*Iyawó is Holly Bynoe name for the initiation period as priestess in the Afro Caribbean tradition Lucumî/La Regla de Ocha
The healing and self-healing thematic is now coming up more and more frequently in the creations and reflections of artists. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Healing a Broken World seminar and digital publication, the Reset and Pacefull Warrior videos of young artists Alberta Whittle and Tabita Rezaire have already been featured on the South Caribbean Aica blog.
Today, the blog of aica South Caribbean offers an interview of Holly Bynoe, independent curator, writer, educator, spiritualist, co-founder of ARC Magazine, Tilting Axis and Sour Grass. Holly Bynoe held a 5 year tenure as Chief Curator of the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas through the end of 2019. Most recently she joined arts non-profit, The Hub Collective Inc an arts non-profit based on her home island of Bequia to build out their sustainable, regenerative, environmental and intergenerational pillars for healing and self healing.
Would you be willing to tell me when and why your artistic approach has focused on this theme of self-healing?
For some time, and perhaps since my decreased physical health, which started late in 2012, my work shifted into a more internalised space, a space of wanting to connect to the spiritual and to community. As someone who grew up in a small space with a close-knit but very religious and dogmatic community, I wasn’t able to feel secure or make relationships that felt safe, vulnerable, curious and or equivalent connections to the depth I needed.
I was in this searching space through most of my 20s, and after losing my father and starting ARC through my early to mid-30s, things became a whirlwind, and I became unmoored and scattered. When I moved to take up the position of Chief Curator at the NAGB in 2015, it became clear that my time about doing the community, curatorial and critical work, but the growth that I went through to find my voice became the thing that forced me to look deeper into the psyche and dimensions of healing through spiritual practices.
My darkest (dis)eased moment came in 2017 -2018, when I underwent surgery to remove ovarian cysts, and through that, I was diagnosed with stage 4 endometriosis with caution towards infertility. The medication that I was prescribed after that, Lupron, put my body in a state of stasis – menopause, where my hormonal state was shut down. This caused many disruptions in my sleep, daily life, activities and all-around health. My mental faculties were depleted, and while I was in this space of challenge, the curatorial and activist work that I was doing started to become more intensified as I was becoming disembodied. I was sure from the very start that what I was experiencing wasn’t physical only. I had deep intuition about this condition being caused by traumas (intergenerational and otherwise), and as such, I didn’t place faith in the doctor’s hands only. I began reading about epi-genetics, African and indigenous healing practices and Earth honouring traditions while deepening the intel collection from my family of origin. I wasn’t being guided then; this was all a matter of following my intuition and the information I was getting from dreams.
To reaffirm my presence, the lens that I nurtured then to see and to know the culture that I was in became curious rather than closed down. I began to explore the innate connection to nature and ‘living’ beings. I started developing daily practices around movement, rest, not speaking on Tuesdays and lying prone on the ground to shift my body’s relation to stimuli.
Between 2018 and 2019, I developed fundamental tools connected to plant medicines – sitting with plants and bush, for the most part, saltwater healing and to the natural world that was able to bring my body back to some sense of it being alive and fertile. During this time, I collaborated with a community of Sisters- SiStarhood – to explore ritual, stories and family legacies. In our gatherings, we honoured the ancestors and recalled Grandmother’s wisdom, made baths and teas, cleansed, cooked meals, and opened our homes to each other. We explored the tarot, astrology, and the mystic. We woke up our inner witches and crones.
In addition, I searched for a community of spiritualists/animists and found companionship with the Dagara worldview and gained new access to Earth honouring traditions. This cosmology opened my consciousness to other realms and ways of being. The spaces cultivated challenged me to grow out of my fear and made me realise that alternative ways of living/being were possible.
What are the main works showcasing these connections?
My practice acknowledges the gift of and the connection of the land and its medicines as a means to birth new healing systems transforming remembered and systemic colonial violence into seeds of renewal, revitalisation and restoration for self, kin and under-resourced communities. Over the last 5 years, this has been filtered through social/civic work with the community and not necessary through a studio art practice. It is important to acknowledge the institutional and non institutional practices as examinations of space. I will speak about three social and community oriented practices before platforming a work, and a video that allows you to see my connection to land.
