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VENICE BIENNALE

13 May–27 November, 2017

ANNOUNCING ANTIGUA & BARBUDA’S INAUGURAL NATIONAL PAVILION

Centro Culturale Don Orione Artigianelli, Fondamente Nani, Dorsoduro 947, 30123 Venice

 CURATED BY BARBARA PACA, PH.D., CULTURAL ENVOY TO ANTIGUA & BARBUDA

Frank Walter, The Last Universal Man (1926-2009), marks Antigua and Barbuda’s inaugural representation at the Venice Biennale. The exhibition invites visitors to inhabit the creative world and humanist vision of seminal Caribbean artist Frank Walter through a selection of his paintings, sculpture, audio recordings, and writing—as well as through video exploration of his entire oeuvre consisting of 5,000 works of art and a 25,000-page archive. The Last Universal Man is also conceived of as a space to inspire dialogue—a posthumous fulfillment of Walter’s intention to open his house and studio as a center for art.

Fittingly situated in the tranquil, garden-like setting of central Venice’s fifteenth-century monastery Don Orione Artigianelli, the exhibition recreates the contemplative mood of Walter’s artistic retreat and paradisus terrestris, which he built above the southern Antiguan coastline in the last decades of his life. The artwork that once filled Walter’s house and studio is inextricable to his postcolonial experience. Yet the issues he engaged with—such as identity, memory, and environment—resonate today.

Walter began adulthood with the distinction of being the first person of color to manage a sugar plantation in Antigua, and he remained devoted to the land as a source of meaning and sustenance throughout his life. Walter’s complex, mixed-race descent from both slave owners and enslaved people meant he struggled with the complexities of his identity.

His position as Other within postcolonial society was felt acutely in the systemic racism he endured during his ten-year Grand Tour of Europe, and it informed his obsessive interest in his white aristocratic lineage.

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THE SEVENTH PRINCE OF THE WEST INDIES

In Walter’s imagining, his German heritage was connected to the royal houses of Great Britain and Europe, and he referred to himself as the “Seventh Prince of the West Indies, Lord of Follies and the Ding-Ding Nook.”

Walter’s need to invent his own universe originated in the difficulties he encountered in constructing his identity in relation to a society defined by exclusion. When Walter retreated into nature, art was his anodyne.

He populated his world with talismanic sculptures depicting figures as varied as ancient Arawak people, European royalty, and men from outer space. 

Walter’s work as painter, writer, environmentalist, musician, sculptor, and philosopher shows him to be the ultimate Vitruvian man.

17TH-C. RACIAL AESTHETICS

The fashionable Complexions from 1660-1685, were Sable Black for Winter to keep the body warm. They has their sunbaths for the purpose.

They actually sported the Black Hide, Coffee for Spring, this controlled the calories of the blood and body. Alabaster Pink or White for Summer, this repelled the Summer Heat, and Chocolate Tan for Autumn: this tuned them back into their Winter’s Sable. So there was a peri-wig for each season, to match the complexion, for although not all of the finest Englishmen had Acid Hairs, the best had and had to clean shave or crew cut. Their hairs were burnt out in the Caribbean anyhow. -Frank Walter

HOW I BECAME EUROPEAN

It is not that I am European in the family sense. But How I Became European. I was constrained to be bothered as to whether I belonged to that family or not. Not by any desire to belong to any family, but by the recognition of the family to which you belong and into which you were born. 

Since I could not change myself. Since I could not turn myself into some other family. I had to live with it. I had to be prepared to answer questions concerning why I speak the way I speak the way I do. 

If I were to have thought that I would have felt strange being in Europe; to the contrary. The closer I got to Europe, the less strange I began to feel. Because the closer I got to Europe, the more likely my traveling European companions were to stick close to me; or to allow me to stick close to them. It did not matter what language I spoke. There was a pull. A pull that is irresistible. -Frank Walter

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THE LEGEND OF RUPERT RACON

Rupert Racon was one of the most promising teenagers with whom I played at Nevis Street as an older teenager myself. He was brought down to a state of emaciation to be the most impecunious Antiguan alive.

Racon sought out my company from 1967, as we sat out in the open on the steps of our home at Nevis Street, to watch the gentry go night clubbing, on the same block as the Towne House.

At that time, each night was something like a Royal Fiesta. Nevis Street, the most peaceful street in the world, had bloomed into the street with the jazzy nightspot, where high-sounding orchestras, serenaded all night from 8 pm until 4:30 am, every day for years.

Ladies promenaded in evening dresses from every part of the world, as Nevis Street had become the most cosmopolitan street in the world after sunset. Racon sat it out with me, to have the ladies walk close to use, after having the headlamps of their vehicles spotlight what was then believed to be the two great tramps of Antigua.

