Notes from MOU - The beginning of a new artist-led initiative between Trinidad and Guyana
One of the many developments that came out of the Caribbean Linked IV residency, which took place in Aruba last year, was a shared desire among its participants to engage with each other even after the month-long residency concluded. It was the commitment to following through on that desire, which ultimately led to a ‘MOU’ – Memorandum of Understanding.
This new initiative, originally conceptualised to include more CLIV participants hosting each other in their home country, was designed to nurture those connections made in Aruba. Once established, this new platform would not only provide an avenue for continued engagement among CLIV participants but also provide them the opportunity to network with creative practitioners and artist spaces in the host country.
Last week I left Guyana for Trinidad to begin the month-long, self-directed residency working alongside Trinidadian artist and fellow CLIV participant, Shanice Smith. Although I’ve been in transit there for what felt like a million times, it was actually the first time I stepped foot outside of the Piarco International Airport and got a real experience of the place I had heard so much about. It was perhaps also the first time in all my years of travel that I’ve had such a short and uneventful flight (and I’ve had my fair share of nightmarish travel stories).
Nevertheless, my journey was off to a positive start. Admittedly, I was concerned about travelling there on the heels of Tropical Storm Bret. I had seen the photographs and video footage of the floodwaters and the damage left in its wake. However, I was reassured that the area in which I was staying was one of the areas unaffected by the storm. Thankfully, those reassurances held up. Since I’ve been here, the sun has been out in full force with a few sporadic bursts of rain every now and again, providing temporary relief from the heat.
The first few days whizzed by and as usual, my brain has been struggling to recall in detail the events that have filled my schedule so far. My plan had been to make daily notes so that a final compilation would be much easier, but that has yet to happen. I make plans and then life happens: an autobiography in the works. Regardless, as I mentioned earlier, we were off to a good start.
On the second day we met with Christopher Cozier (Trinidadian artist, writer, 2013 Prince Claus Award laureate and administrator of Alice Yard); Emilie Boone (U.S. writer and PhD candidate at Northwestern University’s Department of Art History); and Jaime Lee Loy (Trinidadian artist and writer). What was initially planned as breakfast at Chris’s, turned into a late brunch and conversation over one of the many things Trinidad and Guyana have in common: ‘bhaigan choka’. It was a wonderful meeting of minds in a home filled with beautiful art. After being heavily rained in, we left and spent the rest of the day visiting a number of artist spaces including Alice Yard in Woodbrook and Granderson Lab in Belmont, both of which were generously offered to us as spaces to utilise during our residency.
Although the following day was a blur, I do recall us both coming to a mutual understanding that we deserved a lazy day. The days that followed were filled with hour-long commutes (something I’m still getting used to), trips to art and craft markets, and a memorable Sunday spent beach hopping before finally hiking to Avocat Waterfalls in Blanchisseuse. While I wasn’t sure what to expect with that trip, I certainly did not envision us trekking through mud, wading through small rivers of waist high water and climbing over rocks before reaching our destination. But we did and it was definitely worth the effort. What’s more, I was quite proud of myself for pushing past my own fears and opting to climb to the top of the 50ft waterfall (something I did with both soles of my sneakers hanging on by nothing but faith). In that moment I understood why people would want to spend the better part of their lives hiking and climbing mountains. It was the perfect way to prepare for the busy week ahead.
Shanice Smith (b.1991, Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago) received two certificates from The University of the West Indies Open Campus in Social work and Psychology (UWI) before going on to pursue her Bachelor’s in Fine Art, also at UWI.
“My work explores gender-based issues – the violence faced by women and children in our societies, e.g. the constant objectification of women and the role of the media. Using everyday items, I investigate these issues and how they eventually become internalised and are often seen as a norm. It can be stated that I am interested in social interventions and not so much the making of things just for display. From these observations/experiments, there is a need to explore the ‘why’ factor of the use of women and children for capital gain; for exchange. The work seeks to create awareness by engaging the audience.
The inspiration behind this is drawn from my own journey of self-discovery, a confrontation of self and also my mother’s battles with her past experiences and the rippling effects that have occurred. My mother’s stories not only serve as inspiration and motivation for the current work, but also bring about the transformation of silence into a language of action,” says Smith about her work.
Dominique Hunter (b. 1987, Georgetown, Guyana) received her Diploma from the E.R. Burrowes School of Art in 2007 where she was awarded Best Graduating Student. Her first solo exhibition titled Introspection was held at the National Gallery of Art, Castellani House in 2010. Hunter received her Bachelor of Fine Art (with first class honours) from the Barbados Community College and was the recipient of the Leslie’s Legacy Foundation Award for Most Outstanding Work at Portfolio in 2015. Hunter was nominated for a Vermont Studio Centre (VSC) residency in 2016 and was later awarded a fellowship sponsored by the Reed Foundation. Her stint at VSC began in January 2017 and concluded the following month.
“My work attempts to critique the (non)representation of Black female bodies in art history as well as stereotypical portrayals of those bodies in contemporary print media. By culling information from various archives and feminist texts (often with alternating and overlapping perspectives from both sides of the oppressor/oppressed binary) I have been exploring different ways of engaging with ideas of colonial and contemporary representations of black and white female bodies, and the cyclical perpetuation of very specific body ideals over the centuries.
The physical embodiment of these concerns underscores issues of sexuality, commodification, exploitation, and (non)representation in art historical texts and imageries. My point of entry into these themes has been to employ and exaggerate popular advertising techniques used in magazines in an attempt to critique the manner in which the female body continues to be idealised and “sold” (to men for consumption and women for validation). Ideas of beauty regarding the female body are therefore examined from the perspective of the media, who now assume a position once held by the White male coloniser,” says Hunter about her work.
MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) is a collaborative residency initiative conceptualised and developed by Trinidadian artist Shanice Smith and Guyanese artist Dominique Hunter after the two met on the fourth iteration of the Caribbean Linked residency in Aruba last year. The residency, which will take place in Trinidad & Tobago, was designed to strengthen new and existing connections between creative practitioners working in the two countries. In addition to creating a platform for Smith and Hunter to expand their individual portfolios, the long-term vision is to continue explorations between both artists and to foster an ongoing engagement with local artists and artist spaces such as Alice Yard.
This article was first published in the Pepperpot magazine of the Sunday Chronicle newspaper on July 9, 2017. Click on the link to be redirected to their website: