by VICTORIA L. VALENTINE, CULTURE TYPE
on Jun 1, 2021
AS THE GLOBAL ART MARKET, historically centered around Europe and North America, increasingly recognizes the contributions of artists in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, a new art fair is showcasing a region that remains woefully under-appreciated—the Caribbean and Atlantic Islands.
The Atlantic World Art Fair debuted online May 31 and is live through Jun 21 on Artsy. Dozens of artists are showcased from Aruba, the Azores, the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Curaçao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Maarten, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago, U.S. Virgin Islands, and their diasporas. Nine galleries are Lisa Howie, owner of Black Pony, envisioned the event, which is exclusively online. She views the Atlantic World Art Fair as a platform for artists and galleries to reach a wider audience of collectors and curators and an opportunity to connect the region to the larger art world.
“This is an opportunity for us to educate and develop appreciation for the contemporary works being created in the area,” Howie told Culture Type.
Born in Georgetown, Ontario, Canada, Howie said she has had two careers. Her first was teaching literature for more than a dozen years. Her instruction method was “rooted in using artwork as the entrée point before diving deeper into the literature.” She taught in Canadian private schools while earning a master’s degree in education at the University of Toronto and in public and private schools in Bermuda, where she moved in 1993.
Howie’s father is Canadian and her mother is Bermudian. She first visited Bermuda as a child with her parents and was so taken with the island she didn’t want to return home. A dual citizen of Canada and Bermuda, Howie was finally able to settle in Bermuda and “make this my place,” she said, post graduate school.
Her second career, unfolding over the past 15 years, has focused on giving a voice to Bermudian artists, engendering local engagement and support for the arts, and putting the Bermudian art scene on the global stage. After a few years serving as education director at the Bermuda National Gallery, she was named executive director (2009-17).
In 2019, she joined the National Museum of Bermuda, where she works part-time as director of learning and engagement. That same year, she founded Black Pony Gallery, an online commercial space. Howie is working with artists from Bermuda, the Azores, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, and Cuba. One of the goals of her gallery program is to seed connections between Bermuda and the wider Atlantic world.
For generations, individual artists from the region have gained international profiles, María Magdalena Campos-Pons (Cuba), : Denis (Haiti), Tessa Mars (Haiti), Ebony G. Patterson (Jamaica), and Tavares Strachan (Bahamas), among the more recent examples. The Caribbean/Atlantic Islands as a regional market and a site of cultural production, however, remains largely unfamiliar. With the art fair, Howie hopes to help change that.
Culture Type connected with Howie by phone in advance of the opening to learn more about the Atlantic World Art Fair, her vision for the event, the network she’s building, and artistic production in the region:participating, presenting more than 250 works of art in a range of mediums.
All of the galleries are women-led and three are Black-owned—Gallery Alma Blou in Willemstad, Curaçao; Frame Centre Gallery in Kingston, Jamaica; and Black Pony Gallery in Hamilton, Bermuda.
CULTURE TYPE: What is the concept for the Atlantic World Art Fair? What do you hope to provide the artists and the galleries and bring to collectors and the wider public?
LISA HOWIE: I’ve got very clear goals. One, is to make sure, “Hey, does the world actually know we exist? Do they know what we create? Do they know that the expressions are not simply what they might’ve seen in an airport, these kind of quote-unquote tourist paintings, without any disrespect to those artists?” The first goal really is to make sure we get the education appreciation development going.
From there, with this wide outreach with Artsy, yes, we want to make money. We need the capital desperately. The cultural ecosystems are extremely fragile. Thanks to COVID and the lack of our tourism industry, the populations decreased. It isn’t all about capital, though.
My third goal is around relationship building, first with the galleries that have come on board. We’ve been all working independently in semi-isolation with decades of experience. We’ve never had a form of exchange. I’m hoping that the fair will lead to an association, potentially labeled Atlantic World Arts Association. I really want to see how the galleries can work together and string the lights between the events. We are already thinking and working on exhibitions together. Relationship building toward collectors. Relationship building, even with yourself, everybody who’s interested on the media side.
We’ve been all working independently in semi-isolation with decades of experience. We’ve never had a form of exchange so I’m hoping that the fair will lead to an association, potentially labeled Atlantic World Arts Association.
