Dominicans leverage new media technology to launch a virtual art exhibition By Christal Clashing
On Saturday, January 16th, the Waitukubuli Artist Association, launched ‘WhoOsh!!2’ a virtual art exhibition that reflects the trauma and recovery of Dominicans as a result of Hurricane Maria which caused island-wide devastation across the Eastern Caribbean island of Dominica in 2017.
Exhibits like these are rare for the Caribbean and such use of creative technology should be an encouragement to arts organisation across the region and diaspora to tell, share and document our stories with the world.
Moving Back, Looking Forward
(2019-2020, Commonwealth of Dominica)
Moving Back, Looking Forward is a photography series that recreates “Pre-Hurricane Maria” life in places and buildings impacted by Hurricane Maria (and Tropical Storm Erika). After our lives in Dominica were completely and utterly disrupted by the category 5 hurricane, it was surreal to witness life getting “back to normal” even though the situation and surroundings were far from what we were accustomed to. There was a strength and grace evident in the way which people picked themselves up and soldiered on.
Moving Back, Looking Forward illustrates the stark divide between the “before" and “after" of such a cataclysmic event while honouring the beloved places we lost and paying homage to the lives which quietly continue on. The series asks questions about time and the way we relate to it.
Link to images, and headshot:: https://we.tl/t-
Michael Lees is a Dominican filmmaker and photographer whose work explores themes of nature, spirituality, and development. Michael attended UNC Chapel Hill, where he spent the first half of his college career studying business at the Kenan-Flagler Business School, later switching his major from business to communication studies with a focus in media production. In 2020, Michael released his debut documentary, Uncivilized, which led him into the forests of Dominica, where he would face Hurricane Maria alone in a palm leaf and bamboo hut. The film has screened at festivals around the Caribbean and at international festivals such as the Brooklyn Film Festival and The Pan-African Film Festival in LA. It won the Caribbean Spirit award in 2020 at the Barbados Independent Film Festival. Lees has written, shot, and edited for clients ranging from Billboard to UNICEF. He has exhibited his photography in Dominica & the UK, and is a proud member of the Waitukubuli Artist Association.
Much of his inspiration is drawn from his home island, Dominica.
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Adaptability through technology
What was intended to be an in-person exhibition has evolved into a virtual 3D exhibit in response to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in the country. What could be seen as a barrier was instead perceived as an opportunity for the exhibit to have an even greater reach than originally thought of.
In contrast to many virtual reality projects, the WhoOsh!!2 Exhibition wasn’t a computer-generated recreation of physical space. It instead uses a 360-degree interactive tour of an actual physical space as the site of the exhibition. Led by a real-life tour guide, the Anglican Church in Roseau, Dominica was the backdrop for the work of 24 artists across Dominica, Guadeloupe and Martinique.
Pieces include sculptures, spoken word, paintings, music and photography. Some pieces come to life in the night mode option while others use the wind to get the full effect. All are connected by the experiences of Hurricane Maria.
A process integral to recovery and resilience
The exhibition is a reflection of the resilience of Dominicans and the artwork acts as an outlet for these artists and those in their community to process the trauma of loss and destruction caused by Hurricane Maria.
Creator of the virtual aspect of the exhibition, Michael Lees, is no stranger to the effect of Hurricane Maria, and also has a knack for throwing himself into the deep end of a project and coming out the other end with an impactful result.
In 2017, he decided to go into the hills of Dominica and document himself living off the land for 6 months. 2 months into his self-imposed retreat into nature, the then 25-year old, found himself facing the brutal winds and rains of Hurricane Maria. Capturing the whole ordeal on film, he titled his documentary, Uncivilized.
Like Lees, many of the featured artists lived through the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria, but have made sense and meaning of it through their creative works.
Building a Caribbean arts community
The exhibition features artists across Dominica, Guadeloupe and Martinique. Lees notes that having artists from different islands work on an exhibition together is good for keeping the artistic communities on each island connected with each other. Many times the artistic communities of each island work in silos as if cut off from communication with each other. A collaborative project like this reduces the isolation of these communities.
In times like these, of the pandemic and beyond, virtual collaborations between the Caribbean islands and the wider diaspora may just be the way forward to preserve the history, culture, identity of the history.
Check out the exhibit for yourself!
So grab a drink, set aside a couple of hours, and ensure you have a good internet connection to get the most out of this exhibition.