Sanctuary After the Storm was co-developed with a team of mental health and wellness specialists and produced during my tenure at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas in a post-Dorian (2019) context. This was brought forward to support New Providence-based communities with access to alternative modes of healing through community therapy sessions, public fora, wellness, energy and meditation workshops. The initiative highlighted the critical engagements that Caribbean nations struggle with during post-disaster moments while illuminating the need for care, love-centred modalites, intimacy and social mediation. This civic and healing initiative was the first of its kind in the country and signalled the need for greater community care, self-love and self-compassion activities while engaging with ancient and ancestral healing technologies.
See the first community forum: https://vimeo.com/359659657
It was important to use this moment to introduce and signal the openness of our spaces to alternative energetic and spiritual approaches to lay outside of the norm. Across the region in the last 5-7 years, I have witnessed a resurgence and remembering around how our ancestors would have healed from (dis)ease and the systems of technologies and cosmologies which connected them to Source energy. It was important in this initiative to think about somatic offerings that reintroduce embodiment, anchoring healing deeply into the body.
A critical component to this was the conversation Healing The Spirit with Jamaican novelist Patricia Powell and Bahamian writer/healer Helen Klonaris. They both shared their journeys to alternative healing modalities – energy medicine and shamanic practices – recalling the connections to the ancient, a part of our collective birthright. Over the course of a week these modalities and elements of the practices were utilised across shelters, safe spaces and the institution to restore the body’s well being.
Healing The Spirit with Patricia Powell & Helen Klonaris : https://vimeo.com/368083205
Moving this work closer to home, it was clear that my home country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is and has been moving through a deep social crisis for the last decade or longer. The country continues to provide inspiration and challenges strategies of community collaboration, agency and activism. With the knowledge brought forward with my work in Barbados on the ancestral land project Sage Garden which I was a part of until early 2021 coupled with my post graduate certification from Yale School of the Environment in Tropical Forest Landscapes: Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use, the land kept on informing me of its means, methods and secrets.
This inspired the actions towards addressing our vulnerable ecologies anchored the conceptualisation and co-design of The Hub Collective’s Bush Medicine Revival, a model ecological medicinal garden and intergenerational archival project for Community Healing and Environmental Stewardship based on my home island of Bequia. I joined the arts non-profit in mid 2020 to build out their sustainable, regenerative, environmental and intergenerational pillars and this project is supported by the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development and Goethe-Institut, and is a part of their Cultural and Artistic Responses to Environmental Change. This was the organisation’s first international grant and work is underway to bring forward new types of knowledge and remembering.
Acknowledging the loss of traditional ecological knowledge, along with impacts on biodiversity based on increasing water scarcity, this project employs intergenerational collaborations by tapping into the stories of the ancestors and elders, while building a resourced archive which is a testament to our Bequia memory/remembering.
In addition the site of the medicinal garden will be developed using tools of permaculture with community activities linked to increasing resiliency all while reinforcing connections to the natural environment and selfhood. Our connection to the land has been severed, hardened and shoved away in the dark recesses of our soul. Our histories are complex, violent and not easily accessed. The medicines and knowledge that this project will provide will create positive shifts in how we care for our resources: soil, medicines, food, bodies and kin.
Inspired by the community work brought forward in Sanctuary After the Storm, coupled with the disruptive volcanic eruptions in SVG during April 2021, my colleague at The Hub, Jessica Jaja and I conceptualised Reversing Scarcities of the Mind and Spirit as a toolkit of alternative and creative healing processes that provide connection, healing and rehabilitation opportunities for families, youth, as well as NGO relief workers and grassroots volunteers across the country. The programming is facilitated by six Caribbean-based wellness, mental health, and trauma therapy experts.
So far, In November 2021, we wrapped up our first-ever psychosocial program, the ‘SVG Virtual Compassionate Listening Circles’ with Maureen St. Clair and Sobaz Benjamin. We had 25 persons from across the country apply to the program; predominantly those working in NGO, grassroots and community-oriented positions as well as persons from zones that suffered the brunt of the impacts from the volcanic eruptions in April. The other programs are set for various times this year to align with school sessions, holidays, and other initiatives on the go for the organisation. Up next, creative arts psychotherapy modules along with our first ever Creative Recovery Summer Camp!f!! This will be a three week communal creative expressive space for youth which will include movement and meditation, storytelling, visual art, drumming and dance.
‘These practices, while outward and placed within the community space, have impacted on my visioning and understanding of our ecologically vulnerable Caribbean and continue to reinforce how agency and dependencies are made manifest.They have informed my approach towards art making, writing, curating and research. The connective tissue is the ground and the tools/strategies are reparative.
