Insider Secrets of the Grenada Art Scene (Part 1)

Grenada has long been a mysterious place, particularly to outsiders. Most streets don’t have street signs, so if you arrive in Grenada and try to get your bearings using conventional methods, you may not find your way. Grenada and its art scene is a pulsating, fluid riddle which offers treasure for anyone willing to abandon their preconceptions of what an art scene looks like. Here are a few things to keep in mind when approaching art in Grenada!

1. Gallery is a loose concept.
Grenada does not have many galleries and the galleries that do exist aren’t typical if you’re used to the spectrum of galleries in the US and Europe. Alternative space would be a useful way of describing them because that is how nearly all of them function. The Art Upstairs Gallery in St. George’s is really part gallery, showing many local artists and part museum showing work of past Grenadian artists such as John Benjamin, Canute Calliste and Richard Buchanan. This is the one of the only public spaces where one can take in some historical Grenadian art. The Susan Mains Gallery (AKA Art and Soul Gallery) in Grand Anse is also a dynamic space that is sometimes commercial gallery, sometimes minimal contemporary shows, sometimes a site for critical discussion and education, and always a place where creative people congregate. This is one of the best spots to find art supplies and get advice on how to use them but also one of the only places that sells locally made charcoal, ink and bamboo quills; an emerging cottage industry in art supplies. The Yellow Poui Art Gallery recently moved from Young Street in town to River Road. The owner and gallerist, Jim Rudin holds the distinction of the first commercial art gallery in Grenada which stayed open for over 50 years. Rudin now shows work in his new gallery close to his home on River Road in what reads as a subversion of the physical gallery and the economic reality of overhead. Freddy Paul has a gallery in town, the “Artistic Art Gallery” and has been working on his craft for nearly 20 years. Close to Paul’s Gallery on Young Street is Art Fabrik, celebrating 31 years of business and employing up to 45 home workers and contractors to create beautiful batik pieces. Only the initiated would know that there is a lovely secret art gallery “backstage” in the courtyard behind the cashier’s desk. Across the street, Grenada House of Chocolate is not only a celebration of the artistry of the local chocolate scene but also has chocolate themed art. The world’s first underwater sculpture park in Moliniere is an exhibition space that requires the viewers to get wet in order to see the work of Jason deCaires Taylor. If you’re ever at the Maurice Bishop International airport there is a gem of a gallery upstairs called The Waving Art Gallery with rotating exhibits and a view of the runway. There are several small galleries featuring an individual artist’s work but probably most notable are the roadside exhibition spaces of artists like Doliver Morain in Levera, St. Patrick and the Ashanti Footprints community sculpture garden in Upper St. John, St. Andrew. These two sites feature wire and metal assemblage sculpture figures which play out narratives in the form of a reggae band or a story about water in a community. All this to say – Grenada’s art scene is almost entirely alternative spaces.

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(Artist credit: Doliver Morain, from Uncover Your Caribbean)

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(A piece done by Ashanti Footprints, Upper St. John, St. Andrews. Photo Credit: Asher Mains)

2. We are rich in resources.
While there is little financial support from government or institutions in Grenada, we boast an abundance of materials to work with. Materials and our environment communicate about our identity and having so many materials to work with means that the ‘linguistics’ of how we describe ourselves can be complex and exciting. As far as the canon of fine art materials, we are able to make our own charcoal to draw with, we have an array of pigments in the earth to paint with, and we have seaweed and leaves that stain. We have shells and stones to arrange and seeds to collect, sticks to pile and metal to bend. We have carnival; a rich feast for the eyes, ears, nose, and entire self as we collect the memories of oil and paint splattered to music during J’ouvert and the pageantry of costumes during “Pretty Mas”. Our eyes are constantly calibrated to different shades of greens and blues depending on the time of day and whether we are facing inland or out. It is a privilege that when your neighbor is burning bush it has a spiciness to it and when it rains the earth sighs with pleasant smelling breath. Our minds can be calmed by the waves, healed by the sea, and all of the feet shaped imprints that we leave in the sand collect in our creative consciousnesses. We have cultural phenomenon that is still undocumented, aging heroes that are still uninterviewed, materials that have not been fully explored and ultimately a sense of being local where in regular life we may not see as remarkable but in the context of art it is our life blood.

