Liberation Begins in the Imagination: Writings on Caribbean-British Art

Liberation Begins in the Imagination: Writings on Caribbean-British Art

Liberation Begins in the Imagination is an essential anthology on Caribbean-British art, which brings together existing writings and previously unpublished texts from the post-war period to the present, as well as revelatory new essays from some of the most influential voices on the subject.

Order Here

Edited by David A. Bailey and Allison Thompson
Conceived and produced by International Curators Forum
Designed by Richard Mark Rawlins
Published by Tate Publishing
Price: £30

Contributors include:
Rasheed Araeen, Guy Brett, Manthia Diawara, Jean Fisher, Coco Fusco, Paul Gilroy, Stuart Hall, Wilson Harris, Claudia Jones, Roshini Kempadoo, George Lamming, John La Rose, Errol Lloyd, John Lyons, Amna Malik, Courtney J. Martin, Michael McMillan, Kobena Mercer, Richard J. Powell, Elizabeth Robles, Lou Smith, Helen Sumpter, Claire Tancons, Gilane Tawadros, Jessica Taylor, Allison Thompson, Anne Walmsley and Yvonne Weekes.

Today, around a million British people are of Caribbean descent, reflecting a history of post-war migration that essentially begins and ends with the Nationality Act of 1948 and the Immigration Act of 1972 – the so-called Windrush Generation. For many, London in particular was where the cultural archipelago of the Caribbean came together for the first time – communication and travel between the islands being difficult. This Caribbean-British connection gave rise to a diverse, complex and exciting wealth of Black cultural forms.

At one end of the spectrum, Caribbean-British art is abstract, symbolist and at times cosmological; at the other it is socially realist, with many other positions in between or off that spectrum. Where art is engaged with changes in society, it evokes a community’s struggle to forge an identity and livelihood for itself in an environment that often proved hostile. Other works evoke deeper historical experiences, in particular the traumatic after-images of plantation slavery and its legacy in culture and society.

This comprehensive volume brings together key writings on the interrelationship of Britain and the English-speaking Caribbean nations, focussing specifically on the art of the Caribbean diaspora in Britain from the 1920s to today. Combining classic writings with some newly commissioned contributions, it explores intersecting areas of Black- British cultural production and reflects the diversity of the Black-British experience. With contributions from a range of scholars, Liberation Begins in the Imagination is an invaluable sourcebook for those interested in the rich and diverse field of postcolonial Caribbean-British art.

The publication of this anthology was made possible with support from the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Arts Council England, DCMS Culture Recovery Fund and University of the Arts London.

‘Liberation Begins in the Imagination’ has been published to correspond with a major exhibition at Tate Britain ‘Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art 1950s – Now’, which has been co-curated by ICF’s Artistic Director David A. Bailey. The exhibition celebrates how people from the Caribbean have forged new communities and identities in post-war Britain – and in doing so have transformed what British culture and society looks like today. It includes work by over 40 artists including John Lyons, Paul Dash, Alberta Whittle, Aubrey Williams, Ada M. Patterson, Blue Curry, Denzil Forrester, Claudette Johnson and many others.

Diaspora Pavilion 2: Artists in Conversation

Diaspora Pavilion 2: Artists in Conversation

Daniela Yohannes, A Gathering in God’s Land (2018), digital collage.

The curators of the exhibition I am a heart beating in the world: Diaspora Pavilion 2, Sydney speak with exhibiting artists – Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Kashif Nadim Chaudry, Leyla Stevens, Zadie Xa and Daniela Yohannes – about their practices, their engagement with the concept of diaspora, and their planned works for the exhibition in Sydney, which presents the navigations, imaginings and lived experiences of six artists based in Australia, the UK and the Caribbean.

I am a heart being in the world: Diaspora Pavilion 2, Sydney is presented by International Curators Forum and 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in partnership with Campbelltown Arts Centre

Artists: Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Kashif Nadim Chaudry, Lindy Lee, Leyla Stevens, Zadie Xa and Daniela Yohannes
Curated by: Adelaide Bannerman, Mikala Tai and Jessica Taylor

Exhibition dates: 22 May – 25 July 2021
Venue: Campbelltown Arts Centre, New South Wales
1 Art Gallery Rd, Campbelltown NSW 2560

The exhibition is the first of a series of unfolding peripatetic events that will interrogate and complicate the term diaspora across various curatorial formats in Sydney, London, Venice and online culminating in ICF’s Diaspora Pavilion 2 project presented in partnership with 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. 

Zadie Xa and Jessica Taylor in Conversation

Zadie Xa (b. Vancouver on unceded Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh territory 1983, lives and works in London, UK) produces work informed by her experiences within the Korean diaspora, as well as the environmental and cultural context of the Pacific Northwest. Forces of distance and relation—familial, cultural, spiritual—shape her constantly evolving notions of self. Her work often features garments, including cloaks and masks, used for performance, protection or ceremony. Xa’s practice is highly collaborative, and she has developed ongoing exchanges with dancers, musicians and actors. Since 2006, Xa has worked closely with artist Benito Mayor Vallejo. Recent solo projects include, Moon Poetics 4 Courageous Earth Critters and Dangerous Day Dreamers, Remai Modern, Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of Métis, Saskatoon Canada (2020-21), Child of Magohalmi and the Echoes of Creation, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, UK (2020), Art Night London 2019 and Meetings on Art, performance program for the 58th Venice Biennale 2019. Xa was one of the recipients of the Sobey Art Award in 2020, which for the first time was awarded to all 25 nominees.

Jessica Taylor is the Head of Programmes at International Curators Forum. 

Download conversation transcript

Daniela Yohannes and Adelaide Bannerman in Conversation

Daniela Yohannes (b. 1982, lives and works in Guadeloupe in the French Caribbean) uses her own Ethiopian-Eritrean heritage as a lens in her work to reflect upon the racialised movement and conditional belonging of African diaspora. Through abstract portraiture and storytelling across multiple media, Yohannes explores the overlap of individual and collective subconscious and desire, and the destruction caused by displacement. Her work dwells on alternative Black realities, considering the bonds between herself, her family and other communities through magical symbolism. By embracing forms of hybridity and considering the artefacts of diaspora as a means of travel in themselves, she has built a dedicated interdimensional machine from emotionally charged objects.

Adelaide Bannerman is Co-Producer at the International Curators Forum.

Download conversation transcript

Abdul-Rahman Abdullah and Mikala Tai in Conversation

Abdul-Rahman Abdullah (b. Port Kembla, Australia 1977 lives and works in Perth, Australia) is a sculpture whose practice explores the different ways that memory can inhabit and emerge from familial spaces. Drawing on the narrative capacity of animal archetypes, crafted objects and the human presence, Abdullah aims to articulate physical dialogues between the natural world, politics and the agency of culture. Recent exhibitions include The National, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia (2019), Dark Horizons, Pataka Art + Museum, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand (2017) and Magic Object; Adelaide Biennale of Australian Art, Adelaide, Australia (2016).

Mikala Tai is the former director of 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney. 

Download conversation transcript

Leyla Stevens and Jessica Taylor in Conversation

Leyla Stevens (b. Cooroy, Australia 1982, lives and works between Bali, Indonesia and Sydney, Australia) is an Australian-Balinese artist and researcher who works predominantly within moving image and photography. Her practice is informed by ongoing concerns around gesture, ritual, spatial encounters, transculturation and counter histories. Working within modes of representation that shift between the documentary and speculative fictions, her work deals with a notion of counter archives and alternative genealogies. In 2021, Leyla Stevens was awarded the 66th Blake Prize for her work Kidung/Lament. Recent exhibitions include her solo presentations Dua Dunia, curated by Rachel Ciesla, at PS Art Space, Perth Festiva (2021), A Line in the Sea, West Space, Melbourne, PHOTO 21 Festival (2021), Their Sea is Always Hungry, UTS Gallery, Sydney, Australia (2019) and Of Love and Decomposition, Firstdraft, Sydney, Australia (2016) and group exhibitions The National 2021, Art Gallery of News South Wales, Breathing Room (collaboration with Woven Kolektif), Cement Fondue, Sydney, Australia (2019), BEAUT 19, Brisbane & Elsewhere Art UnTriennial, Brisbane, Australia (2018) and the John Fries Award, UNSW Galleries, Sydney, Australia (2018).

Jessica Taylor is the Head of Programmes at International Curators Forum.

Download conversation transcript

Kashif Nadim Chaudry & Mikala Tai in Conversation 

Kashif Nadim Chaudry (b. Nottingham, United Kingdom 1976 lives and works in Nottingham, United Kingdom) is informed by his family heritage in tailoring which has influenced and focused his practice around the importance of materiality and craftsmanship. His work is characterised by the working, shaping and moulding of physical objects through the use of elaborate textile-based techniques to create monumental installations from fabric and found objects. Negotiating his identity as a British born gay man of Pakistani Muslim heritage much of Chaudry’s work questions how people choose to position themselves in the world. In relation, it is increasingly the sculptural and three-dimensional possibilities within his work that address the idea of positioning power, the sacred and the ceremonial. Recent exhibitions include Swags & Tails as part of the Asia Triennial, Manchester, UK (2014), The Three Graces, Turner Contemporary, Margate, UK (2016) and What is Home at National Trust Croome Court, Worcester (2019).

Mikala Tai is the former director of 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney.

Download conversation transcript

Venice to Wolverhampton and Beyond: Contextualising the Diaspora Pavilion

Abbas Zahedi, MANNA: Machine Aided Neural Networking of Affect (2017), Wolverhampton Art Gallery

Venice to Wolverhampton and Beyond: Contextualising the Diaspora Pavilion

An interview with David A. Bailey & Jessica Taylor

The following conversation with the curators of the Diaspora Pavilion, David A. Bailey and Jessica Taylor, was conducted in person and over email between 2018 and 2019 by Kate Keohane and Catherine Spencer

The Diaspora Pavilion first appeared in 2017 during Christine Macel’s Venice Biennale Viva Arte Viva, but it was Okwui Enwezor’s curatorial programming two years earlier for the 56th Venice Biennale that provided a key impetus for the project, the idea for which began a decade earlier in 2007. In curating All the World’s Futures in 2015, Enwezor critically examined the Biennale’s entanglement with politics and power since its first iteration in 1895 (Enwezor 2015a: 19 and 2015b: 92–3). Attentiveness to myriad diasporic histories and their differential relations was a consistent hallmark of Enwezor’s curatorial approach, epitomised by his ground-breaking iteration of Documenta 11 in 2002. In his catalogue essays for All the World’s Futures, Enwezor elaborated a curatorial position for the Venice Biennale ‘predicated on the logic of multiplicity’ and ‘the view that new global arrangements cannot be imposed, nor can the view and prospects of art be defined through one singular system and unitary vision of creativity’ (Enwezor, 2015b: 93). This correlates strongly with the Martinique-born theorist Édouard Glissant’s understanding of diaspora as ‘the passage from unity to multiplicity’ (Glissant, 2010: 59). For Glissant, diaspora is an ‘exploding forth everywhere; it is not concentrated in a single area’ (Glissant, 2010: 60). Deriving from the Greek word meaning to ‘sow’ or ‘disperse’, diaspora refers to the (often forcible) separation of a population from its place of origin. Although initially applied to the Jewish diaspora (Gilroy 1993: 205), it has provided a particularly powerful framework for thinking through the displacement of communities from across Africa through the transatlantic slave trade, together with the interconnected relocations imposed by European empires, but also the impact of resistance movements and decolonial uprisings (Gilroy, 1993; see also Mirzoeff, 2000: 1–18). For the theorist Ranajit Guha, the experience of diasporic parting and scattering might be temporal as much as spatial (Guha 1998: 156), and this variegated temporality – together with the multiform relocations and movements connected to the concept of diaspora – informs the rich multiplicity that Glissant and Enwezor prioritised in their thinking.

