In last week’s article, I wrote about the importance of artist-led initiatives and how they could be used to activate cultural spaces across the country.
A few days later, in a strange and unplanned way, a brave new creative undertaking was opened to the public for everyone’s viewing pleasure.
An informal group of creative practitioners banded together after a series of unfortunate events led to the cancellation of what was supposed to be a grand photographic exhibition facilitated and funded by the government in celebration of Guyana’s golden jubilee.
The government’s failure to launch the much-anticipated “Capture Guyana” exhibition made way for Visions, an exhibition of 42 works by 17 Guyanese photographers including Fidal Bassier, Elizabeth Deane-Hughes, Roshana Mahadeo, Kester Clarke, Jermana de Freitas, Kenny Harrinaraine, Sharon Ramkarran, Nikhil Ramkarran, Meshach Pierre, Ryan Dos Santos, Taijrani Rampersaud, Salim October, Aisha Jones, Brian Gomes, Michael Jackson and Michael Lam, organizer of the exhibition.
It is hardly news that human beings consume visual material at alarming rates and discard them even faster. In an era where everyone has immediate access to a camera and they are constantly uploading snapshots, how do you create images that stand out and capture the viewer’s attention for more than three seconds at a time? This was one of the many challenges the group of photographers addressed in their installation of photographic works.
As models for innovation, Visions and similarly mounted exhibitions become crucial to the way we contemplate and engage with works of art. And, make no mistake, the exhibits on display are precisely that, works of art. Whether they capture the beauty of our Guyanese landscape, brilliant sunsets over the Atlantic Ocean, profiles of our beautiful native birds, dilapidated colonial styled buildings, the beauty of the female form, celebrations, rituals or even the more abstract imageries, they all share the same elements and principles of art.
Here we have a group of photographers actively working towards changing the public’s reception of photography as a legitimate creative discipline that should warrant the same critical discourse as any of the older and more institutionalized media.
It was exciting to see the traditional model of gallery display challenged by a group of creative individuals working with a relatively “new” media. We are finally in the process of playing “catch up” with the rest of the world and this exhibition marks a significant shift away from traditional gallery displays to something more innovative but still practical.
Tangentially, three things stood out about the Visions exhibition: architecture, space and movement. There was an interesting juxtaposition where a dark and cramped staircase eventually gave way to an airy, light filled room anchored in the center by an almost sculptural display of photographs. While making my way around the centralized monument of nuanced themes on display, it became obvious very quickly that I was engaged in a type of performative and cyclical act of viewing the work. It was indeed a clever way of activating the space by “shepherding” the viewer’s movement in a very specific way that perhaps would not have been successful in a traditional gallery setting.
It was evident that the core concept of the exhibition was much more than simply viewing a selection of works from local photographers.
I imagined the viewers function much like bodies orbiting this planet of exceptional photographic works. And so the way the exhibition was viewed became inextricably linked to the quality of work itself and this is what fascinated me about this group’s undertaking. They have a clear understanding of the parameters of traditional gallery display and have chosen to tastefully challenge that presentation model.
These ideas of challenging the use of space and directing movement were echoed in a statement provided by the exhibition’s curator Karran Sahadeo:
“The Visions exhibition purposely breaks this mould by creating a three dimensional experience which allows the viewer to traverse through the carefully positioned photographs in order to unravel the overall story being told. The viewer is asked to literally walk around the exhibition and notice the subtle shifts in each artist’s work. These shifts are informed by formal connections; those of colour, shapes and similar elements, and as they approach the end of the story, the viewer may be compelled to navigate the exhibition again as more connections will be made.”
Sahadeo also referenced the famous “white cube” in his text, as the go-to model for displaying two-dimensional works of art in most spaces across Guyana. The term was coined in the 1970s by artist and critic Brian O’Doherty, and has since been used to describe an ideological construct that both emphasizes the formal qualities of a work of art and dominates it. As a physical space the “white cube” embodies absolute perfection (pristine walls, hidden light sources and polished floors). These have long been thought to be pre-requisites for any serious exhibition in any global art hub.
While creative practitioners worldwide have been actively fighting against this ideology, ours is a unique situation here in Guyana. We’ve never had the good fortune of being exposed to anything remotely close to the “white cube” but we have been plagued by a bastardized version of “white cube mentality.” And so it was particularly refreshing to see these considerations coming from a group of creative individuals often pigeonholed because of their primary media.Architecture was another interesting facet that, in my opinion, presented new and exciting ways of reading the exhibition.
Regarding this aspect of Visions Sahadeo stated:
“The exhibition references the space it is housed in and uses the unique characteristics of this aged colonial structure turned office space in order to naturally light the selected photographs. The large, almost wall-sized windows which line both eastern and western walls allow for natural light to permeate the space and ensure a well lit environment.”
I would venture to go even further by underscoring the fact that viewers are presented with an intriguing mix of “new” media addressing contemporary issues housed in a colonial building. On a much smaller scale, this exhibition represents a significant section of the “Guyanese personality,” planted firmly in the center of a colonial incubator of sorts. So then, ironically, we are (in both instances) continuously strengthened by apparent limitations as we work simultaneously with and against them.
For the visitor with a keen eye the Visions exhibition represents a number of converging ideas deceptively shrouded by a veil of simplicity. It points to a serious consideration of curatorial practices and the conceptualization of themes that extend far beyond how well the images work together. That it is the first independent photographic exhibition of mostly self-taught practitioners in a space where even at the highest level of education there is no course that nurtures those theories and practices, only solidifies the idea that there are small pockets of talented individuals who are willing and able to take chances amid the most uncertain cultural climate.
The Visions exhibition continues daily until Thursday June 30 from 9am to 4pm at the Fitzgerald House on Hadfield Street (opposite the St. Stanislaus College).
This article was first published in the Pepperpot magazine of the Sunday Chronicle newspaper on June 26, 2016. Click on the link to be redirected to their website: