The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands (NGCI) welcomed over 80 guests to Tilting Axis, a roving meeting conceptualized by ARC Magazine and the Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc., that moves in and out of the Caribbean region on an annual basis.
The conference brought together arts professionals interested in, and committed to, expanding contemporary visual art practice across all linguistic areas of the region. Participants included those based in the Caribbean and its diasporas, professionals working in the coastal rim of the Caribbean, as well as global professionals whose research and practice is influenced by the region. The goal of Tilting Axis is to facilitate opportunities for those who are living and working in the Caribbean, to increase interest and understanding of this region’s contemporary visual practice while contributing to a healthy cultural eco-system and purposeful growth for the Caribbean creative sector.
Firstly, and on behalf of the Tilting Axis core team, I want to thank Natalie and all of the staff at the NGCI for being such an outstanding partner to work with and for being such gracious hosts to all of us. It has been a pleasure to work with Natalie over the past 14 months which have included countless hours of virtual meetings and email exchanges in preparation for these next few days. The Tilting Axis core team has become richer because of her contribution to Tilting Axis. Thank you for being so very generous.
Given there are so many folks here today who are experiencing Tilting Axis for the first time, the core team thought it would be useful to provide a context for what Tilting Axis is, remind ourselves of the thinking behind the name and share some thoughts on why we think this forum is necessary. I’ll also share a few of the tangential developments that organically grew out of TA.
Together with my colleague, Holly Bynoe, we co-founded Tilting Axis in 2014. We form part of the expanding Tilting Axis core team which now includes Mario Caro, Tobias Ostrander and Natalie Urquhart. Tilting Axis, from its inception, was grounded in the experience of Caribbean based artist led initiatives and had alliances with the Art and Sport Promotion Fund from the Ministry of Finance in Barbados, the British Council, the PAMM, Res Artis, the Davidoff Art Initiative and the Prince Claus Fund.
Why the name Tilting Axis? What does it mean to tilt the axis, from our position in the belly of the Americas?
As a verb ‘Tilting’ is a call to action. We’re here to do something.
Axis refers to a central part in a structure to which other parts are connected – like a hinge. The Caribbean can be seen as an archipelagic hinge, centrally located in the Americas, as a historical crossroad connected to many parts of the world.
An axis is also an agreement or alliance between two or more countries that forms a centre for an eventual larger grouping of nations.
Taken together, then, Tilting Axis is a roving meeting, pivoting on a Caribbean axis from which all other coordinates are viewed, understood and measured, facilitating more and more alliances.
What is TA? Tilting Axis is a roving project conceptualized by ARC Magazine and Fresh Milk, focusing on contemporary visual practice related to an intra-Caribbean space. Its perspective, led by artist led initiatives spawned across this archipelago, recognises the Caribbean as an open space, central rather than peripheral, fed by multi-generational voices. It brings together artist led initiatives, private and state sector arts institutions and individual artists/writers/curators, who believe we are capable of so much more and who have in common the desire to change the space. It stands on the shoulders of those who have come before us - opening up the space to ourselves, first; collaborating and moving things forward regionally, diasporically and internationally. The idea is that no matter where we are based, we can each contribute to tilting the axis from where ever we stand.
At a time when there is rarely enough time for meaningful conversation and engagement, TA offers an intimate discursive space to reflect on how we might contribute to more inclusive and equitable art worlds. The forum is led by and open to those of us who are committed to and care deeply for this Caribbean space.
The first two-day invitation-only conference in Feb. 2015, brought together 32 independent artists, art organisations and museums professionals operating across the Caribbean, the US, EU and China. Critically, this first meeting took place on Caribbean soil from the perspective of artist-led initiatives driving the agenda from within the specificities of the global South.
Together, we discussed what sorts of interventions might contribute to ‘tilt the axis’. Coming out of that convening, three focus areas were determined, inviting participants to consider more deeply moving forward (i) arts education (ii) exhibitions and programming and (iii) artists’ mobility and residencies.
‘Tilting Axis 1.5’, was conceived as a mid-point meeting, (São Paulo, Brazil, 8 Oct. 2015) generating awareness and sensitizing cultural practitioners in the global South to the Caribbean while building South/South alliances.
