Observing the United Nations’ International Migrants Day

The following blog post was contributed by one of the artists in the Arrivants exhibition, Kishan Munroe from the Bahamas, who is represented with a video installation and an unfolding sea expedition project, “Drifter in Residence.” It was written on the occasion of International Migrants Day, December 18, 2018, and originally appeared on his personal blog, “The Universal Human Experience,” which can be found here.

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1. Kishan Munroe overlooking the US/Mexico border 2. Kishan documenting a small fishing village in Haiti 3. a snapshot of UN guards on duty in the streets of Haiti 4. Migrants arriving on the shores of Suriname from Guyana.

Ten years ago, in 2008, I began a journey that undoubtedly changed the course of my life. “The Universal Human Experience”, a global anthropological expedition, was indeed an extraordinary challenge; examining behaviors, theories and histories of varying cultures of opposition. Simultaneously it pushed the envelope of my physical strength and mental endurance. Over the years I have traveled by boat, by plane, train and automobile, living a nomadic lifestyle… sometimes even homeless on foreign streets. As I sit here immersed in thought, I take in the rhythms of the ocean; waves of memories… of years of experiences and inspiration collide against the raised reliefs of my fortified consciousness.

Reflecting now, on the water’s surface, I review the circumstances of my journeys, where I’ve found myself as the migrant, the immigrant, the ‘other’. Like an ‘Afronaut’ I’ve traveled through the first, second and third worlds of this earth, collecting samples of moments… of feelings… of tangible and intangible things; some of which I still have yet to understand.

Out of this grand tour, new chapters of inquisitions and interventions were born.

It was by way of my exploratory travels throughout Russia that this present undertaking was birthed. After spending some time in Moscow I journeyed north, into St Petersburg where I was an artist in residence at St Petersburg Art Residency (SPAR). The following year I was invited by SPAR and the Museum of Non-Conformist Art to partake in an exhibition responding to the theme “Transcendental Homelessness”. I felt compelled to scrutinize notions of ‘home’ in the ‘third world’ of the ‘New World’.

In my view, as a member of the African disapora residing in the ‘New world’ we have always been drifting throughout the Atlantic, searching for a place we can call home. From this concept “Drifter in Residence” came into being; a migrant ‘afronaut’ attempting to explain ‘home’ to Russians.

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2008, (video still) Kishan crossing the Corantijn River from Guyana into Suriname.

On this “International Day of the Migrant” I reminisce on documenting the “May Day” protest in Los Angeles, one of the largest immigrant rights protests in the United States. There I witnessed the imposing solidarity of hundreds of thousands of migrants expressing their frustrations with border issues and the infringement of human rights. I also reflect upon my first experience traveling as an ‘illegal’ immigrant (see blog post). The unnerving voyage did not last very long but it introduced me to the reality of visuals I now see frequently plastered across media headlines; scenes of migrants, risking their lives to traverse borders.

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“Regarding Your Borders,” Los Angeles, 2008

Indeed the human spirit possesses great resilience, yet life remains oh so fragile. Now, preparing for this unique journey into the pelagic world, which I have titled “Drifter in Residence,” I am minded to take nothing for granted. There is a great degree of preparedness that must be met, especially when one has to potentially face the unexpected – when situations are literally life or death.

Since the inception of this project I have encountered a series of hurdles due to circumstances beyond my control: inclement weather conditions, as well as logistical, technological and financial challenges. Although still in the process of extended trial runs at sea, my expected departure date has been slightly delayed. With every step, however, there has been a learning curve. Now, looking back, at those challenges they are truly indicative of the lifestyle I’ve had to adapt to over the years, engaged in my practice, that have lead me into questionable, often unfavorable conditions. Nevertheless, they are all a part of the experience that I seek to tap into – the universal human experience. The beauty in exploration lies not only in attaining the objective one set out to achieve, but also in the unplanned developments that happen along the way. In retrospect of my journey’s trek, the paths caused by those obstructions and detours have permanently etched a meandering timeline: a sketch of colorful experiences, developments and growth; the most intimate portrait of myself thus far.

