Update: Sea Lungs, Stolen

By Asher Mains

It’s not the way an artist expects to wrap up an exhibit, especially an exhibit on the world stage. It was with a heavy heart that I let out the initial information that my work, Sea Lungs, which was shown in the Grenada National Pavilion at the 57th Biennale di Venezia was missing. With more information and evidence secured I am sharing the unfortunate news that the installation, consisting of 8 paintings on sail cloth, was stolen. At this point, the suspect is not responding to communication, I do not have hope of recovering the work and so I feel that there is nothing to lose in telling my story about Sea Lungs being stolen from the Grenada National Pavilion in Venice.

For purposes of the ongoing investigation by the police in Italy, particularly the art theft unit of the Italian Police, I don’t think it is prudent yet to release his identity, although it shouldn’t be long until we should be able to. What I can relate are details as to how we know unequivocally that there was an individual involved who maliciously stole Sea Lungs. The suspect was someone who worked closely with the Grenada National Pavilion. It takes many people to have a successful exhibit at the Venice Biennale and it is impossible to know ahead of time who is working towards the betterment and development of art and who is working to forward their own agenda. We have made many contacts in Venice who have proved invaluable allies to Grenada and our art. Additionally, the Biennale organization and the guardians for the pavilion had been beyond helpful and cooperative and we are grateful for those in the art world who have been our allies.

This person however, is not an ally. Besides being difficult to work with and unprofessional, this person was someone who makes a good first impression and then quickly devolved into their own egomania. They made costly decisions without conferring with the other decision makers in the pavilion. This person also shirked their duties for much of the duration of the Biennale, being uncooperative and non-communicative. One of my last face to face interactions with this person showed me someone who was unhinged and I felt that an apology was in order. I never received an apology.

The final weeks of the Biennale saw the re-emergence of this person as they had work to do at the Pavilion. This was two weeks before the Biennale was closed and before my representatives were there to take down my work to send back to Grenada. During this time, still not communicating with me as an artist or representatives of the Pavilion he verbally accosted and intimidated our guardians and told numerous lies ranging from his title/position to the date the building was legally leased until. In a petty instance this person even took money that was set out for the lady who came into the Pavilion to clean. It is hard to determine whether this person was always planning on taking my work two weeks before the end of Biennale or if it was an afterthought – a spur of the moment decision like I am sure stealing the cleaning lady’s money was.

The irrefutable evidence came when this person intimidated our guardians and then changed the locks on the doors, ensuring that anything that happened from that point on was the sole liability of this person and their representatives. He had two people working on his behalf as the person in question then left Venice. These two people had to be contacted in order to collect the art work. Milton Williams’ work was deinstalled and these two people made it available to him. Jason De Caires Taylor’s work was to be packed by a person who I also gave authorisation to pack up my work. There were other representatives present and the professional who packed De Caire’s work is not a person of interest and in fact emailed the suspect 3 times asking where Sea Lungs was. No response. The people who worked on behalf of the suspect claimed they did not know where the work was and were hostile towards representatives of the Pavilion.

The suspect in this art heist is still at large. At this point we’re not sure if they are going to try to sell the work to make a profit, destroy the work to be vindictive (and to not be caught with the evidence), or try to use my art work as a way of extorting money. This person claims that he is owed money by the Pavilion but is unable to produce receipts or invoices to justify their ever-changing amount owed. It is possible that taking the work, which has an undisclosed value, was a way of getting money out of the situation – like a hostage situation. Without yet divulging the person’s name, suffice to say that we have a person who had means, motive and opportunity to steal from me and ultimately Grenada and who is the primary suspect in the art theft. At this point I do not have much hope in recovering the work, I have not seen this individual act with benevolence. I do not want, however, for this person to profit off of stealing my work and I want to ensure that anyone else involved with this individual knows that he is a poor example of a professional and should be avoided at all costs. With any luck the formal investigation will conclude quickly and we can all move on with the assurance that the art world is just a little safer from people who are out there for their own gain at the expense of artists and facilitators.

