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Thursday, 13 September 2007

Opening tomorrow: the Alice Yard Space

sean leonard alice yard sketch

Perhaps the image above doesn't look like much--a quadrilateral scribbled on a scrap of paper--but it represents an exciting new development in the Trinidad contemporary art scene. This is one of architect Sean Leonard's conceptual sketches for the small gallery space that opens tomorrow, 14 September, in Alice Yard, the backyard of the old house at 80 Roberts Street in Woodbrook, Port of Spain.

Leonard's great-grandmother used to live in this house, and its backyard is a place where generations of children talked, played, imagined. In September 2006, it became a public space: Alice Yard. The band 12, fronted by Sheldon Holder, set up their headquarters in a small outbuilding. The arts programme Galvanize held two events there. And over the last year Holder has hosted a series of Friday-night "Conversations in the Yard", where musicians come to perform, writers read, artists discuss their work, and audiences engage in conversation with creative practitioners.

Tomorrow night the dynamic will change a little, with the opening of Alice Yard Space. The sketch above will take three-dimensional form as a simple glass-and-concrete box at the eastern end of the yard, next to the 12 bandroom. The space is nine by seven by ten feet: just big enough to fit an artist's installation or video work, or a few drawings or paintings. But modest enough that an artist can feel comfortable showing a fragment of something bigger, or a piece of work in progress. Not a space for grand declarations, necessarily, but to show something that will trigger a reaction, a conversation.

From tomorrow night until the end of the year, five artists' projects will appear in the Alice Yard Space, each for a few weeks at a time. The first is Rack, an installation by Adam Williams. Tomorrow night, entirely by coincidence, also happens to be the anniversary of the opening of Galvanize, the six-week "happening" that made waves in the Trinidad art scene and roused strong feelings both positive and negative. There's no immediate link between Galvanize and the Alice Yard Space (though some of the artists involved in the former will inevitably show their work in the latter), but there's a continuity of intent: to ask questions, to use modest available spaces and resources, to generate a real conversation about the role and relevance of contemporary art in the Caribbean. I'm pleased to say I helped make Galvanize happen and am now involved in the Alice Yard Space also.

Tomorrow night's event is open to all. Alice Yard Space officially opens at 7 pm, and the regular Friday-night "Conversation" starts at 9 pm. More information at the website.

Links, links, links

- Two more reviews of Infinite Island: by Daniel Kunitz in the Village Voice and Ariella Budick in the NY Newsday.

- And two more of Edwidge Danticat's new book, Brother, I'm Dying: by Donna Rifkind in the Los Angeles Times and Yvonne Zipp in the Christian Science Monitor (the latter includes a three-minute audio file of Danticat reading an excerpt).

- The Junot Díaz craze continues. Here's a feature about the writer and his new novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, in the Boston Globe; a review by Carolina González in the NY Daily News; another by Leah Ryan in the NY Post. Oh, and the New Yorker wants you to remember that it published an excerpt from Oscar Wao all the way back in 2000.

- There's even another Naipaul review: Christopher Tayler on A Writer's People in the Telegraph.

- Nalo Hopkinson posts a poem of sorts at her blog.

- And at the StudioFilmClub blog, Jonathan Ali announces the schedule for the 2007 Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, which opens next week.

Blincoe on Naipaul

Naipaul is far from being a man of the left. Half the pleasure of his writing, for Naipaul if not his readers, is the verve with which he delivers his predictions of catastrophe, sped by fashionable politics. In A Writer's People he is disparaging of the attempts by the various ethnic and mixed-race middle classes of Trinidad to pursue a "melting-pot" politics based on their shared culture. Naipaul finds nothing in his birthplace that "could be called a civilisation", citing the "brutalities of the popular language, and the prejudices of race: nothing a man would wish to call his own". Naipaul is unlikely to be a lover of soca, not even the chutney-soca of his erstwhile community. But he goes too far when he argues that Derek Walcott is symptomatic of this dread emptiness. After admitting that he has a tin ear for poetry, Naipaul confirms this mea culpa with a reading of Walcott's poetry so dim and shallow that he sabotages his own contention that Trinidad is a cultural wasteland.