The art historian Kobena Mercer has traced the theorisation of diaspora in the work of Stuart Hall (1990), Paul Gilroy (1993) and James Clifford (1997). He notes the relatively slow percolation of diaspora and related key terms – exile, migration, globalisation, hybridity, mobility, multiculturalism, transnationalism, and the figure of the nomad – into art historical writing, while stressing their fundamental imbrication in visual production, and the related constructions of modernity and modernism (Mercer, 2011: 19; see also Mercer, 2008 and 2016; and Wainwright, 2017, particularly 23–5). Building on these interventions by Glissant, Hall, and Gilroy, since the 1990s a number of important exhibitions have sought to explore the multiplicity of diaspora through a curatorial framework. Several of these, like the Diaspora Pavilion, have concentrated in particular on diaspora in relation to Britain, and by extension, the role of these histories in current debates on globalisation. Many of them resonate strongly with Marsha Meskimmon and Dorothy Rowe’s contention that: ‘the UK’s centrality (its “centricity”) within the processes and structures that commonly define globalization is both an awkward legacy of the disintegration of the British Empire and a fascinating location from which to interrogate the parameters of the concept itself’ [italics in original] (Meskimmon and Rowe, 2013: 5–6; see also Mercer, 1993). The Diaspora Pavilion’s decision to focus on artists exploring the concept of diaspora from the context of the UK vividly manifests Meskimmon and Rowe’s observation, while building on a number of key interventions during the previous two decades. These include, among others, Transforming the Crown: African, Asian and Caribbean Artists in Britain, 1966–1996 at the Studio Museum Harlem, Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Caribbean Cultural Centre in New York (Beauchamp-Byrd and Sirmans eds., 1997); Afro Modern: Journeys Through the Black Atlantic at Tate Liverpool (Barson and Gorschlüter eds., 2010); and Migrations: Journeys into British Art at Tate Britain (Carey-Thomas ed., 2012); together with The Place is Here at Nottingham Contemporary (and touring) in 2017, as well as Speech Acts: Reflection–Imagination–Repetition at Manchester Art Gallery during 2019.

The journey of the Diaspora Pavilion to Wolverhampton Art Gallery after the Venice Biennale in 2018 was especially significant in this respect, providing not only a very different context for the works, but one which moreover resituated them within an influential lineage of artistic practice in Britain that has engaged in depth with black diasporic experience. The historic first National Black Art Convention was held at Wolverhampton Polytechnic in 1982, forming a vital moment in the emergence of the Black Arts Movement in Britain (See Bailey, Baucom and Boyce, 2005; Chambers, 2014; and Kerman, 2018). The BLK Art Group, which included the practitioners Eddie Chambers, Marlene Smith, Claudette Johnson, Keith Piper and Donald Rodney, formed in the Midlands in 1979, and the Wolverhampton Art Gallery was the site of one of the first exhibitions with members of the group, Black Art an’ done in 1981; it also hosted Rasheed Araeen’s major 1989 show The Other Story: Afro-Asian Artists in Post-War Britain on its tour after its initial appearance at the Hayward Gallery in London (Araeen, 1989). The relocation of the Diaspora Pavilion from the context of the Venice Biennale to a local authority museum – signalled by the adapted title Diaspora Pavilion – placed the initiative within the longer legacies of artistic and curatorial exploration of diaspora in the UK and beyond, and in relation to thinking around the relationship between the local and the global.

In his important essay ‘Cultural Identity and Diaspora,’ Stuart Hall asserted that cultural identity ‘is a matter of “becoming” as well as “being”’ (Hall, 1990: 225). This emphasis on potentiality and process, rather than endpoint or origin, brings us back to Enwezor’s embrace of multiplicity and Glissant’s theorisation of difference in relation as strategies for countering the homogeneity of globalisation. Comparably, the curatorial approach to the Diaspora Pavilion embraced a range of diaspora histories and eschewed any attempt at monolithic definition of its central term, while maintaining the importance of continuing to think through diaspora in relation to global movements and transnationalism.

Catherine Spencer: Although the Diaspora Pavilion exhibition happened in a relatively short timeframe, the ideas and thinking behind it had long gestation. How did the project come into being, and why choose the Venice Biennale as its initial site?

David A. Bailey: The International Curators Forum (ICF) was launched in Venice in 2007 as the result of an initiative I began with some colleagues to take as many people of colour working in the arts as we could on the grand tour of exhibitions happening that year: the Venice Biennale, Documenta and Skulptur Projekte Münster. The more people we spoke to about our desire to do this, the clearer it became that not only had this form of gathering not been done in these spaces before, but that to hold this space consistently, we needed a strategic approach to this type of collective action. This in turn would require an infrastructure that could ensure it would be continued, so it was decided an organisation had to be formed. In 2007, Robert Storr was the Artistic Director of the Venice Biennale, and he made our programme a collateral event, during which ICF was launched. That event made it clear that there had to be a more formal, physical pavilion that functioned not just as a gathering and discursive space, but also as an exhibition space, so as part of our ten-year plan it was decided that ICF would hold a pavilion in Venice by 2017.

Jessica Taylor: Since 2007, ICF has been developing projects that speak to this foundational aim of bringing practitioners from around the world together to explore the creative potential of cross-cultural exchange and collaboration. This has included staging a Caribbean Pavilion at the 2010 Liverpool Biennial, and a multi-site symposium entitled Curating the International Diaspora across South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, the Caribbean and Britain. The development of the Diaspora Pavilion built upon this previous work, but it also responded to a specific trip that we planned in 2015 for a group of emerging, UK-based artists and curators of colour to participate in the historic moment of the opening of Okwui Enwezor’s 2015 Biennale.

Enwezor’s dedication to transnational, communal and cross-generational dialogue in the pursuit of a global art history has informed our ways of working collaboratively and internationally at ICF. However, for my generation, who were not present for his 2002 Documenta or 1997 Johannesburg Biennial, Venice was the first moment of live engagement with one of the mega-exhibitions that formed part of his larger project of de-centring and re-configuring curatorial and artistic practice through an on-going and complex engagement with what he has termed the postcolonial constellation. Described by Enwezor as a ‘set of arrangements of deeply entangled relations and forces that are founded by discourses of power’ that are ‘inimical to any transcultural understanding of the present context of cultural production’ (Enwezor, 2008: 208), this notion situates exhibition-making as a process that must grapple with the forces, movements and moments of contact and exchange at play in any formulation of subjectivity and moment of creative production. To see these ideas explored through artworks at Venice in 2015, and then again at Haus der Kunst in Enwezor’s final major exhibition Post War: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic (2017), I was finally able to see how diaspora could be conceived as one of many entry-points through which to embrace the complexity and multiplicity of relations between people and places.

During the 2015 trip to Venice – which for many of the artists and curators who attended marked their first visit to a biennial – the conversations that we had as a group and with colleagues from other countries, emphasised for us the importance of clearing a physical space in Venice, which could function as a hub where practitioners could create their own dialogues within and against the megastructure that is the Biennale. It felt essential that this conversation be inter-generational. We had always envisioned that the Pavilion could showcase artists from many different countries, thus breaking from the tradition of national representation. However, when Arts Council England invited us to apply for their international showcasing grant, the project took on a British focus and became an opportunity to speak to the complexity of the nation through the lens of diaspora.

Kate Keohane: At what point did you decide on the space for the Diaspora Pavilion, and what was it about the Palazzo Pisani a Santa Maria – as a palazzo that still has several domestic spaces, such as the bathroom and kitchen, intact – that you thought was particularly appropriate for the exploration of diaspora?

Bailey: I travelled to Venice in September 2016, to look at Palazzo Pisani through an invitation from Venice Art Factory, and felt that the size of Palazzo Pisani gave us more flexibility to show different types and scales of work (this was post securing funding, and pre artist selection). After the selection, Jessica made a preparatory visit to Venice with the emerging artists, after which they spent about a month developing proposals with her for the works that would be shown.

Taylor: On that first site visit, ideas were flying, and many of the new works that were created specifically for the Diaspora Pavilion responded to both the building and to the city, and in some ways to a relationship with Italy as a site of diaspora. There was a real desire among the artists to occupy the whole space and to embrace its domestic nature. While being careful to preserve the building’s features, we moved into the palazzo and took it over in a very intentional, deliberate way. Several of the artists were drawn to the pink and green bathroom; Barby Asante wanted to make work that engaged with several pieces of furniture, including a bed, as a way of inhabiting this lavish domestic site; and Barbara Walker drew directly onto the walls of the stairway. Paul Maheke made curtains for the windows, which referenced reportage of a refugee drowning in Venice’s Grand Canal in 2017. Asante and Libita Clayton made sound pieces, which permeated the space. One of Clayton’s three sound works was situated on the balcony and it sounded at noon, so that from the bridge nearby all of a sudden you would hear opera. She also had a breathing piece when you came up the stairs, which got louder and louder until it was surrounding you. That was a work that also changed over time, because for part of it she worked with mud and soil. We knew that it would not survive for the full seven months, so after a while I had to de-install it and just leave the sound. Every small space was used, but of course working in a domestic space has its challenges. We collaborated with Yinka Shonibare’s studio to design a room to exhibit his work The British Library (2014), but we had to bring in a surveyor to confirm the weight-bearing capacity of palazzo’s floor. While the logistics of the installation were complex, it was important to collaborate with the artists to blur the boundaries between the works and the existing features of the building.

Keohane: The very conscious curatorial and artistic habitation of the domestic space of a Venetian palazzo relates suggestively to writings on diaspora and homemaking (Ahmed, Castada, Fortier, and Sheller, 2003; and Cherry, 2017). How did this inform your curatorial approach?

Taylor: Barby Asante and Kimathi Donkor in particular really wanted to erase clear lines between their artworks and the space’s decorative adornment, and we designed the space so that the works would interact. Because of this, we intentionally did not have labels on the walls. Information about each of the artists and their artworks could be found in the exhibition booklets that were available in print and digital form, and within this booklet there was a detailed map that identified the different artworks. But apart from the map, people did not have pointers to identify the works, so they had to figure it out for themselves. There were thirty-six works, sometimes with five by different artists in the same room, and individual artists occupied multiple spaces. There would have been more labels than anything else, so I really wanted to resist this to create a more immersive viewing experience.

On the opening night we programmed two performances. Asante declared the independence of the Pavilion with a group of womxn of colour that she had been working with. This was something I was really thrilled about – I loved this idea of declaring the independence of a diasporic exhibition. Abbas Zahedi, who produced a drink for the show as part of his work, gave a performance handing out the drinks, which some people recognised as a work, and some did not. We also did a closing programme, and several of the artists gave performances. This provided an important moment of reflection for us as a group on the exhibition coming to an end in Venice and moving to Wolverhampton, and on the past year of working together and all that had happened for the artists since. The production and installation periods were intense, so it was important that we created a moment in which the artists could return to their works and respond to them anew. But most importantly, that closing weekend provided a moment of remembrance for Khadija Saye. We had not all been together in the space since we lost her and her mother Mary in the Grenfell tragedy, and it was emotional for us all.