Tell me about the galleries that are participating. Galerie Monnin in Haiti was founded in the mid-1950s and Frame Centre Gallery and Olympia Gallery in Jamaica, both opened in the early 1970s as brick-and-mortar spaces. Then your Bermudian gallery was established in 2019, exclusively online. There’s quite a range. How did you assemble the group? Who are the participating galleries?
We’ve announced it on the Instagram where you kind of have a sense of who they are. Some of them are completely new to me. I’m grateful to my relationship with Amanda Coulson at TERN Gallery. (Coulson previously served as executive director of the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas.) She’s new as a gallery space. And my relationship with, Holly Bynoe and Annalee Davis at Sour Grass, which is a hybrid cultural agency space. They just launched their website. Their work has been much more about artist residency programs and looking at opportunities that are more curatorial. Susanne Fredricks of Suzie Wong Presents is the only one who lived on Artsy, at least at the time, when I got everybody together.
Through my conversations with them, those were the starting points, getting them on board. Then it became the brainstorm with them and others that I know in the region. From there it was literally me cold calling, cold emailing saying, “Hey, would you be interested in this fair?” I positioned this with Artsy to be a 2022 product and they came back saying, “This is brilliant. It must be done immediately. Pull it off if you can please.” So I basically rallied this since March 2nd to today. (Artsy confirmed to Culture Type that this was indeed the case and that it felt an “urgency” to support the scene.)
“I positioned this with Artsy to be a 2022 product and they came back saying, ‘This is brilliant. It must be done immediately. Pull it off if you can please.'”
The pandemic has opened many opportunities to connect online and increased people’s willingness to do so. Whereas large international art fairs migrated to online viewing rooms out of necessity to continue their operations, the digital space offers an accessible entry point for a smaller art fair to launch a brand-new venture. Can you talk about starting the Atlantic World Art Fair online, turning a business challenge into a business opportunity?
Well, we obviously transcend all barriers, excluding access to the internet and of course, one’s financial reservoir, if they’re purchasing. The very fact that we can in essence visit multiple islands in one virtual space is actually something, that’s impossible to do. Yesterday, Amanda (Coulson) was reminding us that for her to go through The Bahamas, even to Cayman, she has to take off several days because we have to fly through Miami. Everything involves a step forward to step back. There aren’t any hovercrafts jumping through the islands. It’s very challenging even for us to negotiate our relationships with our own families and our colleagues, island to island. Just imagine if you were a traveler, you’re interested in discovering new works, how are you going to get to all those places?
The fair really takes away any of those issues related to travel and financing the exorbitant fees that go along with short haul flights. Of course, now with COVID and restrictions related to quarantining and everything else, we’re just hopefully landing in your living room and the comfort of your chair of choice for you to have an experience with us. Perhaps it recreates memories from your island visits. Perhaps it instigates an interest to return. Perhaps it will evolve considerations that the island is a space of culture and that when they visit, they can also do exploration, not just go to the beach or retreat to the bar. We’re really hoping that the bigger picture too is that the Atlantic World Art Fair will help to evolve mindsets around where and how culture is created in our region.
Perhaps it instigates an interest to return. Perhaps it will evolve considerations that the island is a space of culture and that when they visit, they can also do exploration, not just go to the beach or retreat to the bar.
How do you define the Atlantic world?
The language of it really is thinking about current historiography redressing the geographic frames that have narrowed the discussion. The Haitian Revolution is without question one of the most important events of our hemisphere. The ripple effect of that and its impact on Bermuda was felt immediately. We have documentation, legislation that reacts preemptively to a revolution that hadn’t even happened here. The strident reaction, holding on to and maintaining the repressive institution of the transatlantic slave trade, that is all a part of our Atlantic narrative, whether the colonizer is moving from Portugal down to Brazil or we are enslaved Africans who are moving across the Atlantic.
This corridor, this Atlantic space is the geography by which the culture has interconnected. I guess I’m trying to address the limitation of geography and connect with contemporary historiography that the narrative on the Atlantic world as a space is one that’s being reconsidered in terms of all of these networks that transcend just that middle-band region called the Caribbean.
There are some shared histories, but it’s certainly not a homogenous region. Given this, how would you characterize the region’s participation in the wider contemporary art world up to this point?
