Tender exchanges


Andil Gosine’s art is about small, evocative gestures. With lots of meaning loaded under them.

“A delicate touch,” he suggests, on the opening morning of his Medulla Art Gallery exhibit, which runs through Carnival Friday.

There’s no grand polemical statement behind this work, says the Tableland native, who grew up gay and Indian in George Village, before migrating as a teenager.

Gosine’s scholarship has provided a unique and critical voice on global south queerness. So what’s most interesting about Rêvenir (a play on French words for dreaming, coming and returning) is his urge to buck the pressure many queer artists and artists of colour feel to represent the voice of a social group, and have the small but engaging exhibit invite viewers to peek at the artist’s intimate life. Finding “a truth about oneself and the confidence to share it” is what art is for him.

Yet, inescapably framing the exhibit is a key gendered Indo-Caribbean motif that traverses Gosine’s work: the ohrni, the often lacy headscarf worn by village women. (Origins of the ohrni and its distinctive Caribbeanness remain under-researched). As one walks into the exhibit, veiling three of its four key pieces are ohrni-like curtains that establish its peek, through whose layers of lace they remain visible. The ambivalence Gosine finds in the Caribbean ohrni is that it is as much about modesty as it is about showing.

An ohrni-like curtain wafting in a Caribbean breeze looks like how a caress feels.

And “nothing feels better than being in love,” he declares, seated next to his artist’s statement for the last of a series of exhibitions over nine years (inspired by a messy breakup), where he writes: “I wanted to create the gallery as a space for tender exchange.”

This language ( a play on our recent $100 demonitisation) applies both to the dialogue he’ll have with Andre Bagoo at the 37 Fitt Street, Woodbrook, space on February 13, at 7 pm; and to a pop-up shop of catalogues and mementos of the past exhibits available for exchange for other artists’ work, or for purchase. These include a solid silver cutlass-shaped brooch (another of the ambivalent Indo-Caribbean motifs the artist has seized on throughout his work). They also include a T-shirt with a line from the film Celeste and Jesse Forever, in which screenwriter/actress Rashida Jones’ character is always right, “And...now what?”

Being right is a hallmark of his Trinidadianness he carries into relationships, Gosine confesses, which robs him of the vulnerability of the shame of being wrong.

While Gosine may eschew messaging in his art, the exhibit is, inescapably, intimately about race and desire.

The first vieled piece, 1,200 (Tinder) matches, no flame, playfully includes a bowl of matchboxes featuring men he “matched” with on a dating app during a stay in Paris: (Dis)connection is a theme in all the work.

“I can give you anything you want.” A piece titled 24 shows half of the images Gosine collated in a book as a gift to a closeted French lover who feared being captured by photographs. Instead, the grainy pictures record places and moments – two cups of cocoa, clothes removed, the fortune in a cookie, light angling onto the exposed-brick walls of a New York apartment – that marked the relationship, including the Muppet movie they saw in an empty theatre that allowed them a rare opportunity to be intimate in public. Is love about fulfilling other’s fantasies, or giving your lover everything (s)he wants?

“I like hearing about others’ love lives,” Gosine shares.

In a short video mirroring his signature photo diptych (reflecting on US President Thomas Jefferson, who fathered several children with Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman he owned; and a similar relationship between Hernán Cortés and a Nahua woman, La Malinche, that was instrumental in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire) he invites the Jamaican-American Lorraine O’Grady, whom he credits as his most critical inspiration in becoming a visual artist, to reflect on interracial desire, the ways the sexual is always embedded in the social, and how love is often hard to disentangle from hate and violence.

The video’s diptych is a split screen of Gosine and a lover kissing. In one persistent frame, they are tender, playful and slow; in a second one, which appears and disappears, the lover is insistent, and Gosine often bashful.

This collaboration with O’Grady (Nature: A Guerrilla Girl Story) is for me one of the very rare instances where I get to visualise gay Indo-Caribbean bodies.

Rêvenir is about giddiness, hopelessness, disconnection and – Gosine urges – how tensions within relationships defy resolution. Having left at 14, he speaks with sadness of never having had a Trini lover. And, oddly, the show’s “peek” is a secret he’s kept from many friends locally.

Please encourage others to take a look. Medulla is at Facebook.com/medullaartgallery; and open Monday to Friday 10am-6pm, and Saturday 11am-2pm.


"Tender exchanges"

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