-- Nicholas Blincoe, reviewing A Writer's People in the New Statesman--the most substantial review so far of Naipaul's latest.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Belatedly: Avocado

I've been meaning for weeks now to mention the July issue of Avocado, an "Abolition special issue", with fiction by David Dabydeen, Geoffrey Philp, and Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw, and poems by James Berry and Ian McDonald. Avocado is a thrice-yearly literary magazine published by Heaventree Press, the Coventry-based non-profit publishing outfit that brought us Kei Miller's Kingdom of Empty Bellies last year and Egbert Martin's Selected Poems more recently. Let's hope they do another Caribbean-themed issue before too long.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

At the BRIC Rotunda Gallery: Mas: From Process to Procession

Infinite Island isn't the only Caribbean art event happening in Brooklyn this month. Tomorrow a show called Mas: From Process to Procession: Caribbean Carnival as Art Practice, curated by Claire Tancons, opens at the BRIC Rotunda Gallery in downtown Brooklyn.

Moko jumbies in Port of Spain; photo by Stefan Falke

Mas "captures the creation process of the contemporary Caribbean Carnival from initial drawings to final street processions" and "seeks to challenge traditional modes of artistic representation and curatorial presentation, and in doing so, unveil Carnival, with its formal innovations, satirical political appraisals, and inherently public nature, as one of the most complete yet under recognised contemporary art forms". The participating artists include Trinidadians Marlon Griffith and Karyn Olivier, German photographer Stefan Falke (who has been photographing Trinidad Carnival for over a decade), Mexican Laura Anderson Barbata (who has also worked in Trinidad Carnival), and mega-puppeteers Alex Kahn and Sophia Michahelles (who spent the 2006 Carnival season in Trinidad and produced an event reinterpreting traditional dragon mas).

To accompany the exhibition, there will be a panel discussion on Thursday 20 September in the gallery.

"I love my country but I've never missed it"

I finally left in August, even though just about everybody would tell you that I left from 2005. Just because some place is your home doesn’t mean you can live there. Jamaica became a base, a place to fly out from. I was in New York so much that customs started to suspect me of living there illegally. There was nothing more depressing than coming back to Jamaica and to be immediately thrust back into a life of trying to make money doing something I had no wish to. I did not start writing to find a new way to make money (boy would that have been a mistake-—even though I’m not doing bad, thanks for asking) but I did get a degree in creative writing so that I could teach. And earn some money. I love my country but I’ve never missed it, perhaps because I have never forgotten the reasons I left.

-- Marlon James--who is now teaching literature and creative writing at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota--writing at his blog about his own experience of "colonisation in reverse", and explaining why many Caribbean writers and artists are still driven to seek creative fulfilment "elsewhere".

Monday, 10 September 2007

More from Infinite Island: Pinas, Allora, Calzadilla, Awai

Some more images of works from Infinite Island, the major show of contemporary Caribbean art that opened at the Brooklyn Museum on 31 August.

Kuku (Kitchen), 2005. Marcel Pinas (b. Suriname 1971). Plastic plates, aluminum spoons, cups, wood shelves; 59 x 59 x 8 5/8 in. (150 x 150 x 22 cm). Courtesy of the artist

Under Discussion, 2005. Jennifer Allora (b. United States 1974; works in Puerto Rico) and Guillermo Calzadilla (Cuban, b. 1971; works in Puerto Rico). Single-channel DVD, color, sound, 6 min. 14 sec. Courtesy of the artists and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris

Specimen from L.E. (Local Ephemera): Resistance with Black Ooze, 2005. Nicole Awai (b. Trinidad 1966; works in United States). Graphite, acrylic paint, nail polish, and glitter on paper, 52 x 58 in. (132.1 x 147.3 cm). Courtesy of the artist (Photo: Jason Mandella)

Philp on Naipaul on Walcott

Last week Kwame Dawes wrote a response to V.S. Naipaul's recent essay on Derek Walcott. Now Geoffrey Philp has stepped into the fray, with an essay titled "Moral vs. Ethical Writing":

"Caribbean Odyssey" contains rare signs of empathy that Naipaul has never revealed before. In Naipaul's revelation of his idiosyncrasies, especially towards poetry and book buying, he reveals cultural habits that need to be explored further, and they show a grasp of Caribbean life that many other writers have yet to comprehend. In this respect, Naipaul's foibles in denying the wealth and abundance of "local" beauty, a trait that is endemic throughout the Caribbean, shows that he is indeed one of us....

Sunday, 9 September 2007

More Danticat and Díaz reviews

- Jess Row on Edwidge Danticat's Brother, I'm Dying, in the NY Times Book Review.

- Lev Grossman on Junot Díaz's Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, in Time.

- And Jennifer Reese on same in Entertainment Weekly.

(I'm afraid, dear readers, that because of the CRB's long lead time, you'll have to wait till our February 2008 issue to read our reviews of these hot new titles--but they say good things come to those who etc.)