Sea Lungs consists of 8 paintings on sail cloth or ripstop measuring approx. 5 feet by 8 feet. Each figure has a corresponding sea fan to represent the lungs of each figure. Sea Lungs was last seen on Nov. 14th in the Grenada National Pavilion at 417 Dorsoduro, Venice close to the Zattere vaporetto stop. We are clear that this is not the fault or liability of La Biennale di Venezia or our hard-working and professional guardians. If you have any information leading to the reclamation of the work please contact me at ashermains@gmail.com.

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Grenada National Pavilion’s “Sea Lungs”: Missing

By Asher Mains

For the 57th La Biennale di Venezia I had the privilege of representing my country as part of an Official National Pavilion at the world’s oldest and largest stage for contemporary art. The event, lasting from Mid-May to late November 2017, saw hundreds of thousands of the world’s most attentive visitors as they came to this sort of “Olympics of Art”. The Grenada National Pavilion welcomed over 60,000 visitors who made their way away from the central Arsenale and Giardini to see and dialogue with Grenada and its contemporary art in this global conversation. I showed proudly along with fellow Grenadian artist, Milton Williams and our headliner for the pavilion, Jason deCaires Taylor who is world renowned, of Caribbean descent, and the creator of Grenada’s Under Water Sculpture park. Our offering of art on behalf of Grenada as a nation was noticed and commended by many international publications and we have been received warmly by the international art community. Sea Lungs, my installation of 8 pieces of sail cloth measuring 5’ x 8’ each with figures sprayed onto them and made complete with a sea fan to represent the figures lungs, were highly visible on social media and a visitor favourite.

A lesser known fact about such high profile art events is that while it is an honour and a privilege and prestigious to show, it is also costly. The venue has to be rented for the 6 months as well as attendants (called guardians) to make sure it is open every day and to answer any questions visitors may have. With up to 500 visitors a day, our guardians were on their toes and we appreciate their multi-lingual abilities and interest in art! There are also regulatory costs to comply with Venice codes not to mention variables like getting literature printed, a banner in front of the pavilion, advertising in Venice, cost of equipment and equipment failure etc. This is all besides the cost of actually making the art and bringing it to Venice. All of the sail cloth I used, spray paint, paper to cut stencils, time and energy cutting stencils, and “model appreciation” of course comes out of the artist’s pocket before they have to buy a plane ticket to Venice to show the work! All this to say – there is a lot of investment and I am grateful to the institutions in Grenada who contributed including Grenada Ministry of Tourism, Grenada Tourism Authority, National Lotteries Authority Grenada, Laluna Resort Grenada, ACT Art and Design Grenada, Art and Soul Gallery Grenada, Century 21 Grenada, Grenada Arts Council, Insurance Consultants Ltd. Grenada, as well as several individual contributors and a few international funders who made it possible!

Grenada is the 11th smallest country in the world and appearing 2 consecutive times at the Venice Biennale is a feat matched only by it’s much larger Caribbean neighbour, Cuba. I personally feel a sense of this smallness as my personal income has not exceeded $11,000 USD a year in the last 6 years. We do not have institutions in Grenada for art such as museums or cultural agencies that ensure Grenada’s consistent involvement at the highest levels of cultural dialogue in the world. Everything we are doing at this stage is an investment and with intention to develop our own art scene as well as the art scene of the region. We are Davids in consult with Goliaths. Even the theme of the unified work of Williams, deCaires Taylor and myself deal with the very real and pertinent issue of our planet as David – the impact on our coral reefs as a result of varied environmental realities. My figures were posed as if to personify the reef responding to its own demise and then creating the correlation with the sea fan to remind us that our own breath begins in the sea and the life of the reef is correlated to our own life. In spite of the cost and investment involved in showing in Venice, our artists still drew humble attention to the reality affecting our marine ecosystems, showing a form of activism through art at the highest level that it could be consumed.

