CREATIVE SPACE #6 of 2021 (uploaded March 17th 2021)
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. It continues to expand across other media platforms (which can be viewed on AntiguanWriter on YouTube). CREATIVE SPACE is created, owned, and written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean author, journalist, producer, and freelance writer, editor, and trainer.
Here’s a link to the issue as it appeared on March 17th 2021 in the Daily Observer: Daily Observer Wadadli Roots
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 and/or CREATIVE SPACE on YouTube, BOOSTing your BRAND while boosting Antigua-Barbuda Art and Culture, contact Joanne.
CREATIVE SPACE: Wadadli Roots; Uprooted, “Until the dust settles and things are a little more normalized”, but Still Growing
(Wadadli Roots members and store front shingle and logo, above, taken from the collective’s facebook page)
Asked why Wadadli Roots no longer occupies the storefront on St. Mary’s Street it had since 2018, Joanne Bird, member of the artistans collective, said, “COVID happened.”
The closure means lack of that physical space to show the work of members of the collective and of the other artisans to whom they rented space, but the overhead was not presently practical. “Business started slowing up in the store itself,” Bird said. “Of course, we went through a whole lockdown period, and even after (we) opened up, traffic in the store was not what it is normally – we’re normally pretty busy. It’s not that demand dwindled…we have still been going out daily doing deliveries. We’re still getting daily phone calls and social media requests for products (because) there was such a vibe around Wadadli Roots.” The economic uncertainty made a store front untenable, as founding Wadadli Roots member Saran Davis (quoted in the headline) said, for now; but, per Bird, “the concept of Wadadli Roots will continue.”
Good to know, because there’s a lot to admire in what these ladies have done: the three originals (Saran Davis, whose idea Wadadli Roots was and who is quoted in the header, owner of Wadadli Gemini and Medicine from the Queens; Joanne Bird of Divine Creations; Krystal Walter of the Embellish West Indies jewelry and Sacred Space lines) who alongside Louise Joseph-Ochasi of Amaya’s Designs, painter Carol Gordon with her range of custom merchandize, and Sonia McKenzie of Sage Naturals (who joined later) are Wadadli Roots.
(Slide show pictures a sample of each collective member’s creative output)
“That whole stigma of women can’t get along, especially black women, (is belied by) the harmony and nexus that we were able to create in Wadadli Roots,” Davis said. Walter concurred. “We kind of shattered the narrative that black people can’t work together,” she said. “We had our ups and downs but could see beyond our personal issues to keep the collective together.”
They have done so in an environment that’s not necessarily enabling.
“What I have discovered being part of Wadadli Roots and an artisan community,” Bird said, “…is that there are so many more artisans than I can even begin to imagine (and a lot more, she noted, who’ve come in to the community since COVID cut jobs) and we all have the same cry.” That cry? Bird speaks of difficulties sourcing material.
Noting that they are dependent on material imports, Walter said, “I would love to see some sort of concession when it comes to importing products. We don’t have factories. We don’t have manufacturers. When it comes to ordering bottles, (with the) taxes at cargo, it becomes pricey.” And that, she said, affects the price point they are able to offer to customers. If we are serious about enabling local creative enterprise to, as Walter put it “go further and do more”, we might need to look at that.
Meanwhile, Gordon noted that a stimulus cheque might have enabled them to meet their overhead enough to hold their space.
Bird (her Divine Creations pictured above) speaks, too, of making a space for an artisans village set up by the government with nominal rental rates for handmade local products where “each artisan has their own little space where they can adequately showcase their products.”
I specifically asked about the airport given my own feeling that there should have been prioritization of local creative output there as part of our tourism product, and in support of arts and local enterprise. Bird said they did look in to getting space in the airport, but, no surprise here, found it “extremely prohibitive”.
The environment aside, the true story here is what the women of Wadadli Roots have done to support each other. “It’s all about collective security and growing together as opposed to individually trying to shoot for the stars,” Davis said, noting that being part of a collective “motivates you to be better and do more.” Given that everything they sell is custom made and by extension labour intensive, it’s helpful to have a collective to share the part of the work that can be shared – retail and marketing especially.
And there is only positive competitiveness. “Somebody else advancing motivates you to come up with ideas and keep expanding your brand,” Davis said. Walter added that that being a part of Wadadli Roots, “I learned to stop limiting myself. I learned to stop putting myself in a box of what I think I am only allowed to do.” Out of brainstorming sessions have come new products – example Joseph-Ochasi’s waist purses, and lately head wrap-face mask combos. “We were saying to each other, we have to come out of our comfort zone,” she said.
Gordon has gone so far as to call it a “sisterhood”. She too said, Wadadli Roots “brought me out of my shell”, having her do things she wouldn’t normally do.
Joseph-Ochasi, who has recently found the confidence to start teaching her craft, said “I got to be in the presence of these amazing women who are very motivated, who have a lot of great ideas, and they have this sort of push that I love; it’s just a good energy and I feel I have learned a lot.”