Spencer: Jessica, you mentioned your desire to unpack the ‘complexity of the nation through the lens of diaspora’: can you talk more about this?

Taylor: The initial concept of the Diaspora Pavilion set out to question the traditional model of the national pavilions in the Biennale by posing the alternative perspective of diaspora as a more relevant point of departure for speaking about contemporary art today. We also wanted to get away from the idea that there is a way to speak for a nation through one single artistic expression. When it was decided that the 2017 Diaspora Pavilion would showcase the work of UK-based artists, it became an opportunity to explore the creative and political potential of diaspora from a national perspective, which fundamentally sought to question that very proposition of nationhood as something singular.

There is an intentional contradiction in bringing the words ‘diaspora’ and ‘pavilion’ (as the latter is used in the Venice Biennale context) together. Diaspora is a fluid, moving state that is constantly changing, whereas a pavilion is a building or a static home for something – even if it is temporary. We wanted to play with that contradiction, and to bring together nineteen different artistic narratives that worked against the idea that there is one identity, or one voice, that encapsulates an entire country or nation. To do that also required the consideration of multiple diasporas that would speak both independently and together, which could be interpreted in many ways, by many different people. This was undeniably a curatorial challenge, but it enabled us to bring together a dynamic group of artists and to work with them to develop the show through a process of collaboration and experimentation.

Bailey: Since 2007, I have wanted to create a space for young practitioners to showcase their work outside of the national pavilions. The response to the Diaspora Pavilion demonstrates that there is a desire for innovative models that are not being delivered through the old modes of representation. In addition to the experience of engaging with new work by emerging practitioners – who did not feel like they had access to the Biennale before the Diaspora Pavilion – our project demonstrates a dedication to innovation in regard to exhibition making, professional development, collegiality and, eventually, canon-building.

Taylor: The model of the group show was itself an embrace of the multiplicity of the diasporic experience. Our curatorial approach really intended to shake up what was happening in the terrain of the big international exhibitions, while recognising that there have been many projects and initiatives that have explored the concept of diaspora, and challenged perceived links between art and nationalism by working against it. We were not necessarily different in wanting to do that. But because of the amount of funding we were able to secure, and the vision that the artists who participated brought to the project, the Diaspora Pavilion was able to hold the space that David had set out to create a decade ago. However, I think a deeper analysis of this approach now needs to happen in the wake of the Pavilion and many other exhibitions that raise similar questions and concerns, such as The Place is Here and Get Up Stand Up Now: Generations of Black Creative Pioneers at Somerset House, London (2019), as well as Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power at Tate Modern (2017), Rock my Soul, curated by Isaac Julien at Victoria Miro, London (2019) and Talisman in the Age of Difference curated by Shonibare at Stephen Friedman Gallery, London (2018). I think we are seeing the emergence of, or at least a greater attention to a certain model of group exhibition that requires further unpacking.

Keohane: After you had secured the space, although you applied to be a collateral event, in the end you were not selected for the programme. What were the implications of this for your understanding of the project?

Bailey: We approached our planning for the Diaspora Pavilion with several pre-suppositions around what occupying space within the Biennale would look like. One of those was that it would be important to be a collateral event, which meant that we would pay a fee to the Biennale and would be listed as an affiliated event. While from a marketing standpoint it was suggested to us that this would be beneficial to creating the visibility that we wanted for the artists, it also came with restrictions – such as, we would not be able to use the word ‘pavilion’ in our title. This suggestion that we re-consider our title provoked some interesting and necessary conversations around how we wanted to position ourselves and what our priorities were. Ultimately the Diaspora Pavilion’s message was not in line with that of the main Biennale in 2017, and perhaps they saw that when they decided that they would not grant us collateral status. This push to define the project in our own terms removed from the larger Biennale machine was extremely helpful, and hopefully demonstrates that it is not necessary to be a collateral event in order to create a visible platform for art to connect with audiences.

Keohane: Mentorship was crucial to the Diaspora Pavilion, and artists were selected through an open call. How did these strategies work, and how did they shape the project?

Taylor: The open call presented the opportunity for emerging artists based in the UK whose practices actively engage with diaspora as a concept to apply to participate in a two-year professional development programme, with the understanding that their work would ultimately be shown in the Diaspora Pavilion during the Venice Biennale. The appointed panel made their selections based on the ways in which the artists were exploring and complicating the notion of diaspora in their overall practices, rather than an interest in specific works, which is why the exhibition features a huge range of media and multiple different ways of addressing diaspora. Alongside the twelve emerging artists who were selected, we invited ten mentor artists to participate in the project.

Professional development has been a long-running commitment at the heart of ICF’s work, linking back to early recognition on David’s part that behind any initiative that sets out to motivate change there needs to be skills and knowledge sharing, as well as networking and infrastructural development, alongside the public facing elements such as exhibitions and public programmes. Ultimately this a huge task, and I always say that I wish we had had a two-year run up to Venice, to allow the mentors and mentees to work together over a longer period of time. Some of the mentor relationships have worked really well, while others did not develop as fully as hoped. The process had its challenges and developing that methodology was definitely one of the trickier facets of the project. And while mentorship did form an important part of the programme, I found that making the distinction between ‘emerging’ and ‘mentor’ artists in the exhibition texts was unproductive and prevented us from creating an equal platform from which all nineteen artistic narratives would be considered. The curatorial decision to remove that language from the exhibition display and interpretation was ultimately an important one, which will inform how we present future iterations of the project.

During the Diaspora Pavilion project, the ICF also ran a parallel project entitled Beyond the Frame for ten emerging curators that involved mentoring, master classes with curators including Enwezor and Storr, who spoke about their experiences curating the Biennale, and international travel to other major shows like the Berlin and Sharjah Biennials, Documenta and Prospect New Orleans. We also facilitated practical opportunities for members of the group to undertake residencies or produce programmes, one of which involved contributing to the closing programme in Venice as a means of opening up a dialogue between the Pavilion artists and a new group of artists, which in this instance happened to be from the Polish diaspora. We saw this as a moment of contact and exchange that would prompt a wider consideration of diaspora in response to some of the reductive readings of the show we had seen in the press (for more productive critical responses, see Jeffrey, 2017, and Roos, 2017).

Keohane: Was the mentorship programme intended to complicate the idea that visibility at major exhibitions like the Venice Biennale is ‘enough’ for emerging artists?

Taylor: Yes, we never thought visibility was enough. We thought visibility was necessary, and we have seen the impact of that on several artists in the group, in the way that they have been reached out to after Venice. We have been really excited by the opportunities that are growing out of it. But that is what the mentorship aspect of the Diaspora Pavilion was intended to do: to provide the framework to help emerging artists know what to do with opportunities when they come, how to navigate things like contracts, sales, and fundraising for new work.

Spencer: In the literature on biennials, triennials and large-scale exhibitions, there is a sustained concern that the individual art works get overlooked within these huge exhibitionary machines. Did the Diaspora Pavilion pose any particular challenges in this respect?

Taylor: This is something that proved difficult to manage or even to respond to during the 2017 Diaspora Pavilion, and an element that we are very conscious of as we move towards the next iteration of the project. The public discussion around the pavilion, particularly in the press and media, sometimes proved problematic on two levels: firstly, there was a tendency to define in simplified or broad terms what the grouping of artists represented in regards to identity (whether that be in terms of nationality, race or ethnicity), which worked counter to the complexity that the exhibition set out to embrace; and secondly, as a result of this distillation of the show’s narratives into a singular identity or politics, there was much less discussion of the nuances and specificities of the individual works themselves. We learnt a great deal from this process, and have been working to develop strategies for how to resist these reductive readings of the work through the information that we provide and the language that we use, as well as the other critical and constructive voices that we will engage with to ensure a more productive discourse around the project going forward.

Bailey: One of the things that enabled us to connect with such a large, energised audience during the Venice Biennale was the marketing support that we had, which ensured that there was public knowledge about the existence of the Pavilion and the artists that were exhibiting in it. As the first iteration of the Pavilion, it was essential that we were able to promote the project amidst all of the other things happening in Venice during the Biennale. And now as we move forward, there is a clear need to be more strategic and move away from the bells and whistles, to present something more narratively complex – because fundamentally it was the messages captured by the specific artworks that resonated with visitors to the exhibition, and not the buzz words that made it into some of the press headlines.

Spencer: While many projects at Venice travel beyond the Biennale in some form, why was it important for you that the Diaspora Pavilion return to the UK, and what were the curatorial challenges involved in this transposition and re-contextualisation?

Taylor: Wolverhampton, we hoped, would allow some of the artists to think about what it was that they had been doing in Venice, and to tease it out in a new context. We had always wanted the Diaspora Pavilion to come to the UK, and the opening that Wolverhampton had in their programme for early 2018 enabled us to organise the tour of the exhibition relatively quickly once we knew which of the artists were available to participate. We did not want to parachute in with a pre-existing show, especially given how site-specific some of the works were, so we spent some time reflecting on what bringing this work back the UK would mean in this respect. We were also very aware of the historical context of Wolverhampton in relation to the Black Arts Movement and wanted to be conscious of that while planning the show. In response, some of the artists introduced new elements to their works, and Michael Forbes made entirely original work for Wolverhampton. Abbas Zahedi started doing a lot of research in relation to the region, and particularly the history of the Black Arts Movement. He decided to cover the windows of the Morris Gallery, the room where his work is displayed, with yellow photocopies of the schedule from the First National Black Art Convention, which took place in Wolverhampton in 1982. Zahedi wanted to relate to that history without speaking for it, and to recognise its importance in a wider history that he is now part of.

In what felt like an extremely fitting intervention, we decided to hang five paintings by Kimathi Donkor in the Georgian and Victorian galleries. Two of those works – Portrait of the Artist Helping with Enquiries: 1984 (2005) and Madonna Metropolitan: The Death of Cynthia Jarrett (2005) – depict scenes of police brutality. Madonna Metropolitan depicts four police officers towering over the huddled forms of two black women recalling Jarrett’s collapse and subsequent death when police raided her house in 1985, an unnecessary loss of life that ultimately contributed to the Broadwater Farm riot. Portrait of the Artist Helping with Enquiries shows the artist standing naked in a barren room as he is being beaten by two white police officers, and quite explicitly addresses police brutality and racism. The impact of his images when placed among works in the Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s collection was completely different to the effect his paintings had in a Venetian palazzo. We saw that impact almost immediately while we were placing the works through the questions coming from visitors walking past. When we came to hang Portrait of the Artist Helping with Enquiries, we also realised that there were no other works in the gallery that featured nudity. Something we had not even considered as a factor to be negotiated in Venice became in Wolverhampton a serious point of contention, provoking important discussions between the ICF, Wolverhampton Art Gallery and audiences.

With their vivid visualisations of the severe abuse of people of colour at the hands of police, Donkor’s paintings are important historical records of miscarriages of justice. However, some of the upset that came from visitors in Wolverhampton was due to the insertion of the paintings into the rooms where the permanent Georgian and Victorian collections hung, which suggests a discomfort around not only the portrayal of the mistreatment of people of colour in this country at the hands of police, but also in response to the action of disrupting existing narratives to even attempt to adequately represent the repression of such histories. Other recent projects that have confronted similar omissions and received public and institutional resistance include the interventions into Manchester Art Gallery conducted by the artist Sonia Boyce during the production of her work Six Acts in 2018, for which she invited artist-collaborators to respond to how the politics of class, gender, race and sexuality can be reconsidered in gallery’s displays of 18th and 19th century works (see Higgins, 2018). Another example is the 2017 exhibition The Past is Now at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, which was a test laboratory led by activists who produced wall texts that re-contextualised works to highlight their relationship to European colonialism, industrial production and capitalism. Often, however, these interventions are conducted as part of temporary projects or exhibitions, rather than an on-going practice of critical reflection.

