The Belly of the Whale: A Conversation with Cosmo Whyte

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This blog was created as a partnership between Kelley-Ann Lindo and Simon Tatum. Both are participating artists in the Arrivants exhibition and are serving as curatorial interns, assisting with the exhibition install and documenting conversations with other artists involved with the project. This post will focus on a conversation with the artist Cosmo Whyte, and it will illustrate his experience while installing his new work for the Arrivants exhibition.

Whyte is a Jamaican born artist who is currently based in Atlanta, Georgia, where he serves as a full-time teaching professor for Morehouse College.  He has a trans-disciplinary art practice and employs drawing, performance and sculpture to create conceptual work that explore identity and how it can be disrupted by migration. Moreover, his creative process is anchored by interrogations of his own body as a racialized black man.

For Whyte’s work in the Arrivants exhibition, he has been granted access to intervene within a prison cell space at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society (BMHS). The BMHS site is housed in historic buildings originally used as the military prison at St. Ann’s Garrison. The buildings hold an extensive history and once served as the headquarters of the Windward and Leeward command of the English forces. There are only twelve structures like this military prison that were constructed under the British Empire, and this space is greatly significant within the Caribbean region.

One opinion that Lindo and Tatum were interested in hearing from Whyte was his thoughts towards addressing the prison atmosphere of the BMHS site within his short time limitations of the install.  Whyte mentioned that he had engaged in a similar experience with time restraint during a residency in Panama in 2007. That residency was a two week programme where he had to create new works on site for an exhibition. He saw that residency as a healthy experience because it challenged him to make new, experimental works and demanded him to negotiate his ideas towards the definitive construction of his artwork. Moreover, he carries that experience within his current practice and it helped him with the much more difficult install limitation (2 days) for the Arrivants exhibition.

With that said, Whyte described the install as an emotional experience that went through various stages, starting with his initial planning with Veerle Poupeye and Alison Thompson and ending with the definitive construction of the artwork with the help of the install team, the BMHS staff and other volunteers. Further, Whyte believes that the most difficult aspect of the install was the various conversations he has attempted to remain sensitive towards, that include the charged historical narrative embedded within the site, the joint role of historical intervention with the BMHS institute and the joint conversation of Caribbean migration with other Caribbean artists in the Arrivants project.

Additionally, Lindo and Tatum were interested in hearing how Whyte’s assigned space guided his thinking for the new artwork, and they asked whether this new artwork remains in conversations with his previous artworks? Whyte responded by mentioning the physical layout of the space was difficult to visualise through images and layouts. He drafted several different designs for the space, but nothing was definite till he arrived on site. The moment that really changed the work and decided on its final format was when he was able to walk through the assigned prison cell, exit it and then look back into it from the visitors’ window on the outside of the room. The way in which he wanted the viewer to experience the work was altered and his previous ideas about the viewers’ movement within the assigned space became completely prohibited. Furthermore, one element that has remained from his original designs and stayed consistent with his current practice was the use of water or the ocean as a perilous space and negotiating that idea through photographic imagery.

If you would like to hear more about Whyte’s new installation, please feel welcome to listen to the attached audio file: https://soundcloud.com/kelley-ann-lindo/cosmo-interview/s-54GF5

 

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