Arnaldo James's art on show at Seattle museum

One of Arnaldo James's pieces on display at the Frye Art Museum. -
One of Arnaldo James's pieces on display at the Frye Art Museum. -

The work of Trinidadian artist Arnaldo James is currently on show in a joint exhibition at at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, Washington.

In the Interim: Ritual Ground for a Future Black Archive is James's collaboration with African American artist Christopher Paul Jordan, which is on display at the museum until May 15.

They are the joint recipients of the 2017 James W Ray Venture Projects Award, an accolade reserved for artists displaying exceptional originality.

James, 35, hails from Belmont, and has an impressive resume that includes visual art, photography, and film curation.

Artist Arnaldo James whose work is on display in a joint exhibition at the Frye Museum, Seattle. -

The recipient of the DreamACP Erasmus Mundus Project scholarship, James graduated from the Cardiff Metropolitan University in Wales in 2016. He added an MSc in product design to his skill set during his time at Cardiff Met’s School of Art and Design. This, in addition to his bachelor's in visual arts as well as a postgraduate diploma in arts and cultural enterprise management from the University of the West Indies (UWI) further enhanced James’ dedication to art and design.

James and Jordan staged Mission Black Satellite (MBS) – a multidisciplinary art project that featured storytelling, live performances, and public art, in 2017. Jordan, on a student exchange with the UWI’s Department of Creative and Festival Arts, had previously hosted exhibitions in his hometown Tacoma, just outside of Seattle and so they chose to host MBS in Arima, away from the bustle of the capital.

One of Arnaldo James's pieces on display at the Frye Art Museum, Seattle. -

In choosing this location, they challenged the geopolitics of the art world, resisting the ideas surrounding big city recognition and urban normalisation for artistic expression as well as its relationship to the economics of art institutions. MBS was a study in resistance, both in its geography as well as in its topography. Together, James and Jordan created an art space that was inviting, intuitive, and inquisitive. MBS was the catalyst for future collaborations which begged the question: how do black people, with a shared history of the Middle Passage, engage with their communities without the mediation of a white gaze?

When James and Jordan were collaboratively awarded the James W Ray Venture Projects Award, they accepted the accompanying invitation to stage an exhibition at the Frye Art Museum. James describes In the Interim: Ritual Ground for a Future Black Archive as a continuation of the work he and Jordan has been doing, a "call and response" to their shared heritage. He views In the Interim as a time portal blurring the lines between collapse and regeneration, apocalypse and rebirth, past and present, present and future. The exhibition holds a series of mysteriously numbered photographs featuring otherworldly beings reminiscent of Trinidad’s Carnival characters by James. Interspersed is Jordan’s series of paintings on windows salvaged from black communities in Tacoma. In the centre, a looming floor-to-ceiling soundproof recording booth where only those who identify as black are allowed to enter and leave messages which will be preserved in a time capsule and only made public one hundred years from now.

One of Arnaldo James's pieces on display in a joint exhibition at the Frye Art Museum, Seattle. -

James drew upon his knowledge as a product designer and artist to ensure that the elements of the costumes he designed were sustainably sourced and locally produced. Palm leaves, seashells, bamboo beads. He anticipates that his photographs invite viewers to interpret the images from wherever they may be in their own life’s journey. The numbers used for the photographs instead of the naming style traditionally employed subverts the idea of an artist imposing their vision on the audience, a removal of his gaze from his own creation.

In each photograph, a central theme is evident: water. James regards water as a means of travel in a spiritual and technical sense, carrying and containing multitudes. Water baptisms, water births, the womb. By connecting the realities of the physical space with the transcendent material elements, James connects the temporal and spatial, imagining these figures as messengers who use sources of water as portals; Oya, Oshun, Imanja as inspiring energies. In crafting these images, James asks the African diaspora: what message would you send, if you were free of the confines of time and oppressively mediated space?

James will share his thoughts on diasporic blackness and archiving culture at a virtual panel discussion on May 7. The panel includes Jordan, Trinidadian scholar Marsha Pearce, Guadeloupean curator Claire Tancons, and African-American writer Bettina Judd. Register here:


"Arnaldo James’s art on show at Seattle museum"

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