Keohane: Following Wolverhampton, what are your further plans for the Diaspora Pavilion? How does this relate to your on-going project to explore the concept of diaspora within curatorial practice?

Taylor: There was an initial push to hold another exhibition in Venice in 2019, but instead we have spent time thinking through ways of developing the exhibition model that we tested in 2017 to make it more sustainable and diasporic. To stage an exhibition of that scale with such a large number of participating artists in Venice for seven months requires a huge amount of resources – and the bells and whistles that David mentioned. We decided that stepping away from that to test a new model, which prioritises the support and development of a group of emerging artists from diverse backgrounds through a stronger emphasis on the content and nature of the work, with a more focused curatorial approach to diaspora as a concept, was the best next step for the ICF.

Rather than focusing solely on Venice, we have decided instead to stage a series of peripatetic international exhibitions and events that examine diaspora in and from multiple contexts including Sydney, London, Venice, and hopefully the Caribbean, over the next two years. These will involve more concentrated periods of activity, the first of which will happen in Sydney in partnership with 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. I am a heart beating in the world: Diaspora Pavilion 2, Sydney will present the navigations, imaginings and lived experiences of diasporic subjectivities through the works of six artists based in Australia, the UK and the Caribbean: Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Kashif Nadim Chaudry, Lindy Lee, Leyla Stevens, Zadie Xa and Daniela Yohannes. It was set to run from April to June 2020 to coincide with the Sydney Biennale, but due to the pandemic has been postponed until it is safe for the public to visit exhibition spaces again. We see this next phase not as a static exhibition that responds to one location, but as an entity that will shift and grow with each staging, informed by those that we work with and learn from along the way.

Spencer: So will the engagement with diaspora histories in relation to the UK recede, or still continue to inform your thinking?

Taylor: Selecting the artists for the 2017 Diaspora Pavilion through a nation-wide open call highlighted for us and our collaborators the number of artists working in Britain who see their work as engaging with notions of diaspora, and who view occupying a space in Venice as valuable. For Diaspora Pavilion 2, we will continue to work with artists based in the UK; however, it was always our hope that the project would bring together artists from around the world, reflecting so much of the ICF’s other work which aims to facilitate conversations across national boundaries. It feels essential in this moment to be working towards creative and productive dialogues with colleagues doing similar work in places like Australia and the Caribbean, as well as Europe. We believe strongly in finding a more democratic, sustainable model through which to pursue the work that the original Diaspora Pavilion set out to do.

About the Interviewers

Kate Keohane is a PhD candidate in the History of Art at the University of St Andrews. Funded by an EU Horizon2020 grant, her thesis, entitled ‘Some Otherwhere: Édouard Glissant and the Caribbean Landscape in Contemporary Art’, examines the previous and possible uses of Glissant in the fields of art analysis and exhibition practice. Her research interests centre on alternative ways of figuring the relation between personal identity, place, and visual culture.

Catherine Spencer is a Lecturer in the School of Art History at the University of St Andrews; her research and teaching focus on histories of performance art, the body, transnationalism and abstraction since the 1960s, particularly from intersectional feminist perspectives. With Jo Applin and Amy Tobin she is the co-editor of London Art Worlds: Mobile, Contingent and Ephemeral Networks, 1960–1980, published by Penn State University Press in 2018.

Further Reading 

Ahmed, Sara, Claudia Castada, Anne-Marie Fortier and Mimi Sheller (eds) (2003), Uprootings/Regroundings: Questions of Home and Migration, New York: Berg.

Araeen, Rasheed (1989). The Other Story: Afro-Asian Artists in Post-War Britain, London, Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre.

Bailey, David A., Ian Baucom and Sonia Boyce, eds (2005), Shades of Black: Assembling Black Arts in 1980s Britain, Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press in collaboration with Iniva and the African and Asian Visual Artists’ Archive.

Barson, Tanya, and Peter Gorschlüter (eds) (2010), Afro Modern: Journeys through the Black Atlantic, Liverpool and London: Tate Liverpool and Tate Publishing, 2010.

Beauchamp-Byrd, Mora J. and M. Franklin Sirmans (eds) (1997), Transforming the Crown: African, Asian and Caribbean Artists in Britain 1966–1996, New York: The Studio Museum in Harlem and the Franklin H. Williams Caribbean Cultural Center/African Diaspora Institute.

Carey-Thomas, Lizzie (ed) (2012), Migrations: Journeys into British Art, London: Tate Britain and Tate Publishing.

Chambers, Eddie (2014), Black Artists in British Art: A History since the 1950s, London: I. B. Tauris.

Cherry, Deborah (2017), ‘Suitcase Aesthetics: The Making of Memory in Diaspora Art in Britain in the Later 1980s’, Art History, 40:4, September 2017, pp. 784-807.

Clifford, James (1997), Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Enwezor, Okwui (2015a), ‘The State of Things’, in Okwui Enwezor (ed), Biennale di Venezia: 56th International Art Exhibition: All the World’s Futures, Venice: Fondazione La Biennale di Venezia, pp. 16-21.

Enwezor, Okwui (2015b), ‘Exploding Gardens’, in Okwui Enwezor (ed), Biennale di Venezia: 56th International Art Exhibition: All the World’s Futures, Venice: Fondazione La Biennale di Venezia, pp. 90-95.

Enwezor, Okwui (2008), ‘The Postcolonial Constellation: Contemporary Art in a State of Permanent Transition’, in Terry Smith, Okwui Enwezor and Nancy Condee (eds), Antimonies of Art and Culture: Modernity, Postmodernity, Contemporaneity, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 207-234.

Enwezor, Okwui, and Immanuel Wallerstein (2002), Democracy Unrealized: Documenta 11, Platform 1, Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz.

Gilroy, Paul (1993), The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Glissant, Édouard (2010), ‘Conversation Aboard the Queen Mary II (August 2009)’, interview by Manthia Diawara, trans. Christopher Winks, in Tanya Barson and Peter Gorschlüter (eds), Afro Modern: Journeys Through the Black Atlantic, Liverpool and London: Tate Liverpool and Tate Publishing, pp. 58-63.

Guha, Ranajit (1998), ‘The Migrant’s Time’, Postcolonial Studies: Culture, Politics, Economy, 1:2, pp. 155-160.

Hall, Stuart (1990), ‘Cultural Identity and Diaspora’, in Jonathan Rutherford (ed), Identity: Community, Culture, Difference, London: Lawrence & Wishart, pp. 222-237.

Kerman, Monique (2018), Contemporary British Artists of African Descent and the Unburdening of a Generation, Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mercer, Kobena (2016), Travel & See: Black Diaspora Art Practices since the 1980s, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Mercer, Kobena (2011), ‘Erase and Rewind: When Does Art History of the Black Diaspora Actually Begin?’, in Saloni Mathur (ed), The Migrant’s Time: Rethinking Art History, and Diaspora, Williamstown, MA, New Haven and London: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute and Yale University Press, pp. 17-31.

Mercer, Kobena (ed) (2008), Exiles, Diasporas and Strangers, Annotating Art’s Histories, Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press and Iniva.

Mercer, Kobena (1999), ‘Ethnicity and Internationality: New British Art and Diaspora-Based Blackness’, Third Text, 13:49, pp. 51-62.

Meskimmon, Marsha, and Dorothy C. Rowe (2013), ‘Ec/centric Affinities: Locations, Aesthetics, Experiences’, in Marsha Meskimmon and Dorothy C. Rowe (eds), Women, the Arts and Globalization: Eccentric Experience, Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 1-14.

Mirzoeff, Nicholas (2000), ‘The Multiple Viewpoint: Diasporic Visual Cultures’, in Nicholas Mirzoeff (ed), Diaspora and Visual Culture: Representing Africans and Jews, London and New York: Routledge, 2000, pp. 1-18.

Wainwright, Leon (2017), Phenomenal Difference: A Philosophy of Black British Art, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

All images are courtesy International Curators Forum. Diaspora Pavilion, Venice images captured by Francesco Allegretto. Diaspora Pavilion, Wolverhampton images captured by Steph Hargreaves. 

Sensational Bodies – An Interview with Adam Patterson by Jessica Taylor

Sensational Bodies – An Interview with Adam Patterson

By Jessica Taylor

ICF Head of Programmes Jessica Taylor interviewed artist Adam Patterson about his practice and the work he presented in the project Sensational Bodies, a performance and film programme curated by Taylor and Adelaide Bannerman for the 2018 Jerwood Staging Series

Sensational Bodies presented the work of two artists who consider expanded ways of seeing and speaking beyond the historicised or everyday through performance. In his practice Adam Patterson explores strategies of resistance to particular neo-colonial structures, working to subvert perceptions and deconstruct tropes associated with the post-colonial Caribbean. Interested in the fragility and vulnerability of human existence, Rubiane Maia examines the synergies and relationships between bodies, objects and nature.

Responding to particular constructions of masculinity, Adam Patterson presented a new performance for Sensational Bodies entitled Bikkel. Its namesake referring to the Dutch word for a man with an inauthentic strength or toughness, Bikkel adopts and re-imagines the motif of the sea urchin, depicting the spiked marine animal not as hard, brittle and defensive but as elastic and porous, with the capacity to be held and squeezed. Patterson’s approach to masculinity in this formation of Bikkel is inspired by Audre Lorde’s turn to love and softness as a means of survival and a tool of resistance against social expectations of gender.

Jessica Taylor: Can you speak a bit about the motivations behind the character of Bikkel?

Adam Patterson: Only for the past year have I been opened to the writings and thoughts of Audre Lorde. Lorde’s criticism of hardness and welcoming of softness, as these notions relate to opposing characteristics of masculinity and femininity respectively, really pushed me to reconsider certain approaches I have previously undertaken in my work which, for me, are now questionable and thus subject to scrutiny, reflection and revision. It led me to consider my own masculinity and the various social sources of masculinity that may have unconsciously shaped me between my upbringing in Barbados and my time of study and living in both London and Rotterdam. There is also the consideration that some of these social conditionings have failed me or that I’ve failed them by not meeting certain standards of masculinity and manhood. Bikkel comes from this place of expectation of masculinity and failing to perform certain expectations, alongside the conflict that comes from such conditions, and how this may or may not be reconciled.

J: There are several visual and behavioral elements that you bring together to form Bikkel – through costume, gesture, movement and script. Can you elaborate a bit on how those elements came together?

