Shifting focus… Caribbean women and the art profession
In the grand scheme of all things art-related, lists of women artists are few. Lists of women artists of colour are even fewer. Lists of women artists of colour from the Caribbean and its Diaspora are almost non-existent.However, through the continued efforts of regional art bodies operating within this space (in perhaps the past ten years), the focus has shifted significantly, and the spotlight has been placed firmly on the Caribbean space as much more than a tropical escape for “serious” Western artists.
THE PERIPHERY For quite a long time, the Caribbean was considered the periphery of the art world; a wild and unrefined space, rich with symbolism that the natives were far too simple to understand or even translate into meaningful works of art. So, whenever these “serious” artists needed to refuel after exhausting all their sources of inspiration, they ran to the outskirts for that “exotic” touch that would set their own body of work apart from every other white male artist.
Although on a singular level, Caribbean artists have been fighting against those stereotypes (and winning, to a very small degree), it wasn’t until recently that art collectives began making considerable progress, regarding their own representation. This shift is, no doubt, a result of the realisation that it is dangerous to sit back and wait for “outsiders” to validate the production of artwork in a space that is completely disconnected from their own realities.
In my observation, the focus became less about trying to fit ourselves into conversations overseas, and more about establishing regional centres that operate in much the same way as the ones we were once so keen on infiltrating. The establishment of these centres very often meant that the individuals rising to the challenge of stewardship would have to be willing to sacrifice their own practice, so that others would eventually have opportunities for sustainable careers in the creative field.
Things get a bit interesting here, since, more often than not, the individuals making those sacrifices and heading those collectives are usually women (Holly Bynoe of ARC Magazine; Annalee Davis of Fresh Milk Barbados; and Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe of Groundation Grenada just to cherry pick a few).
SEATS OF AUTHORITY Now, while I’m just as thrilled as the next person that women are the ones occupying those seats of authority, I can’t help but be saddened by the cost of those positions that men don’t necessarily share. The costs I’m referring to include the inevitable strain on the family unit, and the attacks on their working methods as primary caregivers; and, in the case of women who choose to forego having children and/or a husband, being labeled as deviant, flawed or cold. And these are labels that I am also fighting against as a “not-so-young”, unmarried and childless female artist (but this is an entirely different article in the making).
In spite of those costs, women continue to flourish in leadership roles within the arts community. My only contention is that creative practitioners shouldn’t have to abandon their individual practice for the sake of carving out a space for everyone else. This points to a lack of art managers, which, in turn, points to the even bigger issue of a failed system regarding art education and art management. And this is something I’ve been harping on for a long time.
COMPLETE OVERHAUL Art education in the Caribbean needs to be completely overhauled. We need to change the way we educate our future practitioners, and also keep in mind that we are equally dependent on persons pursuing art education and art management (and that these courses must be offered). They shouldn’t have to function as both artist and art administrator out of necessity. It is absurd to expect these persons to perform at peak capacities in both roles, without compromising one or the other.
It puzzles me that we don’t see anything wrong with having 500 practising artists, two art critics, and zero professional art managers/administrators. But, maybe, nothing has changed in that regard, because we’ve managed to make it work, in spite of all the challenges. Regardless, it’s unfair to expect persons to willingly run themselves through the mill of trial and error for the sake of everyone else, simply because there is no infrastructure to support the development and furtherance of our own creative narratives.
Dominique Hunter is an independent visual artist who recently graduated from the Barbados Community College with a Bachelor of Fine Art (First Class Honours).
This article was first published in the Pepperpot magazine of the Sunday Chronicle newspaper on March 13, 2016. Click on the link to be redirected to their website: