Bougainvillea continues to catch my eye. I gathered petals of many variations of Bougainvillea in Kingston, Jamaica during my artist residency at New Local Space (NLS). I collected old wooden lab benches for their beautiful doors, dyed vellum paper in a bathtub full of good ole’ Red Rose tea, borrowed objects and furniture, poured over film negatives that I found in my great grandmother's boxes back in Brooklyn and collected endless amounts of Bougainvillea. May Nothing Stay Hidden is the two-room multimedia installation that resulted from those six weeks of creative incubation. Over the transition from old year to new I created a tribute to my grandfather, the son of the great grandmother whose film I found, the exhibition was inspired by his musings.
I applied to be the third international artist-in-residence at NLS over a year ago. I proposed a project inspired by conversations with my maternal grandfather, Grandada aka Derryck Brooks-Smith, a retired research chemist and teacher living in Brooklyn. I've considered Grandada one of my dearest friends since I was a teenager full of transitioning-to-adulthood rage, in need of a willing ear. We've always had really open, honest conversations - hanging two of a kind on the family tree. During one of these moments he shared his experience of being left in Jamaica, where he was born, when his mother migrated to the United States for work. He was four years old. It was during therapy in his 50s, over forty years after migrating to New York to live with his mother that he started to unpack the impact that these formative years had on his life. Though he had stayed behind with an aunt and uncle who took good care of him he solemnly reflects, "I did not learn love in Jamaica." As he talks about the importance of developing the humanness in another person I ask, "Do you think that once you moved with your mom she was developing a humanness in you?"
No, mom belonged to the 1940s… Everything was hidden. Closed.
My brief trip to New York City before heading to Jamaica was priceless to the development of May Nothing Stay Hidden. I was able to spend time with Grandada, which I have missed since I moved back to Grenada in 2010. It was the day before I flew to Jamaica that I came across the film negatives (in my great grandmother’s old house), which inspired the light boxes. A Conversation with Derryck Brooks-Smith is created from the recording of one of our discussions. His reflections on silence, not having room to express and work through his emotions, added a new dimension to the concept of the installation.
His voice echoed through the NLS gallery during May Nothing Stay Hidden. At the exhibition opening on 24th January 2015 many visitors sat in the room recreated to look like an old home, on the floral patterned couch, listening as his gentle voice touched on truths that many of us relate to. Others listened as they walked around the second room opening the custom built light box cupboards and peeking inside a vintage canvas trunk, its guts aglow with the light of a video. My projected hands packing & unpacking the trunk.
Thank you to all the backers who supported this artist residency and my journey to Kingston through the Kickstarter Campaign, which exceeded its goal by over $1000! (Your rewards are on their way!) A big thanks to carpenter & singer, Joseph Stepper, who understood my vision and was commissioned to build the cupboards from the wood of the old lab benches. I want to send a special dose of gratitude to Elizabeth Lumsden Goffe, founder of TrueSelf Centre of Being, whose beautiful vocals are featured in the intro & outro of A Conversation with Derryck Brooks-Smith. I am deeply grateful to Deborah Carroll Anzinger and the whole team behind NLS for continuing to provide a crucial space for nurturing creative experimentation and collaboration for artists in Kingston and across the region & diaspora. My time in Kingston would not have been the same without the loving support of writer & curator, Nicole Smythe-Johnson, and her family whom we later found out has a deep and long connection to my own, photographer & yogi-spirit, Sabriya Simon, and the countless people who showed up in various ways to lend support and positivity to my mission. Lastly, thank you to my parents, grandparents and family who continue to believe in me, whole & imperfect. Grandada thank you for trusting me.
A deeply familiar story to Caribbean people across generations, what wounds are left untended in the business of keeping our dirty laundry tucked away? May Nothing Stay Hidden is a meditation on the burdens of a culture of non-communication through the lens of love, migration and memory. The exhibition, my first solo show, ran at NLS from January 24th to February 13th, 2015.