CREATIVE SPACE #20 of 2020 (uploaded November 19th 2020)
CREATIVE SPACE is a series spotlighting local (Antiguan and Barbudan/Caribbean) art and culture. As a brand, it dates back to 2009, published in LIAT’s inflight magazine. It was revamped in 2018 and ran to 2019 on Antiguanice.com. Its publishing partner, as of 2020, is the Daily Observer newspaper. There are plans for its continued evolution across multiple media platforms. CREATIVE SPACE is created, owned, and written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean author, journalist, and freelancer.
Here’s a link to the issue as it appeared on November 18th 2020 in the Daily Observer: GendArtivism
Below is the extended online edition (not a duplicate of the edition with publishing partner Observer Media) with extras.
If you would like to be featured or to sponsor (i.e. advertise with) a future installment of the jhohadli.wordpress.com online edition of CREATIVE SPACE, BOOSTing your BRAND while boosting Antigua-Barbuda Art and Culture, contact Joanne.
CREATIVE SPACE: Gender + Art + Activism = GendArtivism
Recently, I have been reading the premiere edition of Caribbean Feminist Stories, an arts journal on intersectantigua.com, launched November 2020. Millennial co-founders of Intersect Sarah Gresham and Nneka Nicholas began sharing information and asking questions online five years ago. They’ve been active on the ground, too, e.g. a public rally with the Directorate of Gender Affairs (DoGA), the public sector body that under Farmala Jacobs’ leadership has truly embraced artivism.
The Caribbean Feminist Stories art work, the promotional art by resident artist L.E.M. (Lucia Murray) and the submitted art pieces by various contributors, draws you in and makes you reflect. ‘Carnival Bodies’ features a colourful Carnival scene with different shades of skin, textures of hair, and types of body. ‘Coolieween’, a collaborative art piece illustrates the violence experienced by Indo-Caribbean women while emphasizing, “… this history is not insular or monolithic. It is not just about Coolie folk…it was never about just one group, or struggle but rather the crossings of movement, bodies, and injustices.” ‘Good Hair’ by Rhonda Williams (Indira Wills) untangles the issues around Black women’s hair. Her subject’s larger than life ‘fro asserts, “Black hair of any texture is the embodiment of good hair. Black hair is beautiful, and we are intrinsically beautiful too.”
Texts like ‘Dark Coffee’ by Elegant Bystander, in Guyana, continue the conversation in this poignant story of a girl made to feel unloved and unloveable by her own mother. ‘Sadie’s smile faded at the memories of her mother pulling and tugging at her hair when she was younger. She would say, “I gonna cut all this damn hair off ya head Sadie. Shut the hell up and let me comb out this godforsaken hair. Why you couldn’t be born with nice hair like your sisters them, I will never know.”’
Guyanese-American poet Amelia Badri’s ‘Purple Thyme: a Pantoum Poem’ addresses another form of abuse. “She knows for certain not to mention the flowers; it would only lead to an argument./It’s her favourite colour; it’s also her only salvation from his controlling ways./He always tells her not to wear purple around him; it’s a colour of death in his family./She read in an article that various hues, from lilac to plum, give off an aura of calm.”
The collection pushes beyond a binary examination of gender to other forms of marginalization, captured in the term Queeribbean. Bahamian KEVANTÉ A.C. CASH writes in ‘Today I am Six Years from Thirty’ about rejection for one’s sexuality: “They will tell her to forsake me,/withdraw her money/and pray unceasingly against my sin/because their god don’t like ugly/but I wonder if by ugly/their god meant/roaming eyes and/chatty lips?”
Intersectantigua.com and Caribbean Feminist Stories is made possible thanks to Nolan Hue, Equality Fund, and the Astrea Foundation, Intersect’s grant partners under the Women’s Voice and Leadership Caribbean Campaign. Why lean so heavily in to the arts? Said Intersect’s resident historian Shannon Meade, “Storytelling is a powerful tool of protest and …we hope that using transformative and regenerative activism techniques like storytelling will better harmonise our own individual living experiences as women, men and Queeribean people.”
As I write this, the Directorate of Gender Affairs is preparing to launch (on November 25th) its annual Sixteen Days of Activism campaign. It’ll be virtual this year, of course, with different video releases each day by different stakeholder groups, including the creative arts community. DoGA programme officer Raisa Charles says, “The arts are a useful tool for making the theory of gender-based violence practical.” As such, they’ve used the arts “extensively”, she said, including collabos with past CREATIVE SPACE features, Honey Bee Theatre (Love Shouldn’t Hurt) and Spilling Ink (schools’ poetry slam and poetry in the park).
Meet them online.
Images in this post are top to bottom, in order:
Intersectantigua.com’s cover page featuring art by the resident and contributing artists.
Sarah Gresham, Intersect co-founder.
Intersect co-founder Nneka Nicholas with artist Maritza Martin at DoGA’s Gender Cafe and Art in 2015.
Carnival Bodies – Intersectantigua.com’s promotional art by resident artist L.E.M.
Coolieween by Tifa Wine with Ryan Persadie and other collaborators, contributed art on intersectantigua.com
Good Hair by by Rhonda Williams (Indira Wells), contributed art on intersectantigua.com
DoGA at social week fair, 2016. From their facebook page.