All of this is what makes it sting that at the end of the Venice Biennale, Sea Lungs is missing. While reflecting on it, maybe this is a bad omen for the state of our reefs that the work that was created as a symbol of the reef would disappear like our reefs if nothing changes. I had multiple people who were responsible for packing up the art and returning it home to Grenada but when they arrived to the locked pavilion the work was not there. I would not have been able to afford to travel to Venice myself and so I relied on locks, keys, and agents to secure my work.  Aside from any monetary value that the work may have, (sale of work is not typical or expected at the Venice Biennale), I am missing the hours of labor that depicted these figures, many of them people I grew up with, and the actual art work that I would not be able to propose to any more shows or exhibits. Regardless, Sea Lungs represents critical work in the art history of Grenada and the region and no one is sure if it is in a basement, the bottom of a canal in Venice or staged to sell at an art fair to an unaware buyer. My hope is that we can get to the bottom of this art heist because while it is a personal loss it also feels like a fight against something greater. We are fighting for the Davids of the art world to continue to exhibit and create waves. We are fighting for awareness and personal/corporate responsibility as far as the life of the reef and marine ecosystems. One of the most apparent fights is to encourage young artists to continue to strive towards greatness in their field, artist or not, without the fear that their work will go missing or plagiarised or any number of professional deplorable reactions. What has not gone missing from me as an artist is the ability to continue to work, continue to question and to imagine a better way for the world to be. While I originally directed the models in Sea Lungs to pose as if they are going through the 5 stages of grief, looking at the images of the work now they look like they are longing. These are faces I recognise and materials I know and when I look at them now, they look like they want to come home.

Sea Lungs consists of 8 paintings on sail cloth or ripstop measuring approx. 5 feet by 8 feet. Each figure has a corresponding sea fan to represent the lungs of each figure. Sea Lungs was last seen on Nov. 14th in the Grenada National Pavilion at 417 Dorsoduro, Venice close to the Zattere vaporetto stop. We are clear that this is not the fault or liability of La Biennale di Venezia or our hard-working and professional guardians. If you have any information leading to the reclamation of the work please contact me at ashermains@gmail.com. Below is a gallery consisting of each piece of the installation. 

10 Things you may not have known about artist, Asher Mains

You may know Asher Mains as a teacher, an artist, sometimes world traveler, but here are a few things many people do not know about me!

1. Both sets of Grandparents immigrated to Grenada in the 1950’s
My grandparents were adventurous in their own rights. Originally from the US, they moved their families to Grenada in order to start a school, Berean Christian Academy and help start Berean churches. As a result, both my parents grew up in Grenada and I have relatives that were born here. Subsequently my brother, Stephen, and I grew up in Grenada as home. Grenada has always been my base.

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2. Lived for 5 years in Dominica as a child
The devastation left by hurricane Maria in Dominica hits a chord close to home. My parents were unable to go back to Grenada following the US invasion in 1983 and so spent a few years in Dominica working with a school my grandfather had started there. I have fond memories of Dominica and I remember turning 7 right before leaving to come to Grenada.

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3. Started exhibiting art at 11
While many people know that my mother, Susan Mains, is an artist and helped give me an early start, others may not know that I showed for the first time in a Grenada Arts Council annual show when I was 11. I didn’t want people to associate my age with the work and so under a pseudonym, “Adonijah”, I also won a best in show award. Since then I have exhibited in every annual Arts Council exhibit and beyond

4. Was a national record-holding swimmer
I started swimming at 13 and in a few years I had represented Grenada at regional competitions such as OECS, CARIFTA, and CISC. I had also been the fastest Grenadian at cross-harbour and set a national record in the 1500m freestyle. I had also been swimming of the year in 2002 and then went on to swim for an NCAA college for two years.

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5. Plays percussion
I started learning drums playing with Veni Wei La Grenada, a dance company in Grenada. I learned the traditional rhythms but then wanted to innovate and so started a drumming group with friends called “Makofi”. When I left for college I played with several different music groups besides starting another drum ensemble there. Drumming has been a part of my life for a while now and occasionally still comes up.

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6. Studied – a lot.
I set my first O-level exams when I was in form 2. There was no restriction on age and I was ready to do them and so I got a few out of the way early. Since then, I studied Intercultural Studies at Calvin College for my B.A. and then turned around and went to community college at Brookhaven College to do studio classes in art for two years. From there I was accepted into Master of Science degree to study Entrepreneurship at University of Texas and did that for a year before switching over to International Political Economy. Realising after a year of that I didn’t want to go into that field I started my Master of Fine Arts study at Transart Institute through Plymouth University. All together, I studied for 10 years after leaving secondary school and I use every single subject and tangent in my work in some way.