A: In his initial conceptualization, Bikkel stems from the types of fashion I’ve noticed in men of both London and Rotterdam. His silhouette borrows from tracksuits, bomber jackets and hoodies. There is a rich culture encoded in how these types of fashion and the brands they come in appeal to particular values and merits of masculinity, male prosperity, power and potency. Uninterested in criticizing it, what I appreciate most about it is its ideological conflict; that such soft and comfy clothes are also athletic wear that suggest physical or muscular exertion but also metaphorically refer to a particular masculine ideal. In essence, they are clothes that signify a male hardness or power but are soft and comforting in their physical nature. The use of script is important to me as it allows a moment for the character to live through speaking, through confession and memoir. It’s usually a conflicted reflection or explanation, which isn’t always too reliable or coherent as a piece of information. The script, the spoken word, the voice – these are tools to allow the character to reflect on itself and the usually twisted and unconsented circumstances of its coming into being. It’s like a self-obituary or exorcism or libation, whereby the character is confronted with the reflection of itself, trying to find rest in reconciliation in the difficulty of its reasoning, its being, its ideological heritage and inheritance.

J: How does the motif of the sea urchin – which you have incorporated into the character of Bikkel – function as a means of talking about notions of masculinity?

A: I have used the sea urchin as a tropical image of a beauty that is seductive and therefore dangerous; beautiful to look at, harmful to the touch. In its anatomy, it is a disinterested creature, facing the ground in contemplation, raising a host of thorns to protect itself from external forces. I have used it as an image resisting touristic and consumptive desires against my body, an image that defies a passive paradisiacal nature, a militarized paradise, a paradise in resistance. Bikkel’s spiked urchin face hopes to draw on this image of all the face’s pores, mouths and orifices closing and raising spikes – to suggest a state of being inaccessible, unapproachable, distanced, unable to speak or be spoken to, brittle, hard, closed, non-relational, which I think are all qualities of toxic forms of masculinity.

J: Bikkel is responsive to your use of the sea urchin in previous work as rigid and unimpressionable, how is the shift to a porous and more open way of addressing ideas of masculinity evident in the Bikkel performance informed by the writings of Audre Lorde?

A: In the course of the script, Bikkel remarks on the softening of his spikes. It’s uncertain whether he will open fully but his brittle bony spikes melt to sponge and this porosity suggests a newfound openness. Reflecting on my previous work with sea urchin imagery, I fear the work is too tense and brittle, on the verge of shatter, in constantly resisting, forming itself in resistance. The softening, the loosening, contraction and lax in Bikkel’s spikes is a return towards a relational posture, materiality and approach. Bikkel’s mask is a soft stuffed mask, capable of being squeezed and holding its form in reflex. It’s this kind of reflex which allows for an indestructible vulnerability. Audre Lorde has indeed opened me to the ideas of finding power in softness and vulnerability, but it’s not about being without guard. We can still protect ourselves while actualizing more relational behaviors in ourselves.

J: You reference a variation of a line from her essay ‘Man Child’ at the very end of the Bikkel script – “If I cannot love and resist at the same time, I will probably not survive.” We’ve spoken above about love or softening as a form of survival –Do you think it is fair to say that enacting the relational behaviours that you mention above, both within ourselves and with others, can be a form of resistance to the generalizing or reductive forces at work in society in regards to gender and beyond?

A: Although Lorde, in that essay, is specifically speaking about her son, that excerpt refers to both her children. In surrendering my confidence as a “grown man,” it allows me the space to think of myself as a boy who’s still learning about myself and trying to find healthier ways of coming into myself and coming into the world. It’s important to acknowledge that you don’t know everything and that you could always know and do better. For me, I want to pay less attention to this practice of “resistance” and try and open myself to alternative ways of seeing, interacting and relating. The excerpt asks something which I would’ve once considered impossible and without sense – to resist and love, to resist and be open at the same time. It demands a revision of what it means to be both “resistant” and “vulnerable”. I still don’t entirely understand how to manifest that but that shouldn’t stop me or anyone else from trying. In this task of direct “resistance” whereby I close myself off not only to the evils of this world but everything else, where I am solely defined by this tension, this resistance, I deny myself the opportunity of receiving and being open to the potential of alternative worlds of relation.

J: You bring certain visualisations of masculinity across both the Dutch and the Caribbean contexts into relation with one another in Bikkel through your movements, language and costume, as well as through subtleties like the music playing from within your pocket. Do you consider the complexity of the character as a form of resistance?

A: No, the complexity of sources that converge within Bikkel informs his own sense of conflict. What needs to be considered is that these characters emerge from certain social conditions that would have shaped them without conscience or consent. If you are impressionable then your world will shape you and you will trust that it shapes you “properly”. Then, when you’re confronted with the realization that a lot of what has made you, what has conditioned you, what you have learned, is suspicious, groundless, damaging or simply questionable, you are led to a crisis of character and a kind of disenfranchisement with the world that has gradually made you. For Bikkel, specifically, it is this reckoning with this given image, these given expectations of masculinity, and the crisis of trying to unlearn this given shape, this given texture of roughness and hardness. The “resistance” per se is the crisis of this realization, and the swell of conflict responding to this mischaracterization; the realization that your world has betrayed you and your image.  

J: Is there another context that you would be particularly interested in performing Bikkel?

A: The next step for Bikkel (which was actually the original idea but was delayed) is to walk him through Zuidplein in Rotterdam. It is where a shopping center, bus station and metro station converge in the South. When it’s busy, you can see a lot of guys dressed in all varieties, designs, colours and styles of tracksuits, bomber jackets, sweaters and hoodies, posed around. Though some are in transit, the space does seem to function as a meeting point where these style icons can collide and compete in this public posing off. I think Bikkel would enjoy this space. 

J: You also screened a film during the event, Lookalook, which captured a performance held in Barbados earlier in the year. Lookalook calls out the violence that is elicited when a group of viewers are unable to name or understand something that they are looking at. Have you experienced a difference between the film being seen in Barbados versus the UK?

A: Not at Jerwood Space but the most vitriolic response I received when we screened the film during LADA screens in August was someone expressing their frustration in not knowing where Lookalook was performed or filmed, until Barbados eventually got mentioned. They were confident that my film and its script were not showing an accurate picture of Barbados, though they had admittedly never visited. Or, rather, the image I was posing did not agree with their expectations and preconceptions of Barbados and the wider Caribbean region. The fact that they took that as a point of frustration and not a point of transition, unlearning and revision concerns me but maybe I’m asking for too much. I’ve previously not seen the sense in performing Lookalook in London, as people avoid eye contact so desperately, but perhaps it would call for a new mythology of the character, getting Londoners to revisit a lost time when they used to look each other in the eye.

About the artist:
Adam Patterson is a Barbadian visual artist and writer based in Barbados and the Netherlands. He completed his BA (Hons) Fine Art at Central Saint Martina, London, in 2017. His work emerges from imagining strategies of resistance in the face of neo-colonial encounters and desires that affect Barbados and the Caribbean region. His work has been exhibited at Tate Exchange at Tate Modern, London and he participated in “Sonic Soundings / Venice Trajectories,” a sound art project coordinated with the Diaspora Pavilion presented by ICF during the 57th Venice Biennale. He has contributed to panel presentations at the “Caribbean Diasporic Dialogues” conferences at Goldsmiths University and the British Library. He has written for Fresh Milk Arts Platform, ARC Magazine and Sugarcane Magazine. He is currently an artist in residence in Caribbean Linked at Ateliers ’89, Aruba.

Images: Adam Patterson, Bikkel (2018), Performance for Sensational Bodies, Jerwood Space, London. © Hydar Dewachi

Rubiane Maia speaks to Adelaide Bannerman about Sensational Bodies

Rubiane Maia speaks to Adelaide Bannerman about Sensational Bodies

Adelaide Bannerman interviewed artist Rubiane Maia about her practice and the work she presented in the project Sensational Bodies, a performance and film programme curated by Taylor and Adelaide Bannerman for the 2018 Jerwood Staging Series

Sensational Bodies presented the work of two artists who consider expanded ways of seeing and speaking beyond the historicised or everyday through performance. In his practice Adam Patterson explores strategies of resistance to particular neo-colonial structures, working to subvert perceptions and deconstruct tropes associated with the post-colonial Caribbean. Interested in the fragility and vulnerability of human existence, Rubiane Maia examines the synergies and relationships between bodies, objects and nature.

This voice cuts me off, removing my feet from their place – post-performance movement of thought

Preceded in 2017 by the performance for camera, Stones across the Ocean: Northern Hemisphere  (part 1) (digital vídeo 10 mins looped), This voice cuts me off, removing my feet from their place (2018) is the second work realised by Rubiane Maia in the UK. It is consciously minimal in its presentation of the mulitiplicious dislocations and familiiarities that script one’s personal relationships, movements and spaces taken up in the world.

Drafted intermittently between September and October 2018, much like its live counterpart, the following  presents a conversation between Maia and myself around the ideas, development, choices and disclosure of the work, observing and sharing how it felt as a durational act, and how it sounded in translation. We would like to give our heartfelt thanks to Manuel Vason and his support during our exchanges.

Adelaide Bannerman:

At an early stage in the development of the work and during our conversations you created a space to incorporate other bodies, a tree, and another human being. Can you perhaps talk about what led you towards deciding upon these features of the work?

Rubiane Maia:

The first element that was created in this work was the text. I started writing in January this year. After the birth of my son I didn’t have time to devote myself to anything other than motherhood, but I felt a deep need to express other urgencies. So I had to come up with a strategy that would allow me to do so. I then began to use the time he was sleeping to sit in front of the computer and write. I made a promise to myself to write ‘anything’ of any time, be it present, past or future without thinking of telling a linear story. The text ended up loose and fragmented. Soon, I realised that this process was becoming extremely cathartic.

For the performance I stitched different fragments of what I had written into a single text with the aim of creating a dialogue with an audience. For the first time I then re-read parts of these texts. At this point it became clear that what interested me was not a desire to affirm a self-identity or a personal diary, but to give space to a pulsating “becoming-voice”, one that was alive and vibrant. The willingness and opportunity to work together with a collaborator who could read the text as part of the action came soon after, so I invited you, Adelaide. For me, this other body in the performance becomes a temporary incarnation of this voice – a kind of spiritual channeling. Also, since I do not speak English very well, it was a perfect solution as it was important that the public could access the text fluently and accurately.

I believe the plant represents the poetic body of the performance. It is the strongest visual and symbolic element. The text speaks substantially about the feet and I wanted to work with roots so as to create a parallel between those two supporting elements. I chose to do the transplantation of the plant in an unusual way, because I wanted to use the same vase, but replacing the old earth with a new one; a procedure that is inevitably traumatic for the plant. But I tried to do everything very delicately and slowly, because the roots are a very strong part of the plant, but at the same time, extremely fragile. I have a lot of interest in plants, and this is not my first performance with ‘bodies-plants’. I believe that a kind of intuitive and silent communication between plants and people is possible. In this case, I chose a Ficus lyrata, a plant native of western Africa, a continent that is part of my history as a black woman descended from African slaves born in a colonised country. So I think ‘we’ somehow share aspects of that ancestral memory.


Our shared connectedness to Ficus Lyrata (the tree) became very strong. In fact, I found it amusing that I was over-identifying with her.  Your invitation to narrate from the other side of the wall between us was very welcome in that it enabled me to draw psychically from a small ensemble of thoughts, personal therapeutic actions, and texts, specifically Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider in particular ‘The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action’, Mlanden Dolar’s, A Voice and Nothing More, the chapter ‘The “Physics” of the Voice’(I’m forever enamored with his re-telling of Pythagoras’ pedagogical methodology to teach from behind a curtain so that his students would attend to listening to his voice and words),  and Through Vegetal Being, co-authored by Luce Irigary and Michael Marder, which I found to be very healing during a bout of depression. These texts have become companions. They came together in my sensing of your action.

