WHO MORE SCI FI THAN US?
â€œIt might have been a consequence of being Antillean (who more sci-fi than us?)â€? Junot Diaz
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CONTENTS Foreword by Robbert Roos 8 Introduction by Nancy Hoffmann— Who More Sci-Fi Than Us? 10
Introduction Dutch region by Charl Landvreugd— Spirited Gestures: Notes on Life Masquerading as Art 14 Works, biographies and short statements by the artists from the Dutch region 20 Introduction Hispanic region by Blanca Victoria López Rodríguez— Prayer for a Good Friday 40 Works, biographies and short statements by the artists from the Hispanic region 44 Introduction Anglophone region by dr. Leon Wainwright— Global Change and Contemporary Art of the Caribbean: Notes on the Futurology of a Sustainable Art Community 80
Works, biographies and short statements by the artists from the Anglophone region 86 Introduction Francophone region by Giscard Bouchotte— Creativity As a Horizon; A World to be Shared? 112 Works, biographies and short statements by the artists from the Francophone region 118 Jocelyn VAlton in Conversation with Simon Njami— Aart in The Caribbean, A Way To Defy History 134 Colophon 143
Kunsthal KAdE is happy to present the exhibition Who More Sci-Fi Than Us, which gives an overview of contemporary Caribbean art. The Netherlands are connected to the region through the Dutch Caribbean islands (Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire, Statia, Saba and St. Martin) and Surinam. Artists from the (former) Dutch Antilles and Surinam have been shown regularly in Holland, but mostly in their own right or connected to the shared Dutch past. For Kunsthal KAdE it is exciting to show the artists within their own Caribbean cultural context. We asked guest curator Nancy Hoffmann to make an exhibition that covers the contemporary art in the whole region: from the Antiles and Surinam in the south to Cuba and Jamaica in the north, from Haiti and Martinique in the east to Panama and Costa Rica in the west. A very diverse region, with many different language origins, political constructions and cultural identities. Nancy Hoffmann has managed to make a selection that covers a lot of ground, stays away from â€˜framingâ€™ the region and amplifies the multifaceted characteristics of the Caribbean area. I want to express my gratitude to Nancy for all her efforts and her insightful reading of the region as well as Frank Verputten and the team at KAdE for helping to realize this ambitious project. Many thanks to the artists that agreed to participate and in many cases choose to create new artworks for this exhibition; as well as to the authors that added depth to the theme of this exhibition with the texts in this catalogue. Finally I want to thank our main sponsor Yokogawa and the cultural funds that helped to finance this project. I hope that the catalogue and the exhibition in KAdE will help to understand the diverse and complex background against which the art from this exciting region derives. Robbert Roos Chief curator Kunsthal KAdE
Who More Sci--Fi Than Us?
art that covered at least half of the western hemisphere. I finally concluded that the Caribbean basically may be seen as the Gordian Knot that ties the modern history of the world together. It is very hard to untie, and maybe it shouldnâ€™t be, but if we want to reveal the many truths that are there to discover, we at least have to make an effort to visualize the invisible.
To get back to the chronology of events; in 2004 I returned to Curacao. This time to do a community-art project together with visual artist David Bade. I came and went, lived there for 5 years, until July 2011 when I stopped being the (co-founding) director of the Instituto Buena Bista (IBB), Curacao Center for Contemporary Art. For six years my colleagues David Bade and Tirzo Martha My first visit to the (Dutch) Caribbean was a complete lighthearted and unexpected trip. It and I had been working together; scouting young talents on the island, running a reswas the summer of 2001, I had just finished idency program, mothering and fathering my studies at the university of Leiden and I over at least sixty young creative talents, can honestly say I didnâ€™t have a clue which helping them to become creative professiondirection I would take from that point. After als, and, me,: researching and traveling the spending several months behind my comCaribbean region and connecting with artists puter while writing my thesis I felt aimless. So like a spoiled young girl from a Francoise and art-institutions. While my former partners went on with the institute it was time for Sagan novel I decided to accept the offer me to figure out what the next level should of a friend to accompany her on a trip to be. Education, curating, mediating, writing, Curacao. researching? They were all, equally important to me and all equally important to the My idea of the Caribbean around that time region. was unfortunately about the same as the average person: sizzling hot sandy beaches and palm trees waiving in the trade winds, a In 2011 I received this generous invitation former colony of The Netherlands, back then from my dear colleague Robbert Roos to still part of the Dutch Kingdom clamped in a make an exhibition at Kunsthal KAdE on constellation called the Netherlands Antilles. contemporary Caribbean art, and so the next level was in front of me. I had never been very fond of sun bathing and I cannot even conclude that it was love at first sight. But there was something about The idea of framing a group of artists within a geographical region did not really the island that both puzzled and attracted me: the roughness of the islands surface, its appeal to me. Do we make exhibitions on Contemporary Dutch art? On rare occasions vegetation and fauna, the stern faces of the we do. Mainly to present artists as artists, people that rarely seemed very friendly, but only at first glance, and mainly that thick and the arts for the arts, and to show-off on what heavy blanket of the past, still carried around our little country has to offer. in the present, that covered everything So, I concluded I should tell the many stories although no-one really talked about it. there are to tell about the Caribbean. This exhibition is mainly about the content,. Trying The first thing that came natural to me was to tell a discursive story about the complex reading, so I decided I wanted to know background against which this art has develall there was to know about that blanoped and matured, not about whether or not ket: the island, the region, which lead me these artists are Caribbean (enough?). The into a crocheting course on non-western
(colonial) history, the political circumstances, the melting pot of cultures, the extreme economical discrepancies, the diversity of religions, the small societies interconnected by patronage systems,. All of this adds up to communities that can only communicate by using twisted metaphors, symbolic gestures and indirect imagery.To me there’s a certain logic to it now, but it took quite some time to unravel their unique way of dealing with reality in the Caribbean.