7. Spent a semester in Ghana
Interested for the most part in the cultural relationship to Grenada, I spent a semester in 2005 studying at the University of Ghana as part of a semester abroad program with my undergrad. There I studied African culture, music and philosophy for about 4 months. I had daily drumming sessions with a master Dagbani drummer and was introduced to Twi, one of the local languages. It was fascinating observing the similarities and differences between Ghanaian culture and language and Grenada.

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8. Bartended for 8 years in the US
This was a way of making ends meet, especially during projects where I gave away a lot of art like Painted Portraits for Cocoa Farmers. I graduated from college and realized I hadn’t studied anything that would put me in a job right away and so I learned to bartend and did that while going to grad school. I worked at different places ranging from a large, high volume hotel bar to a craft cocktail bar, all the while balancing art, school, and work.

9. Started businesses while living in the US
I had two successful runs at business ventures while living and studying in the US. The first was a private event bartending business where I would consult with people about their parties and events and then bartend it for them. I also hired bartenders to do events I couldn’t do and overall it was a successful business. I also did a business stretching canvases for artists. I set up a workshop and would stretch blank canvases and existing paintings. This is a skill I learned at home stretching paintings for my mother and since then I had stretched 100’s of canvases.

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10. Started and directs Art School Greenz
This one may not be such a secret but I am proud to have introduced this alternative model for an art school to Grenada. Our main audience are working adults and students learn skills and build community. This is all working towards the continued development and excellence of Grenadian artists! Classes range from 3 to 6 weeks and being proudly unaccredited, we can offer what we want, when we want, how we want, to whom we want!

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This is not an exhaustive list but I wanted to put these major elements of my life here in the interest of sharing and being vulnerable! Would love to share more if you would like to know about me!

LaVanda Mireles, Evidence of Connection

By Asher Mains

The Susan Mains Gallery at Spiceland Mall International in Morne Rouge was filled last Thursday night with art lovers and supporters of LaVanda Mireles as she launched her first solo exhibit with her large scale cyanotypes. In Contact Lens Mireles explores concepts of isolation and connection by making pieces of art that feature material and process. Cyanotypes are the product of a process invented in the 1800’s in order to copy architectural drawings by exposing chemical layered material to sunlight. The sun turns the chemicals blue except where the sunlight is blocked, creating perfect imprints of the technician’s, or in this case, artist’s content. Cyanotypes are beautiful and are an exciting inclusion in the contemporary art scene. Anna Atkins made stunning cyanotypes of organic forms shortly after the process was invented in 1842. Man Ray made his ‘rayographs’ in the 1920’s with a similar process. Then Susan Weil and Robert Rauschenberg revisited and revived them in art in the 1950’s. In 2016, there was a museum exhibit in the US called, “Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period” which chronicled some of the early works until now. This year at the Venice Biennale in the Arsenal (the curator’s picks), artist Thu-Van Tran showed large scale cyanotypes against an enormous backdrop, proving that the process is still exciting and relevant in contemporary art today. LaVanda Mireles has taken her place in a long and exciting tradition, particularly of women artists, who have taken art, science, and the human condition, with the help of the sun, exposing us all to the beauty of the everyday.

IMG_6596(Cyanotypes and objects by LaVanda Mireles at Susan Mains Gallery. Photo Credit: Asher Mains)

Mireles talks about her process saying, “The environment in which I make this type of art is evident in the prints themselves. Most of the objects used were found in and around my house or washed up on various beaches here in Grenada.” Grenada is a place rich in material resources and for artists like Mireles, walking the beaches or anywhere on the island is like walking through an art supply store. She goes on to say about the figures in her work, “…the figures I depict seek connection with other beings and their environment. By looking through a lens, the figures are protecting themselves yet at the same time searching.” Material and environment have been shown to contribute and communicate about a person’s identity and by taking a process that was originally intended for technical or scientific use, Mireles draws an intriguing parallel between aesthetics and analysis. In some ways, the cyanotype pieces could be read as a sort of journal or diary of process and experience. In a tropical environment it is extra-fitting that we rely on the sun and water to make these processes, memories, and experiences evident.