Reading your translated text fully was bewildering in the sense of how it held together and alternated between perspective and persons being addressed. The pace of my cognition in understanding how to read each sentence and paragraph shifted constantly between certainties, doubts and revelations. To read it was challenging for my voice and relatedness to each scenario. Being amplified I did wonder, what could be heard? How faithfully did the translation to English represent the nuances of your text?


It was nice for me to hear your voice and feel your physical presence on the other side of the wall. We must remember that the wall in the performance also represented a significant element of the piece – connecting bodies, however separated by different perspectives. I think the issue of the translation has to do with exactly this: a playful game of proximity and distance between the two of us; between us and the plant; between your voice and the audience. I think it is essential to make visible the trace of my being as a foreigner who comes from a Latin American country. Inevitably this is a performance charged of many questions about language, but I believe that the strength of the work stands on the aperture toward other modes of understanding and different forms of listening. At the same time it gave me the opportunity of appropriating  my right to speak. The text is purposely fragmented, has many layers and it is really difficult to absorb it from beginning to end, but I was surprised by the silence and the level of attention paid by the audience. The action created a meditative and contemplative atmosphere that encouraged each one to perform a dive into an inner connection.

I identify myself a lot with the idea you suggested: that certain texts and books have accompanied you or  are still guiding you during your life. I feel it constantly. They are part of the voices that help us denunciate, reveal, and question inspiring poetry, and so much more. This year I managed to read only two books: ‘M Train‘ by Patti Smith and ‘Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. They are both great for the sincerity and simplicity with which they deal with complex issues. I felt that ‘M Train’ influenced me a lot because I recognised myself in this person who leaves the house almost every day to sit at the same cafe, in the same table with the purpose of writing for many years, over and over. There is this subtle quality in revealing intimacy in so many things greater than us as human beings. Writing has been a strategy of personal therapy that I have encountered accidentally, as the daily exercise of writing has given me the perfect instrument to shake up very deep psychic aspects, enabling an intense updating of the perceptions that I have about my memories, especially those that mark a sense of identity. I am confronted with the countless narratives that my personal, family, professional, social, ancestral history are made of. Reviewing events, traumas, abuses, injustices, mainly caused by racial and gender issues, has been an arduous and exhausting process, sometimes emotionally unbearable, but of extreme urgency.


Lorde says,

“Each of us is here now because in one way or another we share a committment to language and to the power of language, and to the reclaiming of that language which has been made to work against us. In the transformation of silence into language and action, it is vitally necessary for each one of us to establish or examine her function in that transformation and to recognise her role as vital within that transformation”.

Writing is challenging. To write, speak, live authentically without censoring is a singular and collective action towards finding ourselves. Your text was deeply entrenched and reflective of the differing circumstances one encounters, and though your text was built over a period of time, it was fascinating that the fervour of it articulated itself almost as a stream of conciousness. I imagined the words guiding your fingers teasing out the roots of Ficus. How is she?


This statement is very powerful because it highlights the core of a great conflict: the non-fidelity of language and, at the same time, our implication in the breaking of silence. It’s a difficult commitment to take on because it puts us on the front line of the battles. I have reflected a lot on this idea of ​​breaking the silence, because I realise that we are living in a moment in which this disruption has become a collective urgency. I feel part of this. I feel contaminated by this need to affirm ethical and political issues that have long been invisible. The exercise of speech, writing and action makes it possible to take a position in this place of transformations. We are giving up a neutrality that never really existed, but which has always nourished the maintenance of certain privileges (which benefited only a few). It is a tremendous job to deconstruct the censorship that is embedded in our bodies, our minds, our emotions. The commitment to write every day without having a definite direction has put me in confrontation with some issues: the encounter with unexpected, dirty and perverse facts that interrupt the writing with an alarm. As a consequence, a part of me responded immediately by taking a step back.  Unintentionally the filter of politeness, civility and defence emerges by saying: this yes, that not. Writing puts us at risk, and it hurts, but it’s a pain that makes you wake up, and that helps cleansing the wounds.

I began to study the ‘Automatic Writing‘ of the surrealists, as well as the ‘Psychography’ of Allan Kardec’s spiritualism. Surrealist poets used this exercise with the intention of entering into a trance capable of subverting the conscious mind that controls and limits what is acceptable to be said or written. In Psychography there is this idea of ​​‘body-passage’: a body that opens to be crossed by a stream of energy. Both concepts interest me, because I’m just looking for strategies to access this crude, ungoverned language. I will continue, it will be a long-term job, but I want to create a kind of ‘performance book’. The idea is that each presentation will give birth to a new chapter. So, This voice cuts me off, removing my feet from their place was the first. Now, I am preparing ‘Chapter II’ with a new performance and a new text that will be presented soon in Brazil.

As for Ficus, she’s here, very close, and I can see her as I answer your questions. Ficus is a mysterious plant that I am learning to know. Her appearance has not changed much after a month, although I feel she is not comfortable yet, needing a lot of attention and care. It’s too early to gauge the impact the performance has had on her roots, but she’s still standing with bright green leaves, and is stronger than I could imagine. I’ll tell her that you send her a special and loving hello.

Sheena Rose: performance ‘Island and Monster’ Thoughts and reflections

Sheena Rose: performance ‘Island and Monster’ Thoughts and reflections

By Liz Lydiate

On the evening of 27 February 2017, the cosy and lamp-lit Academician’s Room at the Royal Academy of Art, London, was filled with people from the Caribbean, particularly Barbados, for the first UK performance event by Barbadian artist Sheena Rose: ‘Island and Monster.’

Rose materialized quietly at one side of the room, dressed in a black patterned lace-knit body suit with garlands of flowers at the shoulders. People gradually fell silent, assuming the role of audience in anticipation of performance. She started to address the room, in a very direct and personal way, talking about her own thoughts, difficulties, pain, uncertainty, dilemmas and questions. Her narrative addressed the decisions of her life – where to work; how to deal with location; identity; how to relate to her heritage; how to relate to the art world; questioning the nature and focus of her work. She explained much about both the island and the monster, delivering a very honest, revealing and provocative insight into her situation as a young female artist from the Caribbean;

Immediately this performance raised questions of conduct for the audience; how to behave when another human being is laying her soul bare, whilst engagingly but scantily dressed in carnival style? Do we look her in the eye, say ‘hello’, respond to her questions, deal with her accusations, try to help – or do we subscribe to the conventions of theatre and insert an imaginary proscenium arch between ourselves and the performer?

In the later discussion with Jessica Taylor, of organiser ICF|International Curators’ Forum, Rose cited earlier street performances she had made in Barbados, which had elicited straightforward bawdy criticisms of her approach and her underwear. Barbados is used to body-led street performance; the Academician’s Room is not. Rose is still exploring and developing her practice, using a range of media including performance, which itself has quite recently been reclaimed/rediscovered by the visual art world and is still beating the bounds of its own conventions. Rose will probably further this debate in future work and refine/develop her decisions about and management of the performer/audience interface.

In ‘Island and Monster’ she addressed the issue of the gaze in one particularly sensitive way, placing toy makers’ ‘googly eyes’ from the haberdashery counter in her triumphant crown of hair. Hair styling is huge in the Caribbean, but it is entirely to be looked at; definitely not touched, and Rose’s decorative eyes comment on this. In his magnificent 2009 documentary ‘Good Hair’ Chris Rock explores the wonders of African-American women’s hairstyling. He films a group of elderly black men in a barber shop reflecting “Oh man, don’t touch de hair – man, never ever touch de hair…..”

Additionally, the use of the Academician’s Room itself formed a major element of the piece. A room where ‘art world insiders’ meet and chat in an intimate setting was temporarily taken over by a shared expose and lament about the situation of a working artist. Similarly, Rose’s barely-there but beautiful costume, and its exhibition of her body in a public context, perhaps raised other issues about sexuality and the art world. To what extent does a young woman’s attractiveness detract from her being taken seriously as an artist – and to what extent within the art world milieu is she still eye candy for older (and more powerful) generations? And what about the inevitable role of ageing?

Rose’s performance demonstrated great courage, focus and sincerity. In common with much contemporary work, it inevitably raised issues of context and reference. It is likely that most of Rose’s RA audience were already familiar with her work, but how accessible would this piece have been to someone without this background knowledge? The ‘after-chat’ helped a lot in this regard, but there remain issues about content and completeness that could perhaps strengthen future performance work from this artist.

Rose’s recent drawings – shown as part of the after-chat – use the economy and accuracy of graphic narrative media (e.g. cartoons) to communicate complex and personal issues with great accuracy. Her self-portrait, the head surrounded by tiny aeroplanes, entirely reflects the situation of growing up on a tiny island but gaining awareness and ambition to play a serious part in an international professional community.  This autobiographical approach is the core strength of Rose’s work. She is to be congratulated on her steadfastness and commitment in navigating a very personal route through the shark-infested waters beyond the reef that encircles and protects her tiny home island.

Liz Lydiate
Consultant Visiting Scholar
Centre for the Visual and Performing Arts Barbados Community College

Jiyoon Lee: Biennales in Korea

Jiyoon Lee: Biennales in Korea

the early 1990s, there have been unparalleled changes in art policy, art infrastructure and art practice in Korea [in this document, the term ‘Korea’ refers only to South Korea, unless otherwise stated.] (Goh 2006, Lee 2006, Oh 2006, Kim, B.K. et al 2007, Youn 2007). In the years prior to 1989, exposure of Korean artists outside Korea was mostly limited to few international art festivals such as Sao Paolo Biennale, and exhibitions next to the Italian Pavilion during Venice Biennales. For the government intent on economic development and international recognition, these participations in international exhibitions were seen only as a means to increase national exposure. Thus, in many cases those participating in the international art exhibitions were chosen not by merit, but more on the pecking order, giving the artists an opportunity of rare foreign travel. Of course, there were exceptions to this, such as Paik Nam June and Kim Hwan Ki, but these were exceptional cases, especially in the light that foreign travel for Korean citizens was strictly controlled.

This however changed in early 1990s. The relative affluence made possible by economic development and the right of freedom of travel granted to citizens in 1989 allowed a large number Korean artists to go to other countries in the West for further education. It should be remembered that for many of these young artists who were being educated in a curriculum constrained by detached classical/modern art aesthetics/history/practice, the freedom of travel was like opening of a floodgate, giving the artists access to cutting-edge avant-garde art.

One other point to note is that prior to 1990s, most of the artists who were allowed to travel to foreign countries were limited by their ability to pay for tuition and living expenses, and this meant they were mostly limited to France and Germany where the tuition and living expenses were subsidised by the government, even for non-national students. However, improvement of economic circumstances meant that they could and did begin to study and work in UK and USA, and this was an important factor for allowing Korean artists in increasing and improving their scope and understanding of the contemporary art trend and discourses in the global art scene.

The event which provided a key turning point was the opening of touring version of Whitney Biennale at Korean National Contemporary Art Museum in 1993. It was Paik Name June who made this possible by organising the fundraising as well as acting as a facilitator with New York Whitney Biennale which made this tour possible. His vision was to bring cutting-edge contemporary art to Korea, giving the Korean public, as well as Korean art scene, an opportunity to view the art as it is happening in the global scene. This had an impact that can not be underestimated, galvanising the artists and government bodies alike to put further fundings and efforts to catch-up, as well as take part, in the global art scene.

