A Caribbean art space

A Splash of Fresh Milk 

Fresh Milk, an art space located on a working dairy farm in Barbados, is part of an upsurge in projects and initiatives bringing together artists from around the Caribbean and beyond.

A Splash of Fresh Milk 

Fresh Milk Photo: Versia Harris

C&: How did the idea of the Fresh Milk art platform start?

Fresh Milk: The idea for Fresh Milk (FM) developed over years of conversations around the need for artistic engagement among artists in Barbados, to strengthen regional and diasporic links and shape new relationships globally. The platform was established in 2011 as a social practice experiment to counter the nearly 100% attrition rate of BFA students at Barbados Community College, the only institution on the island offering a BFA program.

C&: What inspired you to call your art space Fresh Milk? What are your main aspirations and activities?

FM: Firstly, we’re located on a working dairy farm. However, the name is also derived from the act of women turning their blood into milk to nurture their young. Given the traumatic history of the Caribbean, the region is not always associated with the idea of nurturing. By offering a safe space for people to innovate, gather, and create, FM engages in an act of resistance, moving against a traumatic history as a platform of excellence and diversity. Operating out of a former seventeenth-century sugar plantation, FM is shifting the kind of activity that happens in this historically loaded site by fostering an open, critical environment. FM spans creative disciplines, generations, and linguistic territories in the Caribbean by functioning as a “cultural lab,” thriving as a dynamic space for artists through local, regional, and international programming including residencies, lectures, screenings, workshops, projects, etc. We aspire to be a sustainable organization contributing to a healthy cultural ecosystem.

C&: How would you describe the Caribbean artistic landscape and practices from past and present? Can you please give us any names or examples?

FM: Historically, challenges in the Caribbean’s visual arts sector include lack of leadership at the state and private-sector levels, lack of professional development opportunities and resources, absence of arts foundations, collectors, galleries, and dealers, and underdeveloped arts philanthropy. In the past decade, artist-led initiatives have responded proactively to meet the needs of art communities. Examples include NLS (Jamaica), Groundation Grenada, IBB (Curaçao), Quintapata (Dominican Republic), Popopstudios (Bahamas), Studio O (Aruba), and Alice Yard (Trinidad) among others. Most of these small organizations stimulate local environments by building audiences, supporting artists, encouraging critical writing, and facilitating discourse. Alleviating isolation while challenging nationalist and market driven agendas, artist-led entities function across linguistic divisions, catalyzing change locally and regionally as well as connecting with the diaspora. See our online map of Caribbean art spaces for more information on art activities in the region.

Fresh Milk Photo: Dondré Trotman

Fresh Milk Photo: Dondré Trotman

C&: What similarities and distinctions do you see between the Anglophone and Francophone worlds?

FM: While the Anglophone and Francophone Caribbean have similar challenges, the French Antilles is part of France, receiving funding from the EU. The Anglophone Caribbean does not have direct access to UK funding mechanisms. Aside from that, we share many cultural and creative similarities, including the flourishing of artist-run spaces as the main innovators of contemporary art. Many of these organizations are forming meaningful partnerships across state and private sectors, sharing resources and opening up local artists to possibilities beyond our immediate surroundings. Platforms similar to FM in Martinique and Guadeloupe include 14°N 61°W and L’Artocarpe respectively, both working to understand the region more deeply and give further exposure to artists.

C&: There is a long history of migration and exile from the Caribbean to other parts of the world. How do you connect with the diaspora(s)?

FM: Shifting migratory patterns see changes to traditional vertical movements to the Global North, with artists now also sliding laterally, slipping back and forth between many places. A notable trend in the international residency applications we receive is the number of Caribbean diasporic practitioners wanting to engage with the region, with many artists keen to see how their work resonates here. Residents often use the time to connect with the local and regional arts community through FM’s networks, deepening their understanding of the region while building their practices. FM also connects diasporically through its programming, widely shared through our online platforms. An example would be the Fresh Performance Project, an experimental documentary jointly produced by  FM and Guyanese, New York-based artist damali abrams about contemporary performance art in the Caribbean and NYC. The interviews conducted between the two groups of artists created an exchange between the diaspora and those working in the region, crucial to the growth of both cultures.

C&: How is art produced in the Caribbean positioned towards the international art scene?

FM: Much contemporary work made by artists in or from the Caribbean has been displayed elsewhere in large institutional survey shows, but is rarely seen in a region ill-equipped to host large shows, creating a gap between artists and local audiences. In more recent times Caribbean artists are showing outside of a solely Caribbean context, such as Danish/Trinidadian artist Jeannette Elhers’s Whip it Good performance at Art Basel 2015; South Africa based, Barbadian artist Alberta Whittle and Farieda Nazier’s Right of Admission performance at the Johannesburg Pavilion fringe event for the Venice Biennale (2015); and Barbadian artist Sheena Rose exhibiting alongside Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski at MoCADA. SITELines: New Perspectives on Art of the Americas in Santa Fe included Marcel Pinas (Suriname), Blue Curry (Bahamas/UK), and Deborah Jack (St.  Maarten/USA) in their pan-American exhibition. The Davidoff Art Initiative supports residencies for Caribbean-based artists in China, Berlin, New York City, and Switzerland. Meanwhile film and new media festivals are crossing boundaries, as more accessible digital projects travel cheaply and easily. The landscape is gearing towards Caribbean practitioners participating in less prescriptive ways, creating more diverse connections to the international art scene.

C&: To which extent do you collaborate with art projects, artists etc. in the diverse African contexts and the Americas?

FM: FM works collaboratively with many entities. Caribbean Linked is an annual regional residency program organized with Ateliers ’89 Foundation (Aruba) and ARC Inc. (St. Vincent & the Grenadines). We also work with Casa Tomada, an independent space in São Paulo, Brazil, on a residency program. FM hosted the international meeting “Tilting Axis” with ARC, Res Artis, and Pérez Art Museum Miami, bringing regional artist-led initiatives together to engage in conversations, along with extra-regional professionals interested in working with the Caribbean. Tilting Axis will convene at Videobrasil in October 2015 and then again in Miami (2016) to connect with the American diaspora. We are also connecting the Caribbean with Africa and Polynesia through Transoceanic Visual Exchange (TVE), a project which aims to negotiate the in-between space of our cultural communities through video and new media work via a co-curated, online film exhibition. Our partners include Video Art Network Lagos, Nigeria and RM, New Zealand.

C&: What is your vision in the next five years?

FM: One major, short-term goal is to expand our space to house an alternative educational arts program, including arts-appreciation classes, workshops, and an art collection service. A longer-term goal is to establish a collection of contemporary Barbadian and Caribbean art alongside the educational program, forming the basis of an art foundation. This vision is reflected through current programming and working with emerging visual artists, supporting their transition into professionals. By facilitating advocacy, education, and sensitization around visual practice, FM will enrich the local space and pave the way for Barbadian and Caribbean artists to participate in larger art conversations.

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Interview by Aïcha Diallo

 

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