Taking Caribbean Art To The World
If the several major group shows in metropolitan centers around the world in the past decade are any indication, Caribbean art is having its moment.
After shows like the Brooklyn Museum’s “Infinite Island” in 2007 to last year’s multi-venue “Caribbean: Crossroads of the World”, art in the region is ready for its close-up – just in time for this weekend’s VOLTA NY art fair in New York City.
As a critically acclaimed satellite art fair to The Armory Show, VOLTA NY is an invitational solo project fair for contemporary art from around the world. In fact, in its sixth year, the 2013 fair will spotlight artwork from six continents and 38 nations – The Bahamas being one of them as Popopstudios International Center for the Visual Arts presents the work of resident Bahamian artist Heino Schmid.
Director of the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas Amanda Coulson – and founder of VOLTA NY in 2008, though now she acts as a consultant artistic director – invited Popopstudios ICVA and Schmid to apply for this year’s fair.
“Popopstudios has been the driving force of the cultural community here for many years,” says Coulson. “Volta has always been a platform for emerging artists and galleries to get their foot in the door, so I am only interested in galleries operating on the cutting edge, and that’s exactly what Popop has been to the community for the last 10 to 15 years.”
“They have given artists their first show, a place to work and workshops,” she adds. “So many of these artists have gone on to achieve things, moved away and gained international recognition.”
The American counterpart to the Volta art fair in Basel, Switzerland – co-founded by Coulson in 2005 – VOLTA NY nonetheless acts as platform for emerging contemporary artists and galleries. With The Armory Show receiving an estimated 50,000 guests and VOLTA NY receiving near to 15,000 – including collectors, other practicing artists, museum curators and other major movers and shakers in the art world – it offers a chance for Popopstudios and other invited Caribbean art entities to show they are major players in the international art world and to reach a wider market for their work.
“I feel like there’s an interest building in the region and it’s a good time to present not just The Bahamas but the region. There is strength in numbers,” says Coulson. “Our population is too small to really support a big industry. So as in any other industry, we need to get our artists and our culture recognized internationally – not for any form of validation, but for market reasons.”
Hoping to add fuel to that fire is the presence of ARC Magazine, a nonprofit print and online platform that offers critical dialogue and connection between art spaces and events across the Caribbean region, who hosted the roundtable discussion “Curtailing Anxieties: Boundaries of Defining Art in The Caribbean” last night at the fair.
“I invited ARC Magazine because they are the most cutting edge and advanced documentation of what is happening in contemporary art right now in the region, but again they need readership and subscriptions for their beautiful magazine,” Coulson points out.
“I want ARC to be on the international platform so people all over the world are subscribing to ARC and they can be our conduit, getting Caribbean into the dialogue as a viable international player.”
Popopstudios resident artist Heino Schmid joined ARC Magazine Editor-in-Chief Holly Bynoe, artist/writer Charles Campbell, Director of the Bermuda National Gallery Lisa Howie, artist and writer Christopher Cozier, and Director of Collections and Exhibitions at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture in Baltimore, MD Joan Wilkinson to discuss how Caribbean artists can negotiate the international marketplace and spotlight and all of its tensions.
“The way I’m approaching it is from the line of proactivity – I want to focus on what is working from my perspective in art in my own practice and in some of the really exciting regional work I’m seeing – and it has nothing to do with anxieties or placing the Caribbean art world on the map,” says Schmid.
“It’s based on the strength of the artist and sensitivity and responsibility in developing an honest practice,” he continues. “There’s a lot of stereotyping obviously about art from Caribbean – but I feel like art from the Caribbean and Caribbean art are different. The way to move things forward is be responsible and proactive and visible, and not to be defensive – do that, and you can’t go wrong.”
Schmid definitely takes his own advice. His work represented by Popopstudios ICVA at VOLTA NY is a refreshing new chapter in his practice born out of honoring a shift in his process from his figure-centric studies – culminating in the 16-foot piece in the Sixth National Exhibition last fall – to the more sculptural and materials-based pieces seen in “Assemble” at the Liquid Courage Gallery in December of last year.
Whether rusty springs, dried bones, repurposed wood or discarded personal treasures, the found materials Schmid uses resist narrative based on their previous incarnations or the Caribbean and instead together become meditations on tension in assemblages, sculptures and in painted mixed media pieces. They certainly hold their own among the artwork represented by 95 other galleries in the fair.
“I don’t know what it all means exactly yet, I just know that the pitch is right,” says Schmid. “I’m more interested in getting this visual pitch right, rather than some cumbersome narrative that I’m tired of all of a sudden. I’m excited by juxtaposition and balance and imbalance.”
“I trust that whatever there is about me that is Caribbean comes out in my work through the materials or visual references,” he adds. “I don’t question it too much because I believe all of these instincts are honest and make their way into the work and it becomes part of the discussion – it’s not a necessary reference to understanding the work.”
The presence at VOLTA NY is quite a personal victory for Schmid, who worked hard to raise the funds for the endeavor through an exhibition of his new work in January at Popopstudios ICVA. The evening not only helped raise almost all of the significant funds needed for the trip, but also created excitement in the art community for the exposure.
“I can’t thank people enough,” he says. “I’m not used to help and I’m really humbled by the support from the community. That inspires me to put on a good show.”
“The goal is to represent Popop thoroughly because it’s at a good point in its life to expand,” he continues. “With its programs inviting international artists in and now the presence at VOLTA NY, I think there are enough elements in place for it to expand its presence internationally. This is a great step for us and a way for our artists to grow ourselves with the institution.”
• For more about VOLTA NY, visit www.voltashow.com.
By Sonia Farmer,
The Nassau Guardian
Published: March 9, 2013