Although many of the participants in Tilting Axis have met one another in small groups in the region and the diaspora, the conference was the first time that they came together for a larger gathering from the Dutch, Spanish, French and English territories to meet physically in the Caribbean, along with colleagues from further afield. It therefore marked a historic moment.
The sentiment understood after working across the region for the last couple of decades is that artists want to know each other better; have a greater network of support locally, regionally and internationally; professionalize their practices; engage with institutions and markets; communicate with critics and writers; access residencies to unhinge and reconfigure ideas and develop deeper relationships with researchers and scholars to promote understanding of our contemporary practice in both regional and international contexts.
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.
On one level, this engagement was about simple direct contact with one another — an opportunity to meet each other, listen to each other and speak with each other in open, honest and robust ways.
On a larger level, Tilting Axis aimed to subvert the normal course of history with predetermined access to centres of power and capital. The meeting acknowledged the changes rippling across the Caribbean beyond inherited colonial legacies and reaffirmed the critical value of networks popping up in our region, its diasporas and globally. As more eyes are turning to look at this space — and indeed they are — we need to be cognizant of what they are currently seeing and learning, and consider how and what we want them to experience.
Concurrently, the region’s engagement with the Global South exemplifies the critical engagements we are all committed to facilitating as catalysts for expanding visibility and shaping awareness of our creative outputs.
Understanding resonances with our colleagues south of the equator is important for us as so frequently the gaze from the Caribbean extends primarily North to America or Europe.
There is no presumption all targets will be hit, or that we will fully rectify what is damaged or broken. It is more that these open discussions around work already begun will move to another level, manifesting as a collaborative action plan involving all participants. Tilting Axis was not only a two day gathering — its intention is to reinforce pre-existing relationships while fostering new ones outside of who we already know, and ideally beyond this conference in tangible ways.
Tilting Axis was not a forum dedicated to rehashing frustrations with the failure of governance and non-existence of systems supporting contemporary practice in the region. We all understand the limitations of the contexts within which we work, and it is because of these limitations that most of the participants became creative activists who have made enormous contributions to the sector nationally and regionally.
Tilting Axis recognises that the conversation needs to be more deeply connected and interwoven within the region while broadening affinities externally. And this is why others joined us from outside the region as they have begun to engage with contemporary Caribbean practice from their counterpoints or expressed interest in doing so.
Although the Caribbean has a history of trauma, and even though the conference took place on a former plantation where this very legacy played out, we are choosing alternate mechanisms and are committed to nurturing and cultivating healthier cultural eco-systems where we can all flourish. The vision of this meeting is to shape Caribbean societies where the best option for artists, fifty years after independence, is not to migrate. Rather, we are working to foster societies where people can stay in the region if they choose to do so. This is no mean feat — tilting the axis is a considerable task.