3. There are opportunities for artists.
But first, you have to know what opportunity looks like. We are blessed to have a community of artists where everyone can get to know everyone. In some art communities there are so many people and so much competition for attention and shows that it is hard to get noticed. One of the advantages to being in a small community is that before long, you are the best at what you do around. This doesn’t mean that an artist shouldn’t keep improving but if you wanted to be the best at a particular style, technique, or medium you can put the work in and before long help others. Our community is small enough to really focus on art movements. If a few artists got together because they were interested in a particular way of working, they would immediately be noticed and have a voice from that perspective in the community. With all of this and the global in perspective, many “art centers” in the world are looking to the periphery (or places that are not tradition sites for art) for new art and artists and favour artists who choose not to leave their home countries and can still contribute to the critical art conversations happening globally. The Grenada art scene is young enough that we are still growing essential nodes of the community such as art writers, models, influencers, etc. Any of these roles are waiting to be filled by people who are passionate about seeing art develop! Aside from our size being a strength, Grenadian artists over the last few years especially, have been developing networks internationally. Grenadian artists have been invited to different countries to show their work or to spend time in another culture. This professional network means that Grenadian artists have a direct line to international shows because of the work done by their peers. Every local exhibition is an opportunity to show what you are working on and potentially set yourself up for more exposure. Not only are there 5 – 6 shows a year put on by different groups and organisations but Grenada is a scene where if you want to organise your own exhibit, you are encouraged. The Grenada art scene is extremely supportive especially in comparison to other, larger art scenes. The general tone of the art scene in Grenada is that the tide rises for everyone and so it is beneficial to support each other. You are encouraged, as an artist or as a member of an artistic community to develop your practice and flourish in a setting where you can be noticed and be the best you can be.

While navigating this or any art scene one may wonder how to enter into an apparently confusing or alternative art community. Here are a few suggestions for getting involved!

1. Go to art openings, art talks, and art events!
This is where you will meet other artists, art enthusiasts or people who are curious what it’s all about. These are usually very social events and new faces are always welcome as well as continuing conversations with regulars to art events. Check social media for upcoming events.

2. Take a class!
This is a great way to practice your skills in a safe, non-judgmental environment but more so, it’s where you can start to build community with people who you can resonate with. Art School Greenz offers short classes designed for working adults. More information can be found at www.artschoolgreenz.com but you should also look into anywhere where you feel welcome and comfortable!

3. Jump right in!
Get together with friends and draw or paint! Work on an idea, glue some things together, find an artist mentor and see what you might want to do next! Submit a piece to a show, respond to a call or imagine what you would do if you had a show with all of your work. Offer to model for an artist or write a blog post about a piece that struck you. Start and see where it takes you!

IMG_4116(Students from St. George’s University, after taking Painting 1 from Asher Mains, during their final presentation at the Susan Mains Gallery. All of the students did very well and are ready to contribute to the local art scene. Photo Credit: Asher Mains)

IMG_3267(Local artist and recent MFA graduate, Nico Thomas teaching watercolour at Art School Greenz. Photo Credit: Asher Mains)

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Place, Memory, and Identity

The following is an excerpt from my paper, “Empathy of Place” where I condensed some of the ideas surrounding place, memory and identity. These are underlying principles that I consider in my studio practice.


Place, Memory and Identity

Topophilia: “the affective bond between people and place or setting” Yi-Fu Tuan, Topophilia.

Empathy, noun: “The imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself: By means of empathy, a great painting becomes a mirror of the self.”

Rootedness

“A human being has roots by virtue of his real, active and natural participation in the life of a community, which preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future. This participation is a natural one, in the sense that it is automatically brought about by place, conditions of birth, profession and social surroundings.” (Weil 38). The inverse of this is uprootedness, which is manifested through colonialism and industrialization. Acting in resistance to this separation of ourselves and from our relationship to our environment ensures our humanity. Our responsibility to our environment is not extricated from our responsibility to our selves.

“What begins as undifferentiated space becomes place as we get to know it better [through our senses] and endow it with value” (Tuan 6). How do these objects and places then affect our identity as we imbue them with meaning?

Objects as meaning

Jonathan Chapman wrote a book called Emotionally Durable Design and claims that, “we are consumers of meaning, not matter.”. “An important aspect of emotionally durable objects is their ability to ‘be seen by the user to resonate with and be symbolic of the self.” (Chapman 38). As we create art objects, as cultural producers and artists, we are handling meaning as our medium and establishing correlations and relationships between our audience and what we make. “Each person or society forms a unique relationship with objects based upon their individual experiences of the object, ‘where the owner’s personal history in relation to the object plays an important role’.” (Richins 506) These experiences are memories that we tie to the object, establishing it as ‘mnemonic’, and ‘emotionally durable’. (Peters 83).

