Mother Tongue, the curatorial collaboration by CCW and TrAIN PhD student Jessica Carden and Tiffany Boyle (Birkbeck PhD student), began their month long residency at Fresh Milk Art Platform in Barbados on 26 January and finish on 26 February 2015. Speaking about the work they have done there, Carden said, ‘Our collaboration with Fresh Milk simultaneously marks our first time in Barbados and the wider Caribbean; a region whose artists and writers we have been engaging with from a distance for some time now. We arrived with a mix of anticipation and genuine excitement at the opportunities that our month-long residency present. We had previously met with Fresh Milk’s director Annalee Davis during her participation in the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games cultural programme, as part of the “International Artist Initiated” project at David Dale Gallery, Glasgow, and had been in dialogue since this initial introduction to each other’s practices. Fresh Milk played a central role in the critical discussions surrounding “International Artist Initiated”, unpacking the Commonwealth as a loaded cultural event and its enduring impact for the Caribbean, whilst also representing artist-led activity in Barbados.
Whilst our first week on the island took the form of an introduction to Fresh Milk and using the impressive collection of books, journals and magazines which form the Coleen Lewis Reading Room, our second and third weeks have been a flurry of meetings, studio visits and trips around the island to meet with various individuals, museums and organisations. These have been weeks of connecting with a whole host of people who are instrumental to the arts scene here on the island, both in the past and in the present: established and emergent practitioners, writers and researchers. We have made a number of studio visits to see the work of Ewan Atkinson, Mark King, Alberta Whittle, Alison Chapman Andrews and Holly Bynoe, who is also the co-founder and director of the Caribbean arts and culture magazine, ARC. In addition to this, we were fortunate to be given a tour of Barbadian art collector Clyde Cave’s personal collection.
In an effort to consciously widen our scope and look at the rich histories outside of the arts, we have incorporated research into the sugar industry, tourism and the colonial role in the horticulture of the island; topics that feed into a number of art practices and works which we have encountered so far. In the second week of our residency, we visited Sean Carrington, Professor of Plant Biology at the University of the West Indies, and this week returned to be given a tour of the Herbarium. Our conversation with him was really insightful: discussing indigenous plant life, the importation of species into the island, and how this impacted images of the island constructed by the British colonial administration. Following our meeting with Sean, we met with Dr. Anthony Kennedy, Director of the West Indies Central Sugar Cane Breeding Station. The station has a long standing history on the island and is the most successful breeding station in the world; developing scientific research and programmes for sugar industries across the southern hemisphere. Dr Kennedy talked us through the history of sugar in Barbados and how it has formed the agriculture, human geography, urban planning and architecture of the island. This particular history is significant and unavoidable for any attempt to understand Barbados as a post-colonial, post-independence space.
As part of the outreach element of the residency, we have delivered two presentations to the Associate Degree programme at Barbados Community College. The first took the form of a re-screening of our 2012 film and video programme Afrofuturism: Revisions Towards a Place in Modernity, which was originally developed for the Africa In Motion Film Festival. Works were screened to the first, second and third year students from Neïl Beloufa, Rico Gatson, The Otolith Group, Philip Mallory Jones, and Michelle Hannah. The second presentation was made to the third year students, and focused on the history of curation and exhibition-making, as well as expanding on our collaborative practice as curators and researchers.
Part of the remit of the grant from the British Council Scotland is to produce a modest project on our return to the UK, responding to our time and those we have been engaging with whilst here in Barbados. As we near the end of the residency, we are beginning to look towards the form that this project might take and are attempting to collate all the information we have been gathering so far. It has become clear through our many meetings and conversations with artists, curators, researchers and writers on the island that we need to create something meaningful with long-term impact for both the UK and Barbados. The residency will culminate in our participation at the regional symposium “Tilting Axis”, which has been organized by Fresh Milk and ARC in collaboration with Res Artis, Perez Art Museum Miami and Videobrasil. This regional meeting aims to promote the exchange of artists and professionals working within the visual arts industries across the wider Caribbean region with strong networks emerging globally in the South, while re-defining historical relationships with the North. Alongside ourselves, both the Centre for Contemporary Arts Glasgow and David Dale Gallery will be in Barbados representing Scotland, supported by the British Council Scotland. Whilst our time in the region is limited, we have learned a lot about the conditions under which artists and academics are creating legacies of arts and culture on the island and we very much look forward to contributing to this dialogue in whatever way we can that is both productive for Barbados and the UK.’