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For many artists, representation at the Venice Biennale signals the pinnacle of one’s career and exists as the ultimate accolade. This year, Grenada has tapped four artists to represent the Caribbean nation at the 2019 edition. One of these artists, Brooklyn-based Billy Gerard Frank, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to support his participation. He intends to raise $10,000 of the required $70,000 with the support of friends, family, and outside supporters on GoFundMe. So far, Frank has raised $2,282.
Given the prestige of the Venice Biennale, the astronomical price of the annual fair is often underestimated and unknown. While the cost partially falls on the nations being represented, generous patrons and galleries often foot the cost of the Biennale on the behalf of the selected artists. In some smaller nations, like Grenada, the artist is directly responsible for a portion of the funds.
“It’s actually not uncommon for the Biennale artists to have to raise the money. [But] it’s a higher level of stress to create the work and on top of that, raise the money,” Frank told Hyperallergic. “If you’re not a well known artists and not in the corporate conglomeration of galleries … or selling for millions … it’s up to you to raise the money, and it’s expensive.”
Frank is also applying for grants and receiving support from various organizations planning to support Grenada. “The costs for the security and rental of the exhibition the space in Venice, Italy was secured in partnership with the Italian not-for-profit organization on behalf of Grenada’s Government, and the National Arts Council,” Frank added.
2019 will mark Grenada’s third participation in the Biennale — tying with Cuba as the most-presented Caribbean nation at the fair. Shervone Neckles, Dave Lewis, Amy Cannestra were selected to represent Grenada this year, along with Frank. All four of the artists will tackle the theme “Epic Memory,” chosen by the island for its connection to Saint Lucian poet, Derek Walcott, and his Nobel acceptance speech on generational narratives in the Caribbean, “The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory.”
“There are not a lot of opportunities for artists in the Caribbean due to lack of resources and lack of art education,” Frank tells Hyperallergic. “A lot of artists have to leave to get an art education, as the government is not interested … I hope Grenada being at the Venice Biennale for the third time will help the local government and people in the Caribbean to cast a different gaze on art as a part of an education system, and to see the important role an artist plays in shaping the social and political agenda of any country.”
“Grenada can only benefit from this kind of high-end exposure,” Commissioner Susan Mains told NOW Grenada. “The 60,000 people who passed through our pavilion in 2017 now know where Grenada is, know that we have vibrant artists, and know that we take the development of our people seriously.”
Frank’s work explores notions of the Afrodiaspora, queerness, father-son relationships, and how these notions entangle to produce complicated and nuanced identities worth representation and artistic exploration.
His previous narrative short film Absence Of Love tells the triangulated stories of brothers, father, and lover. He is currently preparing his multimedia project for the Biennale, which he calls a “continuation of where he left off,” in Grenada. Titled 2nd Eulogy: mind the gap, the work “will give voice, decontextualize, and deconstruct the mythology and legacies surrounding the present/absent fathers. This new body of work explore themes of exile, migration, and memories around my family and estrangement.”
“People not aware of the intricacies and complexities of an island like Grenada,” he tells Hyperallergic. His projects intend to address this shortsightedness, addressing issues around migration, and articulating the sense of generational estrangement on an island where patriarchal figures are often expected to travel for months at a time for employment.
He says the engrained homophobia of colonial English rule affected his childhood on the island, which he left at 16, and says his work interrogates, “how maleness is perceived in the Caribbean … the homophobia that is so prevalent in there as well, and coming to peace with myself and coming to peace with where I’m from.”
The 2019 Venice Biennale, titled May You Live in Interesting Times, runs between May 11, 2019 and Nov 24, 2019. The Biennale is curated by Ralph Rugoff.