how their bloodline with the African continent – at least on the level of contemporary art°– leaves this geographically and historically scattered region looking at their Big Brother Africa with great respect and admiration. From where I am standing I see a landscape that has similarities with so many parts of the world; its inhabitants all bearing a little part from every continent around the globe that have brought a unique mix of cultures together in a melting pot I strongly believe is the root of what the rest of the world soon enough will look like. In a way it already does. We can learn from the Caribbean, we should admire the Caribbean, and I hope this exhibition will help my Dutch compatriots help to see that we should acknowledge that there’s a huge conglomerate of little gems in the Caribbean sea.
And then the art field I discovered over the last decade: the richness, complexity, resourcefulness, whit and the totally surreal world of imagery. How could I capture the common denominator in a title without using the heavily burdened word ‘Caribbean’? I remember, it was at Kingston Airport where I bought my first copy of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by the Nancy Hoffmann Dominican writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz. I devoured it on the airplane. On The Hague, May 2012 page 22, in a note, explaining why Oscar Wao had such a fascination for the science fiction genre, he stated exactly what I had always felt: “It might have been a consequence of being Antillean (who more sci-fi than us?)”. I couldn’t have said it any better... Among the many things I discovered while traveling the region was that the ties to the (former) motherland had created several Caribbean regions: Francophone, Anglophone, Hispanic and Dutch. They hardly interfere with each other. Even if they try, it is practically unfeasible. It is easier and a lot less expensive to travel from Paris to Martinique for instance, then from anywhere in the region itself. For this catalog I invited several of my colleagues that have been working in the Caribbean art field to write about their linguistic region. While reading these essays and looking at these artworks I am sure you will find that they all share a common ground that is hard to grasp in a few words, but it is clearly there. The interview at the end of this catalog between my colleague in Guadeloupe, Jocelyn Valton, and the French curator and novelist Simon Njami, is a clear example of the intricate strained relations the Caribbean has with the rest of the world and
P.S. Last but not least: I could have never accomplished this project without all my dear, hard working fellow curators, critics, scholars and curators in the Caribbean region, the amazing artists I have been working with for this exhibition (which could have easily been a lot more!), the wonderful and dedicated team at Kunsthal KAdE and my utterly patient and loving friends and family.
Spirited Gestures: Notes on Life Masquerading as art
In West Africa the tradition of the masquerade, which is performed by the spirit dancer, still exists. The masquerade can be compared to a theatrical performance in which legends and stories are played out by (various) characters and the social values of society are reiterated. They are a reminder of correct social behaviour in order to keep the balance. It often takes quite a lot of training to be able to perform a particular masquerade and to be able to mimic the dance steps and personality of the spirit. These performances are not completely secular. They may well be part of religious ceremonies where the spirit, ancestral or otherwise, possesses the dancer. The knowledge and power of the spirit is expressed through the performance.
The spirit dancer is part of a secret society within the larger community and the masquerade is their public face. This society is As an undergraduate studying the history of â€œinvolved in initiation, curative activities, adjuart, I had a moment when I felt resistance dication, social control and sometimes polto the theory. It was not because of what iticsâ€? . During the performance the audiwas said, but rather because of the claim ence is an important part of the event. Their made that one particular contemporary phiresponse to the masquerade, be it singing, losopher had cooked up a remarkable train dancing, clapping or physically engaging of thought. Mind you, he had lived outside Europe for many years. I argued with my pro- with the dancer, gives the masquerade purpose. Looking at this through the lens of the fessor that this knowledge was not new and art historian, it is the interaction that creates that I had been brought up with it as a way of seeing the world. The professor replied by the total artwork. saying that we know itâ€™s not new; however this philosopher wrote it down first. From this moment on I made it a point to try and look at art through the lived experience of the African diaspora. Writing for Who More Sci-Fi than Us is an opportunity to raise questions that are based on the lived experience, through WestAfrican inspired Masquerade mechanisms in the diaspora. What happens when we look at the works in this exhibition through the lens of diaspora performance histories? How then do they function as a critique and how limited or broad is their agency in and beyond the scope of the Caribbean context? There is no claim here to be saying something new but through this line of thought I hope to raise questions about the place of the Caribbean artist in the global arena.
