Art and Anarchy in Grenada
As an artist and educator working in and from Grenada, I am always observing the art scene locally and trying to understand it in a global context. As Grenada becomes more plugged in to global art conversations we, at times, have our own conversation about whether we have everything we need to succeed. It is easy to point out that we do not have the same institutions that more developed countries have for art along with the corresponding funding. We also do not have many individuals who fill in the roles that exist in other art scenes like curators, critics, writers, gallerists, dealers etc. In an attempt to make our own art scene “complete” it is easy to try to imagine a direct translation of the components of one art scene into our own. It is also easy to blame a lack of these components for the shortcomings of the art scene in Grenada. I would like to, however, address the nature of these components in a developed art scene and propose that Grenada can have a completely successful art community within the framework of anarchy.
Acknowledging more sophisticated theories and definitions for anarchy, what I mean by our anarchist art community is that it is necessary for artists to govern themselves. Anarchist artists work voluntarily and cooperatively, not necessarily in a socialist manner, but with the realization that anarchy allows us to initiate our own actions without force or coercion and the freedom to live responsibly with the consequences of our actions. In many parts of a governed society, individuals appeal to the State for permission, for funding, for orders, etc. An artist who acts within this framework is limited in what they can do and wait for the State to provide options and opportunities. An anarchist art community makes the art it wants to make and seeks the means with which to make it. Embracing anarchy in our art community means we do not have to use conventional materials or formats to express ourselves. Finally, it also means that we’ve disassembled the traditional art world matrix even before it has presented itself. The community can then function as artist-centric, eschewing the trappings of more bulky, developed art scenes.
Without going into an exhaustive history of what and who a curator is, currently the art world is having a bit of a crisis concerning curators. With Documenta 14 just finished and many other high profile exhibits questioning the efficacy and role of the curator – we may be headed for a post-curator art world or at least reimagining what a curator can be. In the Caribbean, we simply do not have the volume of artwork and artists necessary to keep a dynamic curator busy. We do not have many people in Grenada, for example, who have had the necessary training and experience and focus to solely function as someone who gathers artists and artwork and facilitates exhibits. It is a struggle regionally to identify more than a few people who would be able to fill this role but then consequently, we do not have the institutions that could employ a person with these skills. Many circles in the art world are suggesting we move back to a more artist-centered curatorship, putting artists in charge of who is shown where and how. Perhaps in the Caribbean we have been able to sidestep this role and can show the way forward in a post-curator world.
There are times, in Grenada, where it is easy to point to a lack of institutions as a reason for there not being opportunities for local artists; particularly for local artists to make a living making art. One of the responses to that, without being overly pessimistic, is 1.) It is difficult anywhere in the world to make a living from making art, and 2.) Institutions can make it more difficult to make a living. In a very crude economic sense, the art world in the United States and most of Europe exists in this hierarchical matrix: art schools exist to make money and to turn out new artists for galleries. Galleries exist to make money and to pass along these new artists to their clients, always wanting something fresh and new. Art fairs exist to make money from galleries and create an environment for people to view a lot of art in same venue and also make purchases. Biennales and critical shows exist to make money and to expose and legitimize artists who are seen as doing serious work. Museums exist, not always to make money but many have large sums of money attributed to them where they care for collections that are worth a lot of money. The entire system works together and each level feeds the level above it until ultimately you have people who make up committees who, because of money and power, are able to make decisions about art work for the whole system. These systems are extremely difficult to appeal to – particularly if you do not hit all of the right checked boxes on the way up. A talented artist in this sort of system will not “make it” if they did not go to the right art school, show in the right gallery, get into the right show, or get noticed by the right curator or director. In a place as small as Grenada, not only do we not have the population to keep up such a system but also we are small enough to recognize talented artists without the filters of network and art world accolades.
The argument I am making is similar for the roles of art writers and critics. In more established systems, a good art writer or critic can be paid very well for their opinion. They would be hired by magazines or newspapers or even freelance and sell their articles and be read by people wanting some insight into the art world. Not only is our local readership capped at a certain amount but we do not have publications that would hire people to write in this capacity. We also have the disadvantage regionally of not being able to affordably travel internationally or even from island to island to view art in person or talk face to face to other artists. We are again, hampered by our geography and population.
Would it help our local art scene if the government was more engaged? Absolutely. A few policies that would make a big difference would be to lift the taxes on art supplies so that artists could freely import art supplies and use them for comparable prices that they are consumed in more developed countries. It would help if VAT did not apply to the sale of art so that collectors could be free of that burden. It would also be helpful if every large building project, especially done by foreign investors were required to have a budget for local art. Then finally, as is done in other countries, if local art buyers were able to claim the purchase of art as a deduction on their taxes so that they could alleviate their own tax burden by supporting local creatives. These are all things that would be helpful to the local art scene, not to mention the provision of places for artists to show work where the rent was not exorbitant. We have not had a government, however, who has shown interest in enacting any of these helpful policies and so returning to the original point: artists in Grenada have been operating without government or institutions for art and our position will improve if we embrace the anarchy of our art scene.
With different strains and theories of anarchy abounding, I am appealing to the core idea that a self-determined people can create the conditions for their success by creating opportunities for themselves in lieu of being provided for by the government or institutions for the arts. The art world is legitimizing alternative spaces and processes more and more and looking to the periphery of the art world for inspiring new models of organization. We have nothing to gain by trying to act like we have all of the resources as more developed countries. We are able to work with a fraction of the materials available in other places and we have to spend many times more money for the materials and supplies we are able to get. We have nothing to prove then by trying to play the game according to the rules of more developed art scenes.
My proposal for embracing our anarchist art scene is simple but requires work. We don’t need curators as much as we need artists who know how to curate. We don’t need art writers or critics as much as we need artists who can write and critique. We don’t need formal spaces for showing art as much as we need to be open to alternative spaces for showing work. We do not need art supply stores as much as we need artists who can create their own supplies and make their knowledge available. We don’t need many of the art world positions as much as we need artists who are able to make opportunities for themselves and to share and support others. We cannot continue to hold ourselves to unreasonable expectations because things are done differently elsewhere. Our access to interesting materials and good stories are near infinite. We need to help activate each other as creative entities and to promote each other as artists. This has an innumerably greater return to our art scene than if everyone is trying to protect their own interests.
The synthesis and application of the idea of anarchy in our societies can be confusing yet this is not something to shy away from. Many artists, for example, question capitalism and its role in creating unjust systems. It is difficult, however, to critique capitalism while trying to exist within a capitalist system. One of the questions, without confusing political and economic ideologies too much, is can a system with less hierarchical power and control be inherently more fair, particularly coming out of or within a neoliberal construct? More than whether the system can be called fair, does it promote the wellbeing and interests of everyone participating in the system? You cannot have, for example a system that apparently promotes “free-market” and individual freedom yet creates situations through regulation and personal bias that makes it so that some are more free than others. Being a good anarchist consists of considering yourself as a human first before a citizen. In the art scene we have to consider that we are humans first, then artists and that we are not guaranteed opportunity or success unless we create it for ourselves. Each of us will need to learn more skills and occupy more roles than an artist in an existing matrix but ultimately that can allow us to be better presenters of our own work and a community of artists who are doing more with what we have.