CREATIVE SPACE #4 of 2020 (uploaded April 8th 2020)
CREATIVE SPACE is a series spotlighting local 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 written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean author, journalist, and freelancer.
This 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 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 to find out how)
CREATIVE SPACE: ART, more essential than ever
Shout out to the artists who are hard at work right now, whether doing live DJ sets (a la Antigua and Barbuda’s DJ Jime) or producers like Swizz Beatz and Timbaland battling track for track from their own deep discographies, the arts are proving how essential they are to sanity and life during this period of lockdown all over the world. We’ve seen Italians singing from balconies, authors (like Caribbean Reads’ authors like Carol Mitchell and Opal Palmer Adisa) reading from their works, and we’ve been moved to ponder what would we do without music, and stories, and movement, and art. It’s too awful to imagine. So, shout out to the artists, including the ones feeling moved to get creative at this time – and no shade to those who aren’t (the world is having a moment, and we can be forgiven for taking a moment ourselves). But, as an artist myself, one thing I can say is that creating is one way of processing and if it’s not coming through as yet, chances are it will eventually.
One local artist who’s been hitting her groove in this time is the maven herself Heather Doram.
“I am on a roll,” she said. And not only is she on a roll she is rallying other artists to do the same. “I was just on the bed here and was like ‘no, we need to be recording this we need to be documenting what’s happening’,” she said. And so she reached out to a couple of artists in her network and urged them to do the same. The end goal? Undefined. Maybe a COVID-19 themed show on the other side, something nice to look forward to, maybe a virtual show? Who knows. But a record of our time, because that’s something artists do, as certainly as historians and media, in a way that gets beyond the facts and figures to the heart of the matter.
“I was just kind of absorbing everything that was happening around me and the next thing is to get rid of my emotions, to put them down,” Doram said. And what were those emotions. “I felt fear, I felt a lot of fear, I felt a lot of concern for my family, the whole world as a matter of fact,” she said. “I went in to a bit of depression, I think. (But) I have this sister who kept telling me I need to get up and think good thoughts, and I think I settled that I really need to get to doing some art.”
And so she did, and she has, as she said, been on a roll ever since.
She shared one of her pieces with me and one feels the unease of the uncertain place we’re in in it. I wish I could share it with you but she’s not ready to share yet (though if you follow her on social media, I think you’ll know that she shares quite liberally once the works are fully expressed; so give it time).
She speaks about that work this way though.
“That’s the first one. It’s almost like if the ground is falling out from under us; (it’s about the) façade and how quickly it can be shaken from under us. Underneath, the surface is just a lot of turbulence…buildings on top shaky, below chaos and confusion.” Can you picture it? But with Doram’s signature touches seen over the years – a mix of media, an earthiness, an inventiveness, a particularity of context, technique, and perspective that we have seen in her previous series, including my personal favourite, Strength of a Woman, which as I told her has to be in any conversation about seminal Antiguan-Barbudan works of the last 20 years.
Yes, we spoke about that too. I’ve been thinking about it in response to an article in the New York Times in which artists were asked to name their pick for THE work of the last 20 years – as I’ve been explaining it, the works that would be considered essential, as in should be in a national collection, would be in a time capsule essential. I put this to Doram in the case of Antigua-Barbuda, and her picks were Mark Brown’s paintings (from his) Angel in Crisis series (a 2008 show described by The Culture Trip as “a provocative contemplation of the human condition”) and Women of Antigua’s stagings over five years beginning in 2008 of first Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues but especially as of 2010, stories from Antigua and Barbuda, with When a Woman Moans.
(yours truly was also a part of WoA’s 2008 and several subsequent stagings and also a contributing writer to When a Woman Moans)
One of the WoA, Zahra Airall, whose theatrical career has only blossomed since, brought back the Vagina Monologues via her Sugar Apple Theatre in 2019 (as covered in a 2019 edition of CREATIVE SPACE).
(Zahra Airall during the finale of her Sugar Apple Theatre’s stage of the Vagina Monologues)
In discussing Brown’s work, Doram spoke of “the depth of the pathos” and in discussing WoA/Airall’s of us, for she was a part of it too, “expressing again emotions and things that people don’t want to talk about.”
This is part of what art does, as she sees it. “I think that persons have a way of suppressing emotions. We’re actually kind of socialized to be that way (but) I believe it’s not the best way to live and it’s not the best way to be.” And so art pushes back against that, challenging even as it chronicles. “I am hoping the pieces (coming out of this time) will spur the persons to connect and to kind of let go of some of the emotions that they have repressed,” Doram said. “I think we are too repressed and I’m hoping that my art will be able to make people connect with the pieces and deal with those emotions that we have suppressed over time; and that is why during this time parents really should be giving their kids some paints and paper things like that to express their emotions.”
Doram, who has been an advocate for a national gallery and for making art mandatory in schools, is like me in seeing art as essential, more essential, I think some are discovering, than previously realized. This is the time to put more in to the arts and not less. And beyond this moment, well, Doram, a former Culture Director and recent Women of Wadadli Awardee for Culture, is of the view that there’s “going to be an explosion in the arts; there’s going to be so much to express.”
There are multiple reasons to support a national gallery, obviously a collection of the seminal Antiguan and Barbudan works is one. Another from Doram’s perspective as someone who has experience as an educator, educational administrator, and invigilator:
“A national gallery would do wonders because a big part of the CXC exam deals with critiques of works of art and I just think having kids going to a national gallery (could help); they are failing that part of the journal where they are asked to critique, that’s where they fall down” … (following that thought to conclusion, because of the lack of engagement with art and art history and criticism).
(while there isn’t a national gallery, the Independence art show, previously covered in the CREATIVE SPACE series, is an opportunity for enjoyment and critical engagement with the work of artists like Mark Brown – this striking piece is not from the Angel in Crisis series discussed by Doram in this article)
There are ways in which a media worker and an artist are similar, in Doram’s view:
“We we are supposed to be finding truth, get to the facts; we are supposed to, yes we do entertain some, we must shake up the status quo, but we also have a role to document. Another role of an artist is to inspire. We have to add critique to our political, economic, and social life. I’m not just here to paint pretty pictures. We are vehicles for change. We all hurt, are fearful, depressed, some of us will die; it might be a good idea for us artists to express our sense of mortality and just think more of the meaning of life, and what changes we can make going forward because it can’t be business as usual.”
(since we couldn’t share current work, we want to remind you of this earlier, shadow box, series of Doram’s which used a mix of objects and imagery to excavate and illuminate her own and by our extension our collective memories)
There are ways parents can be harnessing art as a channel for education and expression while the kids are stuck at home.
“You could go online and find some creative activities to do with them – don’t just plop them in front the TV and don’t just bombard them with the negatives that’s happening; plan little activities – you and the kids come up with a little dance, go out in the yard do a little dance – a little play. Lastly, once you have the material, just ask them to draw a picture of Antigua now Antigua in the future, maybe something more uplifting. Try and involve them in activities. This could be a period where you really get to understand your children a little bit more.” And as she said, just converse with and enjoy them as she is doing with her grandchildren.
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