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 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)