“It was like the cycle all over again with Ashanti (Riley) and Andrea (Bharatt) and that same day, there was information on Instagram that there would be a vigil at the Queen’s Park Savannah. I told my dad as usually he was the one going around with me. We were there to cover it for Andrea and Ashanti, and I said we had to be there to cover it for Keithisha (Cudjoe).
“People, I guess, were just trying to cope, and I started taking photographs as I usually would and this young lady and her young daughter came to the area where all the candles were being lit and I would call this the decisive moment; the child actually stooped and stared into the flames, I guess totally mesmerised by the fire and to me, it symbolised her future...
“As young women living in Trinidad and Tobago, we see all this violence happening around us, and we cannot help but wonder how safe is it for us? We cannot live our lives in fear but at the same time, seeing all of this violence and hatred all around us I am pretty sure there’s something that tells us we have to be afraid,” Gabriella Wyke told Sunday Guardian in a recent interview.
The first artist from Trinidad and Tobago to cop first place in the Boynes Emerging Artist Award, Wykes was describing how she came to create her winning piece “Fill the Streets”, a digital photograph bringing gender-based violence into focus. Taken in early 2021, the day after 21-year-old Keithisha Cudjoe’s body was found in the Heights of Aripo, “Fill the Streets” depicts a little girl staring into a candle’s flame at a vigil for Cudjoe at the Queen’s Park Savannah.
Conceptualised by artist Chantal Boynes in 2019, the Boynes Emerging Artist Award is an independent online art competition to promote and support budding artists worldwide. The award’s 6th Edition winners were announced on June 27 and Wyke also emerged as the 2nd artist from the Caribbean to place in the top three across the editions. She will take up a three-month fully-funded artist residency in Sardinia, Italy, in 2023 as her prize.
Offered by the Boynes Emerging Artist Award and its 6th Edition partner Nocefresca, a residency programme bringing creatives together from across the globe, the 6th Edition prize provides the chance to participate in planned workshops and training activities overseen by artists, along with accommodation, art equipment and gear as well as help in developing and organising collections and exhibitions. The prize also includes digital marketing and other opportunities for exposure.
Sixth Edition Boynes Emerging Artist Award winning artwork “Fill The Streets” (digital image) by Gabriella Wyke.
“The residency features the rural villages of Sardinia island as a space for research and creative experimentation, involving both participants and local communities in a cultural exchange experience,” the organisers said.
New York-based Canadian artist Bryan Chadwick took 2nd place and will receive $US1,000 and marketing exposure, while $US500 and marketing exposure will be awarded to third place winner British artist Anne Moses.
Wyke said she was “stunned” and “in awe” of her win, and is grateful to God, the award and NoceFresca for believing in her, and for her family’s support. She is looking forward to meeting the people in Sardinia, learning about the culture, interacting with the women there and sharing their stories.
Wyke felt that gender-based violence occurred all too often in T&T, in a seemingly never-ending cycle. Beyond sending condolences and holding vigils and protesting in the streets, she believes this country could do a lot more to address issues of violence which have roots in the home. How we bring up our young men, how we educate our young women and finding means to rebuild the love and unity in our people are important, she said.
The artist said her images highlight the everyday woman who cannot vocalise her fears and pain perhaps because she is afraid to. Early last year, the photographer started the “Her Voice” project. For 50 days, Wyke captured over 50 women who shared their stories and feelings about gender-based violence. She posted them online. The heavy gloom over the country in the wake of the murders of young women Andrea Bharatt and Ashanti Riley had prompted Wyke to try to give a voice to the ordinary, everyday woman from whom she felt the public needed to hear.
“While there was this upheaval of violence, I noticed we were hearing a lot from people in higher positions like politicians, business people, people who have a platform, but not from the woman in the street, not from the woman who always has to take a taxi home or from the woman who has to contend with construction workers on the street, so I made it my mission to give them that space to speak,” she said.
Wyke decided to use one of the images from the “Her Voice” series to enter the Boynes competition. Apart from the benefit of exposure, she would use photography to gain the perspective of women in Italy about the issue of violence and was elated that it all “fell into place” as she won.
At 26, Wyke is a freelance photographer and has her own business–an ad-based company. However, her artistic journey started as a child with paper and pencil. She recalled how her parents had marvelled at her drawing of a standpipe in their yard when she was five or six, giving her the encouragement to take up art.