The Korean government was willing to spend, as well as to invite foreign talents, to do this. Bonito Oliva, the artistic director of the 45th Venice Biennale, was invited to produce the 1993 Daejoen Expo Art Show, followed by the opening of the Korean Pavilion in the 46th Venice Biennale in 1995. In the same year, the 1st Gwangju Biennale opened. It should be noted that although there have been other Biennale/Triennale events in East Asia prior to this e.g..Tokyo & Osaka, Gwangu Biennale was the first event of its kind in that region in that it aimed to be an international mega-event for contemporary art . By 2007, there have been 7 editions of Gwangju Biennale, with average budget of approx USD 12 million. Another major event, PICAF (Pusan International Contemporary Art Fair) opened in 1998, which later changed its name to Busan Biennale and retrospectively renamed the past PICAF events. By 2007, there have been 5 editions of Busan Biennale.

The experimental nature of Gwangju and Busan Biennales had an important influence in the development of Korean contemporary art. Whilst events such as Tokyo Biennale (last edition in 1990) and Fukuoka Triennale(1990-2001, mainly focused on paintings, prints and sculpture) were organised for the benefits of artists of their own country, Gwangju (and later, Busan) Biennale began as a cutting-edge international contemporary art event. Past commissioners and curators include Rene Bloch, Harald Szeeman, Kerry Brougher, Charles Esher, Rosa Martinez and Hou Hanru. Through the invitation and participation of these star-curators, as well as other art professionals, international awareness of Korean contemporary art began to grow. Another important aspect is that through these events Korean contemporary art was able to escape from the West-centric Orientalist view, instead allowing the artists to tackle the social and political issues arising from changes and globalisation. Some of these works and issues may seem dated now, but it should be noted that presentations of these works in numerous international Biennales influenced many contemporary artists.

The first edition of Gwangju Biennale can arguably be said to be the first new large-scale contemporary art Biennale of the post-1989 era. With 1.6million attendees, this event holds the attendance record for a Biennale events in the 1990s (compare this with approx 0.9 million for 51st Venice Biennale held in 2005) In fact, it can be said to be the only contemporary art biennale event in East Asia until the late 1990s. With an average budget of over USD 12M and over 80 participating artists, it is also one of the largest such events in the world.

Biennales of contemporary art inevitably have cultural and geopolitical ambitions, seeking to be internationally or nationally significant, by putting forward particular and supposedly local(Hanru 2005). Gwangju Biennale is no exception. Its earlier editions had clear political and cultural objectives, if not clear directives and methods – that of appeasement and impartation of national and international cultural prestige to the city, as well as international prestige to the country. The founding of Gwangju Biennale was also to have a historical significance, having its first edition coincide with the 50th anniversary of the founding of Korea after independence from Japan in 1945.

However, it should be noted that this was first announced in November 1994, whilst the event was to open in Sep 1995 (Kim OJ 2001, p.208). Even when provided with a large budget, the preparation time was short, and from the beginning there were frictions between the civil servants and artists based in Gwangju. The artists belonging to the traditional academic movement suddenly felt that their works and their medium were being sidelined by the more contemporary art forms, and the young artists who were developing the progressive art scene in Gwangju went against the Biennale, saying that the event was going to be a dominated by ‘junk from the West’. Thus, from the beginning, there was a split between the progressive Gwangju cultural and artistic groups and the Biennale organisation committee.

Since the Gwangu democratization movement [this refers to a popular uprising in the city of Gwangju, South Korea from May 18 to May 27, 1980. During this period, citizens rose up against Chun Doo-hwan’s military dictatorship and took control of the city. In the course of the uprising, citizens took up arms to defend themselves, but were ultimately crushed by the South Korean army.] in 1980, there have been annual events known as ‘May Road Art Fair’, when these artists got together and prepared art shows by the road commemorating this event. These road-side art fairs were well-supported and liked by the general populace of the city and can be said to have formed the basis of the high attendee figures for the first Gwangju Biennale. This group of artists, in protest against what they felt was the misled way of setting up the Gwangju Biennale, independently set up an alternative event which in English was named Anti-Gwangju Biennale, but in Korean was known as Gwangju unification Art Fair. This event opened at the same time as the Gwangju Biennale on September 1995. With a strong sense of national identity and support from the community and artists around the country, the Anti Gwangu Biennale was not without fault but received favourable reception from the media and the general populace. Thus, two large-scale art exhibitions opened in Gwangju at virtually the same time, one being government run and supported (87 artists, both national and international) and the which was spontaneously set up and run (250 artists). It is noteworthy that these two shows, which were almost anti-thesis of each other, provided an art spectacle to the visitors of Gwangju which could be seen as better than the sum of two parts.

The first edition of Gwangju Biennale, whose theme was ‘Beyond the Borders’, opened on 20th September 1995 for a period of 2 months under the artistic direction of Lee Yong Woo. Armed with the large budget and an army of civil servants, the event could be seen as a mixed success. It could be seen as a success just by the fact that it opened under such a tight time constraint. It also had an attendance of more than 1.6 million. However, it should be noted that most of the attendees were Korean – the percentage of international attendees was low. The attendance figure was bumped up by buses arriving from main cities carrying school children – in fact, it was no exaggeration to say that for many attendees, the reason for coming to the Biennale was not for the love or appreciation of art, but more of national pride that Korea now had their own large-scale international contemporary art fair.

The response from the visitors was mixed. Expecting comfortable, conventional and classical art, the audience was faced with unfamiliar avant-garde and experimental contemporary visual art in various forms of installation, and performances. They were confused, feeling cheated and lost. In fact, the gap between the audience ability to understand and appreciate art, and that of the presented art was so large that the 1st edition of Gwangju Biennale was accused of alienating the audience, and the organizing committee was accused of being elitist and pro-western, turning their back towards art-for-the-people (Kim OJ 2001, p.19).

The second Gwangju Biennale (1997) opened in the shadow of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. The change of the political climate meant that instead of being driven by civil servants, this edition of Biennale had to engage more directly with the ‘artists’ on the Korean art scene.[ Kim Young Sam, the first non-military President in more than 30 years, was elected in 1993. He strove to remove the authoritarian ‘army’ culture which was prevalent in the government and civil service.] Ironically, the director of the first Anti-Kwangju Biennale was chosen as the chief secretary for the 2nd Gwangju Biennale, and the Anti-Gwangju Biennale became part of the Gwangju Biennale. Thus, what was Anti- became Pro- Biennale, and the 2nd Gwangju Biennale became a more people-engaging, as well as striving to strike a right balance between international and national artists.[The theme of the 2nd Gwangju Biennale (1997) was ‘Unmapping the Earth’] Directed by Lee Young Chul, one of the highlights of the Biennale was the show entitled ‘Speed’, curated by Harald Szeeman. It is interesting to note that when Harald Szeem an directed the 48th (1999) and 49th (2001) Venice Biennale, he brought a larger representation of artists from Asia and Eastern Europe.

The founding of the Gwangju Biennale, with its large financial and manpower support from the government, naturally awakened a sense of envy, as well as the sense of being side-lined, especially in the regions where the international art exhibitions and art fairs were being organized and held with minimal support from the government. One such city was Busan, which lies approximately 280km east of Gwangju. Although geologically quite close, city of Busan, and the surrounding Kyung Sang-Do area was relatively more developed and affluent than Gwangju, and has held international art festivals for some time. Privately funded and organized by Busan Art Association, Busan Youth Biennale held its 7th edition open in July 1994. Presented works included video, installation, performance, with invited artists from countries such as France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Russia, Taiwan and USA. This art exhibition was thus aimed to be cutting edge, with a clear focus on experimental, education and youth.

The perceived success of Gwangju Biennale prompted the Busan Art Association to organize an international art exhibition which, if not equal in size, at least equal in prestige, discourse and impact in the international art scene. Three separate art festivals, i.e. Contemporary Art Exhibition, Sea Art Festival and Busan Sculpture Project were rolled into one, and resultant festival was renamed as PICAF i.e. Pusan International Contemporary Art Festival. The aim was to, along with expounding on the themes chosen for that particular festival, to include the city of Busan into the ongoing theme such that the city itself, in terms of its geo-political and geographical identity.

The first edition of PICAF opened in Nov 1998, its theme being ‘Light on the New Millennium – Wind from Extreme Orient’. The ambition of the organising committee in making the PICAF to be of importance in academic discourse was evident by the inclusion of the organisation of Academic Seminars. The second edition of PICAF (2000) edition was more noteworthy as the Art Director Lee Young Chul was joined by Rosa Martinez [Then co-curator of Manifesta 1 (1996), Curator of 3rd Intl SITE Santa Fe Biennial (1999), curator of 4th EVA 2000 Biennial (Limerich, Ireland)], Hou Hanru [Curator of Shanghai Biennale 2000, Cities on the Move (1997)] and Tom Van Bleat, who joined the team as co-curators. In addition to the normal three exhibition shows, Contemporary Art Market and Academic Seminars were included in the mix. Although in the fringe (and still considered to be in the fringe), the exhibition focused on artists under 40, and included lively Q&A sessions in seminars, giving rise to interesting discourses. It should be remembered that Hou Hanru’s article ‘Towards a New Locality’ which was reprinted in Yu(2002) and Vandelinden & Filipovic (2005), was originally presented and printed in the 2000 PICAF Seminar Catalogue. The total budget was approx USD 1.2M, of which USD 600K was provided by the City of Busan by public funding. The rest was provided by commercial support and other means. The total expenditure was 10% of Gwangju Biennale, showing the discrepancy between the financial support for Gwangju Biennale compare to that in Busan.

In 2002, PICAF was renamed as the 3rd Busan Biennale, with the former PICAF editions being renamed as Busan Biennale retrospectively. Removing the academic seminar and art market of the show and focusing more on the presentation of contemporary show, each exhibition had an indigenous director, with invited commissioners from who would provide knowledge and support for selecting artists. [Contemporary Art Exhibition : Artistic Director was Kim Airyung, Commissioners: Kim Levin (USA), Catherine Francblin (France) & Akira Tatehata(Japan). Sea Art Festival: Artistic Director was Kim, Kwang-Woo, Commissoner: Yeon In-Mo (Korea), Busan Sculpture Project (Artistic Director Song, Keun Bae), Commissoner: Heinz Hermann Jurczek] The Busan Biennale still hung on to the tradition of focusing on young artists, with Contemporary Art Exhibition presenting works by artists who were mostly under 40. However, this unwritten rule was being relaxed on the Sea exhibition and Busan Sculpture project.

Another noteworthy event in Korea is the Seoul Media Art Biennale. Originally planned as annual event and named Media City Seoul, the event was founded in 2000, with special focus on media art through various channels such as mobile phones and large outdoor screens. Making use of the diverse media portals available in the city of Seoul, this event, whose 5th edition opened to the public in Sep 2008, introduced various international media to the general public. Seoul Media Art Biennale is very much international in flavour in that whilst the main creative director is Korea, curators were all foreign.

There are other Biennale events in Korea such as Taegu Photo Biennale and Eechun Ceramic Biennale, and there are other large scale events which are currently in the planning stage. However, this is more of a result of cultural development policy since the de-centralization of the Capital management policy launched. Also it provided substantial funding to allow an almost carte-blanche development of regional culture scene. This policy, which is now more than ten years old, is in a need of urgent revision, as the mission statements or visions which may have been applicable ten years ago is certainly not applicable now.

