You can’t steal creativity.

It has been a few months since reporting Sea Lungs as stolen and I wanted to put an update out there before moving on. I appreciate the outpouring of support and concern regarding the state of the 8 pieces in the installation. I have had many one on one conversations about the work having been stolen and I’d like to put these conversations to rest. I can confirm that Omar Yehia Donia took my artwork out of malice and I don’t have hope of seeing the work again. As I stated in the past article Donia had the motive, means, and opportunity to take the work and in a world that relies on trust and professionalism he demonstrated not only malice but reckless disregard for the artists in the Grenada National Pavilion.

Omar Donia, who is the founder of Contemporary Practices Art Journal, also recently contributed Middle Eastern artwork to the United Nation’s World Food Program via Christie’s Dubai, for which, unfortunately I skimmed to make sure my work was not being ‘donated’ in that lot.

Being careful not to disclose more information than is prudent or can be objectively verified, Omar Yehia Donia has been identified and reported to the Art Theft Unit of the Italian Police and the hope is that some sort of material justice can manifest.

In moving on – I realise that there are these sorts of people in any industry, in all corners of the world. I also realise that while he may have been able to take work of mine that took months to make and had a monetary value, he is unable to steal my ability to create. You can’t steal creativity. I will be working on recreating this series in an effort to 1.) nullify the value of the first series as it is in a contentious space for now and 2.) to reclaim the essence of the work for myself but also Grenada art history. The fact is that Omar Yehia Donia tried to injure Grenada and myself as an artist but he has done far more damage to himself. I do not want my career to be defined as “the artist who had his work stolen in Venice”, Donia has done nothing to take away my ability or creativity. As a result of this experience, I am counting my losses and hoping that karma/justice comes around. Otherwise I am still making new work and I am looking forward to a long career of creating art! I am proudly living and working in Grenada where this work was conceived and produced and where I continue teaching and practicing my art!

 

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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.

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. 

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.

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!

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)

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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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!