A Rose among thorns
SHEENA ROSE’S PAINTING tools and apron are her battle gear and her canvas is her strongest artillery. She says she is taking a stand against tourism art, because to her it is a relic of the past, and instead is championing contemporary art.
Rose explained to EASY magazine that there is a huge market for Caribbean contemporary art internationally but local artists confine themselves to tourist art.
The fun, energetic and free-spirited “warrior princess” said that tourist art limited the industry’s true potential and “chokes the horizon of young upcoming artists” who want to stand out from the others in the field.
“Art on a whole is not taken seriously in Barbados,” she stressed.
“This land was not historically designed or encouraged to appreciate art like Cuba or Jamaica. These northern Caribbean islands got pushed into art around the 19th century and their art told the stories of life in those countries. Later Barbados got pushed into art and I found that we got pushed into tourist art.”
Recently, Rose showcased some of her work at her first show since returning home from studies. It was entitled Baby Pink. In association with the University of the West Indies Gender Study Institute and the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination, Rose was able to draw the curtain open on her own art gallery.
“Decorative art, such as tourist art, is art to make the house look pretty and it shows a happy side of Barbados. It is used as a souvenir to show the ideal picture of Barbados.
“Nothing is wrong with that, but art is part of our culture and part of our history. It’s a celebration of riots and freedom from slavery so artists just can’t just show the happy side; there also has to be a sad side, a disappointment and horrific, terrifying side too. That is why I teach my students to be honest with themselves and not just show a pretty side all the time because Barbadians are too conservative so we don’t like to reveal so much, yet we reveal a lot in calypso which I find is a weird contradiction.
“We have grown up in a very commercialised environment to always smile and be friendly but there are still internal issues that need to be addressed and I think not highlighting our issues makes us a little fake. It is as though we are always pretending, but contemporary art allows you to be more expressive and free to show what is hidden behind the mask.”
Rose added that Caribbean art is a niche market and collectors are very interested in getting their hands on it. She said that if Barbadians capitalised on this opportunity, more locals would see artists in the same light in which they see doctors and lawyers.
“There are not much avenues to showcase your work here,” she said.
“And this is a challenge for young artists who are now looking to plant their feet in their careers. On top of that, I think CARIFESTA and the Havana Biennial are the only two art shows that push artists beyond traditional art.
“But since the market crashed, international curators and collectors got more involved with Caribbean art because they realised what we do is different and they can make big money from it. But I find a lot of people do not know much about this so there is not much encouragement toward this; we are still stuck in the past creating tourist art.
“People may not have realised but the Internet and social media make us more connected to the world and more importantly the diaspora who likes to see and wants to see more of what we are doing. Instead of showing sand and sea we can portray something from our life, like an incident that they can relate to.
Rose said she tries to shake off the negative criticism of how her art is viewed.
“Sometimes, because I step outside of the box, I get a lot of negative feedback. People say “Oh, this is not Caribbean art” but my work would always be Barbadian because I am Bajan.”
The 32-year-old tutor at the Barbados Community College (BCC) reminisced about childhood memories of how she used her gift to make money.
“I was involved in art when I was six years old. I was always trying to hustle and make a little five or 10 cents,” she said, laughing.
“After I went to Springer Secondary School, I did my associate’s [degrees] and bachelor’s. Sonia Boyce, an artist from England, was invited to BCC to do a workshop and that was the first time I ever met an international artist and she encouraged us to do contemporary art.
“When I graduated from school I hardly found any space for this type of art I fell in love with but I never gave up on it because when I went on a tour to New York on an art trip with school I saw how well contemporary at did there.
“In 2014 I was really blessed and honoured to receive a master’s scholarship at the University of Carolina. It is a very prestigious award [Fulbright] and it is one of the best scholarships in the world. The White House funds it and students in the hemisphere could apply for it so I really felt lucky to win something like that.
“After that experience I was able to showcase my work around the globe. I have been to countries such as South Korea and I have had several interviews with well known media companies.
“I have accomplished a lot through contemporary art and that’s why I came back home. I want the same for the students I teach and I have found that they have it harder than I did when I was their age as the art scene has gotten worse and there is not much development in the industry. But I believe all of this can change if more artists gave contemporary art a try.”