I call now, on the open sea, in all its density, to shower me with inspiration; to quench my creative thirst and to serenade me with whispers of loud silence rolling off the Tongue of the Ocean.   I never fathomed that my work would get this deep but there is something to be said for ‘going with the wind’.

My mind drifts.

Copyright 2018 Kishan Munroe . All rights reserved

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Arrivants: Leasho Johnson

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Land of Big Hood and Water (2018)
Mural (paint and vinyl)
Variable dimensions

Leasho Johnson in St James, Jamaica, in 1984, and he is based in Kingston, Jamaica, and Chicago, Illinois, USA. He was educated at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (BFA Visual Communication, 2009) and is presently pursuing an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a founding member of the Dirty Crayons collective, which held local group exhibitions in 2012 and 2013, and he has also executed a number of “guerilla mural” interventions on the streets of Kingston, which are usually promptly removed. Johnson’s major exhibitions include We Have Met Before (2017) and Young Talent V (2010), both at the National Gallery of Jamaica; Jamaican Pulse: Art and Politics from Jamaica and the Diaspora (2016) at the Royal West Academy, Bristol, U.K.; and the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Biennials since 2010. His residencies have included Caribbean Linked III at Atelier 89, Aruba, in 2015, a residency at at Bluecoat, Liverpool, UK, in 2016, and he was awarded a Davidoff Art Initiative residency at Residency Unlimited in New York City in 2016.

Leasho

Artist’s Statement

Land of Big Hood and Water stirs up questions around identity and “Caribbeaness,” We are a region born out of industry (the supply and demand of sugar to Europe), our bodies no more or less than that of beasts of burden. I wanted to investigate black stereotypes and how that is perpetuated through tourism as an extension of that industry, where the black Caribbean body is again available for foreign consumption. I wanted to show how much emerges through sexuality and violence as social norms, as an after-effect of colonialism. The title parodies Jamaica’s informal motto, “Land of Wood and Water” given to us by our Taino forefathers, as the land was deemed abundant for its natural resources. “Hood” is the colloquial Jamaican word for “large male genitalia”; or from an American standpoint, a slum or ghetto. Originally mounted as a street intervention on Hope Road, an upscale part of Kingston, Jamaica, my usual characters’ bodies became caricatures of islands being beside each other, like the islands on the map of the Caribbean. The bodies in the water also reference bodies thrown overboard from ships during the Middle Passage and their poses echo certain types of choreography from dancehall culture.

Arrivants: Phillip Moore

Phillip Moore - Reparation

Reparation (n.d.)
Mixed media
H: 103 cm
National Art Gallery Collection, Barbados

Phillip Moore was born in 1921 in Corentyne, Berbice, in what was then British Guiana. He died in Corentyne  in 2012. He was a self-taught painter, wood sculptor and producer of mixed media objects.

Phillip Moore had only limited formal education and he considered himself “spirit taught’: in a 1955 dream, a large hand reached down to him from the heavens and a voice commanded him to become an artist. He was a Jordanite Christian, a Guyanese religious group with strict lifestyle prescriptions. He found his inspiration in the daily life and environment of Guyana, as well as what he encountered during his travels to the USA, and his subjects included portraits, animal figures, sports heroes, drums, and landmark buildings, all interpreted through a visionary imagination. For his carvings, he used Guyanese hardwoods such as Purple Heart. He is the only self-taught, popular artist in the Caribbean to have received a national monument commission: he was the creator of the large bronze the 1763 Monument in Georgetown, Guyana, which was unveiled in 1976 and commemorates a major slave rebellion. The monument represents the leader of the rebellion, Cuffy, who is represented as an African warrior. He also taught at the Burrowes School of Art and the Princeton University in the USA as a guest professor. Shortly before his death, Moore was honoured in the national awards with the Cacique Crown of Honour, the second-highest award for service to Guyana, limited to 100 living Guyanese.

The work in Arrivants is one of several for which Phillip Moore used a cardboard shipping barrel – one of the staples, and indeed icons, of Caribbean and Caribbean Diaspora life.