“It wasn’t easy no 1, 2, 3. Took a long time to learn to feel free” The masquerade travelled with the enslaved to the new world and was reinvented in the new space. Under the restrictions of Suriname’s colonial period, a set of games, dances and word art known as Banya was invented in addition to the religious masquerade. Banya was performed in the context of the costumed theatrical feast called Du. This feast is a scripted play with set roles involving many social types such as the governor, the doctor and the police officer, and describes the world of the enslaved. In the beginning, Banya and Du were secular affairs and the primary social activity of the enslaved Africans and their descendants. Under colonial law the enslaved had religious freedom, meaning that Christianity was not actively forced upon them. However, they weren’t totally free to express their religious beliefs. The African belief in higher powers that can manifest in people was seen by the colonists as a threat to the colony. These powers, which are invoked by music and dance, could inspire the slaves to run away or rebel. Religious dancing and musicmaking were forbidden but the slaves were allowed to believe whatever they wanted. As well as the religious prohibitions, dances and games of a non-specific religious nature were also prohibited. This met with heavy resistance and under very restrictive circumstances, four times a year, secular dances and games like Banya and Susa were permitted in the context of the Du. It is under these circumstances that the performing art forms Banya (and Susa) developed as a way to contact the ancestors, thus becoming a religious affair. The ancestors had played the Banya games and were good at them, they would be called upon and invited to come and play with the living so they could be honoured even though the oppressor was present. As a result of the living with the dead
being reunited during Banya, all roles can be played by an ancestor. The individual taste of the participants, living or dead, determines the way in which each role is performed. With the absence of the African masks, the spirited gestures of the ancestors at the Du gave the Banya more weight as a tool for critique. After the colonial powers went to bed at midnight, the feast would lose its secular guise and the Winti (gods) would be honoured from midnight till dawn.
“Imagine yourself, runway modeling, in freeze frame, at the ball. That’s what they call Vogueing” * Another way in which masquerading was reinvented was in the underground black and Latino gay subculture of the 1930s in Harlem. The performance that later would become Voguing was called performance in those days. In the documentary Paris is Burning (1990), we see Dorian Corey speak of the old days when the ‘performers’ wanted to look like movie stars. The ‘old style performance’ had a heavy showgirl element with feathers and beads, as a picture of elegance and über-femininity. This style heralded the emulation of models from magazines like Vogue. Around the 1990s Voguing became a highly stylised dance inspired by the models’ poses in the fashion magazines from the 1950s to the 1980s. It integrates angular and linear body movements, quickly moving from pose to pose. One could describe it as a dramatised performance of a fashion photo-shoot resulting in a dance. Today an element of ‘dramatics’ has been added, involving the acrobatic movement of dips and death drops.
The place where Voguing takes on the role of storytelling and reiterating desirable social behaviour is at the Ball. A Ball is an elaborate competition between Houses (groups) with various categories. Every House has contestants who stick to a specific category or theme and perform accordingly. The contestants are judged on aesthetics, their dancing (Voguing) and the ‘Realness’ of their drag. Realness is the degree to which we would believe Dorian Corey to be a showgirl. The question is whether this performer could pass for this role in society at large. It is about how true to life the viewer regards the performance to be in its imitation of the style and behaviour of a social type. The gestures in Voguing are spirited by normative desires. These two forms of West-African derived masquerade show similarities in the way they are performed at their respective parties, called ‘Du’ and ‘Ball’. In West Africa the masquerade involves all of the people in a particular society. One of the most obvious differences between the Banya players and the Voguers is that the enslaved in Suriname were a marginalised group consisting of more than 80 per cent of the population whereas the Harlem gay men were a peripheral group within a marginalised group. Similarly, in both, membership of the performing group guarantees a level of escape, liberation, protection and prestige. Both found a way to experience a sense of freedom and escape from daily life through self-expression by means of performance. However these two critiques of society had a different social outcome.