The current administration is in fact in the process of reviewing the art policy and the art support infrastructure, with focus on removing the reliance of civil service and more on art professionals in terms of running these events, as well attempting to impose a more of a long term view. It is also interesting to note that the funding for these art events is to remain the similar amount as before, but the process and directions by which the funding would be awarded is expected to change drastically, although the details are currently not known.

Although provided with strong government and public support, Gwangju, Busan and Seoul Biennales had mixed successes over the years. These events are now established as major contemporary art events in East Asia, attracting attracts international attention, but there have been criticisms that these events, especially the Gwangju Biennale, absorbed disproportionately large percentage of the cultural fund of Korea, without discernible impact of Korean contemporary art in the world art scene. Also, some critics (Lee YW 2006, Morgan 2006) have stated that this event-based art exhibitions have negative aspects in the development of the contemporary art scene in Korea, as the art infrastructure and art scene were working in the year of work – year of no work cycle, with pressure to come up with new ideas every other year. Also, there have been criticism that this event-based structure, where the people involved in them were replaced by events, the lessons learnt were not properly transferred to the next team, resulting in same organizational, operational errors being committed. Also, Gwangju Biennale’s position as the foremost periodic art fair in East Asia is coming into question as more and more Biennales are coming into forefront, especially those in China and Japan. We are entering a new period of biennales, where both Gwangju and Busan biennales have to re-discover and re-print their identities, both in national and international art scene.

The other important development in the Korean contemporary art scene which we cannot ignore is the development of alternative space. These could almost be said to be an anti-theses of Biennales, in that they run on shoe-string budget, with more focus on art-production (compared to art-showing by Biennales). They developed almost out of necessity, as Biennales and other large-scale events developed under the Regional Culture development policy siphoned off the majority of cultural budget, leaving a relatively small amount for local artists in institutions for use in art production and exhibitions. The average government funding for local artists or alternative space owners for purpose of art production or exhibition is about UDS 5000 per annum, and it would be up to the artists or alternative space directors to procure the remaining budget by whatever means possible. At the same time, it was the alternative spaces, and their director/ owners who provided the opportunities and impetus for young artists in terms of art production, discourse and exhibition. It is with little exaggeration that we can say that these alternative spaces were the art factories of Korea for the last ten years. Most noteworthy of these are Ssamzie (est. 1992, also provides residency for artists), LOOP (est. 1998 run by Suh Jin Suk, known for providing exhibition for artists who came back from international education as well setting up a media art archive), POOL (run by Park Chan Kyung, with more emphasis on political-socially orientated art) and Sarubia café space.

The activities of these large scale events and small-scale hotbeds, the Korean contemporary artists became aware of the context, as well as their place in the international art scene, and also provided the impetus for them to further activities in the last ten years.
Jiyoon Lee is an independent curator, writer and advisor specialising in contemporary arts.

2nd Gwangju Biennale.1997. Unmapping the Earth, Gwangju, Korea
45th Venice Biennale 1993. Venice, Italy
BELTING, H.(1994) Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art, tr. Edmund Jephcott, University of Chicago Press, Chicago,USA.
CHOI, IB 2003. “Korean Diaspora in the Making: Its Current Status and Impact on the Korean Economy”. In: Bergstein, CF and Choi, IB (eds). The Korean Diaspora in the World Economy. Institute of International Economics, pp.9-29
CHOI, JH. 2007 [Personal communication] 17th June 2007
GOH, CH 2006. “Changes in Korean Art Policies and Related Issues in 2005”. In: 2006 Culture and Arts Yearbook. Seoul: Art Council of Korea. pp.125-130
HANRU H. 2005. “Towards a New Locality: Biennales and Global Art”. In: Vandelinden and Filipovic (eds) The Manifesta Decade – Debates on Contemporary Art Exhibitions and Biennials in Post-Wall Europe, Roomade Press, p. 57
JEONG, HJ. 1999. “Japanese Art policy for colonised Korea”. Korean Modern Art History, 7, pp 158 – 178, published by Association of Korean Modern Art History.
JOHAN, HJ.2005. “Living with Conflicting Subjectivities: Mother, Motherly Wife, and Sexy Woman in the Transition from Colonial-Modern to Postmodern Korea”. In: Lee JY and Kyander P,(eds). Seoul: Until Now! City and Scene. Copenhagen: Charlottenborg Udstillingsbygning
KIM, BK, Ho, KY and Lee, NY. 2007. “Painting = Money! Who are the current blue chip artists?”. Art in culture. pp. 96-105, May.
KIM, HH. 2003a. Feminity and Art. Seoul: Noonbit Press
KIM, HH. 2003b. Korean Art Scene and Contemporary Art. Seoul: Noonbit Press
KIM, JH and RYOO, HS (eds). 2006. Young Korean Artists 45: Interviews. Seoul: Da Vinci Gift Press
KIM, OJ. 2001. Biennale Report, SangJi, Gwangju, Korea
KIM, SY. 2006. “Circulation and auction of antiques during the Period of under the rule of Japanese Imperialism”, Modern Art Research. pp. 151 – 172. published by National Contemporary Art Museum.
KIM, Y. 2005. Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea. New Jersey: Hollym International Corporation.
KIM, YN. 1998. Art of Twentieth Century Korea, YaeKyung Press, Seoul (Korean)
KYUNG, BH. 2007. [Personal Communication] 3 March Bae Hae Kyung, President of Christies in Korea (March 2007)
LEE, JW. 2006. Crazy Art Made in Korea, Galleon Press, Seoul, Korea
LEE, KB. 1984. A New History of Korea, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA LEE, SY 2006. “Current Trends in Art Exhibitions”. In: 2006 Culture and Arts Yearbook. Seoul: Art Council of Korea. pp.131-137.
LEE, YJ. 2004. Image Critic: From Sesame leaf to artificial satellite, Noonbit, Seoul, Korea
LEE, YW. 2000. Baik Nam June, his art and life, YeulEum, Seoul
LEE, YW. 2006. “2006 Art Biennales in Asia”. Wolgan Misool. (261) pp. 88-91
MARTINEZ, R 2000. “Biennials on the Fringe”. In: 2000 PICAF – The Art Theory and Criticism Seminar, Oct 2000, Busan Busan: Pusan International Contemporary Art Festival Organising Committee, pp.23-25
MORGAN, R. 2006. “Advancing/Retreating Two Biennales”. Wolgan Misool (261) pp. 92-93
OH, KS. 1998. Critical Art History of Korean Contemporary Art, Mijin Press, Seoul
OH, SK. 2006. “Korean Art History of – 1977 to 2006”. In: 2006 Culture and Arts Yearbook. Seoul: Art Council of Korea. pp.177-188
VANDELINDEN, B. and FILIPOVIC, E(ed) 2005. The Manifesta Decade – Debates on Contemporary Art Exhibitions and Biennials in Post-Wall Europe’, Roomade Press
YANG, A 1998. Why Asia? – Contemporary Asian and Asian American Art. New York: New York University Press
YOUN, JI “2007. Korean International Art Fair and Korean Art Market”. Art in culture. pp. 106-115, May

Curating in the Caribbean

Curating in the Caribbean

Curating in the Caribbean

Curating in the Caribbean is a publication produced in 2012 that brings together a wide range of authors, all of whom were born and/or work in the Caribbean, who were invited to contribute essays which explore the current curatorial drive within the Caribbean. The theme of curatorship is considered in its broadest context, and encompasses many different projects and initiatives aimed at creating a platform for the visual arts, making visual art ‘visible’ by bringing it to a wider audience and broadening the critical discussion around it.

Curating in the Caribbean is a unique document—unique in the sense of its Caribbean perspective and unique in how the project emerged out of the Black Diaspora Visual Arts (BDVA) programme. This programme began in 2007 as a strategic legacy of the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade commemorative year, led by the Barbados National Art Gallery Committee and the International Curators Forum (ICF)—a UK-based network set up to address emerging international issues and a range of themes related to contemporary curatorial practice in the Black Diaspora and visual culture in the twenty-first century.

  • The BDVA programme has included exhibitions, installations and arts events, as well as a series of salons, seminars, symposia and conferences hosted in Barbados and benefitting other parts of the Caribbean. Its aims include:
    Raising the profile locally, nationally and internationally of Barbadian visual artists and curators
  • Inviting international visual artists and curators to Barbados to establish different fora for intercultural dialogue and professional development opportunities
  • Preparing a 10 year strategic plan for the project in conjunction with the next ‘Grand Tour’ in 2017, during the Venice Biennale and Documenta.

A number of leading scholars, curators and artists have been invited to participate in intercultural dialogue and knowledge exchange at symposia held in March 2008 and February 2009, the latter taking as its starting point generational shifts in the post-war history of the Black Diasporic arts.

The third symposium in the series on ‘Caribbean Curatorship and National Identity’ took place in Barbados on 1 December 2009, as part of a broader conference in collaboration with the Museums Association of the Caribbean, the Barbados Museum and Historical Society and the International Council of Museums. The symposium focused on the intercultural competencies that support the professional development of cultural leaders and the promotion of formal and informal peer support networks with arts practitioners in Barbados and the Caribbean Islands across the Black Diaspora.

It was in support of BDVA’s strategic plan, that the National Art Gallery Committee and the Barbados Museum and Historical Society collaborated with the Prince Claus Fund, the International Curators Forum and The Green Box on the production of a publication on the theme of Curating in the Caribbean as a forum for the visual arts. It was envisaged that this publication will document the ideas generated and progress made to date in artistic and professional quality with recommendations on frameworks and platforms for future international cultural and knowledge exchange across the Black Diaspora.

In this context it was always envisaged that the publication will be used as an advocacy document to raise the international profile of artists and curators living and working in the Caribbean Islands, and to promote opportunities for international exchanges between visual arts agencies and institutions across the Diaspora.

Curating in the Caribbean seeks to contextualise the cultural production of post-war Black Art against the background of generational shifts as a result of migration across the Diaspora. Furthermore, the publication has proven both relevant and instructive for delivering a Caribbean agenda of social inclusion and community cohesion by using visual art as a medium for breaking the silences common in the post-colonial constellation of developing countries. The publication will be an important addition to the canon of Caribbean art literature.

Finally, we see Curating in the Caribbean as a strategic platform for intercultural exchange between artists, curators, gallery directors and scholars living and working in the Caribbean and the broader region, helping to deliver globally new international working and adult education outreach programmes, through skills development and knowledge exchange. The publication acts as an agency to the power of culture, through providing intellectual ballast and new audiences for the canon of social commentary produced by Caribbean visual artists.

Edited by David A. Bailey, Alissandra Cummins, Axel Lapp and Allison Thompson

Included essays:
José Manuel Noceda Fernández – Islands in the Sun – Caribbean Art in the 1990s
Claire Tancons – Curating Carnival? Performance in Contemporary Caribbean Art
Barbara Prézeau Stephenson – Haiti Now – The Art of Mutants
Sara Herman – Unconscious Curatorships
Krista A. Thompson – How to Install Art as a Caribbeanist
Winston Kellman – The Invisibility of the Visual Arts in the Barbadian Consciousness
Jennifer Smit – Curating in Curaçao
Dominique Brebion – Act Locally and Think Globally
Veerle Poupeye – Curating in the Caribbean – Changing Curatorial Practice and Contestation in Jamaica

Purchase the book or Purchase the e-book via The Green Box Publishers (ISBN 978-3-941644-32-8)

This book was made possible with support from  Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development