Arrivants: Kishan Munroe

Kishan Munroe - Drifter in Residence
Kishan Munroe – Drifter in Residence (2018)(Photograph courtesy of the Artist; all rights reserved)
Drifter in Residence (2018)
Live expedition and video installation

Kishan Munroe was born in Nassau, The Bahamas in 1980, and is based there. He is an interdisciplinary artist whose practice is fortified by a framework of extensive historical research. Employing a documentary practice, his work acts as a catalyst for the development of social consciousness of under-explored narratives from the African diaspora. Munroe engages in anthropological expeditions, investigating histories steeped in conflict, their socio-political contexts, and the interrogation of collective memory. He uses his findings to extend public discourse and advance scholarly understanding.

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Kishan Munroe and his father working on the raft during the early stages of the construction using his late grandfather’s tools (photograph courtesy of the Artist; all rights reserved)

Munroe was educated at the Savannah College of Art and Design (BFA Painting and 3D Visual Effects, 2003, and MFA Painting, 2005). His major exhibitions include Relational Undercurrents (2017-2019), a survey of contemporary art from the Global Caribbean which is presently touring in the USA, and his solo exhibition Swan Song of the Flamingo (2013), National Art Gallery of the Bahamas. His awards include the Bridget Jones Award for Cultural Studies, UK, the Bahamian Icon Award for Fine Art (Bahamas), National Endowment for the Performing Arts (Bahamas), The Governor’s Choice Award (Bahamas), and the Combined Merit Fellowship at Savannah College of Art and Design.

 

 

Artist’s Statement

On a self-constructed raft, I set adrift, alone, into the throes of the Atlantic Ocean. There I will remain resident aboard my creation for several weeks, engaged in an unorthodox artist research residency.

This ‘introspective/retrospective’ pilgrimage marks a ten-year milestone in my professional artistic journey, actively engaged in extensive anthropological investigations through cultural immersion. With this phase of the project I literally plunge into the foreign world of the ocean, seeking to tap into the narratives, realities and histories of man’s precarious relationship with the sea and his never-ending quest for ‘home’.

Drifter In Residence, is a strategic development in the continuation of my flagship project The Universal Human Experience, a worldwide, multi-layered fact-finding mission examining the continuum of various plights, conflicts and resolutions that have shaped contemporary cultures, in order to identify common threads shared throughout humanity.

 

Arrivants: Nadia Huggins

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Nadia Huggins – Transformations # 1
Transformations # 1
Transformations # 6
2 diptych photographs
4 panels, 76.2 x 57.15 cm each

Nadia Huggins was born in Trinidad & Tobago, in 1984, and is based in St Vincent and the Grenadines. She is a self-taught visual artist who works primarily in photography. Her recent exhibitions include Relational Undercurrents (2017-2019), a major survey of contemporary art from the Global Caribbean which is presently touring in the USA; the Jamaica Biennial 2017, at the National Gallery of Jamaica; Caribbean Queer Visualities (2016), Outburst Queer Arts Festival, Thread Gallery, Belfast, Northern Ireland; and Vision Archipelagiques (2016), Fondation Clément, Martinique. Her photographs explore identity, memory and belonging through people, self-portraits, and the landscape, and, most of all, the sea. She works as a freelance graphic designer and was the co-founder of ARC Magazine.

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Nadia Huggins – Transformations # 6

Artist’s Statement

Transformations is a series of diptychs that explores the relationship between my identity and the marine ecosystem. In the sea, as a woman who identifies as other, my body becomes displaced from my everyday experiences. Gender, race, and class are dissolved because there are no social and political constructs to restrain and dictate my identity. These constructs have no place or value in that environment. This idea creates the foundation for these portraits.

These transfigured portraits use collage techniques to bring together self-portraiture and the documentation of marine organisms. By juxtaposing these images and leaving a space in between them, each portrait is on the cusp of becoming a single image. This space between the images represents a transient moment where I am regaining buoyancy and separating from the underwater environment to resurface. The transformation exists within the space in between photographs. It is in this moment that the viewer makes the decision if both worlds are able to separate or merge.

