art in all its forms

art in all its forms

1/4/17

BOOK REVIEW: Morning, Paramin

At the book launch of Morning, Paramin last December at the Fernandes Industrial Estate, Laventille. Photo: Andre Bagoo


A POEM contains time. Its effects rely entirely on a progression through words, lines, stanzas, developments, regressions, erasures—whatever materials are deemed fit.

A poem also contains time because it can look to the past. And it sometimes looks back in order to bring news to the present. Implicitly, the entire project of poetry looks to a future, in the same way all action assumes some kind of tomorrow.

Yet, sometimes it feels like time has paused in a poem: as though what is being presented is a fine photograph or painting. For a moment, WH Auden’s clock stops. A poem can be timeless, even if every fiber of its being is made of time.

In Morning, Paramin Derek Walcott confronts this vortex head-on. The book is an extended sequence of ekphrastic poems done in response to the paintings of Peter Doig. You might think the idea of a poet having to respond to a set image is limiting, but in fact such a stricture can give the poet more freedom. The result, in this case, is an ease and fluidity in Walcott’s lines. While the poems are sometimes mindful of process, they feel fresh and free even when deploying formal conventions. Famously, a book closes at the end of White Egrets. This new book triumphantly defies that.

In the new work, which was launched last week Wednesday at Doig’s studio space at Fernandes Industrial Estate, Laventille, the paintings are not illustrations. Nor are the poems slavish replications of every stroke of the painter. In fact, sometimes Walcott takes the poems to unexpected places given the images. For example, in ‘Metropolitain’, the poet finds a tone that seems counter to the darkness of Doig’s painting ‘Stag’.

“Drunk is drunk anywhere,” Walcott memorably states. The Nobel Laureate gives us one of the greatest tributes to booze in poetry, calling Stag, “the loveliest of beers”. (Carib appears in another poem, but only as a symbol of tabanca.) There is a prose poem (the outstanding ‘100 Years Ago (Carrera)’), and poems that seem somewhere between rondels and sonnets contemplating another line but not needing one. Two poems are four lines long. Brevity is required for vastness.

Gradually, the book reveals its true subject matter: love and loss. Walcott once again looks to the past: dealing with a figure named Margaret, a likely reference to the poet’s second wife. The pair divorced, she died in 2014. The most fevered poems deal with her, such as ‘In the Heart of Old San Juan’, ‘Santa Cruz III’, and ‘Paramin’ where the poet declares, “when I join her it will be Paramin / for both us and the children.”


Yet these tender moments are offset by other tones. In ‘Man Dressed as Bat’ Walcott finds exhilaration and comedy at one moment, but then states, “What a sad thing a man dress like a bat. / Crip, cripple it!” The violent intolerance to the bat is not adequately accounted for in the poem. In ‘Mal d’Estomac’ and ‘Abstraction’ Walcott, the author of Tiepolo’s Hound and himself a painter, enters the guise of critic, analyzing modern art and Doig’s style.

If Walcott looks to the past, he also looks to a present with Doig. In ‘Grand Riviere I’ Walcott remarks of the landscape, “This lowering green emptiness is what you love / as hard as Peter Doig”. The poem ‘In the Arena’ casually describes Doig as, “a good fella”, adding, “You can tell a / good painter by how much he loves a place.” In ‘Peter, I’m Glad You Asked Me Along’, Walcott states, “Everywhere is wrong / as all forms miss perfection, hence the mask / in which the whole society is based.” He adds, “this craziness is just where we belong.” The effect is similar to what occurs in Catullus’s love poems to Lesbia, where anyone who acts as a portal to the object of the poet’s love is also loved. In ‘Lapeyrouse Umbrella’ Walcott writes, “What she has forgotten you learn every day, Peter.… / She sleeps in that country where there is no time, / as my pen and your brushstroke blend in the one metre.”

Readers will come away with a newfound appreciation of both artists. Walcott’s astonishing poems underline the complex power of Doig’s paintings which have a limitless range in terms of subject matter and technique. One minute we are down the islands at Carrera, the next we are skiing on a mountainside. At times the colours are as bright and vivid as a sign by Bruce Cayonne, at others, muted, oozing dark chemistries.

