"I've been doing this thing for awhile now, and I'm more than ready to do it big! Dammit, I'm ready - I'm putting it out there!" Those were the parting words from Barbadian contemporary artist Sheena Rose at the end of a long, exciting interview we recently had for the forthcoming print release of Au Courant Vol. 03.
Words that, given her prodigious talents and rapidly increasing art-world credibility, the universe is already rising up to validate.
As an artist working within the wider (read: commercial/global) space, yet allowing her Barbadian identity to guide her oeuvre, Rose somehow escapes being labeled as a Caribbean artist in the reductive, sometimes condescending way that many others before her have been categorized by the wider, cloistered art-world elite. This could have something to do with her willingness to directly engage the audience and their shared realities through increasingly bold moves that her contemporaries and predecessors may have shied away from, ironically, in the name of pursuing a formal, international career...
We were to meet briefly at the Royal Academy for the February 2017 staging of her performance piece, The Island and the Monster (seen here), but a crush of post-performance admirers - and the call of my newborn baby left at home - prompted an extended conversation weeks later, by Skype. Which allowed for an even more intimate view into her life, work, and creative process than a quick sit-down on a chilly London night may have provided.
For one, the extent to which her experiences within the Barbadian space is integral to her work became quite evident. Nationalism. Belonging. Identity. Growth. Stagnation. Stereotyping. Masculinity. Femininity. Sex. Chatting from her home studio with family buzzing around in the background, Rose talked freely on these issues and more, even as she grappled with the reality of being both the 'Island' and the 'Monster' in her works.
Referring to the RA performance for which she donned a self-designed costume that was equally alluring and foreboding, she put forth the question: who was the real monster? We both recalled that night when Rose slinked around the Academician's Room at the RA and toyed with the audience through powerful embodiments of a frustrated islander having to readjust to the beautiful, yet limiting space that was left behind for advancement overseas.
Was the 'monster' the islander: matured, challenged, unsatisfied? Or the island itself: exotic, rarefied, stifling?
Or was it all merely a conundrum swirling about in the hurricane mind-space of the artist herself?
Looking forward to sharing more of our chat for the forthcoming mid-2017 release of Au Courant Vol. 03. In the meantime, do watch this short video on the artist by Maya Cozier and check Sheena Rose on Instagram, where she shares her works-in-progress in the most enthralling, engaging way.
Sheena Rose: The Island and the Monster
February 27th, 2017
Royal Academy, London