Landscape as Identity

“While apprehension of our physical environment is shaped by the senses, the meanings that we give, as individuals and communities, to landscapes and places are socially and culturally inflected, and so bound up with complex questions about human identity. If we accept that ‘identity’ is not a given, but constructed in response to an intricate array of social, cultural, economic and physical forces, then how we think of ourselves as individuals, communities and even nations will be shaped by the places and landscapes where we live.” (Lawrence 2). Making and viewing art that acts mnemonically towards this concept of topophilia and place attachment can activate this sense of emotional bond and ultimately resonate with an individual’s identity. W.T.J. Mitchell reminds us that, “landscape is not an object to be seen or a text to be read but a process by which social and subjective identities are formed.” (Mitchell 1).

As it pertains to my work I want to establish that sense of place is important because of how landscape and environment contribute to our identity. The material objects within a landscape remind us of the landscape. By using these objects in art-making we are essentially representing ourselves through them. Ultimately, in regards to cultural production, we subvert the influence of industrialization and colonialism through the assertion of our selves. As we engage with the materials around us relationally, we create work that communicates our identity in ways that we could not using objects and landscapes that have no personal resonance.

 

Chapman, J. 2005, Emotionally Durable Design: Objects, Experiences and Empathy, London; Virginia: Earthscan.

Lawrence, Kay. “Introduction: Landscape, Place And Identity In Craft And Design.” Craft Plus Design Enquiry 7 (2015): 1-8. Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 14 Feb. 2016.

Mitchell W.T.J., 1994, Landscape and Power, Chicago, London: University Of Chicago Press.

Peters, Emma. “The Mnemonic Qualities Of Textiles: Sustaining Lifelong Attachment.” Craft Plus Design Enquiry 6.(2014): 75-94. Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 14 Feb. 2016.

Richins, M.L. 1994, ‘Valuing things: The public and private meanings of possessions’. Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 504–21, viewed 22 January, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=buh&AN=9501161817&site=ehost-live

Tuan, Yi-fu. Topophilia. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1974. Print.

Weil, Simone. The Need for Roots; Prelude to a Declaration of Duties toward Mankind. New York: Putnam, 1952. Print.

Making art is like cooking food

This is an analogy I find particularly useful, especially when talking to young artists about how the process and product of their art-making. It involves situating what we know about food, cooking, and the sale of food and how closely linked it is to art, art-making and the sale of art. Analogies are rarely completely perfect but I have seen a lot of “Aha” moments while explaining things from this perspective and wanted to write it down to hopefully turn more conceptual lightbulbs on!

When you learn to cook – you start with cooking for yourself

Whenever you started to learn to cook, chances are you started because you wanted to learn how to make something in particular that you like to eat. You have to feed yourself and either there is no one to cook for you or no one makes it exactly the way you like it. It’s also possible that you were called on by your family to start contributing in culinary ways and so you dutifully learned how to boil, fry and bake. In any case, most people would not want to go through the process of cooking and not enjoy the food themselves. There are several analogies wrapped up in this first point especially if you think of frying, baking, and boiling as different mediums and processes.

  • The more tools you know how to use and the more methods you know the more good food you can make.
  • There are times when you will realize that you are hungry and you begin the process of thinking “What should I cook?” “What do I know how to cook?” “What do I have to cook with?”
  • You should be making food that you enjoy. Feed yourself and make it exactly how you like it, and then offer to share with others.

No one goes out and tries to sell their second pot of rice

What I mean by this is even well-established chefs started somewhere but most likely they didn’t open a restaurant because they cooked rice once. You have to make a lot of food before you even think about opening up a spot, whether it’s a restaurant, bistro, food truck or catering service. You have to be able to consistently make a good product (as the result of good processes) and you have to make it in a way that is somehow special to your audience. Even the guys doing barbecue by the side of the road have their own flavours for their sauce and prep that makes their barbecue unique. Take the time to learn the food you like to cook and do it well before merchandising it!

(This is a good spot to remind you that we’re still talking about art here.)

