Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ugochukwu Bright Eke – Commonwealth Foundation’s Artist in Residence

 Bright/Alice Yard

In hosting Nigerian artist, Ugochukwu Bright Eke, one of the recipients of the Commonwealth Foundation’s, Commonwealth Arts and Crafts Award, Alice Yard in Trinidad and Tobago, was presented with the wonderful opportunity to expand its exploration as a free fluid environment for creative activities, in a range of disciplines.

Through different events such as formal conversation, art installations and gradual accretions to its spatial composition, Alice Yard seeks to play with the creative process, its product and its presentation.

It was created in 2006, as an ongoing project, exploiting the cultural and historical nuances of “The Yard”, in the archetypal urban Caribbean sense. Alice Yard is just that – a typical back yard in the city of Port-of Spain, and so Bright’s presence brought to it the sensibility of a foreign mind, the activity of a foreign creative presence and envisioning from a foreign perspective.

As Alice Yard’s first formal and foreign artist-in-residence, Bright Eke became both collaborator and challenge, in the shaping and testing of the infrastructural and operational accommodations of Alice Yard.

At present, it is a complex of small spaces  (band room, courtyard, exhibition/show space, multi-purpose annex and roof terrace), which have provided the setting for intriguing displays in art, design, performance and debate. In its evolution, emerging bands have been showcased, young designers have appropriated the entire complex for their public debut installations and choreographers have countered the clean lines of the glass fronted showing space (Alice Yard Space), with the expressiveness of the human body.

The commentary in Bright’s work also seemed congruent with the physical transformations of Alice Yard, in its utilization of found and discarded materials from its site and elsewhere. This mutation of waste to resource, seemed to parallel Bright’s focus on the environment and the impact of the detritus of mass manufacturing on its condition, with specific reference to water. 

In and around Alice Yard, Bright found himself surrounded by collections of recyclable material and objects, of which the plastic water bottle became the material and object of his final show in Trinidad, which he titled “Water and Me”.

Bright/ Alice Yard/ Port-of Spain

It’s 1:00 am and we arrive from the airport, at what will be Bright’s apartment, which is 10 minutes away from Alice yard. As he mounts the pavement carrying his travel bags he turns to me in the darkness of the morning and asks, “Sean, why is it so quiet?” . 

I was suddenly confronted then by the quaintness of my island’s city relative to the unimaginable buzz of urban environments which Bright would be used to in Nigeria. Being an architect, I suppose I also understood then, that negotiating this sense of more space in less space was going to underpin how Bright functioned and faltered in his assimilation of Port-of-Spain, both actively and psychologically.

While my fascination with Lagos as an urban phenomenon heightened; stimulated by Bright’s stories of that city’s density of possibilities and difficulties, the reality of Port-of-Spain’s pace/space dynamic challenged Bright’s Nigerian sense of urgency and endeavour; a situation which resulted in his having to invest more of a hands-on involvement in the making of his works, than he either wanted or anticipated.

Additionally, the activity of the band room at Alice Yard at that time, meant that Bright’s introduction to art practice in Trinidad and Tobago was through his being in close midst of persons in music and the performing arts, and so interacting with musicians, singers, dancers and fashion designers was more frequent and likely than meeting fine artists.

These interactions lead more easily to the co-opting of Bright’s work in their productions and so collaborations existed more in the domain of presentation than process.

 Bright’s series of painted and distressed umbrellas were used as props and accessories for a fashion show staged at Alice Yard and the presentation of his culminating show “Water and Me” incorporated choreographed dance sequences by the dance troupe ‘Metamorphosis’ under the direction of Sonja Dumas.

Bright/ Alice Yard/ Port-of-Spain/ Beyond

Creative responsiveness has always been invaluable and enjoyable in the staging of events at Alice Yard and so in the days leading up to the showing of “Water and Me” it became more evident that the scale of Bright’s work could not be contained in the Alice Yard. 

We investigated in earnest, a site miraculously closer to water, and capitalising on my experience in Carnival, Bright keenly followed through on some of the suggestions for the engineering of his tall but light structure. 

This structure, which was central to Bright’s installation “Water and Me”, was a twelve metre tall bottle constructed of hundreds of discarded plastic bottles fastened together. Its mounting was in fact a performance in itself, as lift by lift the looming structure celebrated its lightness and delicacy, rising precariously into the air with Bright eventually trapped within. The resulting towering form had an awesome presence, which was difficult to imagine prior to its mounting, and the slightly discernable silhouette of a human figure occasionally drew attention when it moved within the containment of the bottle’s sparkling envelope.

In its development, sheets of plastic bottles imposed a curvilinear landscape of bulbous plastic within the modest space of Alice Yard.  In its final presentation these sheets transformed to a single grand statement in a vast open space off Port-of Spain’s waterfront. 

This, Bright’s final statement was for me though unwittingly, encouragement for Alice Yard in spite of its discrete presence, to be instrumental in the shaping of large creative gestures; a conduit for conversations between yard space and world space. 

Sean Leonard, 


Alice Yard,

80 Roberts Street

Port-of Spain,

Trinidad & Tobago

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