Our participation at the Tilting Axis symposium Barbados stemmed from an event attended in Glasgow as part of the 2014 Commonwealth Games Cultural Programme. Developed and hosted by the David Dale Gallery, Fresh Milk’s Director Annalee Davis was invited to present Fresh Milk as part of the International Artist Initiated programme; the aim of which was to act as a catalyst for discussion and collaboration between artist-led projects internationally. Annalee discussed Fresh Milk’s core aims and its important context, as one of few established artist-led projects on the island of Barbados. During a panel discussion with other initiatives such as The Cyprus Dossier and Video Art Network Lagos, Annalee spoke about Fresh Milk’s relationship to issues around post-colonialism, cultural heritage, performative and touristic culture and geographical peripheries; all of which were issues that we, as Mother Tongue, have been exploring in different ways for some time through our curatorial projects. This first encounter sparked further dialogue with Fresh Milk about visiting Barbados, and so we were delighted to hear in late 2014 that the British Council Scotland would be funding us to undertake a four week residency with Fresh Milk, culminating in our presentation and attendance at the Tilting Axis symposium, alongside David Dale Directors and the CCA: Centre for Contemporary Art Glasgow’s curator Remco de Blaij.
Our residency with Fresh Milk marked our first visit to the Caribbean; a region whose artists and writers we have been engaging with from a distance for some time. We arrived with a limited knowledge of the conditions under which artists and organisations are producing work and so began to focus our attention on the arts infrastructure of the island. Having established connections and initiated conversations with a large number of arts representatives and artists, the resounding chorus was one of frustration at the lack of support and exchange opportunities available.
This sentiment was one that resonated with the majority of the symposia’s participants who spoke of the regions need to strategise existing relationships, forge new international links and begin work on connecting the regions’ burgeoning potential. 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. With over 30 participants brought together for the first time – economic factors play a restrictive role on mobility and capacity throughout the Caribbean – conversations on cultural exchange, resources and strategies for the future development of the cohort and its visibility began.
Our position within the conference is one that came under the banner of ‘international partner’ or ‘outsider,’ and as such wanted to be self-aware and reflexive in our approach to the viable strategies which we could contribute to in a meaningful, and more importantly, equal way. After our many conversations with artists and organisations in Barbados during our residency period, we had begun to think about proposing an international mentorship programme. We wanted to respond to some of the urgencies and lacks pointed out to us by local practitioners, for e.g. there been no curating programme or modules available in tertiary education.
The mentorship programme would be intended as a means to forge new and lasting links internationally; utilising the networks of both ourselves and partners across Europe and beyond, our aim is to link emergent Caribbean practitioners (artists, writers, curators) with professionals in the visual arts field globally. The programme could involve placements at arts organisations, residencies (linked to specific skills/equipment not readily available locally e.g. printmaking, video editing) and offer workshops around preparing artist statements, CVs, setting up artist-led activity and public-speaking. Tabled at Tilting Axis, the mentorship programme has become a point of development for a number of the attendees including CCA Glasgow; David Dale Gallery and Videobrasil. Holding a basic principal of exchange and collaboration at its core, we hope the Mentorship programme will have the potential to create meaningful links for Caribbean practitioners globally.