In 2016, the Pérez Art Museum Miami generously hosted 76 delegates at ‘Tilting Axis 2: Caribbean Strategies’, continuing to explore the current state of cultural work in the Caribbean, fortifying networks, increasing opportunities to those working in the region. Two residencies were awarded to Caribbean creatives including Marsha Pearce and Blue Curry at Cannonball, to run alongside the conference.
This year we are delighted to welcome 66 delegates here at the NGCI.
Why is this forum necessary?
“We need to do the work to nurture a space at home so folks like him – the countless others who have left and the countless others who remain – can find community and safety there.” (Ford-Smith, 2015)
While this is not a forum for a litany of woes and while we understand that the current national and regional frameworks for the sustainability of the contemporary visual arts sector across the Caribbean is more often than not, inadequate, our goal here for the next three days is to determine what meaningful contributions we can make...how do we tilt the axis so that those of us who choose to remain in the Caribbean or who are considering coming back, can do so sustainably at a professional level?
TA has emanated out of artist led initiatives which are making a difference by providing professional, safe and democratic spaces for contemporary artists, thinkers, writers, curators. In several Caribbean countries, there may be only one such entity. I believe the oldest one is Ateliers ’89, in Aruba (Shout out to Elvis). PopopStudios: International Center of Visual Art in The Bahamas (1999) and Beta Local in Puerto Rico (2009); Alice Yard (2006) and IBB (2006) are about eleven years old, while Tembe (2009), Groundation Grenada (2009), ARC (2010),Fresh Milk (2011) and NLS (2012) are pulling up the rear, standing on their shoulders.
While I have enjoyed meeting Caribbean compatriots in elevators in Brooklyn or at conferences in London, convening at exhibition openings over the years, it seemed that we needed our own forum to come together on Caribbean soil, where the needs of visual artists often outstrip the capacity of the environments they live and work in. The goal became manifold: (i) engage in conversation from our perspective in the Caribbean, (ii) mitigate the isolation we might experience, (iii) understand the varying operational models across the region, (iv) strengthen links across all linguistic areas of the region and its diaspora, (v) forge new relationships internationally including considering how relationships with international entities develop. It is somewhat embarrassing that this forum finds it difficult to garner economic buy in from within the region’s governments or from private sector entities and as much as some of us are independent, it’s telling that investment is mostly coming from extra-Caribbean organisations. What does that say about the environment we work in?
In this era of self-organisation, Tilting Axis provides a forum in which we might consider the dynamics of our local situations, the regional environment and the more established international systems. What are the needs of the Caribbean’s cultural ecosystem and how can they be fulfilled. This forum feels necessary because government entities tend to engage with culture at an amateur and substandard level and artists/curators/administrators/historians etc. who move beyond the amateur level – there is no room for them.
For the next few days, we hope to explore different ways in which we might continue expanding the critical arena - ways that are not driven exclusively by the market or external forces out of sync with our own needs.
At the root of this gathering this week, is the word ‘curare’ – the Latin word for “taking care of”. How do we take care of our small local contemporary visual arts communities, of our simultaneously connected and disconnected intra-Caribbean space? It might be that because of an absence of infrastructure, we might generate new models in the region rather than mimic first-world infrastructures, ill-suited to Caribbean needs, goals and circumstances.
TA works to foster a tighter arts community across linguistic divisions in the region, the global South and both sides of the Atlantic, while bolstering professional relationships and future collaborations in the wider world. Continuous dialogue with artists and regular evaluation of best practices and developments in the field are important in order to understand the constantly shifting specificities of the numerous centres of art practice throughout the region.
The increasingly complex global art landscape is testimony to that fact that there is no longer a single centre to which artists and their audiences must gravitate. Rather, if we pay attention to how Caribbean based artist-led initiatives are evolving, understand the specific demands of their varied contexts, look at the art being made and listen to the critical discourse emanating – collectively our observations might reveal the kinds of structures we need to shape and support.
We’re here to feed the lake!
On more practical notes, moving forward, the Tilting Axis core team is looking at hosting opportunities for the smaller .5 iterations which can happen in association with already existing programmes and to host the larger meeting on an annual basis - both in and out of the Caribbean.
