Sometimes I don’t realize I am working. It is becoming difficult for me to differentiate between work and everyday life. Those barriers are becoming blurred and I am comfortable with that as my everyday experiences are becoming a part of my practice in the development of my work.
These last few months were hectic to say the least. Before arriving to London I was participating in another artist residency based in Vermont, USA called the Vermont Studio Center. After that residency I was able to return home to Trinidad for one day and take part in Old Mas competition for the Bocas Lit Festival, Trinidad’s premier literary festival. I am a member of the #1000Mokos movement which was formed earlier in the year between Kriston Chen and myself. Our goals are to celebrate the history and culture of the Moko Jumbies in Trinidad and Tobago and to give informal lessons on how to do stilt walking, making it accessible to anyone interested.
Arrival to London
At Gatwick Airport I was greeted by the hired driver with a sign with my name and Delfina Foundation below it. It was May 1st and luckily for me it was a bank holiday which meant that there was less traffic on my way to the foundation. Green pastures and traditional english towns covered the landscape as we drove toward central London. Along the way I found out the driver was from Sri Lanka and had escaped to Qatar and then to London to avoid the civil war between the government and the Tamil Tigers. Then he mentioned that his daughter was in secondary school and wants to become a historian. He was a little concerned about the job prospects of an historian but I reassured him that if she is serious and has the curiosity to learn then she will do just fine. That was one of the reasons I am here in London to do research into the history of 19th century England and how much of that culture has influenced Trinidad and Tobago and the lives of its citizens.
My first week was spent getting familiar with the city of London and the many museums, archives and galleries located in the city. One of the first places I visited was the Victoria and Albert museum as I was primarily interested in their massive ceramic collection from 19th century England. This is related to the work I have been doing in Trinidad and Tobago in terms of my documenting of historical sites that are neglected and are at the risk of being demolished. Part of this process has involved me doing small excavations around these historical sites before and after they have been demolished. I have found mostly domestic artefacts from the 19th century comprised mostly of ceramic shards, bottles, bricks and clay pipes. All of which were from either England or Glasglow as there was much trading around that time. The bricks for example would have been used as ballast for ships coming to Trinidad and then returning with a shipment of sugar and cocoa. As luggage space was limited I was able to bring most of the shards I have found in Trinidad and I will use my time at the residency to engage with institutions like the Victoria and Albert museum to find more info on these shards. Where they were made? Who were they made for? How they found their way to Trinidad?
Delfina Foundation is located in Victoria which is London. Besides it being easy to get around, I have heard that it is a rarity to be living in Victoria as there are hardly any residential spaces unless you are Bill Gates. The foundation is like an well-oiled machine. You can be sure that Hena Lee, the resident manager will make sure you miss any important meeting and Aaron Cezar, Director of Delfina Foundation is always the conversation starter at any social gathering.
They have been great at making arrangements for me to network with curators, artists and galleries. In my first week alone I was able to meet with Lucia Pietroiusti from the Serpentine Gallery, the members and resident artists from both the Florence Trust and Gasworks. Most of these conversations were held around the dining table with delicious food carefully prepared by Poppy Litchfield, the office manager at Delfina Foundation.
The theme for the current programme at Delfina is called Collecting as Practice which deals with the philosophy, psychology and politics of collecting. At the moment I am sharing the living quarters with fellow art practitioners Deyson Gilbert (Brazil), Geumhyung Jeong (South Korea), Wok the Rock (Indonesia). As Wok the Rock would say “Please go to my website to know more about me,” as each of their work will be too long for me to explain. I am still adjusting to everyone schedule as each resident pursues their various interests. I do like that we still have time to share meals and planned trips together a few times during the week.
One of the many planned events around this theme will involve six curators from the Curating Contemporary Art MA Programme at the Royal College of Art. For one weekend (20–21 May, 2017) they plan to have an Open House at Delfina Foundation which will feature performative, digital and sculptural works of ten former residents based around their memories at the foundation.
I will also be working together with the curators as I also want to include the shards I have found in Trinidad and explore if people in London still have any connection to these objects. What memories these shards trigger? How are they perceived in the 21st century?
Autograph ABP Exhibition Opening
I was invited by Autograph ABP for their opening of Mahtab Hussain’s photography exhibition You Get Me? It is a collections of portraits of working class muslim men that is part of a series he has been working on over a nine year period in Birmingham, London and Nottingham. All of the portraits were striking in itself but the gallery also included their stories on the walls of the exhibition. This adds another dimension to the show as it highlights how one is perceived to be an outsider and the tension that are formed from those encounters. Go back to your country? Why you taking away my money? Why don’t you speak your mother-tongue? These are just some of the encounters I face myself back in Trinidad. You Get Me? is as provocative as it is evoking to the consequences of a multi-ethnic society.
Visiting Sunshine International Arts
In looking for other stilt walking groups in London and build and to start having #1000MOKOS sessions. I was put in touch with Ray Mahabir who is also from Trinidad and Trinidad who founded the Sunshine International Arts in 2002. This mas camp and cafe is located in Brixton built within the columns of the London aboveground railway. It is here that he produces costumes for the Notting Hill Carnival and it also serves as educational center for the Carnival arts. We had many conversations about his experiences with Carnival between Trinidad and London. How he began carving his own space for Carnival and also the challenges associated with it.
In the past he has worked with Glen “Dragon” De Souza from Kilimanjaro School of Art and Culture, in Cocorite, west of Port of Spain, Trinidad. Since then there has been hardly any Moko Jumbies to be seen in the Notting Hill Carnival due to the costs of health and insurance permits and a lack of interest in any of the traditional mas characters. Now most of the London masqueraders prefer to wear a branded tee and is given the illusion of an authentic Carnival experience. He still has his stilts and is highly interested in the #1000MOKOS movement and I am excited on this possible collaboration.
My first week in London was spent navigating around the city and exploring what resources are available to me. I must honestly say that I am beginning to discover that there is too many and my challenge will be staying focus on my research.
Joshua Lue Chee Kong
Alice Yard, Port of Spain, Trinidad
Saturday 14th of May 2017
About the programme:
I was was selected as part of the Transatlantic Artists’ Residency Exchange (TAARE) programme initiated by the British Council Caribbean working in collaboration with Delfina Foundation, Gasworks, Autograph ABP and Hospitalfield Arts; and Caribbean partners: NLS Kingston in Jamaica and Alice Yard in Trinidad. The aim of TAARE is to focus on artistic exchanges between UK, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. The residency is for visual artists, art critics and curators who want to make new transatlantic links, build on existing connections or to explore the further developments of their practice.