From inside Centro Léon, Santiago, Dominican Republic, we introduce Tilting Axis, a roving arts initiative that aims to bridge the geopolitical gap between Caribbean territories by sparking creative collaborations and cultivating cultural connectivity. Organizers Annalee Davis, Natalie Urquhart, Sara Hermann and Joel Butler talk about the genesis of Tilting Axis, why they’re here and what will unfold during the fourth annual gathering. About Tilting Axis 4: The 2018 convening in the Dominican Republic is a collaboration with the curatorial studies program Curando Caribe and two institutions — Centro León, Santiago, and Centro Cultural de España, Santo Domingo. Exploring the theme Caribbean Cultural Ecologies: Connecting Pasts, Presents and Futures, artists, curators, stakeholders, instigators and activists debate ideas about the Caribbean’s interdependent future, reimagining the
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Tilting Axis 4
Tilting Axis Curatorial Fellow 2018
Bahamian Natalie Willis, awarded!
Written by Dr. Ian Bethell Bennett
As people who view art from outside, we are usually blind to all the moving parts that make art and bring it to us. We tend to think when we hear the term “public art”, for example, that this springs organically from the artist who is simply in his or her studio being creative. As Bahamians and members of an incredibly conservative mindset, we see art as something that will always leave our children poor and disadvantaged, so we discourage them from becoming artists; we discourage them from becoming writers. Yet, at the helm of much public art are leaders who make public art happen. They put things in place. Art does not usually simply spring up out of nothing and nowhere, though it can still be organic.
We need people to facilitate the art, bring it to the public, frame it in productive ways, and produce spaces that allow art and artists to flourish. Some of these people are curators. Curators organize, manage, understand the nuances, intricacies, needs, challenges and possibilities of art and collections. We do not usually see this side of art.
In the Caribbean, art has bloomed over decades, especially in countries like Jamaica, Cuba and Puerto Rico, as well as the Dominican Republic. Haiti is famous for its art; yet we, as Bahamians tend to diminish Caribbean art and its value. When curators gets a hold of a body of work or a group of ideas the job they do to birth an experience is amazing. Especially when it comes to telling a story through and with the art.
Curating a space is as important as the art that goes in it. Creating a narrative through spacing, organizing, timing, physically hanging works, color scheme and mood, all accentuate how the art is allowed to speak and how the public sees the art or receives it. The process is not passive. As a part of this science, artists or art enthusiasts study for many years to learn how to tell stories with art and how to manage art collections . . .
For the second year, Tilting Axis has facilitated, administered and designed an open call for our Curatorial Fellowship. In a strong partnership with the University of Texas at Austin Art Galleries at Black Studies we issued an open call to find and seek out a curator living and working in the Caribbean who would rise to the occasion to use the resources, collections and moment at hand to advance their practice in a nuanced and sensitive way. The jury panel comprising of Lise Ragbir, Joel Butler, Tobias Ostrander, Holly Bynoe, Annalee Davis, Eddie Chambers, Natalie Urquhart, Sara Herman and Mario Caro (9 in total) had the laborious task of deliberating an exceptionally strong pool of candidates from 7 countries.
The competition was stiff—reflecting the wealth of talent, and need for increased opportunities, for curators in the region. We are happy to announce that this year’s Tilting Axis 4 Curatorial Fellowship sponsored by and to take place at the University of Texas at Austin, has been awarded to—Natalie Willis, Assistant Curator at the National Gallery of The Bahamas. At the University of Texas at Austin with access to collections of work by African American and Caribbean artists, Natalie hopes to look beyond nationalist dialogues and examine how shared history presents itself in different cultural phenotypes. As she says, “One root leads to many rhizomes and proliferations of blackness.”
We notified Natalie earlier today—and of her own volition, she wrote the following message:
I am still, frankly, in disbelief. I, perhaps wrongly, didn’t think I would have these opportunities when I moved back to The Bahamas after school. The constant worry for young Caribbeans going off to study who “dare” to come back is that you will hit the ceiling, that you will not have any real chances of upward movement in your career, that you only return at a deficit and for a love of this place.
You can love this place, and it can love you back, and that love requires heartfelt work.
The work that dedicated and fierce people have been toiling at for the last 30 years means that you give newer generations unbridled hope at the possibility, care, and freedom of being Caribbean-based cultural workers. I am humbled and so deeply grateful that you are taking a chance on me when it was never “taking a chance” to come back home, it is the work that needs to be done.
I am overwhelmed, overjoyed, and looking forward to the day I can help some other young Caribbean mind and heart get this feeling of support. Thank you.
Natalie Willis is a British-Bahamian curator and cultural worker. Born and raised in The Bahamas, she received her BA (Hons) and MA in Fine Art at York St John University in the UK. Willis is currently working as an Assistant Curator at National Art Gallery of The Bahamas with a concerted focus on writing aimed at decolonising and decentralising the art archive, and adding to the literature on Bahamian and Caribbean visual culture and developing her burgeoning curating practice. Somewhere in a parallel universe, she still makes artwork.
As an emerging curator desperately trying to not contribute to the brain-drain of the Caribbean, she has dedicated her time at the NAGB to focusing on knowledge building and access through text and speaking to the way the colonial tourism of the late 1800s shaped the cultural and physical landscape of the Anglo-Caribbean.
Willis has been an invited speaker at the Caribbean Studies Association Conference (2017), the Museums Association of the Caribbean Annual Conference (2016). Most recently, she took part in the Goldsmiths + British School at Rome Summer Intensive Course, themed “Curating the Contemporary”, in Rome in 2017.
In Santo Domingo of the 90s, subcultures flourish and, with them, practices and discourses that enabled a new ethical platform for artistic production. City and precariousness, self-management and spectacle.
En el Santo Domingo de los 90 florecen las subculturas y, con ellas, prácticas y discursos que habilitaron una nueva plataforma ética para la producción artística. Ciudad y precariedad, autogestión y espectáculo.