Curating the International Diaspora: Barbados & Martinique (2016)


Curating the International Diaspora is a project that involves working with curators and artists from culturally diverse backgrounds across five countries between March 2016 and March 2017. By attending and participating in events in London, the Caribbean, Sharjah during the Sharjah Biennial and Gwangju during the Gwangju Biennial, a group of arts practitioners were able to experience and engage with some of most relevant projects and professionals addressing contemporary art and curatorial practice, and to network with a global artistic community, thus offering exceptional opportunities for professional development.

Curating The International Diaspora was an integrated 24-month programme that builds upon ICF’s expansive existing international networks, cultural partnerships and expertise. The project established new knowledge in the relationship between the study of cultural diasporas and contemporary curating, made possible by a programme of focused public events to be held in the UK, the UAE region, South Korea and the Caribbean between 2016 and 2017.

Curating The International Diaspora saw the development of different programmes at each site that took the shape of public conferences and programmes, exhibition and biennial tours, workshops and studio visits with artists to collectively explore three themes:

  1. What is the impact of cultural diasporas on the field of contemporary visual art curatorship in particular? 
  2. Which patterns of migration have been evident in the field of contemporary art curating? 
  3. How have contemporary curators represented diaspora through their projects?

After two successful conferences in London (June 2016) and South Korea (September 2016) around the topic of Curating the International Diaspora, ICF invited a group of curators and artists from the UK, the US and South Korea to take part in a series of networking events in the Caribbean islands of Barbados and Martinique from November 28 – December 2.

Selected participants included:
Melanie Keen (Director of Iniva), George Blacklock (artist and Dean of Chelsea College of Art and Design, London), Ellen Gallagher (artist based between New York and Rotterdam), JW Stella (London-based independent curator), Haeju Kim (independent curator, writer and editor based in South Korea), Jaewon Choi (Chief Curator at space*c, Coreana, Museum of Art, Chief Curator at Seoul Museum of Urban-Regeneration), Hyejin Han (researcher at the Archive and Research Centre at Asia Culture Centre, Gwangju) and Jessica Taylor (ICF Head of Programmes) 

Professionals from these different regions came together to discuss emerging curatorial issues and to meet with practitioners based in both Barbados and Martinique. While in Barbados, the team group visited the Barbados Museum & Historical Society, Punch Creative Arena, the Barbados Community College and the private collection of Mervyn Awon, and attended studio visits with artists Sheena Rose, Ewan Atkinson, Ras Ishi Butcher, Mark King, Versia Harris, Ronald Williams, Winston Kellman and Russell Watson. While in Martinique, the group visited Foundation Clément, Le Foundres HSE, Tropiques Atrium and Habitation Saint-Etienne, and had studio visits with Ernest & Jean-Philippe Breleur, Henri Tauliaut & Annabel Gueredrat, Luc de Laguarigue and Ricardo Ozier Lafontaine.

Public programming held during the trip included a panel discussion with all of the programme participants at Foundation Clément, open lectures by Melanie Keen and Ellen Gallagher at the Barbados Community College and a critique session with Bachelor of Fine Arts 3rd year students led by George Blacklock and Ellen Gallagher. 

The Curating The International Diaspora programme will investigate how emergent cultural diasporas have impacted the curatorship of contemporary visual arts specifically and how new models of contemporary curating have developed as a consequence of these effects. The project will demonstrate how curatorial practice has been radically transformed by the diaspora of people, intellectuals, artists, and cultural workers.

For intellectual and cultural diasporas from diverse origins and disciplines, a new kind of curatorial practice has attempted to represent these changes by creating what Ute Meta Bauer has called ‘a space of refuge – an in-between space of transition and of diasporic passage’ for cultural workers across the world. Whereas increased global mobilities, displacement, and the vast emigration of cultural producers has had a profound effect on contemporary art and curatorial practice for the last three decades, focused research has not been conducted on the impact of these developments. Similarly, little attempt has been made to understand how curatorial practice in Asia has been influenced by cross-cultural diasporas or how the emergence of a more globalised art world has taken account of these new networks, flows and their dispersal, which increasingly operate at an international, trans-national, multi-national and global level, with the local and global in constant dialogue with one another.

Issues of cultural identity and representation are highly debated topics at the moment. In the current geopolitical and economic circumstances, the world is increasingly facing the rise of ‘nationalism’ as a dominant discourse, often justified as a sense of self-protection of ‘the people’ under an assumed homogenous collective identity against the heterogeneous ‘otherness’. There is growing concern in the international artistic community about censorship and the closing down of public opportunities to engage with international cultures, despite increasing globalization of cultural flows and practices, facilitated by the advent of digital technologies, social media platforms, and the increasing circulation of products and populations.