Scene from Honey Bee Theatre’s play Love Shouldn’t Hurt. From DoGA’s facebook page.
And these images of artists honoured by DoGA at the first Women of Wadadli Award in early 2020 – Colleen Simpson (culinary arts), dramatist Zahra Airall (fine arts), visual artist Heather Doram (culture), designer Noreen Philips (fashion), Joanne C. HIllhouse (literature), and Marion Byron (music).
From CREATIVE SPACE interview with Raisa S.N. Charles, DoGA Programme Officer, Focus Areas: GBV, & Health: “The Directorate has used the arts extensively in the past as a tool for raising awareness about issues related to gender and development, particularly gender-based violence. One of our most notable events in this regard is “Love Shouldn’t Hurt”. Love Shouldn’t Hurt is an evening of music, spoken word and theatre arts pieces meant to highlight the lived experience of gender-based and sexual violence and discrimination in Antigua & Barbuda, with a follow-up discussion on how society can prevent and respond to it. The first Love Shouldn’t Hurt was held in 2017 in collaboration with the UWI Open Campus and was subsequently held again in 2018 and 2019. DoGA has also used art activism in several of its workshop activities including the International Women’s Day 2018 Young Women’s Forum, the YouthforChange Advocating for Social Justice Forum, and the 2019 16 Days of Activism School’s Poetry Slam, held in collaboration with The Spilling Ink. From our experience, the arts are a useful tool for making the theory of gender-based violence practical. It allows us to explain concepts like power dynamics and structural inequality using themes our audience is already familiar with. Similarly, we’ve found that the public is often able to express their opinions on society using poetry, theatre, or music. This is particularly true of the youth we have engaged in various projects over the years.”
“Intersect has been a partner of the Directorate since its inception and we are extremely pleased to see their new website, and for the opportunities and exposure it will provide for young feminists in the region and the Caribbean diaspora at large.”
From CREATIVE SPACE interview with Jamie Saunders, a program officer at DoGA: “Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, we have been forced to execute 16 Days of Activism in a virtual manner this year. This led to a decision for us to engage our partners and stakeholders to roll out a video campaign with us, in which they advocate for and raise awareness to ending gender-based violence against women. Unfortunately we have not encompassed creative arts into the schedule this year, as in years past due to the aforementioned constraints. Last year for 16 days of activism we would have partnered with the Spilling Ink group to put on poetry in the park with a gender based violence themed spoken word night. We also have had our Love shouldn’t Hurt event which was a dramatic presentation led by the Honey Bee Theatre group, and we also had a national walk in which we had artists on hand doing face painting with gender based violence themes.”
From ‘Good Hair’ Artist Statement by Antiguan artist Rhonda Williams aka Indira Wills (as posted to intersectantigua.com): “The media has been a major contributor to the idea that our hair is bad hair. My piece seeks to negate this notion by displaying a woman of colour with a larger than life afro. Her brown skin has a textured wood grain that is juxtaposed against the most beautiful arrangement of exotic and vibrant flora. The blue background colour was used to add a regal feel to the piece. Our locks grow up and out towards the sun like flowers do naturally; intermingling and intertwining in all their glory. Black hair of any texture is the embodiment of good hair. Black hair is beautiful, and we are intrinsically beautiful too.”
From Rhonda Williams (Indira Wills) Artist Bio(as posted to intersectantigua.com): “I enjoy cultivating an environment that welcomes freedom of expression in the minds & bodies of young people through movement & visual story telling. My art is filled with imagery that promotes oneness with nature, eliminating cannabis prohibition as well as encourages empowerment of women and girls with specific focus on body positivity, mental health, and the positive representation of women of colour in art.”
From CREATIVE SPACE interview with Shannon Meade, Intersect’s resident historian: “The grant we were awarded was a collaborative fund from the Women’s Voice and Leadership Program (WVL) and Equality Fund. The funding was awarded by the Canadian Government as part of their Assistance Policy which is aimed at organizations working towards advancing gender equality in developing countries. Our grant supported the production of our website and will generate further resources for Caribbean feminist activism such as public outreach during our three years of grant funding.”
“Our new website is about creating a platform for digital activism which was launched with the Caribbean Feminist Stories project. The aim is to provide the space for Caribbean and ‘Queeribean’ stories to thrive, and in turn work towards shifting the narratives surround gender equality, pushing for positive change and justice in the process. We found social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook were great tools for encouraging participation in the CFS project and generated amazing discussions surrounding the themes that were featured. This push led to some absolutely amazing submissions which feature on the website today.”
(video of me in conversation with Shannon Meade on one of their Instagram live conversations in summer 2020)
“Storytelling is a powerful tool of protest and that through creative writing and art we are pushing for more than ‘equality’. There are so many voices that go unheard within the Caribbean, particularly those from our LGBTQ+ communities, as such we believed the arts would be a great way to draw attention to these narratives and push for social change in our wider community. It creates a space for our fellow Antiguans and wider Caribbean neighbours to share and discover stories that heroes gender equality and, it is our hope, will inspire further discussions and stories and that sees this desire for social change become a reality. To be equally valued and cherished, and have equal opportunities, there must be a space to challenge the fundamentally broken and unjust systems. So we hope that using transformative and regenerative activism techniques like storytelling will better harmonise our own individual living experiences as women, men and Queeribean people.”
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