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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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!

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)