“Contemporary Art in Grenada” by Christina Cornier
On September 16th 2014 Art and Soul Gallery in Grand Anse hosted a show of contemporary art organized by the Grenada Arts Council. “Contemporary Art in Grenada” featured the work of carefully selected, mature artists from Grenada. Invited to the show was Cuban curator Jose Noceda of the Wifredo Lam Center in Havana. Noceda is one of the curators of the 2015 Cuban Biennale and will be selecting artists from all around the globe to be included in this prestigious exhibition. Rarely does an opportunity like this present itself in Grenada.
Oliver Benoit, president of the Grenada Arts Council, presented two large paintings and three sculptures. Through his work Benoit explores conflicting perspectives on the formation of the Grenadian identity and how history, colonialism, race, class and gender all play a role in affecting the individual. You can feel this contention in “Anima 1” and “Anima 2,” two colorful, abstract oil and acrylic paintings on canvas. Their large size and energetic brushstrokes take the audience on a journey through them. The longer you look into them the more the paintings seem to reveal themselves. They are dominated by vertical lines that bring to mind growth, forward momentum, progress, movement, activity and orderly chaos. His sculptures, “Safe Mind,” “Pure Mind” and “Secured Mind” made from wood, galvanize and acrylic are abstracted natural structures. These casts have been deconstructed and reassembled in a slightly altered form. Although their tension is palpable they are also sturdy in their new shape. Benoit creates a visceral experience that pulls you out of your comfort zone and forces you to look at things differently.
Fi Fennell is a photographer that lives between Grenada and the Isle of Wright. In her work she experiments with her audience’s perception and observation. The series of six photographs she presented for the show are portraits of a reflective cube placed in different positions around the Grand Anse beach. They capture the immediate space the object rests in along with the surrounding scenery reflected back out. Fennell has taken something mundane, a still life, an image that is typically limited and has enhanced it, giving the viewer a broader picture. She gives us landscapes within landscapes, a panoramic view within one image. In her work she is giving us all the information not just what lies right in front of us. She reminds us that the world is multi-faceted, there is depth and many layers beyond what we see at first glance. Being from two places helps inform her work. It allows her to have a different perspective, to step back and out of her environment in order to fully see it.
Geraldine Le Leannec presented four digital art prints. These prints began with a photograph which she then digitally altered, letting her imagination take the reigns. In her work, Le Leannec creates her own language and transformed environments. She gives us a glimpse into places of her own making, distant cities, parallel worlds. Each image fills the viewer with a sense of mystery and wanderlust. You want to find these eerie dream landscapes that are frightening yet familiar. Her colors are muted, almost sepia-toned, the images feel aged, as if we are being presented with documentation of a post-apocalyptic future. In “Waste” a man/ape hybrid stands amidst a sea of human rubbish, asking the question is this where we came from or what we are heading towards?
Suelin Low Chew Tung is a self-taught, mixed media artist. Her installation “Absolute Shortknee” is an altar to the mask-wearing icon of Grenada’s carnival. The Shortknee character represents a synthesis of cultures, Caribbean, African and European. Tung’s colorful altar is rich with symbols of this masquerade tradition. The work centers on blue bottles that she has covered with reproductions of her own paintings of Shortknee. These bottles are said to dissuade spirits and thieves. Among them are other emblematic objects, bells, red string, coins, white powder and broken mirror, like that worn on Shortknee’s costume representing a spiritual reflecting of one’s enemies. The piece is back-dropped by a collage of current magazine covers that she has altered with more of her own images of Shortknee. The magazines are a reminder of the globalization that often results in the loss of cultural identity. Throughout history altars have served as an homage to someone who has passed, to honor and never forget. Through her work Tung is initiating a conversation, reminding us of the importance of the continued dialogue with history.
Susan Mains, painter and owner of Art and Soul Gallery, unveiled a new video installation “Align my Spine.” Here Mains gives the audience an intimate portrait of her relationship with her body and the deterioration of her spine. She has created a shrine from a bed of crocus bags sheltered within mosquito netting on which lies a single flower. Projected onto the flower are x-rays of her spine along with images of paintings that were part of a series reflecting on her internal struggles. The bird of paradise, a local flower, has a strong and rigid stem and is used to represent the vertebrae. It’s an interesting juxtaposition against the softness of the flesh projected onto it. The flower is also somewhat jarring, it’s sharp leaves can make it look like a surgical tool, something that could cause pain, bringing to mind the discomfort that accompanies treatment. The crocus bags represent the agricultural strength of Grenadian culture, this is where she finds her support. We are invited into her most private space, where she has suffered and healed. A week after the show the flower began to dry and wilt, adding to the dialogue about life, transformation and degeneration.
Maria McClafferty is an artist who is best known for her work with glass. In “Black Love- Who Sees Us” she presented a grouping of small red and black encaustic paintings on paper panels. These abstract paintings are alive with emotion, they’re violent and raw. In this piece McClafferty is responding to recent, past and ever present violence experienced globally and that dominates the media. Her work is a form of activism, she’s making a strong social and political statement. She wants to awaken us to the horror, pain and atrocities occurring throughout the world that we can no longer overlook. This is the first part of a larger piece that will be comprised of 200 panels arranged in the shape of an Arawak symbol representing the human form. This symbol refers to human nature, to atrocities of the past, the annihilation of the indigenous culture that was decimated when the West Indies were colonized. Will we continue to relive history? You can feel the anger and frustration in her work.
It is clear that artists in Grenada have a profound response to their environment and sense of self within their landscape. The caliber of work in this show, the concepts being explored and the dauntless experimentation all place Grenada on the map of the cutting-edge contemporary art world.