The males often dressed in evening dresses, and expensive lounge Suits, also passed close to us, as they veered from the busy traffic on Nevis Street.

To see the greatest Antiguan Hero of all times in myself, street squatting, with one who was fast becoming the bread and butter of derogatory Calypsonians, as the Kings of Calypso found Racon an amusing subject. The last of the Sugar Barons was grounded, and set up for dereliction.

 The European lot who passed, like the South Americans, had imagined that they had seen two European Aristocratic Derelicts, and often stopped to speak with us. -Frank Walter

THE PAINFUL IRONY

OF PLANTATION LIFE

Your Great Grandfather practically owned those estates. He worked them for his Uncle and Aunt, and his father was next in line to owning the whole show.' 'So he was working for his uncle and Auntie in law.’ 'My father was the next to own the Estates!' Blackwell and Lannis nobody could touch us in those estates, so your Grandfather and his father were in their own Generations’ house and estate, you are now only going to be an hired servant on what is really your own estate.' My Grandmother reflected and chuckled to herself. 'Ah Dardie!' That is what the world came to be after all!' The best thing for you to do is to pray to God! -Frank Walter

THE DEVASTATING HURRICANE OF 1950

The Hurricane came upon us like a thief in the night…The storm gave its usual signal, but I was not experienced enough to realize that the most sure indication of a storm had already been given by nature beginning about mid-day, nobody on the Estate worried about a Radio which was not merely unpopular, because of its expenses, but people in the Villages and on the estates at that time preferred to sit on– their steps in the evenings and talk to one another, or to remain indoors, and read the bible or to have some good reader read for the whole family.  

The Day opened up fair and fine. Out of the tranquility of this morning came an intense heat wave that parched the lips of everybody in the field. There was a certain glow in the skies which ranged from orange to light red. The heat became so intense, that I opened up my shirt to the stomach, wiping away the sweat from my body.

I had never taken cover when the sun became overpowering, because it would be unfair to the Field Worker who had resigned one’s self to the Tropical Sun. 

By nightfall there was no change in the temperature of the evacuated sky. Cloudless and even more intolerable hot, the dusk passed into night, them came scattered showers of convection like any normal convectional rain, a little later however, spasmodic gusts of wind forced against windows, and the wind seemed to have been coming from an odd direction. Western swirling gusts began to pick leaves from nearby trees. The leaves of the trees that I began to see in the glow of night fall, were all turned back to front, and bowing branches, bowed in opposite directions.

The night stimulated a certain anxiety for me to write. I too would have liked to paint the particularly bizarre scenery from that window. Perhaps the greatest Scientists in the world would have called this Phenomena, perhaps still less informed than me, they would try to explain the experience away. Indeed it was wind and rain. I fought the things floating about in the unshuttered room with boards and posts on the south western corner, torn off, trying to subdue them, but the wind finally hurtled all that it could into the Cattle Pen beneath my window. It was as if I had wrestled with God in the Wind and Rain. Paylists, sheets, my private books and notes, such books as my treasured William Shakespeares complete works of Drama, and poetry. All my early writings, and others of my belongings. All my greatest treasures were by this time gone lost forever dumped into the Cattle Pen, and trampled under the feet of dozens of Oxen. 

Reflecting on the ordeal, where at first it appeared to me to be just a thrilling experience, it was for the most of us an ordeal in the end. -Frank Walter

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SOLITUDE

"I had developed a pensive personality, I wanted to leave people alone, and asked in exchange that I should be left alone.

I believe nevertheless, that I was quite congenial with people when I chanced to mix, but I had also known that in order to become a good Artist and Thinker, one is constrained to detach one’s self from the rest of the gang.

I could not understand anything but what a real Aristocrat could, I had believed that what we had as Inherent Quality with us, was by environment to be distributed by way of learning and contact to the ruder or commoner folks, this way the whole would move up and establish a better ground from correspondence.

I hated people who enjoyed being squeezed in the middle, and those who stagnated below, therefore I was clearing a channel for all to bask in the sun at the top. -Frank Walter

 

 

THE LONELY BIRD

I was by now fast becoming a Lonely Bird, spreading my wings from field to field behind the hills spotting everything with the Eagle’s Eyes that I had developed…

So much if my bosses and those who came under my command were falsely fearful of approaching me, for I had learnt to tolerate solitude, and made it pay, for I was already a Writer, and Researchist, to say nothing of being a Designing artist, all of whom I had discovered did better in seclusion. -Frank Walter

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ALL IMAGES © COURTESY SIR SELVYN AND LADY WALTER 2017

All Images Photographed by Kenneth M. Milton unless otherwise specified.