News day reporter
The work of Trinidadian artist Arnaldo James is currently featured in a joint exhibition at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, Washington.
In the Interim: Ritual Ground for a Future Black Archive is James’ collaboration with African-American artist Christopher Paul Jordan, which is on display at the museum through May 15.
They are co-recipients of the James W Ray Venture Projects Award 2017, a distinction reserved for artists who demonstrate exceptional originality.
James, 35, is from Belmont and has an impressive resume that includes visual art, photography and film curating.
A recipient of the DreamACP Erasmus Mundus Project scholarship, James graduated from Cardiff Metropolitan University in Wales in 2016. He added an MSc in Product Design to his skillset while at Cardiff Met’s School of Art and Design. This, in addition to his Bachelor of Fine Arts as well as a Postgraduate Diploma in Arts and Cultural Enterprise Management from the University of the West Indies (UWI), further cemented James’ dedication to art and design. .
James and Jordan staged Mission Black Satellite (MBS) – a multidisciplinary art project that included storytelling, live performance and public art, in 2017. Jordan, as part of an exchange of students with UWI’s Department of Creative Arts and Festivals, had previously held exhibitions in his hometown Tacoma, just outside of Seattle and so they chose to host MBS in Arima, away from the hustle and bustle of the capital.
By choosing this location, they challenged the geopolitics of the art world, resisting ideas surrounding big city recognition and urban normalization for artistic expression as well as its relationship to the economics of art institutions. MBS was a study in resistance, both in its geography and in its topography. Together, James and Jordan have created an inviting, intuitive and curious art space. MBS was the catalyst for future collaborations that posed the question: how do black people, with a shared Middle Passage history, engage with their communities without the mediation of a white gaze?
When James and Jordan collaboratively received the James W Ray Venture Projects Award, they accepted the accompanying invitation to curate an exhibition at the Frye Art Museum. James describes In the Interim: Ritual Ground for a Future Black Archive as a continuation of the work he and Jordan did, a “call and response” to their shared heritage. He sees In the Interim as a time portal blurring the lines between collapse and regeneration, apocalypse and rebirth, past and present, present and future. The exhibit contains a series of mysteriously numbered photographs depicting otherworldly beings reminiscent of characters from James’s Trinidad Carnival. Interspersed is Jordan’s series of paintings on windows salvaged from black communities in Tacoma. In the center, a floor-to-ceiling soundproof recording booth where only those who identify as black are allowed to enter and leave messages that will be stored in a time capsule and made public only a hundred years from now.
James drew on his knowledge as a product designer and artist to ensure that the elements of the costumes he designed were sustainably sourced and locally produced. Palm leaves, shells, bamboo beads. He anticipates that his photographs will invite viewers to interpret the images from wherever they are in their own life’s journey. The numbers used for the photographs instead of the style of naming traditionally employed subvert the idea of an artist imposing his vision on the public, a withdrawal of his gaze from his own creation.
In each photograph, a central theme is evident: water. James sees water as a means of movement in the spiritual and technical sense, carrying and containing multitudes. Water baptisms, water births, womb. Connecting the realities of physical space with transcendent material elements, James connects time and space, imagining these figures as messengers who use water sources as portals; Oya, Oshun, Imanja as inspiring energies. By creating these images, James asks the African Diaspora: what message would you send, if you were free from the limits of oppressively mediated time and space?
James will share his thoughts on diasporic blackness and archival culture during a virtual panel discussion on May 7. The panel includes Jordan, Trinidadian scholar Marsha Pearce, Guadeloupean curator Claire Tancons and African-American writer Bettina Judd. Register here: https://fryemuseum.org/calendar/event/7665/