IMG_6595.JPG(Cyanotypes by LaVanda Mireles at Susan Mains Gallery. Photo Credit: Asher Mains)

Mireles is relatively new to Grenada but she wasted no time in using art as a way of connecting and experiencing her new country. Mireles reflects Grenada’s strength as a creative incubator and someone who immediately started to feed the soil. In 2016 Mireles declared a sort of artistic bankruptcy – clearing out her entire body of work to that point when moving from Denver, Colorado, United States with her husband who is a medical illustrator at St. George’s University. This series represents a rebirth, a fresh start, a narrative of what can happen in a place like Grenada when you come in with empty hands but an open and receptive mind and heart. Mireles volunteers some of her expertise with artists during classes at Art School Greenz and has otherwise been an active participant in her new art community. This is connection. The isolation of her figures find moments of memory and narrative in the impressions of the objects in the piece but connection happens when we start connecting these disparate points into a whole. Brene Brown talks about disengagement as a form of betrayal. Elie Wiesel is famously quoted as saying, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.” In both these cases, besides her beautiful execution of her process, Mireles’ work is about new beginnings and hope. Her work shows engagement and by extension, love and relationship with her new found home. We are fortunate to see these tangible musings and are privileged that Mireles would share them with us.

img_39841.jpg(LaVanda Mireles on far left in front of her work at the opening of Contact Lens. Photo Credit: Asher Mains)

Asher Mains is a Grenadian artist and art educator who is committed to continued development and excellence in the Grenadian art scene. For more articles visit http://www.ashershares.wordpress.com and visit http://www.ashermains.com to find out more about Mains’ practice. 

Insider Secrets of the Grenada Art Scene (Part 3)

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.

Insider Secrets of the Grenada Art Scene (Part 2)

There are so many good insider tips to how to navigate the Grenada art scene that I was unable to condense it to one article. In Part 1 I talked about what the art scene may look like, in Part 2 I want to share a little more to help you thrive in the art scene whether as an artist or an art appreciator!

1.  Everything exists because someone is making it happen.
There are places in the world where the art scene has been set in motion, is well funded, and everything moves like bureaucratic clockwork. Museums open every day, high profile gallery exhibits are set years in advance, and creative directors are appointed by boards and councils. One wonders, in art environments like this, whether we’ve mechanised the art world following the corporate, capitalist model. Every piece of art one sees in Grenada is hard fought and exists because someone wants it to. There are virtually no grants or funding for art in Grenada and so the work that exists is made possible because someone willed it into existence. The art created in Grenada is organic and passion driven and the sale of it goes directly towards a living wage for artists.

This is true of exhibits and exhibition spaces in Grenada as well. Spaces such as Susan Mains Gallery or Art Fabrik have been in continuous operation for 15 and 31 years respectively because they have been able to convert art sales into a sustainable business. Overhead in Grenada is extremely high and so what spaces like this have done is used sound business practices in lieu of other funding to create spaces where art can be shown. Without publicly funded spaces or places with rent low enough to just show art, the Grenada art scene depends on businesses that are able to synthesise the commercial aspect of art while also keeping in step with a contemporary art environment.

While this may sound potentially discouraging, the other side of the equation is that if you have a good idea and are driven to make it happen, you are free in Grenada to make it happen. Art doesn’t happen in Grenada unless it is self-determined, sustainable, and because someone really wants it. In a way, this makes art in Grenada feel more closely linked to the human condition than a large bureaucracy which preserves and moves art along.

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(People in St. Paul’s using locally made art materials during Independence celebrations. Photo Credit: Asher Mains)