Carol Gordon, who is also a teacher, once had her own gallery before parenthood forced her to pull back. With her daughter being more independent, she was dipping her toe back in to art but when it came to having her own space again, she admitted, “I was kind of scared.” Her art meanwhile was opening up, with her painting more for herself, what she wanted to express, going deeper creatively – celebrating “Black women in all their glory”. Sort of like the women making up Wadadli Roots, of whom she said, “meeting them was the greatest opportunity.” Her products include postcards, greeting cards, magnets, keyrings, and more recently 36 affirmation cards and a planned visual journal. “All custom made…I want to do one of a kind pieces.”
Joanne Bird worked 26 years in banking before leaning in to her creative side. Her Divine Creations began as a collaboration with her daughter, who is Rastafari and talked about wanting to do more natural things. “I said ‘okay, fine’ and I started the ball rolling, working on doing soaps and crafting soaps; it kind of just took over for me personally. My brain started going beyond soaps.” She experimented from home with different things even after, as she put it, her daughter’s “brain went somewhere else”. Research and short courses have emboldened her to extend beyond soaps to other face and body products. And then… “I remember that I was at a stage of utter frustration with the full time job and definitely wanting to put more energy into exploring where this could go. …then I got a phone call that same night (from Saran Davis).” What Davis proposed was something she herself had been wanting to do (i.e. “get a group of artisans together in a shop space”) but when the opportunity was presented to her, she got cold feet. An old friend, who happened to be visiting the island at the time, helped push her. She and the friend went to look at the space Davis had already secured, and the friend told her, “you’re going to kick yourself if you don’t do it.” She did it and has had no regrets. “I have been very grateful and very blessed.”
I didn’t get to talk to Sonia McKenzie of Sage Naturals but here’s some of her product and here’s her social media link.
The shown products are promoted as having healing properties. Macadamia nut oil is described as the “new olive oil.” Full of antioxidants, monounsaturated fats, and a rich, buttery flavor, macadamia nut oil is said to have many uses for both food and skin. Jamaican Black Castor Oil, meanwhile, reportedly works for all hair types – moisturizing, thickening, strengthening, and rapidly increasing hair growth by increasing blood flow to the scalp and supplying valuable nutrients to hair follicles. It is also said to prevent hair breakage, dandruff, eczema, and dry, itchy scalp.
Saran Davis noted that typically artisans have to invest so much time in producing that retail and marketing suffers – “you can’t devote as much time being in store as you’d want because you have to produce your products as well; it’s unsustainable”; that’s assuming you can even assume the overhead of having a physical space which can be too much for individual artisans. That’s what made the collective particularly appealing; the ability to have a space, create a schedule, and support each other in numerous ways from cross-promotion to mixing and matching products to create unique boxes for clients.
Though she’s known for earrings like these (in store, left, and on my person, right)
Saran has also been doing “a lot in terms of natural products”. The latest is Her Box vagina care line, featuring 32 different products catering to the needs of a healthy vagina. This includes “capsules to help balance your hormones, feminine washes; anything connected to the vagina, … from your first cycle, how to care for you body, and it goes all the way up, includes queen’s perimenopausal and menopausal line. Needless to say women have been “fabulously” responsive.
“The pandemic has been good for me, for my business, especially my Her Box…people became a little more conscious about their wellness and the need for self care …and it continues to grow.” It doesn’t end with the ladies either: “six months ago I also launched the Wood Work man’s version of Her Box.”
Krystal Walter known for the crystal and copper exquisiteness of her Embellish West Indies jewelry line has leaned in to learning more about crystals and from there in to sacred herbs used for meditation, healing, and cleansing of space (with smokeless smudge options – smudging clears your space of negative energy); products including candles and sprays for on the go. Find her on instagram @embellishwestindies.
Louise Joseph-Ochasi came in to Wadadli Roots on consignment, hesitant to go all in initially. Finally the “you know what, I’m going to jump” moment came. She continues to come out of her comfort zone. She’s taught a beginner’s course at the Gilbert’s Agricultural and Rural Development Centre in 2020 (“the aim was to show them the basics and for them to make some money making face masks”), and has been invited to develop an intermediate course, and is considering offering sewing classes independently. She’s extended her product offerings as well, and is even doing dresses again.
As for Wadadli Roots, she believes, like all of them, that there will be a physical space again. More than that, she believes it’s their sweet spot. “When you come in to the store you get an in depth rundown of the person in store – you get the story about each lady in the store – our story is definitely what I would say sells us.”
Consider that they were each independently doing their thing and had been for some time when they came together out of admiration for each others’ work and at a time when one or the other was at a creative and/or professional crossroads. All agree that Davis was the driver. Having already found and secured the space, she reached out, within a very small open window, to other artisans to throw in with her to cover the overhead and create a space where they could be in store on rotation promoting each others’ output. From 2018 to present, even without a physical space, Wadadli Roots continues to grow.
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