Doig’s best work finds de Chirico-like surrealism in the everyday. Examples include a heart-sign in a basketball court, a man walking with a pink umbrella next to the Lapeyrouse Cemetery, odd-looking boom boxes casually arranged at the side of the road, and, more recently, the yellow and green structures at the Port-of-Spain Jail, where the painter has utilized Rastafarian iconography in an audacious series of oil paintings.

But it is the sense of Walcott’s gaze – at the paintings, at his life, at his friend – that comes over most powerfully in this book. In the most haunting poem of the sequence, ‘Window Pane’, the poet looks to the future and writes, “all that lies ahead is the blank page / of winter no matter how well I write.”


Morning, Paramin, 
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ISBN-13: 978-0374213428, 120pp)
Available at PaperBased Bookshop


- from Newsday, December 28, Section B, page 1

12/18/16

Speaking in parables

Photo: The Golden Thread Gallery


JEAN-ULRICK Désert is familiar with Leviticus. He used that Biblical book as the title of a series of works on paper in 2008. For a new piece shown as part of Caribbean Queer Visualities in November, Désert returns to the Bible, this time referencing Matthew 7:6, with its edict, “do not cast pearls before swine.”

Désert fills a room with pearlescent balloons and hangs rainbow-coloured garlands that replicate the edict in different languages, including patois. The atmosphere is celebratory, yet ambivalent. There are also chains dangling from the ceiling. We look up to the roof at the seminal balloons, adjusting our body as we enter the room.

“The Bible is used as a strategy against the LGBTI community,” the artist says as we chat over dinner in Belfast where the show was staged. “I am reacting to that strategy and acknowledging that for those of us who speak this patois there is an intimacy that we share when we communicate in it.”

The artist continues, “It’s private, it is familial, which gives it a certain power and place of privilege. To me that seems an appropriate strategy for an intimate topic such as desire.”

This polyvalence is fitting for the subject matter, especially in context of Caribbean societies that have driven questions of sexuality underground into the realm of subterfuge and shadow play. Désert’s piece reflects a precarious tight-rope act. On the one hand it is festive, on the other hand it stands in awe – maybe fear – of desire. The use of “swine” in the title connotes various forms of kink, in addition to its figurative meaning.

“As we know, the figure of the pig is also someone who engages in something excessive,” Désert says. “There is also a certain obstinacy that comes with being a pig. When someone is called a pig it infers a variety of things.” If the message is lost, then this demonstrates how sacred texts are inherently malleable. They therefore serve as poor justifications for bigotry.

It Neque mittatis margaritas Vestras ante porcos (Do Not Cast Pearls Before Swine) is a serious warning from an artist who knows all too well the price of intolerance.

As a child, Désert’s family fled his native Haiti when it was under the grip of the first Duvalier regime.

“We were thrown into exile,” Désert says. “We lived in the Brazilian Embassy for a number of months until the President’s birthday when we were able to escape for the airport, making our way from Haiti to New York. One more day, all three of us would have been murdered.”

LOVE, ANGER, MADNESS

Désert continues, “My mother is still very reticent to talk about it. This is from what I pieced together from my father. Their marriage would eventually suffer and fall apart by the time we were living in the States. Even when my mom got divorced and she returned she was immediately arrested and stopped at an airport because we were still on a blacklist. Relatives had their businesses compromised. We had to abandon all our properties leaving me no physical legacy.” He adds, “but the cultural legacy cannot be erased.”

Désert has since lived in New York, Paris and now Berlin. He has earned degrees at Cooper Union and Columbia University and has lectured and been invited as a critic at Princeton, Yale, Humboldt. His work is impossible to pin down, including billboards, actions, paintings, site-specific sculptures, video and objects. A simple video of him standing at Piazza San Marco, Venice, during a flood tide takes on the air of something weighty and profound: commenting on history and fate.

In 2013’s Amour Colere Folie (Love Anger Madness), Désert pays homage to the Haitian author Marie Chauvet whose writing sent her into exile in New York until her death. Her work was later clandestinely published in 2002 reestablishing her once censored voice against the wishes of her family feared reprisals.

Désert pieces are united by this concern with the clandestine, not as willful obscurity, but as necessity. This is so whether he is working with burquas and flags, the exposed male body and lederhosen, or elaborately presented testimonials of sex workers. He hides things in plain sight, where they will be safest.