“When the crowd is calling down the spirits Listen, and you will hear, all the houses that walked there before.”* In the case of Banya and Du, it was obvious that the performers were enslaved and that the performance was theatrical. The accent in Voguing at the Ball was on ‘passing as’ and the possibilities of getting away with the performance in real life. In the case of Afro-Surinamese people deprived of their rituals that dealt with the dead and the living, new rituals had to be invented to give life back its meaning. The ritual however was hidden in the Du, a vivid dramatic performance of the artists’ own life circumstances in relation to the life of the other. The juxtaposition and integration of life events and the reality of the dead makes the Du possible. Energy oscillates between life and death, consciousness and unconsciousness, and is celebrated in this event. In the case of the Afro-American Voguing scene, a non-existing life is dramatically performed at a Ball. The ritual of the Ball manages the denial of real life, effectively killing it in the timeframe of the Ball, in favour of a non-existing one. This leaves us with a ritual that oscillates between death and an unattainable life concept, thus celebrating the force of death and emptiness rather than the force of life. Life itself is not given back its meaning but dwells in a state between unconscious and death, and is being kept there through the celebration. In the Afro-Surinamese Du, death is given a concrete form through the ancestors taking over the body of the actors to play the parts. It can be seen as some sort of rehearsal, as the actor crosses the border from being a living person to being a dead one. At the Ball, death is only implied through the desire to exist in another unattainable form. The energy dialogue celebrates something different in the two cases.
The performances are executed as public cri- include the casual passer-by. This passertiques of society and can be seen as spirited by would be indifferent but would still have a memory of it. The performance would still gestures filled with the desire for living. live on and influence this person’s thoughts At both the Du and the Ball, the dancers per- and possibly their actions. Everyone who came into contact with the performance is form an identity that lies beyond the social affected through the notion of the private class they belong to. Through the credibility they receive from their peers for their per- performance in anticipation, preparation and carefully thought-out execution by all formances, they subvert the normative roles the ‘participants’ on and off stage. Whatever they portray. Both, in their own way, critique happens ‘on stage’ validates or invalidates these roles by clearly showing that the participants are excluded from inhabiting them. the thoughts that a person present or witnessing it has. The theatre, spectacle or performance thus becomes a device to form or However, the difference between the two is that within a Ball a degree of ‘authenticity’ is alter the community in which it is performed. required for credibility whereas in Banya this It only takes a small step to see how this tool can be seriously political. is not the case. This leaves the performer of Banya more space to interpret the mechaWhat we see is that both groups developed nisms of normative behaviour rather than to a way of coping with the restrictions put on copy them by default. The performer thus them by those in power, but the two did it in has more critical space to deconstruct nordifferent ways and, as history shows, with mative roles than the Vogue performer. different outcomes. In my opinion full consciousness is one of the major prerequisites for success when desiring change of any sort as the two groups did. Through repeated performance of actions and rituals, social change can be achieved and can even result in agency for the marginalised. The way authenticity is viewed in these performances does not seem to make a difference for the actor, but does have an influence on what the spectators take home from the performance. It is what they take home that feeds the will to act.
“(Western) Traditional theatre: an empty room except for those who have come to watch.”
This quote from Kaprow leaves me wondering if the performance really ends when the audience leaves. Does it not linger in the mind of the engaged participant/spectator like a relic or token of the live experience? Does it not influence the spectator’s thoughts and actions afterwards? I believe the performance, the fantasy, starts even before the ‘actors’ come on stage. I would argue that the fantasy starts with the anticipation and continues until neither the actors nor those who were present recollect it any more. The anticipation factor would not
At the Du, scrutinising the authenticity of normative behaviour led to it being a tool worthy of the attention of investors. The Du was taken out of the realm of the symbolic (with ancestral approval of the critique uttered) and judicially authorised by those in power to function as a community and opinion-forming device. This - and the impossibility of actually living the roles they performed - provided them with the tools to intervene politically in their own marginalised status leading up to Emancipation in 1863. In the case of the Ball the investment came from the own subgroup and therefore lacked political agency in normative society. However the group became visible through the movie Paris is Burning and gained a certain agency in society at large, notably through the work of Willy Ninja who seemed
to be able to make the transition from unconsciousness to realising the fantasy. According to Butler, he became successful because he was able to pass as straight , in other words exhibit normative behaviour with exceptional talent.
â€œInstead of fighting you take it out on the dance floor. 10!, 10!, 10!, 10!, 10!, 10!, Are there any more!â€?* Looking at Who More Sci-Fi Than Us through the lens of diaspora performance histories, I ask myself what flash of the spirit I am looking at when approaching each work. Should I approach these pieces as gestures spirited by ancestors or as desires. Either way, through which powers are the gestures sanctioned and how is the critical agency constructed? Are they the masks that should be worn by the spectator or the performer in order to execute the masquerade and speak of Caribbean and global concerns? I am sure of one thing: they all are rooted in and are indebted to the lived experience of the diaspora.
Charl Landvreugd is a Fulbright scholar concerned with the idea of Black European subjectivity as an entrance into thinking about issues surrounding Europe as a nation. He is a Columbia University alumni and artist with several publications to his name.