Janelle De Souza
From horror and destruction can be born creativity and beauty.
This idea is explored in “everything loosens into a wreck”, an art exhibition to be held at the Ford Foundation Gallery, New York – the first physical exhibition since the gallery closed in January 2020.
Curated by Trinidadian artist, author and teacher Dr Andil Gosine, the exhibition will run from June 1 to August 20.
Gosine explained that he combines and re-imagines artifacts and imagery associated with indentured labor. Artists include Margaret Chen of Chinese-Jamaican origin from Canada, Andrea Chung from the United States who has a Chinese-Jamaican father and a Trinidadian mother, Indo-Trinidadian Wendy Nanan and Indo-Guadeloupean Kelly Sinnapah Mary.
Gosine, a professor of environmental arts and justice at York University in Toronto and author of Nature’s Wild: Love, Sex and Law in the Caribbean, said he views the Americas as the product of shipwrecks – colonial ships, ships carrying slaves and ships that brought indentured labourers.
Wreckage evokes colonialism and the destruction left in its wake. But those who were marginalized engaged in “demolition work,” responding to destruction with art that offers order, alternative visions of existence and coexistence.
“The engagement is that important moment after the abolition of slavery which of course impacts the entire composition of the Caribbean, but it often goes unrecorded. For me, looking at indentured labor, and looking at the Caribbean in general, people have come in and things have been taken from them, whether it’s through the genocide of Native Americans or the enslavement of Africans – people have lost everything , including their lives.
“But, at this very moment, the resilience of the human spirit is such that these exciting new things are being created. I mean, Trinidad without a duplicate?! What would we do?!”
He added that in his opinion, a good wreck was that India’s caste system had not reached TT, which had reshaped lives and circumstances.
He said he was tired of the “tone of suffering” adopted when it comes to working on the Caribbean. With this in mind, he preferred to highlight the creativity of people who have gone through these ordeals, thus demonstrating their strength, resilience, creativity and inventiveness.
“For me, it was important to look back at this brutal history of the Americas and not just see the brutality. the conditions, they had to find ways to find moments of pleasure and joy in order to simply survive.
These coping and survival mechanisms have resulted in the current situation of these Caribbean countries.
Gosine said he originally proposed the exhibit to the museum in 2018, but its 2020 launch was delayed due to the pandemic.
The idea came to him in 2012 when he was commissioned to revise an exhibition of contemporary Caribbean art at the Queens Museum in New York. He said that although the area around the museum has a large Indo-Caribbean community, there was little representation in the show.
“It made me more curious to find out who were the contemporary visual artists who came out after the engagement. So I started researching who they were and what they were up to.
In 2014, he started a research project called Visual Arts After Indenture, where he cataloged artists from around the world who were descendants of mainly Indian and Chinese indentured laborers. At the same time, he carried out his own artistic projects in which he immersed himself in his own history and commitment.
He chose four of these artists and invited them to participate in while relaxes in a shipwreck. He pointed out that while all of the performers on the show are women and Caribbean, it is not a show of female Caribbean performers. Still, he believes this is the first time Caribbean women from the indentured community have taken up so much space in a Manhattan exhibit.
He told Sunday Newsday he chose Nanan and Chen because they were “of a certain generation” and he wanted to use some of their work that already existed.
“I had the impression that these were women artists who did not receive their due. I really like their work. I am in awe of their talent, their complexity of thought and their work is magnificent.
Meanwhile, Chung and Sinnapah Mary, who are in their 40s, created pieces especially for the show.
He said what’s available in public discourse are usually the big, broad stories that don’t pay attention to context or detail. Therefore, he asked the artists to bring their own stories to life, to highlight what is important to them, so that the pieces do not represent an entire country, race or culture, but rather show the complexity of the individual.
Among other things, Sinnapah Mary produced paintings with layer after layer of paint and meaning, one of which was about 25 feet wide. While Chung was building large weaver bird nests which she wanted to make from sugar cane brought from Princes Town. A nest is 25 feet wide and the smell of sugar cane pervades the air in the gallery.
He pointed out that the pictures couldn’t do the pieces justice in terms of scale, texture, detail or experience.
After such a long time between proposal and execution, Gosine said the exhibit was true to the vision he had. He thanked Ford Foundation Gallery director Lisa Kim for her trust and faith in the artists and him as a curator.
“Working with her was such a dream. I felt like I learned from her and she let me do whatever project I wanted to do. It was also my approach with the artists. You do what you already do because you are already great at it. And it worked.
Gosine added that he was excited to return home and bring a different show to Trinidad in mid-October.