Or most dangerous, such as in La Main (The Hand) where that body part is cast in white chocolate, in a reference to the disturbing racist elements of Belgium’s history, a history which is not as well known as the country’s fine pralines.

“In my work in general I try not to impose my own personal point of view,” Désert says. “I would imagine one could say this about most of the practioners in this exhibit – we are not dedicated explicitly to a queer practice. It is implicitly there, they are one of many elements in our works.”

A tall, striking punk figure who combines dapper waistcoats with kilts, Désert adds, “I am very conscious of the male drag that I wear. Yet, that’s only one of about 50 layers of who I am. I don’t want to dis-empower the viewer to bring their own experiences in experiencing work. It’s poetic if one does it correctly.”

- from Sunday Newsday, December 18, page 3

*
Caribbean Queer Visualities was the outcome of a series of roundtable discussions by Small Axe and was staged at the Golden Thread Gallery as part of the Outburst Queer Arts Fest at Belfast last month.

More coverage of Caribbean Queer Visualities here and here,
supported by the British Council. 


12/11/16

Nowhere boy


Andil Gosine poses with Jamie Baird's portrait of him at PS2 Gallery, Belfast.
Photo by Andre Bagoo.

ANDIL GOSINE is 14-years old and he can’t stop crying. He’s at the Piarco International Airport. His family is about to board a plane that will take him, forever it seems, from Trinidad to Canada.

“I did not want to go,” he says today, seated in a café on a cool November afternoon in Belfast. “I made a huge scene in Piarco. The security guard saw me seven years later and he said: ‘O you come back!’ I was crying and begging my parents not to go. I definitely did not want to leave. It was very traumatic for me.” 

Gosine, 43, has lived all over the world (in one chat he breezes through Paris, New York, Toronto). “You know that expression in Trinidad— nowarian?” he says, alluding to his wanderlust state. 

Gosine is one of the artists featured in Caribbean Queer Visualities, the ground-breaking exhibition staged at Belfast in early November as part of Outburst, the city’s queer arts festival. His piece, Coolie Colors, alludes to two shifts: moving away from Trinidad, and embracing his sexuality. 

The artist juxtaposes two things: a small photo album showing that seven-year old who bawled down the place at Piarco posing in dainty guises; and an empty plant pot filled with three stunted jhandis—the flags used by Hindus for protection. 

Andil Gosine's Coolie Colours, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast

“I could have been fabulous but then I moved to Canada,” Gosine says the title of pantone that forms a part of his piece at the show. He is speaking on opening night at Belfast’s Golden Thread Galley, taking the audience through the work. “I wanted to challenge the dominant narrative of the Caribbean as an oppressive space for people who don’t conform to hetereonormativity.” Though the Caribbean lags behind many countries in terms of LGBTI equality, Gosine, the oldest of three boys, remembers his childhood in Trinidad as one in which he was never made to feel oppressed. 

“None of that was ever policed for me,” he says. 

Later, he states of the photo album, “Those pictures demonstrate to me the feeling of being a loved child who was not policed around identity. I was never told boys don’t do that. I was a confident child. I was lucky to have been brought up in Trinidad. I wasn’t known as a boy who didn’t do sport. I was just Andil. I really did feel cared for by my parents.” 


 Details from Coolie Colours

He adds, “I left Trinidad a very confident child and Canada destroyed me. It was obliterating. There was nothing freeing about being in Canada. It was punitive those four years in high school.”
Later, in Gosine’s experience, race complicated his engagement with Canada’s gay community. 

“You won’t see me claim gay pride because my experience of gay culture has been really race-inflected,” he says. 

“The racism in some pockets of the gay community just makes me feel sad.” Coolie Colors, therefore, merges the story of migration with a gay man’s personal experience of the world amid the forces of history. 

“I think it reflects my anxieties and I just tried to be honest and confident about sharing them,” Gosine says. At a roundtable discussion he adds, “For me, being home is where I get looked at as a full and complex human being…. I get to be a full complex human being in a way that proves evasive in Toronto or New York.” 

