Over the last few decades, the art world in Trinidad — one of the Caribbean‘s key art locations — has increasingly divided into two hemispheres. The first, driven by a handful of galleries and collectors, is both commercial and conservative, with highest praise (and prices) reserved for paintings of traditional subjects like landscapes and still lifes, alongside tasteful “abstract” works. The other, centred on artist-led initiatives and embracing a range of other contemporary media — installation, video, sound, conceptual work — is characterised by experiment and improvisation, and attracts international critical attention.
For ten years, up to 2007, the leading contemporary art institution in Trinidad was the non-profit Caribbean Contemporary Arts (CCA), which offered studio and exhibition space and organised a series of influential artist residencies and exchanges. But in mid-2007, after a long struggle to secure adequate funding, CCA shut down (as it announced in its blog-format online journal, Art Papers). Many Trinidadian artists reacted initially with consternation, but the two years since then have seen a new blossoming of small but energetic art projects and collectives. And a number of younger artists are making canny use of online media like blogs and image-hosting sites like Flickr to exhibit their work online, discuss ideas and practice, and generate critical dialogue.
A recent and important contemporary art node is Alice Yard, an experimental creative space in the backyard of an old house in the Woodbrook neighbourhood of Port of Spain. The Alice Yard blog is a sort of journal of events staged there, which have included musical and theatre performances, artists’ projects, and discussions. Some artists who have shown work at Alice Yard also document their work via blogs, including Marlon Darbeau, Michelle Isava, Adam Williams, Jaime Lee Loy, and Nikolai Noel. (Lee Loy and Noel, together with a third artist, Marlon Griffith, have also worked collaboratively.)
Alice Yard was one of ten locations for the recent EroticArtTT, the first Trinidad and Tobago Erotic Art Week, which included work by several dozen artists. One organiser of the programme, artist Richard Rawlins, also produces an art and design e-magazine, Draconian Switch (published approximately monthly), downloadable in PDF format. Another, architect Terry Smith — who works with the architectural firm co-rd, one of the directors of which is Sean Leonard, the man behind Alice Yard — started a new project in 2008 called INDIgroove, a series of video interviews with Trinidadian artists, musicians, writers, and others. Other members of this creative network include Rodell Warner, who blogs at Freepaper, Brianna McCarthy (Passionfruit), Tanya Marie Williams, and Anderson Mitchell (Bleedart).
What most of these projects and individual artists have in common is an emphasis on experimentation without the pressure to produce immediately salable artworks, and mutual collaboration to compensate for the absence of major contemporary art institutions offering funding and other support. Instead of formal galleries, they use available free spaces; instead of publishing expensive catalogues, they document their work online; and with no art press to publicise their projects and events, they depend heavily on existing social networks such as Facebook. (For example, an animated music video made by artist Wendell McShine for the band 12 spread quickly among Trinidadian Facebook network members.) The result is an energetic and often anarchic art scene with no single centre or arbiter.
And with the Trinidadian press providing very little serious cultural coverage, critical discussion of this work is increasingly happening online as well. The artist Adele Todd runs a blog, SexyPink, intended as “a forum that addresses elements of Caribbean Art pertaining to its history and contemporary relevancy”, with short essays and interviews — in a recent post, she spoke to young artist Alicia Milne; another post contains selections from the sketchbooks of Richard Rawlins. Todd also collaborates with artist Richard Bolai on The Bookmann, a blog offering occasional art reviews as well as Bolai's original artwork. And artist Christopher Cozier curates the SXspace blog — a site focusing on Caribbean artists — for the journal Small Axe, with frequent reviews and essays.