Contemporary artist Sheena Rose was born in 1985 in Bridgetown, Barbados, where she also currently lives and works. A Fulbright Scholar who holds a BFA from Barbados Community College and MFA from the University of North Carolina, Rose’s work is equally rooted in her Caribbean heritage as it is in her efforts to challenge any preconceived notions and definitions of said heritage.
More interestingly though, Rose successfully renders both aspects—her investigation of heritage and her challenging of stereotypes connected to heritage—irrelevant to her and her art. This may sound like a paradoxical dichotomy but Rose’s work dramatically and precisely challenges everything without ever losing any of the layers of the process, and without giving up any agency that lays within intentionally claiming and challenging heritage.
As a multi-disciplinary artist, Rose’s oeuvre includes hand-drawn animations, drawings, paintings, performance art, and new media, including her Instagram account (@sheenaroseinc), which the artist uses as one of her performance platforms. She often collaborates with other creatives, whether visual artists, actors, writers, musicians, filmmakers, or photographers, to bring her visions to life and add multidisciplinary layers of artistry to her unique flair for the dramatic.
The artist, who is not scared to create discomfort, challenge stereotypes, or address topics such as schizophrenia, has exhibited and performed around the world. In 2017, Rose performed her piece “Island and Monster” at the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts in London and MoCADA in New York. One of her murals is currently on view at Pérez Art Museum Miami as part of the exhibition “The Other Side of Now: Foresight in Contemporary Caribbean Art.”
Sheena Rose’s work is initially rooted in her Caribbean heritage as she creates work that is deeply connected to herself, her experiences, and her observations. Many of the characters are based on the self, and her performance pieces, which became an integral part of her practice in 2010, are deeply personal with scripts often derived from past journal entries.
As much as the point of departure lies with the artist herself, it is followed by a clear moving away into a poetic space full of imagination. Like a stream of consciousness her scripts, paintings, and drawings swerve off into the depth of her creative mind that leaves the shores of Barbados and the wider Caribbean far behind. Rose’s art exists beyond the obvious and in the negative spaces, the in-betweens, and beyond what is anticipated. Her work does not firmly live within the confines of the island and its cultural and historical context that has for centuries been controlled by imperialism, colonial powers, and then post-colonial structures and systems. In a post-colonial society and African Diaspora, the narrative is still in the process of being reclaimed and rewritten. But do we even want a narrative? If so, maybe European literary conventions are not enough to contain it, and to adequately capture and communicate what needs to be said.
Artists like Rose are finding ways to question and challenge. As Rose herself explains, “Barbados is more than slavery, crop over and beaches.” The lush landscapes and images of paradise of today’s tourism brochures continue a legacy started during colonization, when the idea was first perpetuated to lure adventurous Englishmen in search of riches to the island. In this current version, things have changed but we are not pas the post-colonial and the shifts may need some radical removal of conceptual understandings of “landscape.”
Rose as an artist is not scared to challenge any ideas or conventions. She studies and explores a wide range of topics and fields such as mathematics, minerals, flora and music. The power of timing in musical composition is something she applies when creating her own art. She hopes that her works “can change someone’s heartrate like music,” says the artist who plays steel pan, piano, and bass clarinet. When composing her own works, she adds that she “likes to agitate people sometimes” to “trap them” first and then get ready for a conversation. Informed by her studies of English literature, which is still imbedded in the Barbadian education system, Rose questions how cultural content defines art, and the implications of such definitions.
In Rose’s own words, in her “mystical, dark, and strong world,” she is the storyteller who defines and controls the narrative (or whatever future term we may find and want to use). As a young contemporary artist, her stories contribute to a future imagination and reality of the Caribbean well beyond conversations about art. She envisions a future of unity and the characters that live in her world follow along and stand by her side as she challenges preconceived notions of the Caribbean.
Her futuristic characters understand the value of self and aspire to equity. They have a new vision for the future defined by self-discovery, removal of fraught narratives and the possibility for new definitions. They inhabit a space that does not claim the Caribbean as a singular identity that defines context in perpetuity. What happens if you remove the landscape? What indicates cultural identity? How much cultural identity is encompassed by landscape? With the dramatic removal of landscape (sometimes literally and sometimes conceptually), Rose removes clichés and stereotypes from herself and also from her art, ultimately achieving the remarkable accomplishment of simultaneously claiming the Caribbean proudly, challenging the defined context and inserting new ways of thinking, subsequently rendering both ideas meaningless while holding all the power.