A conversation with Sheena Rose and The Serious Art Critic
Above: Sheena Rose as the Serious Art Critic.
During Art Basel Miami Beach 2016, Sheena Rose became a darling of the art world. Her exhibition at Prizm Art Fair garnered attention by art world heavy hitters, museum directors and a purchase by Venus Williams. She was so hard to catch up with that we have only been able to communicate with her through Instagram. She joins Sugarcane this week, as she prepares for a performance in London. Below she goes into a popular character called The Serious Art Critic (TSAC) that interviews Sheena Rose ( SR) and gives us a little performance art via the written word.- Melissa Hunter Davis
TSAC: Hi Sheena Rose, thank you for having this interview with me, it is an honor to have a talk with you.
SR: Thank you. I am very intrigued by what you think of my work, and I am looking forward to seeing how this conversation will go.
TSAC: Same here, I am very curious by the way you work and your ideas, especially the process of your work. Tell us a bit about yourself.
SR: I am an artist from Barbados who has exhibited locally and internationally in countries such as the Caribbean, North and South America, Canada, Europe, Africa and Asia. My work has been in galleries, museums, biennials, film festivals, art fairs, artists’ residencies, collections, book covers, and in many other places. I graduated with a Bachelor’s from Barbados Community College in 2008, and in 2016 I graduated with my Masters of Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a Fulbright.
TSAC: How many bodies of work do you have?
SR: I believe I have about six or more bodies of work, in this order: Town, Sweet Gossip, Sketchbooks: Another Confession, Finally I Love Myself, Invisibles, Tacky Photoshops, Black Obeah. There is a ton of work, and I am very excited.
TSAC: It is very exciting and a great sign for an artist to be in this productive space. Tell us about some of the essential work.
SR: Well, I created a hand-drawn animation called Town which shows me walking through Bridgetown. I avoided the vendors, donkey carts, beaches, chattel houses and green monkeys and wanted to show another side of Barbados. Town received lots of attention from curators and artists. Afterward, I was invited to many international exhibitions and artists’ residencies and took advantage of creating and showing my interpretation of these countries’ cities and urban spaces. Returning to Barbados, I started to think of not just urban spaces but the Barbadian pop culture. I realize some countries are easily recognized by their pop culture, so I asked myself, what is the Barbadian pop culture?
TSAC: Well, what is it?
SR: Yes, most of the conversations I heard from the streets or random places in Barbados were all – gossip. I also recognized that on Barbadian entertainment, television, and radio, there is always a character that is always nosey and loves to gossip. I perform the gossip, and then paint these gossips on poster like size paintings and performed with these paintings on the streets. I told myself that these gossips need to go back to where I heard them. I collaborated with Adrian Richards, a photographer and Natalie McGuire, an art historian. We went to various places such as the streets, stores, and beaches. We received lots of attention for sure from the viewers in these places. The viewers laughed, or they were confused. Afterward, we decided to blast the photos to the internet, to all of social media and this project went viral. The world saw a different side of Barbados; that they would have never imagined, if they have never been to Barbados. Some people messaged me and admitted that – yes – they know that side of Barbados for sure.
From The Town series by Sheena Rose.
TSAC: So what were the images of the gossip?
SR: Well at first, to be honest, I just heard the gossip like something normal in Barbados, but eventually realized that most of the gossip was about women. The gossip talked or insulted women’s bodies. Then when it came to the men, there were no insults towards the men; but more about how they can flirt or chat it up with women. The men were not criticized for their actions, but the women were. So after this project, I started to think of cultural behavior and gender roles.
TSAC: How do you feel after working on that project?
SR: I started to think of the individual, the relationship between men and women and a bit of the gender roles, but I did not know how to approach these ideas, and they lingered in my mind. I asked myself: how I can I show this, where or how should I start?
TSAC: Did it ever start?
SR: It started after a horrible heartbreak. I felt so horrible and embarrassed; especially when I heard, I was “too much.” I asked myself over and over what does that mean.
TSAC: Heartbreaks can be horrible; yet, beautiful work can come out of them.
SR: My next body of work relates to that idea finally developed, from when I did my Masters at UNCG. I started to think of myself as an individual and asked myself over and over, who or what am I?
TSAC: Well, did you find your answer?
SR: One evening, I was working in my studio at the university and decided to put myself in a “box.” I wanted to face the obvious of myself and admit the truth of myself.
