We have materials, we have stories, we have Godfrey Luke

By Asher Mains

On Friday, November 17th at the Waving Art Gallery at the Maurice Bishop International Airport, here in Grenada, we saw a very special opening reception for Godfrey Luke’s solo exhibit. Visitors were welcomed by figures and vehicles made from found materials around Luke’s community in Upper St. John, St. Andrew’s. The figures, made of armatures of cables were padded with natural elements like coconut fibre, banana fibre, and coconuts. The vehicles, a motorcycle, car and helicopter were more reliant on recycling material that would otherwise have been discarded. Luke’s paintings round out the exhibit giving both a sense of a physical and conceptual environment.

The presence of Ashanti Footprints, a cultural group from the community that consists of a couple dozen children, highlighted what makes Godfrey Luke “100% Amazing”, per the title of his exhibit. This is art. Well constructed objects based on a good concept is typical of what make a good individual artist but Luke goes further than that and incorporates the collective knowledge and experience of the community into his work. This socially-based art practice makes the beautiful sculptures secondary to the amazing level of cultural, social, and educational infusion that the community is getting based on his determination and creative spirit. What I think is important to understand in the context of Luke’s work is that in a society that prioritises functionaries of a system over human actualisation, to engage in activity that makes us more human is subversive.

Looking first at his materials, Luke uses things that are familiar and common to his area. I heard many remarks as we were setting up as people saw materials they recognised and recounted stories based the memories they had associated with the material. This is the mnemonic and empathic quality of using materials that are our own, in our own art. When we see certain things we are familiar with, the material or objects “tells us” about ourselves. Many times corporations try to sell you products, services, or even movies with the intention that their audience will identify with what they are selling. If part of my identity is wrapped up in “Apple” products then the company has a loyal consumer and as an individual I have associated with a company that I perceive as representing my own individual interests. Materials and objects in our landscape have what Jonathan Chapman calls, “emotional durability” and tell us not only better stories than corporations are able to but ultimately, the materials tells us stories about ourselves.

We step away from the mechanism of industrialisation when we are able to take control of our own stories and the articulation of our own identity. Further, we free ourselves from multiple cycles of capitalism, not only because in this case Luke didn’t necessarily buy his materials but also because if we are in charge of our identity and our story there is nothing that someone can sell us because we are not “enough”. I believe we should celebrate anything that is done outside the grasp of capitalism especially in a place like Grenada where so much money leaves the country regularly because of corporate interests (re: Sandals, Digicel, Flow, IGA, Grenlec, CXC, not to mention a general high cost of living, the list goes on…). Godfrey Luke, along with Judy Antoine and Ashanti Footprints are making a statement about deriving our humanity and identity through the things we are able to learn, make, and express rather than buying the latest technology or having to have lots of corporate support before moving forward. By making art in this way, Luke imbues these objects with value that goes far beyond the price on the label.

Aside from the material used in the sculptures there is a definite narrative quality to each sculpture and to the exhibit as a whole. The sculptures themselves mirror life in the community. In figurative work, whether drawings, paintings or sculptures, sometimes the depiction of the human form can come across as sterile or even clinical. Luke’s figures seem frozen in mid-sentence, in mid-dance, or even sculpted while working. The characters compel the viewer to read a narrative into them and then as they are set up in the gallery they converse; they commune. When I first saw Godfrey Luke’s sculptures it was outside in Upper St. John in December of 2016. They were set up for the holiday season and many of the figures had signs next to them narrating what they were doing. There was a Santa Claus on a motorcycle lit with Christmas lights and otherwise the whole scene was surreal. These sculptures have never been disconnected from the overflow of human experience and community that is Luke and the Ashanti Footprints. Even the vehicles have containers on them with different coloured fluids which are naturally half empty, referencing the fact that in another reality the motorcycle or the car had to burn a little fuel to make it to the Waving Art Gallery.

The fact is, there is no place in the world where it is easy to be an artist. In Grenada sometimes people complain because we don’t have museums or big art supply stores but elsewhere in the world, art funding isn’t what it used to be and if you are in one of the “art world centres” the competition to be noticed for your art is fierce. It is not easy being an artist in Grenada but seeing Luke’s exhibit gives hope. We have to work with our advantages and minimise our disadvantages where ever we are in the world. In Grenada we have a lot of freedom to work and we have a lot of natural resources and materials to incorporate into our work. With some technical understanding of how to work with these materials we can make art work that cannot be made anywhere else in the world. Our art should look like we made it during a certain time in history, in a specific place and among certain people. We are taking control of the conversation about who we are and what we make when we use the things that are readily available to us. Making art in Grenada is not easy but when great, contemporary artwork like Godfrey Luke’s comes down from St. Andrew’s, we should take notice. There are many reasons people give for why they don’t make art, or buy it, or even like it, but the example Luke shows us is compelling. Engaging with our landscape and the people in our community is making us more human. In Grenada we have materials and we have stories – thank God we also have Godfrey Luke.

Godfrey Luke’s exhibit will be open at the Waving Art Gallery at the Maurice Bishop International Airport until Mid January 2018. This exhibition has been made possible by the partnership between the Grenada Airport Authority and Grenada Arts Council. Godfrey Luke can be contacted directly at godfreylukeartist@gmail.com.

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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)