There are different types of food we consume for different reasons

If your audience spent all day every day at fancy restaurants buying expensive meals, they may run out of funds or simply crave something a little ‘easier’ every now and then. If your audience always eats fast and processed food they may not even realize when they have good quality, fresh food in front of them. Balance is everything. It’s ok to eat a burger every now and then and it’s good to calibrate your palette with fine dining. Having an awareness of the scope and breadth of what there is to consume allows you to make better decisions and awareness to know what you want, when you want it. It also allows you to connect better with your audience if you know they are looking for something quick to take with them and you are trying to show them your 7-course Prix Fixe menu.

No one wants a $50 roti

This goes along with the last point, but you have to understand the type of food you’re making, who and why usually consumes it, and what other people sell theirs for. My favorite roti costs $14.50 but I know where to get them for $10 and $5. What do I do when I see a roti, a particular type of food with a particular market value typically consumed in a particular type of way for $50? Most likely walk away. (Honestly I might ask a couple questions like what kind of magical beast meat went into this extravagantly priced meal). Know the type of work you make and where it is situated in the market.

I’m ready to open my restaurant

Are you basing this big decision off facebook likes? Understand that chefs spend years and years perfecting their craft and building their audience. Many will have undergone some professional training and all of them at some point had a mentor that showed them the ropes. By starting a restaurant they are taking on the responsibility of having an overhead and the day to day labor of sending out their work to an audience that may occasionally make requests to make something not on the menu or they want the steak well done and served with ketchup. Chefs will have their craft insulted, questioned, and finally at times, celebrated. They do it because they enjoy the process and they don’t make a fortune on each plate. It is a grind of consistently putting out a good product and showing up to work every day.

What type of restaurant are we talking about?

(Just a reminder: restaurant = gallery or sale of your artwork)

I have had some bad restaurant experiences in some beautiful places. I was in Cinque Terre, in Italy at a bistro on an old cobble stone street and didn’t take the cues that this restaurant was “Turistic”. The food was obviously microwaved upon my order and came out burnt on one side and cold on the other. Fine, they got my money for that round but not only would I not go back there, I would not go back to a place that looked like that restaurant. When you’re working on planning for your restaurant are you wanting to open a 5-star restaurant that will challenge the palette of your visitors with prices that are proportionally challenging? Do you want to have a space where people can come in and hangout and order some food for takeout? Will your restaurant have a different menu every 2 weeks or will someone be able to come back after 10 years and still find the same food?

Wrapping Up

This analogy can go on and on but I think the efficacy of the analogy is that the path and trajectory of food, cooking, restaurants etc. are a little more clear to us in general than the path of artist, art-making, galleries, sale of work etc. The processes are similar. Show up, make good food based on good processes, good ingredients; make food that you like without always trying to guess what someone somewhere else might like to eat. There is a saying that our relationship with others is a reflection of our relationship with our self. Make sure you are fed before offering your creation to others.

Asher Mains is an internationally recognised artist from Grenada, West Indies. He is the founder and director of Art School Greenz, the alternative art school in Grenada as well as a lecturer at St. George’s University. Mains is committed to the development of art and artists in his home country.

What is Art Good For?

One of the topics that comes up frequently is “What is Art Good For?” I believe this is largely because people approach artists as image makers. While recreating scenes and making beautiful things may be interesting and nice to look at – what is it ultimately good for?

One of the ways I talk about art is its ability to contribute to and change thoughts and ideas. This is looking at art from the prospective of conceptual art and the way that art intersects and comments on life. I think that one of the questions an art practice should ask is, “Do you care?”

Whether you use natural materials or incorporate natural processes, once you start to intentionally connect with your environment and things that occur naturally, you begin to naturally care about what is happening in your environment. If your art practice involves people and how they interact, you organically have a heightened sense of awareness of how people *are*. If your art practice involves portraiture or working boats and you are aware that there is a dialogue between the sitter or the maker of the boat, there is a sense that you care about how they are represented.

If your art asks, “Do you care?” it ultimately leads to questions centred around environmentalism, social structures, social justice and the fullness of the human experience. Asking these questions leads to a society where artists are the ones that are at the forefront of pursuing a better life. Artists, as described by artist Tim Rollins, “are literally a diseased people. We live with a condition, a disorder that questions the existing order of things, a disease with the world that cannot be cured but only managed as best as possible.”

Question the existing order of things. Ask questions. Create. Be an artist.

I’ve been in an in between place following the TRIO Bienal in Rio and returning to Grenada to continue my practice. I will be in Grenada for an indefinite amount of time working on my next year’s project of establishing a canon of locally sourced art materials as well as teaching studio classes.IMG_4814

“What were you doing in Rio?” – a summary.