If your small organisation or larger institution is keen to host a future iteration of TA or you have suggestions for a .5, please speak to one member of the core team.
We want to hear from you about ways in which TA has spawned projects or influenced programming so we can understand the value of these gatherings.
I know for example that Jason Fitzroy Jeffers was invited to show his film, Papa Machete at the Warfield Centre at the UT at Austin having met Lise Ragbir, the director of that facility at our last meeting at the PAMM.
Also coming out of last year’s TA, the Charitable Arts Foundation, through Antonius Roberts supported the participation of Bahamian artist, Nowé Harris-Smith in the Caribbean Linked residency in Aruba and curator, Pablo Leon de la Barra came in as visiting curator in 2016.
Invited to take part in Caribbean Focus, the British Council’s international curatorial research trip, Bynoe and Cozier traveled to Scotland, in November of 2015 with a cohort of eight other curators and cultural workers from the Caribbean, South and North America and India for 10 days of researching and networking. The connection with the British Council was made at a the first Tilting Axis conference.
Out of this meeting several important collaborations were developed including the development of the exhibition Rum Retort in Greenock, Scotland curated by Mother Tongue, and Graham Fagen’s travel to Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago, with upcoming exhibitions and programming planned to take place at the National Gallery of Jamaica and the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas to include his work within the next two years.
The British Council has been an ally with Tilting Axis from its inception supporting the presence of artists, curators and writers to participate, including representatives from CCA Glasgow, Mother Tongue, David Dale Gallery and Studios and Mother Tongue. This year, the British Council is supporting the participation of three Scottish based arts professionals including Tiffany Boyle, Ainslie Roddick and Eddie Chambers.
Kira Simon-Kennedy has shared with us that she is developing a model for meetings in China through her platform, China Residencies, based on the TA model.
One of the largest and most dynamic outcomes of the moving forward of the mission of TA is the development of the Tilting Axis Fellowship, supported by the British Council, and which we will hear more about from the inaugural fellow, Nicole Smythe-Johnson in her presentation tomorrow. The curatorial fellowship is a direct outcome of the Tilting Axis meetings in 2015 at Fresh Milk in Barbados and in 2016 at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. Scotland based cultural partners CCA Glasgow, David Dale Gallery, Hospitalfield and curatorial collective Mother Tongue in partnership with the British Council, produced a structural long-term fellowship for an emerging contemporary art practitioner living and working in the Caribbean. This fellowship creates healthy competition in the region, which might be seen as an equivalent to the Cisneros curatorial grant, for example, highlighting the need for even more opportunities to access resources and create professional development programmes.
I think that PAMM’s role in the core team through the participation of Tobias Ostrander, Maria Elena Ortiz and Franklin Sirmans, demonstrates ways in which institutions in the Global North can work as co-collaborators or co-facilitators for opportunities for Caribbean-based and Caribbean diasporic artists/informal spaces/institutions, to increase visibility and understanding of the region’s contemporary visual practice in ways that are mutually beneficial. It has been encouraging to see the institutional focus on the Caribbean through its hosting of ‘Caribbean: Crossroads of the World’, the commissioned work by London based, Guyanese artist Hew Locke; ‘Bloodlines’, a solo exhibition by Firelei Báez; the exhibition ‘Sun Splashed’, from the New York based Jamaican artist Nari Ward, and the Edouard Duval Carrie exhibition and the upcoming John Dunkley: Neither Day nor Night, co-curated by Nicole Smythe-Johnson and Diana Nawi. It’s not that these are TA projects, of course, rather that we recognise that the professional networks in TA are contributing to feeding the lake.
Tilting Axis provides a kind of kinship, formed through a community of ideas and a deep commitment to the Caribbean. In the spirit of kinship, and on behalf of the core team, I want to welcome each and every one of you to be actively involved in the coming days and to work with us to tilt the axis. Let the games begin!
Tilting Axis 3 Speakers + Panel Discussions
Panel 1 — The Space of Exhibitions: Traditional versus Nontraditional Spaces
Introduction to the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands and the Caymanian art scene
Panel 2 — The Time of Exhibitions: Historical vs Contemporary
Panel 3 — Collective Curatorial Practices
Tilting Axis Curatorial Fellow
Panel 4 — Curating the Archive