To say that the last few days of the Caribbean Linked IV residency flew by would be an incredible understatement. For many of the participants, physical manifestations of our thoughts and ideas did not materialize in any concrete way until a few days before our opening exhibition. And although our time management skills were stretched thin, everything worked out perfectly (just as I kept constantly reassuring myself they would).
For a while I had forgotten what the mad dash to the finish line felt like since I completed art school. I think it would be safe to say that we all experienced the complete gamut of human emotions in our final week. It was just as exhilarating as it was terrifying. In the midst of all the television, radio and social media promotions, everyone we encountered seemed anxious for the opening night. I remember persons I’d never met before popping into my studio when I was at my wit’s end and expressing their genuine excitement for what the work would look like in the end. I also remember smiling nervously since I was just as curious and clueless about the final outcome of my own work.
But just as everything was about to crack under the pressure of public expectation, things began to fall into place. Problems that plagued our minds for days were resolved almost overnight. Suddenly, the challenges given to us by our mentor Humberto Diaz weren’t as daunting as we initially thought. Within our individual bodies of work, we found ways to embrace the unfamiliar paths he encouraged us to take without letting go too much of our own signature style. In the end it was a wonderful and equally rewarding experience for all parties involved.
The day of the opening came and there was still a lot to be done. Everyone was rushing to finish cleaning the gallery space, mounting works and I was still working on my pieces. As I sat on the floor, hunched over, installing my “tiles” I heard a sound that seemed alien to Aruba. I spent a minute trying to figure out if my ears were deceiving me. Then I thought to myself maybe it was the sound of leaves rustling on the ground of Ateliers ’89. But curiosity eventually got the best of me and I used that as an opportunity to take a much needed a break to stretch the aching muscles in my body. I stood by the door in shock and watched this alien matter hit the ground. A familiar smell followed soon after. I closed my eyes for a few seconds and I was home. For the first time in the three weeks since we were there in the scorching Aruban heat, it rained.
At that point I didn’t need any other reassurance that everything would be fine. The universe already spoke. Everyone went back to mounting their works before rallying around anyone else who needed help to make it to the finish line. It was such a pleasant relief to not be burdened by drama and ego with such a large group of creative individuals. The work was completed in the nick of time and we managed to put together a beautiful and diverse collection of works from eleven artists spread across four rooms in the gallery, one wall outside the gallery and a section of the compound.
Later that evening, we scrubbed the dust and exhaustion from our bodies, donned our “good clothes” and braced ourselves for the marathon ahead. Director of Ateliers ’89 and the driving force behind the Caribbean Linked initiative, Elvis Lopez, delivered a heartfelt speech underscoring the necessity of these arts initiatives before a growing audience. Halfway through his speech the resident cat dubbed “Kittypuss” (due to our inability to guess the gender) strolled past everyone and took up position in the middle of the floor, as if to say “How dare you start without me?” Sure enough everyone exploded in a fit of laughter!
While there were no more performances by Kittypuss, there was an amazing monologue by the talented Alydia Wever. Local band The Cheapest Wine and DJ Jemaima also kept the patrons entertained as they moved through each room before eventually congregating by the bar. As the night drew on, we found ourselves outside in our famous circle, dancing away the pain of swollen joints and aching muscles. I’m still not quite sure how we managed but we danced for hours, pausing every now and again to absorb the sad reality that our whirlwind journey together was almost over.
The emotions that were snowballing that night eventually broke through our defenses in the two to three days that followed. The empty studios and packed suitcases were more than enough to send us wailing into each other’s arms. I’m sure no one can identify the exact date, but somewhere along the line it became difficult to imagine our daily routine without each other. We were blessed with the rare opportunity to just live and make work with each other, without the pressures of bills or responsibilities to threaten our creative output. For this (and I know I can speak for everyone here), we are extremely grateful.
Elvis, you are a phenomenal soul and I pray daily that you always keep the fire alive. Holly, Annalee, Robin and Katherine, you are all warrior women and we’d be lost if not for the selfless and never ending work you all do. Humberto, I can count the persons who have (unknowingly) shifted the trajectory of my career, and life by extension. Thank you for pushing me out of my comfort zone and opening my eyes to a new world of possibilities. I promise to not think too much.
Persons interested in following what has been happening in this residency can follow Caribbean Linked on Facebook or visit their website www.caribbeanlinked.com. Videos of the presentations made by individual artists as well as this year’s writer in residence, master artist and two guest curators can be viewed on Caribbean.tv (Facebook).
Caribbean Linked is a regional art residency and exhibition organized by Ateliers ’89 Foundation in collaboration with ARC Inc. and The Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc with support from Mondriaan Fonds and Stichting DOEN. In the fourth installment since it’s launch in 2012, ten artists from the region were invited to participate including Frances Gallardo (Puerto Rico), Travis Geertruida (Curaçao), Charlie Godet Thomas (Bermuda), Nowé Harris-Smith (The Bahamas), Dominique Hunter (Guyana), Tessa Mars (Haiti), Oneika Russell (Jamaica), Shanice Smith (Trinidad), Simon Tatum (The Cayman Islands) and Laura de Vogel (Aruba). Also invited were master artist Humberto Diaz (Cuba), writer and co-founder of Moko Magazine David Knight Jr. (US Virgin Islands), specially invited curators María Elena Ortiz (associate curator at the Perez Art Museum Miami, PAMM) and Pablo Léon de la Barra (curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum for the Latin American phase of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative. Caribbean Linked IV runs from August 1 to August 24 and will be spearheaded by Robin de Vogel (Aruba) and Katherine Kennedy (Barbados).
This article was first published in the Pepperpot magazine of the Sunday Chronicle newspaper on August 28, 2016. Click on the link to be redirected to their website: