Christopher Cozier

Interview with Christopher Cozier

Christopher Cozier is an artist and writer living and working in Trinidad.
He has participated in a number of exhibitions focused upon contemporary art in the Caribbean and internationally. Since 1989 he has published a range of essays on related issues in a number of catalogues and journals.
He is on the editorial collective ofSmall Axe, A Caribbean Journal of Criticism, published and distributed by Duke University Press. He is the editor of sxspace a blog platform about the visual on the small axe website. The artist has been an editorial adviser to BOMB magazine for their Americas issues (Winter, 2003, 2004 & 2005).
The artist is a Senior Research Fellow at the Academy of The University of Trinidad & Tobago (UTT) and was Artist-in-Residence at Dartmouth College during the Fall of 2007 .
A documentary produced by Canadian video artist and writer, Richard Fung entitled Uncomfortable: the Art of Christopher Cozier was launched in Toronto in January 2006.
He was the co-curator of the exhibition Paramaribo Span which opened in 2010 and its related blog and publication. He was also the co curator of “Wrestling with the Image” which opened in 2011 and one of the administrators of Alice Yard.

  • What does the Caribbean mean to you?
    I think it is a term that when used has the ambition to or attempts to define but persistently fails to fully symbolize or contain the multiplicity of journeys, stories and sensibilities..
  •  Where has this journey taken you? What kind of sensibilities has it lead you to explore?When I was younger it was about the received knowledge of nationhood, culture and specific and overly commodified ethnicities. All very anxiously asserted and overly predetermined. Now it is about how I see the world and how I move from one place to another and trying to understand how these movements have shaped the way I see and feel about what is around me at a given moment
  • What if anything is the significance of location – what role does location play in your understanding and experience of the Caribbean?
    I see the Caribbean as more of a space than a place….a space shaped by ways of seeing and thinking derived from our collective historical experiences and a space shaped by where ever Caribbean people find themselves whether in NY or Rotterdam or off the coast of South or Central America…the location is shaped by ways of seeing or communicating… by these journeys.
  • Can you relate an experience that speaks of the thread or vision that connects these spaces for you?
    Ok..I was just in Liverpool talking to a younger artist/writer whose family has Barbados routes or roots, but she grew up in Newcastle…a few months ago I had dialogue with another in Amsterdam whose parents were from Suriname…etc…we all seem to be able to find common ground, we all have connections to a range of vocabularies. I was born in Trinidad but my parents are from Barbados…so I am in the same position in trying to make sense of where I am from and what I am processing in terms of experiences through dialogue with my parents etc.. there is a kind of assumption about who we all are and what we represent,,,,about who is more Caribbean etc.. as we move from one location to another.My work does not dwell on identity though…it is more concerned with vocabulary and empathy…I have met people from parts of Africa and India where British Colonialism, for example, followed by American Television, Hong Kong or Bollywood movies and or Cricket give us similar visual vocabularies.We may have all read Wind of the Willows children and Secret 7 and know who Fred and Barney are…today it may be Sponge Bob. It’s really peculiar and defines what we know but not all we know.
  • This question is following from an earlier statement…: So we are always in process, in formation and in dialogue with ourselves.. What have these dialogues that battle with these assumptions brought forth? How does this vocabulary communicate differently…what gap does it fall into?
    I see ..I come from a very particular moment when local activists had discovered on our behalf our true culture and a kind cultural pedagogy had set in around what we should know and do etc…what was “relevant” and what was “progressive” and what was part of the “struggle” became overwhelming and quite limiting however informative…so my incompleteness was a predicament – something to cure. I had to overcome that. I do not see incompleteness in that way again – as weakness – but now as an openness to new possibilities or ways of thinking…not knowing who I was or what I was supposed to be in a fixed way became liberating.
  • So locating yourself in a space of…, to some extent “the unknown” became a for you a space of “becoming”? What vocabulary do you think we currently use or can use to communicate this ethic to young people?
    I think that what I am referring to is not new…I think that a combination of local cultural and electoral politics may have set us off track and lead us along very narrow paths….so it is really about shifting the lens or the awareness so that we can feel less self conscious and more confident about ourselves…less conflicted and compartmentalized.
  • Can you share a piece of your work that speaks to the issues we have discussed?
    And would you speak a little about this work?Most of my work takes on this challenge.  My way of working engages this process and that is why, at home, some say that my work is not Caribbean enough and internationally they either say it is too Caribbean or local or not enough that way according to the expectations of the curator critic or institution …it has little to do with me. The Caribbean is seen as a kind of curatorial play-dough and is often defined by its alleged accessibility and availability. I have spent my whole life listening to people define the Caribbean..astonishing really.The sound work, “Sound System” and the “Tropical Night” series navigates that currently.
  • In what ways has Caribbean culture been used as a politico-economic tool? What role has location, the artist, media played in this?
    The region is too large and complex to address that question logically….just think of the differences in strategy between people living in the New York or London with those still residing in the region and then look at the varied language and political cultures…Cuba compared to Barbados. Martinique compared to Suriname..or just the difference between Haiti and The Dominican Republic on one island…what culture means to them and their political discourses is so varied.
  •  I agree with that… is there an aspect or issue that you are personally affected by or currently engages you ?
    Well…one of the things that does bind us is plantation economy…past generations have clearly identified that..our role in Modernity with the big M, we were external labour camps for the procurement of raw materials and the labour force were imported…etc…. so the business of becoming societies with citizens with a common purpose for being there etc…still evades us…we may also have to rethink the value or politics of emigration or of movement to how we define ourselves…we need to know the region more and to engage the space more openly and positively.

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