Here we share an excerpt from a fascinating article (in Fresh Milk Barbados) on the work of Martinican artist Gwladys Gambie by Martinique based historian, art critic and independent curator Matilde dos Santos, one of the guest curators/mentors selected for the CATAPULT Stay Home Artist Residency. [As Fresh Milk Barbados underlines, the article was first published in French in Madinin’Art: Critiques Culturelle de Martinique.]
Gwladys Gambie, Incandescent scars
In August 2020, Fresh Milk (Barbados) and Kingston Creative (Jamaica), with the support of the American Friends of Jamaica (United States), launched CATAPULT | A Caribbean Art Grant, a programme which, through six initiatives, provided direct financial support for five months to more than 1,000 Caribbean artists and creatives affected by the pandemic. One of these initiatives was the Stay Home Artist Residency (SHAR). Twenty-four artists were selected and the residencies were spread out into three groups from September 21 to December 11. I was delighted to be one of the visiting curators, and it is a pleasure to share the outcomes of these meetings with you.
Gwladys Gambie, an artist from Martinique, was selected for the home residency opportunity, so I was able, between one confinement and the other, to visit her studio in person.
Gwladys was born in Fort de France in 1988. After studying literature and education, she entered the Caribbean Arts Campus and obtained her DNSEP (Master) in Visual Arts in 2014. Gwladys’ work explores her own body and revolves around the character Manman Chadwon (mother sea urchin), a kind of divinity invented by the artist. Through drawing, collage, sculpture, sewing or embroidery, the artist works with voluptuous body shapes adorned with thorns, forceful yet evanescent. In recent years the artist has participated in several residencies, including Création en cours initiated in 2018 by the Ateliers Médicis in Guadeloupe and Caribbean Linked V organized by Ateliers’ 89 and Fresh Milk in Aruba. She has also participated in the Fountainhead Residency, in Miami (2019) and most recently the CATAPULT SHAR. Gwladys also participated in the international exhibitions Désir Cannibale at the Little Haiti Cultural Center in Miami, as part of the Tout-Monde Festival (2019), and in the Mercosur Biennale (2020), held on-line due to the COVID pandemic.
In her drawings, the female body is laid out into a dreamlike landscape. All-powerful femininity displays full bodies assuming their sensuality. Paradoxically, the delicacy and precision of the drawing impart a kind of harshness. It’s Manman Chadwon, Afro-Caribbean deity, a bit Mami Wata, a bit Manman Dlo, her body bristling with quills. An avatar of the artist that incorporates both softness and pain.
In her drawings, black and white dominates. Color comes in small touches and until recently, almost always by collage. Then, there is the red ink, connecting her work to the present day violence: against women, or the soil in Martinique poisoned by chlordecone. Emanating from these bodies drawn in black or red are real ecosystems supporting minerals, plants, and animals. In an organic landscape, the body spreads out, secretly forming folds that both enclose and exhibit. [. . .]
Gwladys’ works breed rebellion: against stereotypes of black women’s bodies, against objectification and fantasies of sexuality tainted with exoticism. The artist would like to reinvent eroticism, with drawings of a touching sincerity: full bodies, black skin, challenging the canons of beauty. Thorny bodies, triple breasts, powerful yet fragile bodies; vulnerability as a weapon. To make the body of the black woman, for a long time the territory of all oppressions, a decolonial body: neither in the Western norm, nor against it, but rather outside the norm. Rooted in ancestrality.
The link with African ancestrality has been widely claimed in recent years by artists from the diaspora. With Gwladys this demand is visceral, as the need to examine oneself, to express oneself. The use of Creole, and poetry, which invade certain drawings, goes without saying. This is because Creole goes straight to the heart of things. A language that is very imaginative yet straightforward, like the visual language of Gwladys. [. . .]
[Above: “Cartographie sensible” (detail) SHAR residency November 2020, courtesy of the artist; as shared in Fresh Milk Barbados.]