Gosine’s story is just one of many within Caribbean Queer Visualities which was curated and coordinated by David Scott, Erica James, and Nijah Cunningham, with assistance from Colette Norwood of the British Council Northern Ireland and Annalee Davis of British Council Caribbean. The show was supported by Ruth McCarthy, director of the Outburst festival in Belfast. It was the culmination of a series of roundtable discussions convened by Small Axe, the forum for ideas. 

“The exhibition emerged out of two events that centred on the aesthetic practices and decisions of the practitioners,” Cunningham says. “The vision was, to my mind, to think the question of queer through contemporary visual art.” Other artists involved include: Ewan Atkinson, Ebony G Patterson, Jean-Ulrick Désert, Jorge Pineda, Charl Landvreugd, Leasho Johnson, Nadia Huggins, Richard Fung and Kareem Mortimer. 

“I think of Caribbean history as a kind of queer history,” says David Scott, founder/ editor of Small Axe. “We tend to think of these colonial stories through a kind of normative lens overriding social and individual dimensions… But we all have stories of people who stand out in our family settings as LGBTI. If you tell the story through those lenses, what emerges?” 

Gosine, a former Commonwealth Scholar and World Bank gender consultant, is also an associate professor of cultural studies at York University, Toronto. He was born on November 26, 1973. He grew up in Tableland before his family joined the throngs of people who migrated. 

“I worked hard to get into Presentation College,” he says of his time at Robert Village Hindu School. “I remember I finished first. I worked so hard and then you want me to leave all this to go to some industrial town, some vocational institute in Oshawa?” After school, Gosine’s plan was to make his escape to Trinidad. But the plan changed. 

“It changed because I met my first boyfriend,” he says. “Everything changed.” Later, they changed again. The relationship ended, posing a new dilemma for the nowarian. 

What to do? “That relationship ended and my art career started,” Gosine says, as if channelling Adele or her good pal Jessie Ware. 

Gosine’s work has already been shown at Queen’s Museum, O’Born Contemporary, Gallery 511, and the Art Gallery Ontario. His forthcoming solo exhibition, Coolie, Coolie, Viens Pour Curry. Le Curry Est Tout Fini! will open across three gallery spaces in Toronto in March 2017. 

His work balances the historical with the personal, showing their common thread of power. 

“My mom and dad are clearly affectionate,” Gosine says. “In my first relationship, I was in a way copying my parents. Then, for many years, the dominant mode of existence was heartbreak.” He recalls being inspired by the conceptual artist Lorraine O’Grady, who once said, “Art’s first goal is to remind us that we are human, whatever that is….we are all human.” “I once wanted to be a writer,” Gosine says. 

He also alludes to a time when he was drawn to politics. He adds, smiling, “But art provides a more complex way of conveying the world.” 


-taken from Sunday Newsday, Section B, page 1, with modification:

The print version lists Andil as 7 when he leaves Trinidad, and attributes "I could have been fabulous but then I moved to Canada" directly to him, not as a title. 


***
More coverage of Small Axe's Caribbean Queer Visualities here and here,
supported by the British Council


12/2/16

Dreaming backwards

Detail from Jasmine Thomas-Girvan's It's Definitely Not a Rose Garden, the Red is the Preferred Scent
SOMETIMES filmmakers shoot scenes backwards in order to give them a dream-like quality. Other times, something might be filmed backwards to achieve a special effect. A falling house was filmed in slow motion and the footage put in reverse in The Wizard of Oz.

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan’s latest show, Dreaming Backwards, makes us time travel. The show is an incantation. Walls of the gallery space are plastered with poems. The room is full, too full. There is little space to be vacant. This is both a curse and a blessing. There is something frenetic in the assault on the senses, the layers of surrealism, the poetry of the elegant forms. The exhibition’s subtitle, The Magic of Breaking the Spell, is appropriate.

What happens to time in dreams? Does it exist within that space? What does it mean to dream backwards? Is it like a film being played in reverse? And if so, is dreaming backwards not a form of moving forward?

The solidity of these objects belie the portals they open to history. Amid these dazzling objects, there are problems and questions. Writer Sharon Millar points to “the human cost beneath the belly of beauty, below the belly of civility.” But the artist takes us back, like a filmmaker might, in order to take us forward. That blood-red resin on the floor is the same blood, spilled centuries ago, now being spilled on the streets of our Caribbean cities. How to break the spell?


Dreaming Backwards
Y Art Gallery
26 Taylor Street
Port of Spain


Back to bat

Embah's Bat, 2015, mixed media


Look up, and you see things flying 
Between the day and the night

      -DH Lawrence, ‘Bat’


THE BLUE devil is nothing without someone to terrorize. Take the audience away, and that menacing flame has little purpose. But this is not the case with the bat. Of all the Carnival characters, it is the one you can imagine standing in splendor on an empty street.

Ashraph’s Bat Show also reminds us how the details make a difference. For example, change the footwear on the bat, and you have an entirely different creature altogether. Consider Jackie Hinkson’s drawings showing the bat wearing office shoes (as they once did) before going barefoot.

Jackie Hinkson, 2016, indian ink

Peter Minshall, once described the bat as, “the most kinetic and alive of all traditional forms. I took him apart and put him back together again, and tried to find out how to make the cloth dance.” He also stated:
The Bat was right for the ‘50s, he’s quaint now because his competition really is Darth Vader. Today it’s movies, television. So we have to learn what the Bat or Robber teaches us – about dancing the mas, about mobility – and not just re-create them, but find their contemporary equivalents. 
(from Carnival: Culture in Action: the Trinidad Experience, pp. 116-117)
The pieces assembled for Bat Show give us the bat in various guises.

Hinkson’s ink drawings show us the bat as though in private moments, rehearsing. Adele Todd stitches bits of bat wings to linen. The late Embah’s bat objects perch like guinea owls in a corner. Peter Doig transfigures them into costumed men. (In Morning, Paramin, Derek Walcott pens a poem in response to Doig’s earlier Man Dressed as Bat (Night), 2008.) In another corner, Che Lovelace paints a poem of movement. Ashraph gives us bat studies with the bat’s watery, sensuous wings enclosing glittery bellies. There is a painting by Leo Basso, Bats dancing in the streets, which disrupts our perspective. An entire avenue is warped. The bats take over.

But it is Paul Kain who paints a bat on the prowl, in the middle of a disco. We can see this bat on the dancefloor: he needs no audience, though we are glad to fall beneath his gaze.



Bat Show
The Frame Shop, Woodbrook.
Closes Saturday.

11/27/16

Olive Senior on poetry and changing the world

Olive Senior reads from Summer Lightning

HOW DO YOU change the world? Poet, novelist, short-story writer Olive Senior has an answer.

It's up to you.

Senior read last night at a special event put on by the NGC Bocas Lit Fest and the Paper Based Bookshop at Medulla Gallery in her honor. The audience was treated to a selection from the author's short-story collection Summer Lightning as well as several of her poetry books including Shell, Over the Roofs of the World and Gardening in the Tropics. There were also readings by writers Barbara Jenkins and Ayanna Gillian Lloyd. I was privileged to be asked to participate and read 'Flying', a new poem written in response to the final story in Senior's latest book of stories The Pain Tree.

The audience was also treated to a Q&A segment between Senior and poet Shivanee Ramlochan, who asked Senior to state her views on the purpose of poetry.

The purpose of poetry is to turn your head upside down. Poetry is there to ask questions of you and to provoke you to have another perspective of things. 

I was writing to discover who I was and as a way of enabling me to achieve sanity and to ask questions about who we were, as Jamaicans. I have grown up with the society. Part of my learning to be a writer was reading what Caribbean scholars were writing.

Senior also emphasized the extensive research that goes into many of her poetry and non-fiction books. This research, though arduous, enriches her writing overall. Her entry-point when dealing with large quantities of information is to find an intimate portal.

Look for the smallest possible thing. 

My life and art are holistic. 

For successive generations, Senior has inspired with her stories about outsiders: orphans, children, women trapped in roles, and men left behind by time.

All my work is about humanity. 

The audience also got a peak at the daily life of the writer, who teaches at Toronto, where she lives. For now.

My day is spent earning a living! I'm an optimist just to stay afloat. 


Shivanee Ramlochan, Olive Senior, the crowd and Ayanna Gillian Lloyd.
Photo by Andre Bagoo