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Barbados packs a lot of artistic talent into a small island best known for sand, rum and Rihanna. Writer Darshana Mahtani introduces us to an artist determined to showcase the country’s contemporary creators.
Text: Darshana Mahtani
Country: Barbados

hen you hear someone mention Barbados, your first thoughts probably involve sandy beaches, sun, rum and pearly sand. Your second thought might include Rihanna, and if you’ve ever visited Barbados before, your third thought would definitely be about the local food.

But there’s a word that not many people associate with Barbados: Talent. Although Barbados is a small island of 166 square miles in the Caribbean, it is filled to the brim with talent: artists, dreamers and entrepreneurs. From award-winning photographers, makeup artists, costume designers, wedding planners, DJs, chefs, mixologists and activists, Barbados is a land of the audacious and the brave. Amongst these talents is artist Sheena Rose.

If you ask Sheena, she will say that she’s an artist, a curator, a collector, and a businesswoman. But knowing her myself, I’d say she’s a revolutionary and her weapon of choice is her art. It’s like nothing you have ever seen before and it expresses her personal journey with a taste of the current culture of the Caribbean.

Sheena has always been an artist, but her career took off when she was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship in August 2014 and studied fine arts at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her paintings titled “Sweet Gossip”, a collaborative project with photographer Adrian Richards and art historian Natalie McGuire, explored the role of gossip in Barbadian social interactions an took the world by storm. In 2015 Penguin Press repurposed her “Too Much Makeup on Her Face” for the cover of the novel “The Star Side of Bird Hill.”

Her following work titled “Town”, a set of largely black-and-white drawings with bits of mixed media, shows citizens navigating everyday moments: shopping, commuting and resting included various versions of different cities around the world such as Miami, New York, Cape Town and Amsterdam. Tennis star Venus Williams acquired a drawing from “Town” at an auction held in Miami.

Since then, Sheena has returned to Barbados, instead of New York or Europe, ready to set the artistic scene ablaze.

“Some people say to me: ‘Man, Sheena, you have so much going on for yourself. Why are you studying Barbados so much?’ And I say: ‘Barbados is my home. I can’t help it.’

I would like for the Government and people of Barbados to see that we need a national art gallery, that we need spaces . . . so we have work that is speaking and is also valuable,” she said. Sheena has been advocating for a permanent home for artistic expression on the island in the form of a national art gallery. With a studio of her own provided by a supporting patron, Sheena acted as curator of the first Contemporary Art/Contemporary Issues art exhibition January 26 through February 9.

The exhibit featured 15 works from different artists on the island including Adrian Richards, Alanis Forde, Anna Gibson, Simone Asia, Jared Burton, Ronald Williams, Matthew Kupa Murrell, and Adam Patterson.

Sheena is somewhat of an international celebrity. Having been recently featured for the second time in the New York Times for her innovative and unconventional works, she said that her aim was to highlight the difference between tourist art and contemporary art.

“Tourist art is more like a souvenir, while the contemporary art is more addressing the reality of our space,” she explained.

“If we don’t know contemporary art in Barbados and only know tourist art, how can we push contemporary art? So we need to see more of it to understand it and appreciate it,” she added, while suggesting that contemporary art should be added to the primary and secondary school curriculums.

The works on display at the exhibition are so varied and intricately personal to the artist, yet they come together beautifully to tackle common issues faced by artists such as racism and classism.

For example, Ronald Williams’ series “explores the adage that ‘you can tell a lot about a man based on the shoes he wears’,” he said. “In both ghetto and elite settings, we, especially males, are not only judged by the shoes we wear but we also at times intentionally seek to convey a message with our shoe choice. My intention is to open a dialogue about what type, and more importantly, why a certain type of shoe may be associated with a particular class.

“Each piece’s focal point is a classic style of shoe, which is supported by the stance of the wearer as well as the surrounding elements found in the work.These components act in an allegorical sense to comment on preconceived notions of class and status associated with the charactersfootwear. To create the work I used a mixture of my photographs, computer generated images, as well as popular-based images sourced from the internet and print media. Utilizing Photoshop, I cut and compile the images together to compose these digital collages.”

Anna Gibson described her painting “Rebirth” as a way to explore and expose the vulnerabilities women have about their differences to each other, and how they seek to physically mask or morph their bodies, to achieve acceptance within their cultural, racial, and social environment.

Progressing with evaluation of physical insecurities surrounding the female body, this new artwork explores the process of evolving the physical self, using various beautification methods. With references from plastic surgery procedures, beauty cosmetics, as well as jewelry, the self is presented transitioning into a hybrid body.

