As a prelude to developing a new research proposal for 2019, and beyond, CARISCC’s principal investigator (Dr Patricia Noxolo) convened and hosted a planning and consultation event at the University of Birmingham, 12-13th September 2018. The two-day programme included presentations of research papers and portfolios of creative practice that catalysed important and wide-ranging discussions about the complex relations between in/security and creative agency in people’s everyday lives.

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‘Kibii Wi Sani I’ (2014) – an installation by Surinamese visual artist Marcel Pinas. Copyright: Marcel Pinas – http://www.marcelpinas.net/.

An overview of the presentations given by three guest contributors from the Caribbean region are summarised below.

(1) ‘Who are you? : Finding identity in Post-independent Barbados’ – presented by museologist Kevin Farmer, Deputy Director, Barbados Museum & Historical Society.

In this presentation Kevin Farmer discussed the founding of Barbados Museum and Historical Society in 1933, the development of the institution’s extensive artefact collections and a review of its nationally and internationally significant archival holdings dating back to the 1600s. He also discussed the museum’s changing role as a post-independent space for presenting and discussing difficult histories, as well as how heritage professionals within Barbados and the other islands and nations of the wider Caribbean region are responding to the inter-linked geo-political, socio-economic and environmental challenges of the 21st century. Kevin commented on how issues concerning people’s changing personal and collective sense of identity have been key discourses before and since colonisation, and that many museums in the region (including those like BMHS established during the colonial era, as well as post-independent institutions, such as the People’s Museum of Craft and Technology, Spanish Town, Jamaica, established in the early 1960s) are now emerging as important heritage spaces where such narratives can be presented and explored in all their pluralities, and viewed through what was referred to as “the lens of structures created for colonial and post-colonial representation of self.”

The presentation concluded with details about international partnerships and projects already established with universities, other educational institutions and heritage organisations in the region, and beyond. BMHS archival holdings pertaining to histories of enslavement and emancipation in Barbados – as detailed online in the UNESCO Memory of the World listings concerning the ‘Documentary Heritage of Enslaved People of the Caribbean’ – were highlighted as particularly significant research resources for future collaborative work between BMHS and CARISCC network members.

For further information about Barbados Museum and Historical Society, please see the website: http://www.barbmuse.org.bb/web/.

(2) ‘Kibri A Kulturu: Arts and Culture for Development’ – presented by Surinamese contemporary visual artist Marcel Pinas (via Skype from the Netherlands)

Internationally renowned visual artist Marcel Pinas joined the consultation session via Skype from Amsterdam, and gave an illustrated talk about his portfolio of watercolour paintings, collages, sculptures and mixed-media installations. Examples of his artwork were presented alongside information about the Maroon history and heritage of the Ndjuka community in eastern Suriname from which he hails, as well as updates about a number of important educational projects, cultural festivals, sustainably funded arts and crafts initiatives and other community development programmes he has helped to establish in the Marowijne district over the past few decades.

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‘Afaka Buku 6’ (2014) by Marcel Pinas. Acrylic oil collage on canvas. Dimensions: 135 x 195 cm. Copyright: Marcel Pinas – http://www.marcelpinas.net.

The artist’s early career began at the Nola Hatterman Art Institute in Paramaribo, followed by studies at Anton de Kom University, Paramaribo, and a three-year scholarship at Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts in Jamaica (1997-1999). Marcel’s residency in Jamaica was described as pivotal to the development of what has now become his signature technique of creating paintings and sculptures inscribed with Afaka symbols – a West African inspired syllabary of 56 characters, named after its Surinamese inventor Afaka Atumisi that was researched and developed in c.1910 to formally document the Ndjuka language.

Since the mid-1990s Marcel has taught fine art at Nola Hatterman Art Academy, and has also presented a number of high-profile solo and group exhibitions at galleries and biennales in Guiana, Cuba, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.  Successful fundraising initiatives achieved through partnerships with charitable institutions and revenue from the sale of his own artwork enabled Marcel to set up the Kibii Wi Foundation and TAS – Tembe Art Studio in Moengo in 2010 to provide training and support for emerging local artists from this area. His entrepreneurship and strong commitment to arts education also encouraged him to develop a series of cultural festivals promoting the music, dance and visual arts of Moengo to national and international audiences.

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Moengo Festival of Theatre and Dance, Suriname. Image courtesy of the artist, Marcel Pinas – http://www.marcelpinas.net/.