I left Rio de Janeiro a few days ago now and have had some time to decompress and wanted to catch everybody up on what happens when I go off to faraway lands in the name of art.

  1. Rio became a possibility when this man, Alexandre Murucci  who saw my work at the Grenada National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. IMG_4536
  2. Murucci was curating artists for his project, Rio’s first “Trio Bienal”,  an international exhibition of contemporary art around the three-dimensional in his classic scope – sculpture, installations and objects – as well as in all its expanded fields – painting, photography, drawing, video and others medias as three-dimensional research, and will occupy several museums and cultural institutions in Rio de Janeiro, from September 5th to November 26th, 2015.
  3. While Murucci saw my Painted Portraits for Cocoa Farmers project in Venice, he was more interested in my “Sea Lungs” installation that I had exhibited as part of a Grenada Contemporary exhibit in December 2014. IMG_0693
  4. So “Sea Lungs” was packed up and went to Rio where I set it up at the European Institute of Design in Urca. IMG_4599
  5. I had to be there to set it up, but also to talk to national Brazilian TV.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABGtfe5ZfmQ
  6. During the rest of the time there were important conversations about the development of art in Grenada and future projects with other artists and curators.
  7. The time in Rio, and during any of these trips for art help me chart my own trajectory as far as what I will be working on with my art for roughly the next year. Every interaction improves the clarity of how the international art scene works and makes it easier to prioritize the use of time over the next year.
  8. When not engaging with other artists or talking about my work, I tried to take advantage of scouting out the city as possible location for spending a residency in the future! Brazil is a bright spot in the world for art production especially in the context of natural processes and how art reflects life.

That’s the summary of my time there! One of the takeaways as an artist is that you never know where one opportunity will lead you to, so take the opportunities that come around! Please contact me if you have any questions!

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Talking about art with a Dallas Police Officer

“I don’t know if the world needs more art; but the world definitely needs more artists” – Mark Roth, Transart Institute MFA 2015

While I was in Dallas I was getting some breakfast tacos and there was a police officer there that was feeling chatty. He asked me what I did and I told him that I am an artist.

He said, “I can’t draw to save my life.”

He continued, “When I was in 2nd grade my teacher had us all do drawings on transparencies and then put them on the over head projector for everyone to see. I was trying to draw an eagle flying over some trees. My teacher put my drawing up and said, ‘it looks like a cow in a bush’….

…. ask me if I ever drew anything again.”

Please be kind to young and beginning artists – we need more artists in the world.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

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Young Grenadian taking part in arts and crafts at Tropical Haven Bible Camp

Theobromine Pieces

*Update: 3 and 9 are no longer available – get the one you want while it’s still here!

These works are 9″x13″ spray paint on paper. This work references the painted portraits for cocoa farmers project and the figure in the piece is Joanne who works with Belmont Estate.

The background element is the chemical make up of theobromine, one of the key elements to cocoa. I also used a gold spray paint as a way of associating value with this magical chocolate formula. Overall I want to portray the cocoa farmers as a kind of alchemist. Knowledge from oral tradition is passed down and the cocoa is grown and harvested and ultimately processed into chocolate. In this way the farmers are extracting gold (chocolate) from the soil.

These small pieces are available for sale at an affordable price in order to continue connecting people and ideas through my work and also to help fund my ongoing projects. Please contact me for details!

The Art of Asking

I have not yet finished this book but I am currently reading The Art of Asking: or how I learned to stop worrying and let people help. by Amanda Palmer.

A lot of the work and research I am currently doing is looking at human interaction and exchange outside of the market economy or the “logical” way we have to perform together in society. I have been thinking, for example, about creating a framework to continue working which my Portraits for Cocoa Farmers project would be subsumed into. Ultimately the projects and research I’m interested in doing comes down to a core of love. Love for our place, our environment, people, ourselves; focusing on love, truth and beauty can easily be a lifelong project and I enjoy thinking of ways these things can manifest themselves.

The Art of Asking has been extremely impactful as far as understanding how the real art of any object is the conversation and connections it initiates. This book also talks about the importance of building community through your practice and how this community provides a feedback loop and inspiration for new work. I recently had a conversation with an artist colleague and she proposed the formula of: Ritual => Intimacy => Community. It’s a loop too, because with community you will create and recreate rituals and intimacy and ultimately this is how we were meant to be as humans. Our fullest human experience is engaging with others and growing as a result. This is the focus of my art practice and why I am such a fan of Amanda and her book! You can find it here.