In Conversation with

Sour Grass: Creating Caribbean Connections

Sour Grass is an agency created by Annalee Davis and Holly Bynoe Young with the aim of enhancing the visibility of contemporary practitioners through processes of cross-pollination and collaboration. This year they open their third exhibition in collaboration with Kunstinstituut Melly in Rotterdam.

C&AL: What is your perception of the cultural and artistic sector in the Caribbean?

SG: The Caribbean is a diverse region that is referred to as the West Indies, the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles, the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands. Colonized by the British, French, Spanish, and Dutch, our creolized region has been impacted by the genocide of indigenous peoples, and the aftermath of the colonial project, while struggling as one of the most indebted places in the world, dependent on the fickleness of the tourism sector.

Our perceptions of the arts are shaped by the lens of this history and by our perspective from the Global South. Only some Caribbean nations have museums and art galleries, and the sector is experiencing high levels of emigration. Artists and artist-led initiatives are ahead of state agencies that struggle to understand the value of the cultural sector outside of models such as the so-called Orange Economy (Creative Economy), which seek return on investment while ignoring the need to invest in artists.

We are also aware of the impact of the Caribbean on the diaspora and its influence in the north. The Windrush generation, for example, has shaped post-imperial Britain. Notions of the plantation scene are debated in relation to climate collapse, while thinkers such as Édouard Glissant and Antonio Benítez-Rojo have become dominant references for curators working globally. The 2021 São Paulo Biennial was inspired by Glissant’s concept of relation, while the 2023 Sharjah Biennial, influenced by Okwui Enwezor, explores processes of creolization, hybridization and decolonization – notions that the region has been articulating internally for decades. The Caribbean is expanding.

C&AL: What kind of funding is available, and which genres are in the spotlight?

SG: The interesting action is happening outside of formal institutions. The festival economy, including carnivals and the music sector, tends to be in the spotlight as genres that generate income and large audiences more easily. Again, depending on where you are in the Caribbean, funding structures vary.

C&AL: How do you perceive diversity within the arts?

SG: The Caribbean has always been a syncretic and hybridized space. The notion of diversity is a core concern in visual arts and has wider implications for representation. Some aspects of how diversity is represented in the arts are influenced by nation-building, Blackness, feminism and gender identities.
The Caribbean is a polyphonic space but our knowledge of each other remains vulnerable to the orchestration of the geopolitics of Empire and colonialism. Diversity is implicit in the linguistics and indigeneity of the region and in the intergenerational transmission of knowledge.

C&AL: From your point of view, what are the most pressing issues that artists and cultural workers address?

SG: Over the last 20 years, economies of tourism, gentrification, environmental collapse, history, aspects of hospitality, and social and transformative injustice have been core topics. The trendiness of decolonization in the West means much less to Caribbean artists, as the ethos of decolonization has informed our consciousness and civilizations from the beginning.

The ongoing tensions of capitalism and autonomy are in dialogue with the contemporary gender and Black Lives Matter revolutions, both of which bring to the fore evolving conversations around race, cultural identity, sexuality, and the evolution of our digital creative economies.

C&AL: How did your collaboration with Kunstinstituut Melly come about?

SG: After co-founding Caribbean Linked (2012) with Ateliers ‘89 in Aruba, this planting of seeds manifested itself in the growth of relationships with several cultural institutions in the Netherlands. A few years ago, we met the recently appointed director of Kunstinstituut Melly, Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy, who saw Sour Grass as a bridge between this Rotterdam-based institution and the Caribbean region. Together we envisioned a multi-year project displaying contemporary practice from the region, eventually taking the shape of three solo exhibitions supported by a program to unpack these artists’ works. The first exhibition opened in 2021 with Jasmine Thomas-Girvan (Jamaica/Trinidad & Tobago), the second was with Beatriz Santiago Muñoz in 2022 (Puerto Rico) and our third and final exhibition at Kunstinstituut Melly opens in June 2023 with the work of Kelly Sinnapah Mary (Guadeloupe).

C&AL: What other collaborations do you have in the pipeline?

SG: We are very excited about our upcoming curatorial residency in Germany to begin hatching plans with colleagues at Temporary Gallery and their wider Cologne-based community to continue our process of slow cultural work, love-centered practices, and degrowth. Sour Grass will continue to enhance the visibility of contemporary practitioners through processes of cross-pollination and collaboration, allowing us to stretch through the blossoming of vibrant connections.

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Hannah K. Grimmer is a doctoral candidate in Cultural Studies. She researches the relationship between visual arts, social movements, and memory activism.