Every aspect of the artist’s professional practice, community activism, education work and entrepreneurship is driven by the need to promote Maroon histories and heritage to the wider Surinamese population, to provide arts education and cultural opportunities for young people, and also to campaign for social justice for Maroon-descended minorities still socially and economically marginalised within the country. For this reason Marcel’s portfolio of work also includes the creation of public art – such as the very poignant memorial at Moiwana in the Marowijne district built in memory of the victims of Suriname’s Interior War (1986-1991).

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Moiwana Monument (2007) , by  Marcel Pinas. Metal and bricks. Dimensions: 2000 x 1000 x 1000 cm. Image copyright: Marcel Pinas – http://www.marcelpinas.net.

For further information about Marcel Pinas’ artwork and community initiatives, please visit his website: http://www.marcelpinas.net.

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Marcel Pinas at the Moiwana Monument, Suriname. Photo by Christopher Cozier. Source: Paramaribo SPAN.

(3) ‘Creativity, In/security and Disobedience’ – presented by Jamaican filmmaker and linguist Dr Esther Figueroa

Dr Esther Figueroa discussed and shared excerpts from two documentaries featuring examples of grassroots community activism in Jamaica, produced independently via her company Vagabond Media. The first was a 6-minute clip from a film produced in 2007 which documented the actions of local residents from Maroon-descended communities in the Cockpit Country of Jamaica’s western interior region who organised a petition and a ‘sit-in’ at the offices of Jamaica’s National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) in Kingston. The group of c.70 community activists forced a meeting with the CEO to express their concerns about the threat of Bauxite mining encroaching onto their ancestral lands. During the discussions some members of the delegation signaled their intent to fight to conserve the environment, protect their Maroon heritage, and secure local livelihoods by invoking the power of God and the spirits of their ancestors to assist them in the struggle. This poignant film clip was part of a series of documentaries about Cockpit Country which can be viewed on Esther Figueroa’s YouTube page at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/user/mediavagabond/videos

In the second part of the presentation Esther showed a 12-minute film, titled “I Live for Art – An Ecocide Romance” (2013). This work featured examples of the filmmaker’s personal activism as a documentarian helping to raise awareness about the destruction of the coastal landscapes, natural vegetation and wildlife habitats near Kingston Harbour as a result of the ‘Palisadoes Shoreline Rehabilitation and Protection Works Project’ (2010-13), funded (for the most part) by the Chinese government. Although strongly focused on the ecological damage caused by the construction of a new highway and large sea defences along the spit of land connecting Norman Manley International Airport to the centre of Kingston, the film also raises a number of important underlying questions about the poor political decision-making, disregard for the environment and potential opportunities for financial corruption that precipitated what some would describe as a socio-economically and ecologically injurious project.
The film can be viewed in full online via the following YouTube link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uWKA17URfo.

Diasporic Perspectives

In addition to presentations from the afore-mentioned contributors, CARISCC network members were also pleased to welcome additional guest participants from the UK and Germany – Dr Leon Sealey-Huggins from the University of Warwick, and contemporary visual artist Sonia Barrett – to share insights and perspectives about future research collaborations and practice-based creative partnerships.

As a contributor to Warwick’s Global Sustainable Development Programme, Leon shared information about recent research he has helped to fund and pursue in partnership with scholars and environmentalists in Belize, specifically relating to the sociologies of climate change and issues of climate justice. He also spoke about potential future links between CARISCC and the Trans-Oceanic Solidarity Network, examining how collectives of researchers and scholar-activists might work more collaboratively to help document and address similar environmental, economic and geo-political challenges faced by communities in the Caribbean region and the Pacific Islands.

Contemporary visual artist Sonia Barrett gave a presentation about three selected works from her portfolio of sculptural installations, all created using household items donated by members of the UK’s Caribbean diaspora communities during a series of artistic residencies undertaken in Derby and Leeds in 2015/16. The artistic processes of deconstructing, re-shaping and then re-assembling the objects in focus – specifically a bed, a sideboard and a gramophone – were discussed in terms of a conceptual and creative practice that she defined as “performing furniture.” In addition, Sonia also previewed a new CARISCC-commissioned digital artwork that was developed in response to the many historical absences and erasures within the UK’s national narrative to disregard the longstanding African presence in Britain dating back to the Roman era, most acutely observed in the recent, problematic media narratives constructed to falsely commemorate the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush in 1948 as the ‘beginning’ of Black British history. Further details about Sonia’s art portfolio and work in progress can be viewed on the artist’s website at https://www.sebarrett.com.

To submit feedback, or contribute to further discussions about CARISCC’s future research collaborations, please use the “Leave a Reply” and “Follow” options on the CARISCC blog. You can also link to the network via CARISCC’s Facebook Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/CARISCC/)  and Twitter (https://twitter.com/_CARISCC).