She got her first glimpse into the world of photography while her family was stationed on a military base in Toronto in 2010. She learnt about older analogue photography where a chemical process changes projected light into a photograph and pinhole (most basic concept of a camera) photography, dark room development and also the more modern digital photography where images can be viewed instantly.
In 2017, she decided to pursue a photography degree at Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta and started seeing art as more than an expression of beauty but a vehicle for change. Through her camera lens, she explores subjects like social change, and social justice, particularly regarding marginalised groups such as black men often seen as troublemakers. Her work also highlights gender-based violence.
Founder and Director of the Boynes Emerging Artist Award, Chantal Boynes said of Wyke’s win, “After six editions of the Boynes Emerging Artist Award, to finally see a young emerging artist from my own country not only become a finalist but place first, fills me with so much pride. It is truly amazing and Gabriella is really an embodiment of what this award was created to do, support and give an international platform to talented emerging artists.”
Boynes, along with the director of Nocefresca Francesca Sassu, was excited about Wyke’s passion and success in her projects and encouraged budding artists worldwide to participate in the competition as an opportunity to display their talent and network with other artists.
The 7th Edition of the competition will welcome submissions from August 1, 2022. Stay tuned for more information from July 11, 2022, on the award website www.boynesartistaward.com
Another image by Gabriella Wyke “Get Home Safely”.
Q&A with Gabriella
What subject matter do you prefer to explore and why?
Topics that deal with social change, social justice for marginalised groups like black men, also prejudice and gender-based violence.
Why? Because I’ve always had this need to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves because I believe that no matter who we are everyone should have the chance to be heard and if there’s some form of injustice taking place at the very least, it should be discussed, publicised. Oftentimes, like racism, gender-based violence gets swept under the rug. It’s only because of social media that it’s been put on blast or sometimes there’s so much of it that it causes us to become desensitised to it.
How did you come to enter the Boynes competition?
As an emerging artist, applying to opportunities like this is something I often try to do because it gives you that exposure. In this case, the Boynes Emerging Artist Award is an international award which would mean that stories I would usually share would be seen on a larger scale and therefore the message would get out.
I saw the advertisement more than three times and saw it as a sign to go out on faith because at the time I did not even have the finances to apply. I told God this is something that I really wanted to do and He provided the money.
I applied totally on faith hoping this would be the next step in my career being able to do an artist residency in Italy would have been an invaluable experience. I would have had the opportunity to work in a completely different environment and, of course, for an artist, the environment affects our work, how it grows, and who it is seen by and so this is an opportunity that I would definitely have wanted to take.
And just for the fact of being able to take the “Her Voice” project internationally...it was something I had plans for and it was only when I read the contents of the award I realised that this was my opportunity to take “Her Voice” further.
How did you select the particular piece, “Fill The Streets”?
As part of the “Her Voice” project, I felt this image would be the perfect segue from women sharing their issues to women who cannot necessarily share. Because this girl, she’s probably four or five and may not be able to articulate as well as an adult. “Fill the Streets” just symbolises that this cycle cannot continue.
The piece is digital, not printed. Any reason why?
The photo is digital for now. I believe it will be printed at some point but because of the day and age we’re in right now, I find that social media is an effective means of getting the message out quickly to as many people as possible, especially with the pandemic I would have shared a lot of my art online to have a platform. It is something I’ve continued to do. However, if I do have the opportunity to exhibit it in a gallery, I would be happy to print it as large as I could because seeing an image in print affects the viewer differently. The communication between you and the image is more impactful.
Is there any reason why you shoot in black and white?
Black and white photography I’ve found has a very timeless quality about it. You can never really tell when the photograph was taken therefore making it all the more relevant. I also have always associated black and white photographs with a significant level of importance. For example, black and white photographs have always taught us about history and they are also commonly seen in the newspapers. Whenever viewers see my photographs I want there to be a sense of urgency in their minds, a sense that prompts them to pay closer attention to the subject without the distraction that coloured photography sometimes creates.
Anything else you would like to add?
To other young emerging artists out there, all that you are thinking about now is not confined to your dreams. They have the power to become a reality; just continue to believe in yourself, in the gifts that God put in you. And really identify the purpose for which you have those gifts and go at it 110 per cent. You never know how it could change the world.