I think that it is no secret that for such a small country, Grenada produces some exceptional people. Grenadians are scattered all over the world and are examples of excellence; McQueen, Hamilton, James, and Malcolm X, just to name a few high-profile sons of the soil. There are also many Grenadians who are feeding the soil back home and especially with art, able to have a global reach from the island. The focus of this third instalment in the series is to look at how the Grenada art scene is able to interact globally.
(Roberto Diago’s, Burnt City, Cuba National Pavilion, Venice Biennale. Photo Credit: Asher Mains)
1. In Grenada, diversity is strength.
This point may evade visitors or the uninitiated: Grenada is made up of many communities with many backgrounds and no Grenadian experience is qualitatively “less Grenadian” than any other. Sociologically Grenada is a place where you can have a subculture of 12 people. While we have a Grenadian dialect many Grenadians can easily slide into an easier to understand “International Grenadian accent” and which does not account for the fact that most Grenadians can decipher the difference between someone from St. John’s, St. David’s, St. George’s or St. Andrew’s, based on the way they speak. Besides our local affects, Grenada is home to an international cadre of immigrants from Switzerland, the UK, the United States and elsewhere who, even though there are not ‘from’ Grenada are dedicated to feeding the soil and developing our creative and economic communities.
This is an important note for two reasons: 1.) You will find all sorts of people from all sorts of communities within Grenada contributing to the art scene and 2.) Grenada is able to host international artists from a position of strength and does not give up ground. For the 2016 Grenada Contemporary, the Susan Mains Gallery showed work by many local artists but also Khaled Hafez, who was listed in 2016 as one of Egypt’s top 10 artists, Jason deCaires Taylor who is world renowned for his underwater sculptures and Alexandre Murucci, one of the most influential figures in the Rio de Janeiro art scene. Grenada could never host these world class artists if these artists did not see Grenada as a place that was worth their time and investment. To see Grenada showing up on international CV’s not only brings Grenada itself into the spotlight but also Grenada’s artists then are able to network and have inroads to showing beyond our own shores.
(Brazil’s Alexander Murucci with his work, Truth, at the Grenada National Pavilion, Venice Biennale. Photo Credit: Susan Mains)
2. Grenada has made history with its presence at the Venice Biennale
While the immensity of the Venice Biennale cannot be addressed in the scope of this article, suffice it to say that the Venice Biennale is the oldest, largest, and highest stage for international contemporary art. It is also the only Biennale that seeks out national representation. In a sense, each of the more than 80 countries represented have decided that the artist they send are the best their country has to offer and have something to contribute to the global contemporary art conversation. The Venice Biennale really exploded with international inclusion in 2011 which saw the first national pavilion from the Caribbean, Cuba. Grenada had its first appearance in 2015 and then again in 2017 making it the only other Caribbean country to show more than once at the Venice Biennale. While Bahamas had a showing in 2013 and Antigua and Barbuda had its first showing in 2017, both were backed by budgets many times the size of Grenada’s. Grenada’s strategy has been to present a pavilion that is not only sustainable so that we always have a part in the global art conversation but also so that it feeds back into the development of art in Grenada. Grenada raised money for the National Pavilion through private businesses in Grenada who benefit from the more than 60,000 visitors to the pavilion that learn about our country and get a glimpse of what our art is doing. The pavilion also strategised with other artists in order to solidify its position and ensure that over the 6 month course of the Biennale with over 300 visitors a day on average we can turn the contributions of our local businesses and artists into gold that is going to develop and sustain art in Grenada going forward.
(Grenada National Pavilion banner designed by Amy Cannestra)
3. Grenada is responding to the international attention.
This may be one of the most exciting secrets of the series. Grenada is responding to international attention. With more artists with eyes on Grenada, people are coming here to be creative. Illustrator Stacy Byer has been inviting illustrators to Grenada for years to do workshops and interface with local illustrators. Suelin Low Chew Tung has been doing artist residencies in places like Haiti and Europe, sometimes bringing artists to Grenada and always bringing Grenada to the world. Asher Mains has been exhibiting internationally for years and is continuing to not only be an unofficial ambassador for the country but also networking to bring artists to Grenada. Susan Mains just came back from a residency in India where not only has Grenada reached to Rajasthan but 8 contemporary artists sent work back to be shown in Grenada for the 4th Grenada Contemporary exhibit at Susan Mains Gallery. Nico Thomas has finished his Master of Fine Arts degree on scholarship from ISI Padang Panjang in Indonesia and maintains his relationship with the art community there. The list of local artists who are making international inroads can go on. Aside from Grenada reaching out to the world, we have to be ready for the world to come to Grenada.
Artist residencies are a way for visiting artists to create work in a new place and also interact with local artists to teach and learn new skills/processes/techniques. We want to continue to develop Grenada as a creative incubator and where artists from all over the world come to make their work happen. There are many advantages and positive directions for the art scene in Grenada but this point is where it all comes together as far as Grenadian artists having opportunities outside of Grenada and for us to create exponential growth and exposure for our island of art in the world.
(Grenadian Biennale Artist, Asher Mains, teaching a painting class at Art School Greenz in Grenada. Photo Credit: Amy Cannestra)
There have been many actionable points in the last two articles. Here are three more that are directed towards Grenada’s response to international attention in the art world:
1. Create places for people to stay. We may need help from our hoteliers but also private homes. If you have an apartment for rent, consider making it available for an artist to come stay in and make art while in Grenada. During residencies, artists stay for at least a few weeks and paying hotel prices is not a viable option for accommodation. Artists many times do not have a lot of money to work with but they create value through things they do. Contact the Grenada Arts Council if you have a space to host a visiting artist!
2. Work on your web presence! There is a saying that if people can’t find you online, you don’t exist. When people inevitably google “Art in Grenada” we should have as many of our artists available as possible under the search results. This also entails having an updated portfolio, bio, artist statement and CV available for possible gallerists, curators, buyers or other artists to view. You may also consider your use of hashtags for things like instagram and facebook. Hashtags are a way of guiding people towards you and your work and also Grenada as a destination. If you need help with any of these things you can contact one of the artist teachers at Art School Greenz.
3. Respond to calls. Calls are ways that galleries and museums collect artists for shows. Many are made online and require an artist to respond with a proposal or examples of their work. There are a variety of calls to respond to depending on the type of work you’re interested in doing. This is an excellent way of getting your work out into the world and at least for gallerists, museums, and curators to see Grenada popping up over and over again.