Arrivants: Francis Griffith

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Francis Griffith –  A History of Time (King Solomon’s Palace), c1965
Egypt (c1960)
Oil on paper
67.5 x 69 cm

A History of Time (King Solomon’s Palace) (c1966)
Oil on paper
108.5 x 107

Text Painting (1963)
Oil on paper
66 x 81.5 cm

The Barbados National Art Gallery Committee collection 

Francis Griffith was born in St. Michael, Barbados in 1916, and was based there. He died in 2001. He had been painting for two decades by the time his work was first seen by the Barbadian public.  In 1987, he submitted two paintings to the 3rd Annual Art Collection Foundation (ACF) Exhibition and Competition and won a purchase award for The Bridge We Travel.  The following year he received a second ACF Purchase Award for The Weekend.

f. griffith - text painting
Francis Griffith – Text Painting

Griffith’s first endeavours in painting began in the 1960s.  As a seaman travelling throughout the world, first with the British Merchant Marines and later aboard commercial cargo ships, he recorded his experiences.  His visits to Egypt and Ethiopia influenced him most profoundly. It was in Egypt that he adopted his artist name, ‘Son et Luimere’ (sic), which he signed to his early works related to his experiences in the Middle East and East Africa. Translated from the French as ‘sound and light (‘Son et Lumiere’ is the correct spelling), Griffith nevertheless interpreted his modified version as ‘Son of the Light.’ Griffith returned to Barbados in 1966 and worked at the newly constructed Hilton Hotel in the engineering department. He continued to paint more narrative depictions of picnics, dances, village scenes etc. which he signed ‘F. Griffith.’ These works, unlike the earlier mystical paintings, he exhibited and made available for sale.

About the work – A History of Time (King Solomon’s Palace)

One of his earliest works, but also his largest and most ambitious painting,  A History of Time holds a unique place within Francis Griffith’s oeuvre. This work was painted shortly after his return to a newly independent Barbados, following an absence of more than two decades. During that time he worked as a seaman traveling to over 75 countries. This painting records a banquet for the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. It is an intricate and complex composition in which biblical events converge with images of the World War II Allies represented at the top of the painting. Rows of banquet halls flank a mandala stage in the center with multiple representations of the Kind and Queen. Griffith described it as “A vision of unseen things that you would never believe possible.”

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Francis Griffith – Egypt (c1968)

Arrivants: Aubrey Williams

Aubrey Williams
Aubrey Williams – Untitled (from the Maya Olmec and Now Series) (l1970s)
Untitled (from the Maya Olmec and Now Series) (l1970s)
Oil on canvas
90 x 120 cm
Private Collection

Aubrey Williams was born in Georgetown, Guyana, in 1926, and died in 1990. He joined E.R. Burrowes’ Working Peoples’ Art Class at the age of 12. He initially trained as an agronomist and worked as an Agricultural Field Officer on the sugar plantations of the Guyanese East Coast and later in the North-West region, where he became acquainted with indigenous Warao people. This introduced him to pre-Columbian arts and cultures which remained as an important influence throughout his artistic career.

Williams left Guyana in 1952, and moved to the United Kingdom, where he had his first exhibition in 1954. He became associated with Denis Bowen’s New Vision Centre Gallery and attended the St Martins School of Art, and he quickly became a figure of note in the post-war British avant-garde art scene. In 1966, he was one of the founders of the Caribbean Artists Movement, which brought together artists, writers and intellectuals from the Caribbean who resided in the United Kingdom and served as a platform for the articulation of Caribbean and Caribbean diaspora cultural identities and ideological positions. From 1970 onward, Williams worked in studios in Jamaica and Florida as well as the UK and he also visited Guyana where he executed a major mural commission at the Timehri Airport in 1970. It was during this period that he produced three of his most well-known series of paintings: Shostakovich, The Olmec Maya and Now and Cosmos.

The work in the present exhibition is part of his Olmec Maya series and has a dedication to the then Guyanese President Forbes Burnham on the back.