Friday, February 23, 2018

Creating a Caribbean canvas

25 regional artists featured in new book


CREATIVE MINDS: Richard Mark Rawlins, Marsha Pearce, Melanie Archer and Mariel Brown. –Photo: VERDEL BISHOP

Mark Fraser

A fascinating book which documents and explores the works of 25 artists has created a wider platform for recognition of Caribbean contemporary art.

Editors Mariel Brown and Melanie Archer, together with Robert and Christopher Publishers, have produced the book, See Me Here: A Survey of Contemporary Self-Portraits from the Caribbean.

Other creative minds that worked on the publication include graphic designer Richard Mark Rawlins, essayist Marsha Pearce and Sheena Rose whose artwork is featured on the book’s cover.

Artists and art enthusiasts came out in their numbers to celebrate the book at its launch at Medulla Art Gallery, Fitt Street in Woodbrook.

The collection of works from contemporary Caribbean artists was aimed at bringing together Caribbean artists and creating lasting documents of their works and lives.

The artists’ works in See Me Here, according to its editors, reflect the societies from which they come, and about which they are often speaking, thereby digging deep into the layers of our Caribbean topography to reflect a multi-faceted, interesting and complex place.

The 25 artists in See Me Here were selected for their ability to address, though their art, potentially complex, multi-layered matters—identity, history, race, gender, sexuality, politics—thus defining themselves within their given contexts and through vastly varied experiences.

Editor Melanie Archer explained, “Robert and Christopher’s primary concern in its art series is to produce quality books that document and elucidate our Caribbean story, as seen through the eyes of Caribbean artists. We are particularly interested in how we in the region portray ourselves, as opposed to the ways that we have typically been represented through international images of the Caribbean produced for tourism, which often can turn a blind eye on the not-so-pleasant aspects of the region that are part of our shared histories. In 2012 we published Pictures from Paradise, which is a survey of images of the Caribbean, but images that are produced from within. See Me Here was conceived as a follow-up publication to highlight artists who frequently or significantly use their physical selves, or those to whom they are linked by blood or significant experience, as an avenue for exploration and expression.”

The artists whose works are represented in the publication include Akuzuru, Ashraph, Ewan Atkinson, James Cooper, John Cox, Renee Cox, Annalee Davis, Susan Dayal, Laura Facey, Joscelyn Gardner, Lawrence Graham-Brown, Anna Ruth Henriques, Nadia Huggins, Michelle Isava, O’Neil Lawrence, Jaime Lee Loy, Che Lovelace, Joshua Lue Chee Kong, Olivia McGilchrist, Steve Ouditt, Sheena Rose, Irénée Shaw, Roberta Stoddart, Stacey Tyrell, Dave Williams.

Archer said See Me Here is important as it builds on the publisher’s aim to bring together the work of artists who are either from or have close ties to the Caribbean.

“Represented here are artists who have consistently presented mirrors of themselves over decades of their practice, as well as those who show us, if just for a moment, a new way of looking at self. We also selected a wide timeframe of work; from those who were doing self-portraits two decades ago, to those who are just starting to significantly explore that mode of expression. One of the goals of publishing these books is to bring together the work of Caribbean artists—to make links but also, very importantly, to create lasting documents of these works and the issues surrounding them.”

Archer said selecting the artists for the publication was an easy task. “We were familiar with the work of some of the artists in See Me Here, and knew that we wanted to include it in the publication. With other artists, we sent letters of invitation to submit their work for consideration. When all the works were in, we assessed them both individually and collectively and edited them down to the works that are included in the book.

Co-editor Mariel Brown said the responses to the publication have been positive. “We have been lucky to enjoy very positive responses from the artists featured in the book. And perhaps the most interesting thing about putting See Me Here together was the opportunity it afforded us to really see the truth of the artists represented. They have been bold and open and we are enormously grateful for their courage,” Brown said.

Brown said Government sponsorship for the book has not been forthcoming. “In the past we have sought Government funding for our publications, but it has never come through. Bobby Campbell, who owns and is the publisher of Robert & Christopher Publishers, generously invests in the publications,” she added.

Brown said the first book in Robert & Christopher’s contemporary art series, titled Pictures from Paradise: A Survey of Contemporary photography from the Caribbean, has received international attention.

“Two enormous opportunities arose out of that publication. The first being that it was picked up for distribution by the largest distributor of art books in the world, Distributed Art Publishers (DAP). For a book from a small imprint in the Caribbean, this was a major coup. As a result of the international distribution of the book, we were invited to co-curate an exhibition based on the Pictures from Paradise book at the 2014 edition of the CONTACT Photography Festival in Toronto, Canada. CONTACT is the largest photography festival in the world, and attracts upwards of 1.8 million visitors every year. The exhibition will open May 3, and runs through May 25 in shipping containers at the Powerplant Contemporary Art Gallery at the Harbourfront Centre. Our presenting partners for the exhibitions are CONTACT, Wedge Curatorial Projects and the Powerplant.”

The editors are confident about their publication and intend to build up a collection of works from contemporary Caribbean artists. They are currently putting together the framework for their next book, which they prefer not to disclose at this time.