It is critical that this gathering took place on Caribbean soil and that the visual arts sector was considered from within the archipelago as a counterpoint to many decisions that are often made about the region from external locations.
It may be a hybrid between an ark, a ferry and a cruise liner – but it is definitely not sea worthy, being a craft for abstract thought, and riddled with holes no doubt for that matter.
As China Residencies’ co-founder & program manager, I joined the conversation to bring insights from China’s similarly remote and emerging art ecosystem, as well as to learn from Fresh Milk’s role as a mapping and connecting force amongst independent organisations in the Caribbean region.
Most importantly, this conference led to interesting creative developments such as the conception of Caribbean Futures, a project that could potentially create research, exhibitions, and public programs and opportunities.
The art histories of the Caribbean have largely been constructed externally, most often from the centers of the Caribbean diaspora such as the UK or North America, and so Tilting Axis marked a shift towards self-representation.
It is a great pleasure to be part of this promising encounter Tilting Axis is providing. The Caribbean, despite its global relevance as a tourist destination, has yet to gain recognition as an inexhaustible source of visual art to its full potential and production.
I often witness art organizations willing to create a formal network to join forces, resources, strategies and become a stronger voice and a key player both locally and internationally.
The main reason for the failure is the lack of funding and human resources to manage the network. Ideas and enthusiasm vanish as soon as people go back home and dive into their daily routine to sustain their own organization.
The intimate gathering allowed everyone to connect directly and to establish some meaningful relationships. Often in a larger conference this element can get lost and given that one of the main focuses was ‘connectivity’ this model worked well for the first year.
The sessions raised a number of concerns including a need to see art as that which exists beyond a gallery or museum...
As a region, we need more projects that tell our story through our own eyes and not through the lens of the Caribbean fantasy that the world has made of us.
The question put on the table was straightforward, simple in its formulation, but enormously complex in its extraction and execution. So much was clear from the start. The conference asked the question of how to sustain and connect Caribbean art practices through and from a larger global field.
At the same time I saw and understood that Ateliers ’89 is in the same boat as everybody else, that we all have to cope and deal with the similar problems, the need for that personal connection, workspace, finances, and how to come up with new solutions and of course to receive recognition for what we are doing.
Questions such as — the elaboration of new models for contemporary art in the Caribbean; the interest in the region and of the region for the contemporary art world and markets; questions of art education and its funding, along with public targeting and the added value off experiences from abroad and return — have been relevant for me.
Logistics affect our trade routes, our ability to engage with the rest of the world, to easily access facilities.
"I think it's an act of rebellion to be a whole person... It's an act of rebellion to show up as your whole self, and especially the parts that are complex, that are unfinished, that are vulnerable.’" —Courtney Martin
Another thing I found interesting was that it wasn’t about the artist as individual but about art itself. About the society, the added value of art for the society and how you can contribute to the development of art education and formation through social cultural art projects.
PAMM's earnest engagement with the conversations happening in the Caribbean, as well the research currently being conducted by the museum in the region for upcoming exhibitions, was promising.
Many of the international representatives of institutions confirmed a lack of interest from their institutions in discovering more about the Caribbean.
On that note, it struck me that the question of what it would mean to ‘move out of the global periphery’ not only remained unexamined, but that the question of ‘global visibility’, had it been examined more closely, would have divided the participants into two camps.
I was surprised and a little dismayed to find that there were so few artists actually present.