The Gag: Being a Creative in the Caribbean
When it really boils down to it, culture shapes most things in our lives. The Caribbean is historically one of the most unique regions in the world and our discovery of ourselves and our cultures came at the price of the lives of many of our ancestors gone before us. Our speech, our humour, our creativity, the way we think, it’s all so different from anywhere else and like in any other part of the globe, being a creative in this region has its wonderful perks and its inevitable struggles. Truthfully though, I don’t think people are aware of what it’s like to be a creative in this geographical space and more people ought to know.
The level of diversity in this small region will blow your mind and the artists who challenge the way things are and so beautifully give us reflections of ourselves and our history, can all tell you that this region can be both a hindrance and a beautiful source of inspiration for creative expression. Whether it’s music, painting, sculpting, photography or producing, there are some basic things every artist in this region must come to terms with.
1. Not everyone in the region will appreciate your perspective: Performing artists like Spice challenge ideals in the region of women and their performative roles. She uses her music as a tool of sexual liberation for herself and women worldwide and while she has a huge fan base, many Caribbean people who still subscribe to patriarchal ideals do not like what Spice represents. As an artist in this region, expressing yourself authentically can come with the lack of understanding and appreciation.
2. Endless inspiration: Whether it may be the creole and patios, the accents, the festivals, the landscape, our mannerisms, our habits as people, the traditions, the history – this region serves as live and direct inspiration for all types of artists. Sheena Rose is testament to this statement. Sweet Gossip 2014 is a collection of pieces focused on illustrating Barbadian pop culture. She focuses on things like habits of gossiping and female attire and anything stereotypically Bajan.
3. Sometimes people don’t take you “seriously”: In the Caribbean traditional jobs are still held at a higher esteem than creative jobs. People who for example are painters for a living are like unicorns – rare and should be treated as such. Most of the time the general population is unaware of how visual artists make money and how much money is available to people in artistic fields and therefore because of unawareness and uncertainty, Caribbean parents tend to push their children to get “real jobs”.
4. Getting people to invest in your art has its challenges: Sometimes people do not want to pay artists for their hard earned work. You have to pay your accountant? Point made. Artists deserve the same respect. We deserve to eat as well!
5. The perks of culture exposure: This melting pot of a region allows artists to access many different cultures. Spanish influence, along with British influence in architecture and design mixed with African influence has created something distinctly ours, something that only our artists can authentically translate through different art forms.
6. Sometimes you get more love outside the region: I know so many musicians can attest to this point. People who pursue careers in music genres that aren’t typically “Caribbean” often times have to look to tap into other markets to sell their art. The Caribbean audience can sometimes stand as one of the toughest crowds and sometimes as an artist you have to look to North America or Europe as places where you can grow as an artist of a certain caliber. Not everyone has the same experience but you will find that larger markets give more welcoming smiles to some of our Caribbean artists. This is probably because they have more money and more people that are willing to invest in art in those areas. There are more opportunities to meet some of the bigger names in music industry and other art forms which can subsequently propel your career.
7. Social media extends artist reach: The age of technology has made it possible for our artists to have reach beyond the Caribbean and gain the international recognition they deserve. Photographers, rappers, singers, visual artists, graphic designers, dancers and many more have the chance to access the world through the internet. Being active on these platforms can help our young artists be more visible, market themselves and build a fan base that is outside of their region. The key is to stand out and bring something uniquely and distinctly you to your social media – something that makes people come back for more.
Like any other place in the world, our creatives go through the motions of being artists. It allows you to grow and helps create a resistance. Not everyone perceives and understands things the way you do and understanding and accepting this idea makes you a better artist. It makes you appreciate your unique point of view. Caribbean artists face challenges that make them some of the hardest working artists in the world. No one goes harder than our people because we work twice as hard to make our mark in the creative world. The gag is, it’s completely satisfying to be a Caribbean creative despite the factors working against you. Both our challenges and inspirations push us harder than ever imagined and I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything.
*Featured image used is a part of the “Sweet Gossip Collection” by Sheena Rose*