Sat | Nov 28, 2020

CARICOM laureate initiative delivers despite COVID-19 - Jamaican artists breaking creative and language barriers

Published:Friday | October 23, 2020 | 12:14 AMStephanie Lyew/Gleaner Writer
Maia Chung
A piece by Maia Chung, entitled ‘Phoneville’.

From May 13 to July 31, two free online programmes – A French for the Arts and A Technical Training – were offered to 50 Caribbean creatives, who were selected to be Integrate French as a Language of Exchanges (IFLE) and Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) laureates.

Contemporary art reflects vision, innovation, and sustainable development. These are the tenets that the CARICOM initiative, aimed at integrating French into the English-speaking Caribbean, were built on.

According to Larry Lamartiniere, director of the Alliance Française de la Jamaïque, the programme was “not only an opportunity for the laureates to acquire new skills and/or strengthen existing ones but also to interact and collaborate with each other”.

He indicated that Jamaica was the most successful group in the programme “with artists from the island receiving most of the spots in the region, proof that the culture here is vibrant, dynamic, and global”.

The two areas in which the artists are now being developed are French art training, for six modules in 13 weeks, and technical training, for 12 weeks, with nine artist fields represented.

“The artists have been very satisfied with the format offered and the quality of these sessions. They are also provided exposure on social media. Most recently, the artists expressed their concerns about the pandemic situation and how it is affecting them financially with festivals, concerts, and exhibitions seeing cancellations. The programme was praised for helping them develop skills to adapt in this more-than-ever digital era,” Lamartiniere told The Gleaner.

Dancer Giselle Bain, fashion designer Emani Edwards, and visual artist Maia Chung, known more for her philanthropy and work through her autism and disabilities foundation, are the participants representing not just the height of their craft but their unique backgrounds.


Chung herself has only just started to get her feet wet in the public art scene over the past three years with small yet powerful projects. She has managed to turn pain into chronicled paintings. Her ‘Miss Jamaica Pain’ project was exhibited in Argentina and the United States, selected by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

“Art found me in 2016. It was on a journey of grieving and healing when my mother died from cancer,” Chung shared during a telephone interview with The Gleaner.

“I started to study art to cope, so I am self-taught, and with the help of supportive friends, I always had ears to the ground to find out what’s happening in the art world to keep me knowledgeable. That’s how I even heard about submitting my work and then was interviewed by the panel for consideration,” she added.

As a nationally and internationally exhibited artist, Chung says the programme is helping her to evolve and learn from her Caribbean peers and mentors.

“The training is to make me ‘pluralinguist’. Presently, I receive 50 hours of French training, so now a deeper, more meaningful communication can ensue. My analysis is to improve the quality of the art output of CARICOM – help us, possibly, through working together as a region to increase our art credibility on the world stage,” she said.

“There are a myriad of jobs in art, and I am only at the beginning, but the journey is rich with adventure. There are also elements in art from the French Caribbean I would love to work into my art philosophy and help others earn in their passion.”

She has already confirmed her second solo exhibition at Devon House’s Reggae Mill by the end of December 2020, when the programme ends, to incorporate her work from the programme specifically.

“I have been preparing new work, which also helps my sanity, and I proactively plan to incorporate my relationship and studies with the project into the exhibition. I intend on doing my first exhibition in this ‘corona universe’, which gives me something positive to focus on despite the challenges. New exhibition standards will have to be crafted to fit into the new paradigm of things, all COVID protocols observed, but I want to be of legendary status in the Jamaican art world someday,” she said.