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Andil Gosine tells his story through art Nowhere boy

ANDRE BAGOO Sunday, December 11 2016

ANDIL GOSINE is sevenyears- old and he can’t stop crying. He’s at the Piarco International Airport. His family is about to board a plane that will take him, forever it seems, from Trinidad to Canada.

“I did not want to go,” he says today, seated in a café on a cool November afternoon in Belfast. “I made a huge scene in Piarco. The security guard saw me seven years later and he said: ‘O you come back!’ I was crying and begging my parents not to go.

I definitely did not want to leave. It was very traumatic for me.” Gosine, 43, has lived all over the world (in one chat he breezes through Paris, New York, Toronto).

“You know that expression in Trinidad— nowarian?” he says, alluding to his wanderlust state.

Gosine is one of the artists featured in Caribbean Queer Visualities, the ground-breaking exhibition staged at Belfast in early November as part of Outburst, the city’s queer arts festival.

His piece, “Coolie Colors”, alludes to two shifts: moving away from Trinidad, and embracing his sexuality.

The artist juxtaposes two things: a small photo album showing that seven-year old who bawled down the place at Piarco posing in dainty guises; and an empty plant pot filled with three stunted jhandis—the flags used by Hindus for protection.

“I could have been fabulous but then I moved to Canada,” Gosine says at the show’s opening night at Belfast’s Golden Thread Galley, taking the audience through the work. “I wanted to challenge the dominant narrative of the Caribbean as an oppressive space for people who don’t conform to hetereonormativity.” Though the Caribbean lags behind many countries in terms of LGBTI equality, Gosine, the oldest of three boys, remembers his childhood in Trinidad as one in which he was never made to feel oppressed.

“None of that was ever policed for me,” he says.

Later, he states of the photo album, “Those pictures demonstrate to me the feeling of being a loved child who was not policed around identity. I was never told boys don’t do that. I was a confident child. I was lucky to have been brought up in Trinidad.

I wasn’t known as a boy who didn’t do sport. I was just Andil. I really did feel cared for by my parents.” He adds, “I left Trinidad a very confident child and Canada destroyed me. It was obliterating. There was nothing freeing about being in Canada. It was punitive those four years in high school.”

Later, in Gosine’s experience, race complicated his engagement with Canada’s gay community.

“You won’t see me claim gay pride because my experience of gay culture has been really race-inflected,” he says.

“The racism in some pockets of the gay community just makes me feel sad.” “Coolie Colors”, therefore, merges the story of migration with a gay man’s personal experience of the world amid the forces of history.

“I think it reflects my anxieties and I just tried to be honest and confident about sharing them,” Gosine says. At a roundtable discussion he adds, “For me, being home is where I get looked at as a full and complex human being….

I get to be a full complex human being in a way that proves evasive in Toronto or New York.” Gosine’s story is just one of many within Caribbean Queer Visualities which was curated and coordinated by David Scott, Erica James, and Nijah Cunningham, with assistance from Colette Norwood of the British Council Northern Ireland and Annalee Davis of British Council Caribbean. The show was supported by Ruth McCarthy, director of the Outburst festival in Belfast. It was the culmination of a series of roundtable discussions convened by Small Axe, the forum for ideas.

“The exhibition emerged out of two events that centred on the aesthetic practices and decisions of the practitioners,” Cunningham says. “The vision was, to my mind, to think the question of queer through contemporary visual art.” Other artists involved include: Ewan Atkinson, Ebony G Patterson, Jean-Ulrick Désert, Jorge Pineda, Charl Landvreugd, Leasho Johnson, Nadia Huggins, Richard Fung and Kareem Mortimer.

“I think of Caribbean history as a kind of queer history,” says David Scott, founder/ editor of Small Axe. “We tend to think of these colonial stories through a kind of normative lens overriding social and individual dimensions… But we all have stories of people who stand out in our family settings as LG BTI. If you tell the story through those lenses, what emerges?” Gosine, a former Commonwealth Scholar and World Bank gender consultant, is also an associate professor of cultural studies at York University, Toronto. He was born on November 26, 1973. He grew up in Tableland before his family joined the throngs of people who migrated.

“I worked hard to get into Presentation College,” he says of his time at Robert Village Hindu School. “I remember I finished first. I worked so hard and then you want me to leave all this to go to some industrial town, some vocational institute in Oshawa?” After school, Gosine’s plan was to make his escape to Trinidad. But the plan changed.

“It changed because I met my first boyfriend,” he says. “Everything changed.” Later, they changed again. The relationship ended, posing a new dilemma for the nowarian.

What to do? “That relationship ended and my art career started,” Gosine says, as if channelling Adele or her good pal Jessie Ware.

Gosine’s work has already been shown at Queen’s Museum, O’Born Contemporary, Gallery 511, and the Art Gallery Ontario. His forthcoming solo exhibition, Coolie, Coolie, Viens Pour Curry. Le Curry Est Tout Fini! will open across three gallery spaces in Toronto in March 2017.

His work balances the historical with the personal, showing their common thread of power.

“My mom and dad are clearly affectionate,” Gosine says. “In my first relationship, I was in a way copying my parents. Then, for many years, the dominant mode of existence was heartbreak.” He recalls being inspired by the conceptual artist Lorraine O’Grady, who once said, “Art’s first goal is to remind us that we are human, whatever that is….we are all human.” “I once wanted to be a writer,” Gosine says.

He also alludes to a time when he was drawn to politics. He adds, smiling, “But art provides a more complex way of conveying the world.”

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