In today’s world photography is now at the fingertips of anyone with a mobile phone. It continues to be in some ways at odds with painting, where the question of what makes photography an art still remains, the Art of the Image photographic exhibition pushes the boundaries of expectations the viewer has of and the way we are conditioned to see the image, offering us a different way of looking.
In Trinidad and Tobago, it is rare that those visiting an art exhibit think of the curatorial process behind an exhibition. In a photographic exhibition of this nature, where it is not necessarily the beautiful, saleable prints that are on display, it is with curiosity that we look through the eyes of the curators.
Reah Lee Sing is a self-taught painter and owner of CHI Studio on Gatacre Street, Woodbrook, where the exhibition will take place. Turunesh Raymond, of Studio 66, Ethiopian by birth and nationality, settled in Trinidad for decades, is a trained artist. She studied in London and spent most of her life in Europe.
“How did you as two artists decide on showcasing a photographic exhibition of this nature?” Sunday Newsday asked.
“Well first of all, I’m not crazy about the word curator,” Raymond replied. “A curator controls,” she continued. “A curator can make or destroy an artist and art is subjective. Economics plays a big role here. People go to university to become a curator. They are told how a curator should be, what to choose. It’s a social construct really that tells me what is good, what is bad regardless of whether that is actually the truth. So we were also sensitive to what the photographers wanted as well.”
Lee Sing said, “Turunesh has been walking with me from the beginning as a partner curator in the shows that have been held here. This is purely voluntary on her part. As a curator, as she said, you are in control of what shows. But I feel that one pair of eyes is really not enough. You need to have a shared perspective brought to the table.”
Lee Sing explained there is a bridge between the economics of the show and the value of what is seen.
“There is the idea of living for your art and living from your art and this is a difficult balance. So we had to be aware of this given what we wanted to do with the show, which was not necessarily showcasing the usual pretty images that people expect. There are elements of this exhibition that are unsettling. For instance, like some of the Carnival characters,” she said, pulling up some images for Sunday Newsday to view.
“Our purpose was to create drama, a narrative that speaks of ups and downs and also to create a space where people will not just look at things the usual way. When people think of mas, it’s pretty, but it’s not just that. There is the sinister side of mas which is not taken into consideration,” Raymond explained.
“There is also a photograph of a caesarean taking place,” Lee Sing said, “and when Turunesh saw it she commented ‘we are born with no dignity.’”
The women looked at each other.
“So you see we are so desensitised. It’s really a brutal way to come into the world,” Lee Sing commented thoughtfully.
Speaking of positioning the exhibit within a local context Raymond explained that coming from Europe, where she spent most of my life, it didn’t take her long to figure out that art was not a lucrative thing in TT.
“I therefore have a great respect for artists because I know they just can’t live off their art. Very few can. And now, lots of young artist embrace postmodernism which makes it even harder for them to sell the work.”
Lee Sing interjected, “Do they know why they embrace this? Because it’s almost at if they don’t know that there can be more.
“Because that is what Europe is peddling as being art of the moment. I, however, see postmodernism as recolonisation viz-a-viz the arts. I was in London when I came across postmodernism.” She said she went to talks and conferences and realised she couldn’t understand what they were saying because they were speaking a different language. “They changed the language in such a way that only a certain level of people can understand, so it’s another way to distance yourself from others. They set new rules and a lot of young people are going for that. If you think about it, installations, shrines etc are installations. They are all over the Caribbean, Africa, India but Europe repackages and sells it back to us. It is really about control and dependability. And this is why hopefully CHI will make a difference and open the door to talk.”
Lee Sing said the purpose of the show is also to put CHI gallery in a certain position within the art world. “When people think CHI, they should think valuable, meaningful artistic expressions. Preferably it will be a reputation where people know they get quality, everything an artist really requires. It should be a space where artists’ works are exhibited in a striking, forceful way.”
Art of the Image runs from July 25 to August 25. During the four-week period, two talk events will be hosted to explore the depths of photography art. All nine photographers will come together on August 11 at 6pm to discuss their collections. The exhibit closes with a collaborative event between Chi Studio and The Philosophical Society of Trinidad and Tobago, hosting other recognised curators in the national landscape to explore the digital facets of contemporary art in the Caribbean.