“Art and Cocoa: A Social Experiment” by Christina Cornier

Asher Mains is a representational, figurative painter from Grenada, West Indies. He has been making and exhibiting his work extensively throughout Grenada and Barbados for over 20 years. Drawing from references in art history, West Indian traditions, and urban street art, Mains often incorporates found objects and symbolic materials into his paintings to tell a story about Grenadian culture and the environment. He is represented by Art and Soul Gallery and is currently an MFA student at the Transart Institute through the University of Plymouth, UK.

In his current project, Mains will be painting the portraits of cocoa farmers throughout Grenada and giving these paintings back to the farmers. His aim is to create a dialogue through portraiture about the significance of agricultural workers on the island. Agricultural work, along with the worker, is often overlooked. Mains wants to bring awareness to this group of people and elevate them to a level of importance not often associated with manual laborers. Historically, the people represented in paintings are those seen in society as having status and who can afford to have their portrait painted. With this project Mains is initiating a conversation about the social gap that divides who art is made for and who owns art objects.

In his current project, Mains will be painting the portraits of cocoa farmers throughout Grenada and giving these paintings back to the farmers. His aim is to create a dialogue through portraiture about the significance of agricultural workers on the island. Agricultural work, along with the worker, is often overlooked. Mains wants to bring awareness to this group of people and elevate them to a level of importance not often associated with manual laborers. Historically, the people represented in paintings are those seen in society as having status and who can afford to have their portrait painted. With this project Mains is initiating a conversation about the social gap that divides who art is made for and who owns art objects.

I talked more to Asher Mains about this project and asked him what drew him specifically to agricultural workers in Grenada.

It was a process of really trying to come to grips with and unify a lot of the themes with which I wanted to work. I ultimately came to the cocoa farmers as subjects because I am interested in their story as a group of people who are not traditionally highly regarded in society. Agriculture is important and it’s tragic in a way that more young people are not entering this field of work. This community was a good entry point for me because very few of the workers own formal art objects, and very few of them have been publicly thanked for the important work they do. It is a community that I feel will genuinely appreciate the gesture I am offering, and I am also interested in observing what happens as a result of this gesture. I love to think that art can be more than decoration. I love what can happen between the object and the viewer. Through this process, and at its conclusion, I would love to be able to point to this project with positive outcomes and say, “This is what art can be“.

I also asked him what he feels his role is as the artist in society.

Artists are interpreters of reality. This is a big responsibility and involves having a lot of interests. There really isn’t anything that can’t be used with art to tell us something we either hadn’t noticed or didn’t know about our existence. My interests, especially in this project, have to do with identity, the interconnectedness of agriculture in our society, power dynamics, and concepts of capital and ownership. My role in this capacity is to communicate these topics in a seamless way so that the viewer can have a new set of tools with which to interpret their own reality.

Art for social change is a concept that has been developing in the art world over the past fifty years, says Mains. He has always been interested in people and interactions; he completed his undergraduate work in intercultural studies, and subsequently delved into international political economy with an emphasis in development. Expanding on this interest, Mains' artwork speaks to "relational aesthetics," a term coined by French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud. In "relational aesthetics" what is considered "art" is shifted away from the art object, and emphasizes the human relationship to the object and it's social context as the art itself. Mains' current project is less about his portraits as the center focus and more about facilitating a positive social effect.

Art for social change is a concept that has been developing in the art world over the past fifty years, says Mains. He has always been interested in people and interactions; he completed his undergraduate work in intercultural studies, and subsequently delved into international political economy with an emphasis in development. Expanding on this interest, Mains’ artwork speaks to “relational aesthetics,” a term coined by French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud. In “relational aesthetics” what is considered “art” is shifted away from the art object, and emphasizes the human relationship to the object and it’s social context as the art itself. Mains’ current project is less about his portraits as the center focus and more about facilitating a positive social effect.

To learn more about Asher Mains and this project visit his website at Ashermains.com. Since the work is being given to the farmers and is not for sale he needs our financial support to fund this project and keep it moving forward. Visit his Kickstarter page “Painted Portraits for Cocoa Farmers” to make a donation.

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