My studio art or making process, while interrupted for the last 10 years, has started to come back in a drip. Late in 2020 while my mother was visiting, we had a walk in my neighbourhood of Crick Hill which is on the periphery of many wealthy and increasingly privatised areas on the west coast. St. James is a parish undergoing enormous development since the 80s, and this small plot of wilding land presented to me an apothecary of poetry and care to the body, mind and spirit.
The evening was perfect and full of the gentle movement of wild cane fronds, or ‘arrows’. When the cane is blooming I turn into a 5 year old who wants to frolic and play. How to Sway on Crick Hill is part of my #islandexperiments series which is the hashtag I have been using for the last 10 years to catalogue my seeing of this world. This short film, which feels like a silo, draws on my deep interest in the spiritual and healing properties of plants, regenerative agriculture and ways of undoing the ‘plantationocene’. The short piece captures the ritual of walking, observing and listening into the wildness, freedom and all-sustaining nature around us. Beneath the feet, layers of fertile soil, limestone, mycorrhizae, vermicast, and Mama Earth’s essence provide the foundation of living, being and elevation. Wild grasses, botanicals and cane, sway in the evening new moon breeze. Cane blooms erupt seasonally, reminding us of the evolving nature of post-colonial, post-plantation futures. The sways gave me a moment to consider what grasses teach us about resiliencies, and what the winds of renewal might bring in if we restore our balance and come into the right relationship with Mother Earth. In October 2021, the piece of land was razed.
I continue to write, sketch and add to the archive of images on #islandexperiments. 2022 is an internalised and intentionally slow and introspective year for me. I look forward to adding more meanderings and musings when the time is right.
You are a yoga teacher and an energy and shamanic practitioner, your life and artistic production are intimately linked, what is your general position on the links between art and self-healing.
In December 2021, I started my initiation process as priestess in the Afro Caribbean tradition Lucumî/La Regla de Ocha. The one year and 7 days long process as Iyawó (my name for the initiation period) is teaching me a whole lot about creativity, the divine feminine and the ways in which creative recovery restores belonging and connection to purpose.
I believe that all art making is a form of self-healing and that our ability to make our experiences available to self and others is a deep form of catharsis. As a progress on my healing journey, recovering from a creative block caused by unprocessed grief, early childhood and institutional traumas, creativity anchors you in your heart space.
Creativity directly feeds and nourishes the parts of us that need to grow. It uncovers aspects of our psyche and constitution and through the ingesting of the outside world and its materiality. This consumption, digestion and assimilation is a divine and sacred process – alchemical- whereby we acquire a new understanding of our experience. The creative impulse at its core involves a continued collaboration with your inner child.
That inner dimension and landscape isn’t beholden to the material only, it is wrapped up in unconscious processes that reroute neural transmissions and pathways to our identity and stories. The process of art making is the way we build and refine the stories of our lives. The creation of new verses, sentences and chapters inform how we show up in this world.
The connections are iterative and everlasting.
Nowadays my creative activity is expressed in ecstatic dancing, journaling, doodling, journeying, meditation, my daily sadhana, self-care and compassion routines all grounded in psychotherapy. As my self awareness expands I have become a better listener, able to sit with uncertainty for greater periods of time and seeing my body transform into a safer space. I look forward to calling up more emancipation, joy, curiosity and playfulness in my creative outputs whether that be through photography, new media works, writing, curatorial projects and environmental/spiritual interventions.
Holly Bynoe is an independent curator, writer, educator, spiritualist, Earth Ally and researcher from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Bynoe is the co-founder of ARC Magazine, and is a graduate of Bard College | International Center of Photography where she earned an M.F.A. in Advanced Photographic Studies.
She is co-director of Caribbean Linked, a regional residency program held annually in Aruba supporting cultural exchange, and co-founder of Tilting Axis, the annual meeting charting arts activism, decolonial methodologies and models of creative sustainability across the region. Bynoe held a 5 year tenure as Chief Curator of the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas through the end of 2019.
Most recently she joined arts non-profit, The Hub Collective Inc an arts non-profit based on her home island of Bequia to build out their sustainable, regenerative, environmental and intergenerational pillars and is co-founder of Sour Grass, a curatorial agency supporting contemporary Caribbean art practice.
See more at www.hollybynoe.com
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