves and social/human needs?
In addition to the above observations, I must also share that each tour we experienced was different, and that all tour guides made sure to give us their best. I applaud Aruba for making its efforts of teaching its community visible through programs like the Aruba certification program. As I get to travel more and more in the Caribbean, I can’t help but to compare the overall friendliness and hospitality each island has to offer, and Aruba so far does have an overall high score that other islands and countries can learn from.
More rum punch, banana bread and dragon fruit please!
As the days progressed and everybody increased their efforts to set up a great show, hard work was balanced with truth rather than dare games, delicious rum punches, homemade banana bread, sweet Aruban grown dragon fruits, late-night sleep over conversations with the girls and crit sessions I wish I could have regularly. Seeing studio spaces being intensely shared and in full work production with companionships from the middle of the night to at times until early mornings are all reasons that made Caribbean Linked V an unforgettable experience.
As we exchanged tears towards the end, we all acknowledged that we grew fond of each other. Raily’s brilliant mind, Averia’s strength and power, Franz’s humor and self-expression, Gwladys‘ silent fierceness through her eyes, Katherine’s flower power, Kriston’s commitment, discipline and work ethic, Irvin’s sweetness and kindness, Velvet’s wittiness and ingenuity, Adam’s elegance and smarts are just some of the traits I admire and that complement their creative processes and work. I truly hope to keep in touch with all, and see each one of us create and “do better” for many years to come. May all my handshakes keep transforming into hugs, kisses and tears of joy and laughter. Caribbean, I am happy to be home.
I would like to thank Nicole, Farley, Angelique, Julie, Clifford, Stefan, Jaspal and Clark who came and did the casting and participated in the work and also a thank you to Robert Tromp and Omar Brown for assisting me with filming and installing the work.
And to Ernesto, Laura, Katherine, Lupita, Holly, Annalee and Elvis Lopez, thanks for allowing us to create and be present during Caribbean Linked V. It was a pleasure meeting you all, this experience is one to forever be told.
All photos courtesy of Sharelly Emanuelson.