Painted on raw distressed canvas, the female figure holds a confident, but uncomfortable stance, while her surgically enhanced body is restrained and pierced with gold wire, jewelry and stitches. Each addition to the figure manifests a new creature crafted by insecurities.

However, my personal favorite from the show was a work titled “Dear Beloved ”by artist Simone Asia, a dear friend. Her work is full of mystery and intricacy. Every single painting of hers feels and looks like a universe in itself that continues to expand the more you look at it. Using nothing more than a pen, Simone takes you to the land of creativity and chaos and beauty with her work.

Her paintings explore “my emotive response to personal experiences, ideas and analogies within my life,” said Simone. “Many of these ideas stem from personal journal entries which document my thoughts and dreams along with my ideas about nature, science, and the universe. These ideas are expressed through intricate, abstract drawings rendered mainly in pen and ink. With these I want to create an alternate reality; my hybrids within my own universe. The use of detail is reflective of my own obsessive nature—thinking and writing repetitively. The way I connect and merge imagery and patterns is a manifestation of the way my thoughts are processed in my brain—very random, scattered, juxtaposed but all interlinked. This dimension, fueled by my overactive brain, will help me cope with and temporarily escape from this reality and its struggles.” Said Simone.

Sheena said she was pleased with how the exhibition turned out. “To be honest, I am really happy I did this exhibition, to show me who to work with the next time and who is seriously interested in art,” she said. “I am very happy with the amount of people that attended, the amount of donations that went towards the performers. The press was really awesome, and people are hungry for contemporary spaces like this.

“I wanted to advocate or show people that there are possibilities of having shows, even in a construction site, and it is somewhat embarrassing because we should have spaces where we can have more shows. I wish that more people would see the importance and value in art because it adds so much to the country,” she continued. “However, I can’t save Barbados. Everyone needs to be vocal and share the experience they had and encourage artists to keep working, show them they are important to the culture, show you are visible, and we need more spaces like this. It’s very important.”

Sheena is now a visual arts teacher at the Barbados Community College, and when asked about what’s next in her career, she says, “It’s back to focusing on my work.” This year will involve a lot of traveling for the artists to places such as North Carolina, Jamaica, New York, Miami, Chicago and Senegal. She also said she has clients in Canada, India, and London.

Sheena was just selected as the upcoming residency artist from Barbados for the Fountainhead Residency hosted in partnership with Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator. The residency will take place in August.

Rihanna is no longer the only star to put Barbados on the map. Sheena and the other artists on the island are playing their part to create works and spaces of art that speak not only for them, but also as a modern expression of culture, society, family, and politics in the Caribbean.

Info Box

1. Barbados Community College and The University of the West Indies are the only educational establishments on the island where one can earn an associate ‘s or bachelor ‘s degree in fine arts.

2. There are approximately 17 art galleries in Barbados.

3. There are approximately 136 known artists in Barbados specializing in an array of different artistic expressions such as dance, poetry, pottery, oil paintings, photography, music, and film.

4. The National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA), a festival that happens every year on the island in October and November, is organized by the National Cultural Foundation of Barbados and is a platform for Barbadian artists to showcase their talent both nationally and globally. Successful performers are awarded with gold, silver, or bronze awards.

5. Barbados receives more than a million tourists each year, including both land-based tourists and cruise passengers, making ‘tourist’ art the most popular and lucrative form of art on the island. These paintings can be purchased at hotels, fine dining restaurants, souvenir shops ,and even some top-tier retail stores.




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Barbados is a small island in the Caribbean famous for its sandy beaches, rum, and Rihanna. But it is also a land full of great artistic talent. It has award-winning photographers, makeup artists, costume designers, wedding planners, DJs, chefs, mixologists, and activists.

One of these talents is Sheena Rose, an artist, curator, collector, and businesswoman. She won a Fullbright Scholarship in 2014 and studied fine arts at the University of North Carolina. She became well-known with her painting "Sweet Gossip" about the role of gossip in Barbados. The tennis star Venus Williams owns one of her paintings. Sheena later returned to Barbados to support other local artists.

Sheena was the curator of the first Contemporary Art/Contemporary Issues art exhibition in Barbados. The exhibit featured 15 works from different artists on the island.

One of these artists is Ronald Williams. He says his series "explores the adage that 'you can tell a lot about a man based on the shoes he wears'." The focal point of each piece is a classic shoe style supported by the wearer's stance and the surrounding elements.

Anna Gibson's work "Rebirth" uses gold wire, jewelry, and stitches to explore and expose the insecurities women feel about their bodies and their environment.

 

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