TSAC: What did you discover? What is the truth?
SR: I realized that there is history, tradition, race, gender, space, and culture that make me who I am. I realized that I had to admit that I am a Black Caribbean woman from Barbados.
TSAC: Didn’t you see that before?
SR: Living in a country where the majority of the people are black, and you live in that space all your life, I think you become blind and don’t see those major details about yourself. And now, since I am alert about myself. I am noticing a huge change in my work. It felt like I have been awakened.
TSAC: Was that your breaking point of self-discovery?
TSAC: Do you feel good about it?
SR: Yes and no. I am really happy that I am very well alert about my conditions and that the work can develop so much more in depth. However, since then I find I feel as though I see too much truth, and sometimes I wish I didn’t see it. It can be a curse and blessing the same time.
TSAC: Interesting…well, I believe that what you learned cannot be unlearned but you cannot pretend whatever truth you discover can be unlearned.
SR: I know
Sweet Gossip by Sheena Rose.
TSAC: So tell me what kind of work came from this discovery?
SR: You are one of the artworks that came from this discovery…
TSAC: Do you think you overshare t too much on the social media?
SR: Yes, sometimes I think I can overshare. I don’t think I overshare information; it is how frequent the information needs to be shared that I need to stop myself sometimes.
TSAC: What do you get from it? What kind of feeling?
SR: Sometimes it feels like I am playing with fire. I love to make people uncomfortable, yet I love to see their reactions. I am not playing with them. I am simply telling the truth of a situation I am in. I asked myself many times if you can share your happy moments, why can’t you share sad, angry, serious, funny moments too?
TSAC: Do you see it as trying to find or get attention?
SR: I don’t think so, I think it is a refreshing and surprising way of revealing your private life to the public.
TSAC: Sheena, this question has been on my mind during this interview, are you talking to yourself right now? Is this a self-reflection, a critique or performance? I am very curious.
SR: You know what TSAC that is a very hard question to answer right now, but I find this interview very helpful.
TSAC: Well I am glad to help.
(Sheena Rose smile while The Serious Art Critic stares curiously)
The Serious Art Critic’s review
I find Sheena Rose’s work fascinating and compelling. I would say that she is a great storyteller and she knows how to keep her audience be on their toes. She knows how to add humor and activate her stories. It is very interesting how the work is about her and how she shares her personal experiences in a very honest raw way. She started off with drawings of cityscapes then transitioned to the Barbadian Pop culture to self-discovery. I find the work to be very brave.
I find the idea of sharing the work and her stories via social media is interesting; the idea of private to the public comes to play. However, I asked myself does Rose’s work have boundaries? Does it have limits or does it need limitation? I do not think it does, but a body of work so open that it may not lead to any surprises. At this moment of Sheena Rose’s life, it is very exciting for her to take advantage of just taking in all of this information and keep producing. She has done so much within her short artist’s career, producing quite a body of work.
I find each body of work has great potential to be bigger projects and she is in an existing space right now. It feels as though Sheena had this urgency to say something and what she is working out in her work right now can be relatable especially with the contemporary dialogue, and movements such as race, gender and displacement, cultural differences, the black diaspora, the Caribbean diaspora and much more. It seems like an ongoing conversation in her work.
I wonder, however, if Rose can be too dependent on Barbados for inspiration and ideas to help create her work. What would happen if she did not mention it or try another space which is not comparable or related to Barbados? What would happen to her? At the space she is in right now, perhaps she does not need to be concerned, but it must be something she thinks about.
I wonder if Sheena Rose can separate her art life and her personal life. How does she know when to stop, or can she stop herself? It was quite interesting to have a conversation with her, the artist and the maker. I continue to question if the conversation was a reflection between us or was it a critique of her work or her as the work? Was she talking to herself? Was it another performance? Is what you are reading artwork itself? Have we been tricked into Sheena’s scheming again, or, fell into her stories? Did you become part of this interview, this performance? I asked myself, when does the art begin and when does it end when it comes to Sheena Rose?
Sheena Rose is a contemporary Caribbean artist from Barbados. In 2008, Sheena graduated with a BFA degree with Honors at Barbados Community College, and in 2016, she received her Masters in Fine Arts at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a Fulbright Scholarship. Sheena works in various media such as hand drawn animations, drawings, paintings, performance art, mixed media and new media.