EVERY once in a while, you get a crazy weekend. There's ink scrawled all over Saturday and Sunday on your desk calendar, a spaghetti junction of arrows, venues and times. You think, ‘Hell, if it looks that messy on paper, what's it's gonna be like for real?’ This January, without even going anywhere near the Barbados Jazz Festival or the Barbados Music Awards, I found out.
Enter. Stage right. Saturday, January 9. The Grande Salle, Tom Adams Financial Centre, Bridgetown.
This was the 12th Annual Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Awards, or what is affectionately known as “The Collys”. I regard it as our literary equivalent of the Oscars or Grammys. There's not a lot of mass celebration of the writing and writers in Barbados, so I reckon it’s the one true time each year we get to put on a bit of ritz. Me, I get myself gladded up and I go to support our own. The guest speakers of recent years have been rousing and I find the awards a perfect way to start the new year with renewed focus; it’s a chance to rekindle the flame and faith that keeps us on that tightrope without a net a.k.a being a writer.
I guess there was lots of rekindling going on this year because the Grande Salle was packed. There's always a sizeable crowd, but never enough bodies, it seems, to stop the AC from producing goose-flesh as you sit through the feature address. This year, though, there were bodies galore. People turned out en masse. Standing room only, the ushers were telling latecomers and so it was: friends I bumped into afterward said they were sitting out in the lobby! And I could have left my pashmina at home.
Maybe it was the drawing card of George Lamming as guest speaker that brought folk out. Sure he spoke long, but it was gripping, and I reckon if this year’s winners weren't already fired up at the prospect of their own success on the night they certainly would have been by George's verbal flame-throwing. Anyway, warm congrats to Karen, Glenville, Heather and Lance from ArtsEtc.
We just love this photo
of a delighted Heather,
by the way!
Afterwards, the Collys spilled out, as it always does, into the lobby, into the coolness of the courtyard or out through the glass doors and onto the steps leading up to the nearby Frank Collymore Hall. It's then that, over a glass of wine and a hors d’oeuvre, you get to swap notes with your fellow suspects — the usual ones, new ones, or a potential one, as the case may be. It's lively, relaxed, friendly. Across the space you might spot someone gesticulating at you. You look behind you, just in case it's someone else they're hailing. But no! It's you, so you raise your glass in a toast to them above the heads of the other minglers, and work your way towards each other. More note swapping.
Now, Sunday, January 10 of this chocka weekend saw several of the same suspects up in Speightstown for the visual arts equivalent of a pub crawl, the highlight of which was Ras Ishi Butcher's Secret Diaries at the newly refurbished Old Pharmacy. Roger Chubb of Lancaster House was the maverick behind this crawl, or Arts Promenade. It started officially at Lancaster House in St. James where two of Ishi's outsized canvases that couldn't fit into the Old Pharmacy were on show along with other work by Lyman Whittaker, Patty Boyd and Bob Kiss.
Arrive in Speightstown, and what I cannot help but call ye olde worlde charm of this northern fishing town just seeps warmly into the spirit in a way that St. Lawrence and Oistins to the south and Bridgetown just... don’t! Visitors to the exhibition are spilling out of the Old Pharmacy and into the street with their drinks. Inside, there's room to swing a kitten maybe. Audio-visually, it's bright and loud, and it takes a moment or two to realise that it is Ishi's remarkable canvases that closely line the walls and not some interior designer's mural fantasy.
Diario secreto seis,
Ras Ishi Butcher,
mixed media, 2008
57 ins x 60 ins
That is how Ishi's Diaries struck me, in that intimate Pharmacy setting—like a maze of inter-related murals - to be viewed (or read, or decoded even?) in entirety rather than to be sold and enjoyed individually. Not that we don't wish him heaping success with the red tags, of course! Each diary “entry” is a large canvas square upon which the artist has expressed himself hieroglyphically and big, or through a series of smaller, more intricate squares. A very handsome catalogue-style publication accompanies the show.
Close the Diary for a while and step outside. Across the street there is live jazz at the Star Bar. Listen for a bit before continuing the crawl a short way up Queen’s Street to the Northern Business Centre which houses a number of gallery spaces including the Gallery of Caribbean Art.
There, American artist and graphic illustrator Fran Scott Attaway brings an ethereal and attuned outsider’s spin to the Barbadian landscape: Oistins at night, fishing boats, fish pots, egrets, hummingbirds, the moon on the ocean, decaying plantation houses where mongooses dance in the basement. (Click here for links to her artist page at the Gallery of Caribbean Art.) Fran's pieces look like rich illustrations for a magic storybook but they work well on a wall, too. Meanwhile, there's other activity in the business centre: more paintings in the space immediately next door, and downstairs, in The Constant Gallery, promenaders leave their shoes at the door and check out a dizzying floor-to-ceiling display of Persian rugs.
Back to the Old Pharmacy with its wooden flooring and shabby chic, where people are still arriving at something to 10 p.m. There's fresh mingling, waving of wine glasses and swapping of notes: an idea for a cross-cultural something on the beach; a jazz thing here; a book launch and some open mic there.
Earlier I’d spotted the acting curator of Queen's Park Gallery and given her an apologetic smile. That's where my evening had begun, not at Lancaster House, but in Bridgetown, at QPG where Art Beyond the Sea, an exhibition of Barbadian work that has been featured at major shows overseas, is on until February 20. It threw up some gems and so, even though I'd arrived ridiculously close to chucking out time, I found myself very leisurely browsing the walls.
Clockwise from top,
some of the Bajan art
that’s been ‘beyond the sea’: Ann Dodson’s
Natalie Atkins-Hinds’ The Separation;
Sowing Seeds Reaping Leaves
by Wayne Hinds;
ceramic tile by Juliana Inniss;
and Onkphra’s mahogany sculpture
I've never had a curator come up to me before, handbag over shoulder, keys in hand trying to usher me out. “We have to close up now if we're going to make it to Speightstown for Ishi's show,” she said, eyes firmly on the door and with an invitation to return next week if necessary. I scuttled around the room, taking a few last notes, and skipped out before she called the bouncers. Good to know we both made it to Speightstown, Alberta! And thanks for crossing off something I never knew was on my bucket list: I now know How to get Chucked out of an Art Gallery. Like I said, every now and again, you get one of those weekends.
[For detailed listings on shows mentioned and other events, click here.]
Exit. Stage Left. — LMD