We are such a diverse pool. We are being narrowed through the limitations of Artsy as an English-speaking platform. However, Gallery Alma Blou coming out of Curacao is Dutch, right? Suriname is such a complex space. Readytex Art Gallery is based there. I’m learning about that complexity of how many cultures are actually making up who and what they are. While we’re coming off as almost kind of like the English, the Anglophone Caribbean were also at the same time trying to present that diversity by having Galerie Monnin of Haiti. So we have our French. There are artists who are coming from Guadalupe.
Presenting that diversity is one of the challenges we’re faced with. It’s a very important consideration for us as we go forward. One of our programmed events is in Spanish. We were just talking about, should we also do a Clubhouse that’s in Spanish, maybe one in French. (Clubhouse is a social media app for large group chats.) What can we afford in terms of translation? Do we even bother with translation? What ways do we actually attend to the linguistic cultural diversity and at the same time be more broadband accessible? We haven’t really come to a resolve on that as a group, but it’s definitely one of our challenges because there’s no singularity. It’s a very complex network.
The region is extremely diverse in terms of cultures and racial and ethnic diversity. Are the galleries showing mostly Black artists? What kinds of artworks are being presented?
I don’t know. I haven’t even seen the headshots for most of the artists. I’m just looking at their work and from what I can see, I think they have a nice medley. I encouraged everyone at the outset to use a matrix when making a selection of the artists to be thinking about, yes race and gender, and also orientation. Artsy sells mostly prints and originals and photographs. I’m glad we also have works that speak more to our region, which are textiles and some sculpture. It’s going to be interesting to see how those mediums take off.
Artsy sells mostly prints and originals and photographs. I’m glad we also have works that speak more to our region, which are textiles and some sculpture. It’s going to be interesting to see how those mediums take off.
Black Pony Gallery is among the participating galleries. Are there particular artists you are looking forward to putting before a wider audience?
Gherdai Hassell is doing remarkably well. Young woman completing her MFA. She has a solo exhibition on right now at the Bermuda National Gallery (“I Am Because You Are” through September 2021). She’s going to have a solo exhibition that I’m orchestrating at the National Museum of Bermuda coming up in the summer. She works in collage. Collage is kind of a hot medium at the moment. She’s really interested in a topic that everyone’s gravitating to in terms of identity, the body, women’s bodies, and memory, and making of memory, chiefly in archival photographs.
You have a schedule of programming throughout the run of the art far that begins June 1 with a conversation with two U.S.-based curators: Isolde Brielmaier, curator-at-large at The International Center of Photography in New York, and Franklin Sirmans, director of Pérez Art Museum Miami. What will they be discussing?
They’ve been tasked with going through the selection of our work. Their task is to make selections for what Artsy describes as the “Curator’s Choice.” I thought it was an appropriate opening to talk with them about their choices for about 30 minutes and cast a light on the works.
Franklin and Isolde separately have both been jurors of the Bermuda Biennial. They participated in my program at the BNG (Bermuda National Gallery) several times and we’ve stayed as contacts, colleagues, friends. We’re very lucky to have their presence. At the other end, we conclude our program with Paulo Miyada. I admire his work and I’m excited for him for his biennial (34th São Paulo Biennial in Brazil) and to work with Marcia Pearce (scholar and curator from Trinidad and Tobago, who will be in conversation with Miyada). We’ve got a really wonderful group of people involved to bookend the program.
You’ve said attention from curators is one of your key goals.
I’m really hoping that this fair allows for curators to discover our works, the artists. The best thing that can happen is yes, the galleries need sales, but ideally curators observe works and start thinking about how to include these artists in their shows because the shows are coming back. CT
Atlantic World Art Fair, presenting works by artists from the Caribbean and Atlantic Islands for sale through local galleries, is on view online at Artsy, May 31-June 21, 2021
FIND MORE about the Atlantic World Art Fair
ARTWORK: Gherdai Hassell, Between ourselves (detail), ink, watercolor, acrylic collage on paper, 2021.
ARTICLE SOURCE: https://www.culturetype.com/2021/06/01/culture-talk-lisa-howie-on-organizing-inaugural-atlantic-world-art-fair-online-event-features-works-by-artists-from-caribbean-and-atlantic-islands/