My name is Sheena Rose and since I was about 5 or 6 years old I’ve been interested in art. I was into cartoons and comics and used to treat my bedroom as a little gallery, selling my drawings for 5 or 10 cents! After attending Barbados Community College I completed an Associates degree in visual arts and then a Bachelors degree in Fine Art. After graduating from college I noticed that there were a lot of older artists but not really anyone I felt I could look up to who was creating contemporary art.
What has your experience of being an artist from the Caribbean been like?
From 2008 to this year my work was featured in a number of contemporary Caribbean shows and it was through this travelling that I started to realise how it feels to be a Caribbean artist living in the Caribbean space and realising that Barbados doesn’t have a lot of galleries or art spaces.
My solution to this was to create a collective called Projects & Space which at first had 100 members but to date has over 1,000 members. I wanted to create a community where smaller circles of creatives could all have a place to connect and share their work.
I was invited to show my work at an exhibition for Contemporary Caribbean Art at Alice Yard, a gallery space in Trinidad. It was interesting leaving the island of Barbados to go to another island and see how much I was inspired by the work there and it was also a great opportunity to meet other artists.
When we spoke last you had just finished a residency in New York, do you feel the residencies have impacted your work as an artist?
I’ve been lucky enough to take part in a number of residencies including a 24 hour residency in Trinidad, the US, Suriname and also an amazing opportunity to be the artist in residence at a space in South Africa for 3 months. It was my first time travelling to the continent of Africa – I never thought in my life I’d have such an opportunity! Whilst there instead of choosing to go with the obvious and look at the country’s history I created a piece that looked at modern day Cape Town something which I got to experience whilst I was there. The work received a warm reception and people found it refreshing that I had chosen to depict something new.
Participating in the Cuban Biennal has been one of the highlights of my career as a visual artist to date. It’s always been my dream to have my work exhibited at that show hearing so much about it when I was growing up.
Each residency that I’ve undertaken has inspired me and have helped me improve my work technically and also with coming up with new concepts. Although there is art in Barbados I need to frequent museums and really immerse myself in art so the residencies are great in helping me understand the country and also meet local artists.
My next residency will take place at a gallery in Holland which I’m really looking forward to!
Your Sweet Gossip series is a humorous look at an aspect of Caribbean life, what what your inspiration for the project?
I try with my art to portray my backdrop of the Caribbean in a way different from the usual beach scenes, donkey carts etc. With Sweet Gossip (a collaborative project with photographer Adrian Richards and writer Natalie McGuires) I wanted to look at what defines Bajan popular culture similar to the way in which Ebony G Patterson’s work looks at pop culture in Jamaica which focuses on dancehall.
I kept thinking about what Barbados is known for – and as a local, our pop culture is gossiping. I know people may disagree but I feel that it’s true! Growing up watching a local TV show called Bajan Bus Stop and there would always be a malicious character who would gossip.
I’m the subject in all of these paintings so it became a performance piece but in a painting. I would go out into the streets of Bridgetown and pose with each painting and have a photographer take a picture of me. People soon began to interact with the paintings, laughing and commenting on what they saw as it’s something they related to.
I feel it’s important for me to showcase relatable work in the countries that I create art and to also give people who are not from these countries the opportunity to have a glimpse of what life there is like. As well as displaying the work in the streets of my hometown I also decided to post them on all of the major Social Networking sites as a way to extend the idea of places/environments where people were gossiping. The series was such a success on sites like Facebook and Tumblr with people getting an insight into what life was like in Barbados that I created a limited edition series of hand painted collectable paintings.
Whilst we’re on the subject of Social Media, what impact do you feel it’s had on exposing people to your work?
Social networking can be really powerful because it allows more people to connect with your work as an artist. When I first started my blog it was just to document my process as an artists but then as I began to undertake residencies I started using my blog as a platform to document my travels and people started responding in a positive way. It enabled them to see life in other countries and also to become familiar with my work and what life was like in Barbados.
Although it can have some down sides I think it’s great that artists can use such platforms to promote your work in a free way and can also lead to gaining more artistic opportunities by getting recommended to galleries by those who have seen your work online.
What inspiring you right now?
The work of William Kentridge really inspires me as it shows that animation can be also be used as an art piece. I also like performance artist Marina Abramovic who has been a great inspiration for my own performance work.
What words of advice would you give to an aspiring artist?
During the past five years I’ve experienced many different things so I’d say for aspiring artists to always be opened minded. Don’t be afraid to take risks – don’t let anything hold you back.
Also try as much as possible not to let having a certain style limit the work you do. I feel that when you think you have a certain style it stifle your exploration into different ways of creating. Follow your dreams.
Check out more of Sheena’s work (and her amazing set of Pinterest boards) here: