Seychelles Art & Artists Then & Now

 

Arterial Network Seychelles committed to this project at committee level in order to create an illustrated overview of the contemporary visual art landscape and also to inform this ‘snapshot’ by providing a summary of past developments within this aspect of national culture.

Work began in 2015 with a ‘call for involvement’ in the national press, inviting artists to put themselves forward for consideration for inclusion in the book. This complemented measures already taken to involve artists who were Arterial members. Artists also suggested peers, and thus the number of participants grew to almost 50 – the number of artists featured in the book who are creating art today.


The template for creating the contemporary section – which is by far the largest in the book – was a simple one.

Firstly I would contact the artist and arrange to meet with him/her, preferably at the studio. At this meeting I would take notes and photograph work. These photographs were not intended to be used in the book, rather they were taken to help me compile supplementary questions which I sent to the artist immediately after our meeting. I then wrote each chapter – one per artist – combining my critical text with quotes from the artist. The ratio between my words and those of the artist tended to be around the 50-50 mark.

Principal photography took place on Praslin and Mahe, with supplementary images being taken later in order to fill any ‘gaps’.

Each artist signed off his or her pages having had sight of the final layouts. The history (‘Then’) section is shorter and concentrates on artists who have died, left Seychelles, or simply stopped creating work. I felt that it was important to begin the book with this section, which provides the critical, historical and ideological foundations for the contemporary chapters which follow.

Finally I wrote an introduction to place both main sections in context. The book took about a year to write (although I was involved in other work of course) and a further year to design. The visual formats of the book were designed by Mariaan Laubscher at Silkwater Graphics and the principal photography was realised by Laurent Levy from Digifot Praslin. The book was printed by Emirates Printing, Dubai and published by Arterial Network and the Seychelles Pension Fund.

The SPF is donating 100 copies of the book to educational institutions. Every school in Seychelles will benefit from this gesture, as well as the national university and the Seychelles Institute of Art and Design, which will receive sets of the publication.

The main motivation for writing this book was to correct a vulnerability within the Seychelles cultural community – specifically that diverse and interesting work was being created of which there was no archival record being made, either of the work itself or, more importantly, the artists who were creating it. We wanted to give visibility to artists who have worked, and who are still working in Seychelles. Seychellois artists produce serious work, worthy of consideration, yet the international art community places a particular value and status on documentation and, at the start of this project, records of the visual arts in Seychelles was patchy and ad hoc. Good critical writing existed, but it was hard to find.

‘Art in Seychelles’ makes explicit reference to some of the best past writing about art in our country.

Early on in the project I realised that the diversity of work being made far exceeded my expectations. This issue of ‘range’ has been confirmed by many who have seen the finished book, with their comments typically referring to the panorama of styles and approaches employed by artists. People who expected to see a book filled with images of palm tress and beaches were in for a surprise.

Finally we did two things with this book which are a little unusual. Firstly we gave each book a limited edition number, as if it were itself a work of art. Secondly we selected three different covers which people who wish to buy the book can choose from. One features Michael Adams’s work, one George Camille’s and one Shelia Markham’s.

Whether there will be future editions of this title will depend on the interest shown in this first edition. If we go to press a second time we will reflect the changes and developments which have taken place even in the relatively short time since the book was ‘put to bed’ in late 2016. One example would be the increased activity in the field of installation – the current Seychelles Biennale features this kind of work almost exclusively, yet two years ago such a genre was conspicuous in its absence in Seychelles.

It will be fascinating to see whether this momentum can be maintained within the context of a local market which is still dominated by sales to tourists. If so artists will need financial support in order to continue to make work other than relatively small scale works of art which are, unlike installations, readily transportable.

 

Martin Kennedy. December 2017.