2. You need less permission.
If you want to have a show with your latest work at your house, go ahead – Grenada does not have the same zoning laws as other countries that would prevent commercial activity in a residential area. Do you want to set up easels and have an exhibit or work on paintings outside? Go for it. At most you would need to clear it with the owner of the property if it isn’t a public space. Jason deCaires Taylor wanted to set up concrete sculptures on the ocean floor in Moliniere Bay and he acquired the appropriate forms and permissions that fit tidily in a slim folder. Need someone to give you permission to call yourself an artist? No you don’t. American artist Kara Walker is quoted saying, “There isn’t a piece of paper in the world that can make you artist”. You don’t need permission to call yourself an artist or to think outside the box and the permissions you need to paint a wall, have a pop-up exhibit, write about art in Grenada, collect things on the beach, submit your work to shows, have an art event at a social spot, etc. are minimal to none. Many places in the world, all of these things are more highly regulated. Brazil has a 60% tax on the sale of art. Germany and France both have laws restricting movement of art in and out of the country. The US is finicky about who can sell what, where, and how. In most, more developed places, an artist would need a filing cabinet of forms and permissions to do any kind of art in public spaces. While we may lack some of the traditional art materials that can be easily acquired in “first world” countries, we make up for in Grenada with almost absolute freedom to make art happen.

Vicissitudes_Grenada_growth_Jason-deCaires-Taylor_Sculpture (Vicissitudes, Moliniere Underwater Sculpture Park, Grenada. Photo Credit: Jason deCaires Taylor)

3. There is a movement brewing.
Something has been happening with art in Grenada; especially in the last few years. Even though there is virtually no funding for art and young people are generally discouraged from pursuing a career in art. Even though only 5% of secondary students took Visual Arts for CSEC and of those 125 students only 3 got grade 1’s. Despite not having a national museum for art or any of the traditional infrastructure for an art scene – more and more people are getting involved. Enrolment in art classes at St. George’s University is up. Art School Greenz, an alternative art school with short classes for working adults is burgeoning. While the Grenada Arts Council has a mailing list of about 300 artists, this only accounts for artists who have shown during the Annual General Exhibit. Grenada has a growing cadre of photographers which includes Andy Johnson (7,000+ followers on Instagram), Haron Forteau who was recently an official photographer at the IAAF games in London, or Arthur Daniel who has been working for years documenting public life in Grenada. Grenada has digital designers and artists such as Alleyne Gulston who started Allyday Creative Projects and Kijana Romain, founder of Hexive Creative Agency who are bringing businesses into the foreground with their brands of visual communication. We have artist Vanel Cuffie exploring digital painting and marketing his work through an app and Franc Roberts who is hands-down the best young tailor and designer on the island. There are murmurs about activating under-utilised and abandoned spaces for art. And all of this is just what is happening locally. In Grenada, there is no real tension between “folk art” and “high art”, we don’t really have the infrastructure or institutions where those distinctions are useful or productive. All these different avenues and specialties and focuses are happening amongst each other; symbiotic and complementary. There is no reasonable way in the scope of this article to mention every creative who is contributing to the art scene, suffice it to say there has been a boom in recent years and it is happening despite the lack of institutional support and infrastructure.

17814593_1902986806613034_6406975157038152894_o(Young creatives at the Sea Lungs preview, photo credit: Alleon Gulston)

While the Grenada art scene has a lot of positive things going for it, especially in relation to larger art systems in the world, there are lots of things we can do as artists and art lovers to support each other. Here are a helpful reminders to get you deeper into the art scene in Grenada!

1.    Buy some art
Most artists are producing art while working another job. They do it because they love it and would love to continue being able to express themselves creatively. One of the things artists use money for is to get more art supplies but also it really can simply help an artist live. We don’t have artists in Grenada who are wealthy from their art sales and grants and funding are rare to non-existent. If you like what someone is doing, purchase a piece of their art and have the peace of mind that you are enabling an artist or creative to keep going.

2.    Volunteer
The Grenada Arts Council is a volunteer, non-profit organisation that currently has less than half a dozen members doing all the heavy lifting. If you are not able to purchase art or create your own, consider how you can support an artist by helping to hang a show or volunteer to give them a boost on social media. There are lots of ways you can help with just a little bit of your time. Ask an artist you know if they need help with anything or contact the Grenada Arts Council to see how you can get involved.

3.    Imagine the possibilities
You may not be artistically inclined yourself but if you have an idea and possibly a budget – get some creatives involved. You may be one component to a multifaceted project, collaborate and get others involved. We are needing people to step into the role of curators – imagine what could happen and orchestrate the people you need to see it happen. Even if you’re working on your own, think big, think broad, think local as well as global – we have a lot of advantages to being able to be creative in Grenada, let’s consider how to take advantage of all the possibilities!

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.

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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