‘The Fabric of Caribbean Consciousness’ – A Second Look

Artists involved in the 'Fabric of Caribbean Consciousness' exhibition, from left, Elisa McKay,Danielle Kearns, Niarus Walker, Suenita Banwaree, Chalana Brown.
Artists involved in the ‘Fabric of Caribbean Consciousness’ exhibition, from left, Elisa McKay,Danielle Kearns, Niarus Walker, Suenita Banwaree, Chalana Brown.

The exhibition “The Fabric of Consciousness Exhibit this Art” will close after this week’s “Art Thursday” and members of the Art at the Top Hat Gallery want to make sure people get a chance to see it.

“Opening night brought an unusual amount of art goers for an ‘off’ Thursday night in Christiansted. Not all were the regulars,” Top Hat Gallery owner Hanne Rasmussen said. “Yet it was a delight to welcome such a huge crowd that filled the entire gallery.”

Art Thursday, a monthly art walk that takes place on the third Thursday of the month, is scheduled this week from 5 to 8 p.m. at the gallery, 52 Company St., Christiansted.

“I was looking for something different – not the regular ideas,” Niarus Walker said as she spoke about her motivation for the show using fabric. “It’s a different space and my first time curating at the Top Hat Gallery.”

Walker asked six female artists to use their fabric and textile backgrounds to create art symbolizing the consciousness of Caribbean culture.

“It’s an esoteric idea that can be viewed as complicated,” Walker admitted.

The artists pursued and gave Walker “just what I was looking for.”

“I am realizing and recognizing my need to find myself, to find my connection to my culture,” she said. “That was not my focus growing up. This exhibit is giving me that focus.”

The six artists taking part in the exhibition are:

Suenita Banwaree grew up on St. Croix as an artist from a very young age.

“I designed clothes for my dolls and did all kinds of art. I took art with the late art teacher Anselm Richards at Central High School.”

'Mouth of Africa' by Suenita Banwaree.
‘Mouth of Africa’ by Suenita Banwaree.

Banwaree’s “Mouth of Africa” is an installation of knitted yarn in the shape of a mouth.

“It is important to speak, to have a voice and pass onto our culture,” she said. “I choose to represent Africa as the mouth, and the yarn as the movement of people dispersed throughout the Atlantic.”

“What does it mean to preserve culture and native tongues, telling stories and sharing ideas through spoken words?” Banwaree asks.

– “Four years ago, I was in a deep depression,” Chalana Brown said. “My job as a dance instructor at Central High School folded and I had no income. I took my last paycheck and bought a camera. I thought I could make my own income for myself and I immediately felt less depressed.

'Perpetuation,' by Chalana Brown
‘Perpetuation,’ by Chalana Brown

“I picked up the camera and taught myself whatever I needed to know and began taking photographs of my favorite subject – women. It has worked for me since then.”

Brown’s four portraits in the exhibition are vibrant representations of her culture.

“The collection of memories of our African ceremonial traditions may be lost and replaced with new traditions that may not reflect the customs of Africa,” Brown said.

– Only shopping site Etsy.com was home to Danielle Kearns’ fabric clutch purses.

“I bought a machine and taught myself to sew 10 or 15 years ago,” she said. “My purses did very well online and through personal sales. They sold out constantly. I would like to make them a priority again.”

As of now, Kearns is into quilting.

“I find the most pleasure in picking out fabrics and mixing color and pattern. I love touching fabric. I love the feel of it. I miss being able to walk into different stores and see fabric in person and touch and feel it,” Kearns said.

“This natural affinity for the textile is my direct connection to the matriarchal lineage in my family. I’ve never met or come into contact with these women, but their spirits guide me in my work, “she said.

Her quilts. “Feeling Blue’ and “Growth” hang in the upper gallery and the one on the chaise, “To Fletch, With Love,” was created as a gift to her father-in-law, the late Fletcher Robinson.

Kearns quilts, she said, take a lot of work and are “a little torturous,” and they hang as a meditative display of beauty on the walls of the gallery. She likes to see the little pieces come together – the finished product.

'Anthurium,' by Lauren Baccus
‘Anthurium,’ by Lauren Baccus

– Anthurium is the first in a series of hand-rugs by the designer Lauren Baccus. It hangs in the lower gallery and is a new addition. It came late for the opening, so there’s an extra “something” to see on that second look.

“I came to the weaving process out of a need for a tangible creative experience. I wanted to be in close contact with the work and for the work itself to invite touch,” Baccus said.

“I’ve always considered myself creative, but I’m much more a designer than an artist,” she said. “Design is how we use and interact with the physical world. I’m very rooted in everyday objects and in space.”

Elisa McKay grew up in Harlem, New York, and was connected to her Caribbean culture at an early age through her Crucian parents. Migrating to St. Croix in 1978 gave her a daily view of where her ancestors lived, loved, celebrated and worked on the island.

“My mother sewed all of our clothes and I learned to sew at an early age. I love fabric – the colors and textures, the smell – all of it,” she said. “I began making little framed pictures of pressed flowers and gradually moved to cutting images out of fabric and making cards,” McKay said.

Those cards eventually became larger pieces reflecting community, family, celebration and life on St. Croix. her framed pieces in the exhibit are smaller than she’s previously shown, giving the viewer a bird’s eye view of celebration in the “Moko jumbie” and of family in the “Mama and Child.”

“Spirit Mill” portrays the pain the enslaved workers endured in building the mill. The image in “Maroon Woman” shows her fleeing from her captors in escape to her colony on the island.

Yemaya Jones has been dying fabric for the past 40 years and has been influenced by the rich vibrancy of the Caribbean, specifically the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Jones has taken classes throughout her career, learning techniques that enhance the fabrics she uses in her work.

“We Survived” is a colorful piece by Jones depicting those who survived the enslaved voyage of the Middle Passage across the Atlantic to the Caribbean Islands.

Jones was selected to show her artwork and represent the Virgins Islands at the Folk Arts Festival in 2013 at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The theme was “The Will To Adorn.”

“All cultures have a strong expression in music and a strong will to adorn. I would like my work to be viewed as unique, timeless and joyous,” Jones said. “Caribbean consciousness has permeated my work and my life as an artist for the many years I have worked in this medium.”