The talented and awe-inspiring Sheena Rose has been making waves on the local art scene since graduating from the University of North Carolina on a Fulbright Scholarship in 2016.
The young Barbadian, whose works comprise animations, paintings and performances, has captivated the international art arena with her creative genius, leading to exhibitions across the Caribbean, Asia, Africa and North America.
At 31 years old, her work has been featured at the Royal Art Academy, Prizm Art Fair, Third Horizon Film Festival and Rush Philanthropic Foundation Arts Auction – Art for Life. Rose has also had her artwork featured on three book covers, including The Star Side of Bird Hill, a critically-acclaimed novel by Caribbean-American writer Naomi Jackson.
Throughout her work, Rose has been consistent in exploring her cultural identity, namely being a black Barbadian woman. Take her most recent piece entitled Island of Monster, for example, which deals with the difficulties of being an artist in Barbados.
“I was three characters – I was an island, I was an artist and I was a monster.
The monster was me basically being angry at Barbados for not providing a lot of space for us and mostly focusing on tourism. The island . . . was playing question and denial, and then you start to question who was the monster; was the artist the monster or was the island the monster?” she explained.
That journey of self-discovery was sparked while she was completing her Master’s at a university in the southeastern United States. At that time, she started to ask herself, “who am I?”
“I was in North Carolina trying to figure out myself. I had very low self-esteem and I told myself ‘you know what? I need to understand myself’, so I put myself in a box to face these things about me, the truth about me. I’m a black Caribbean woman from Barbados, so with the performances and the drawings, I decided to be honest with myself. To be truthful, I dissected my personality as characters and people fell in love with them – the stories, the soap operas – and looked forward to watching them,” she said.
From as young as three years old, Rose knew she wanted to be an international artist. Her bedroom was her workspace and her gallery, where she sold her pieces for merely five or ten cents. Even during her teenage years at the Springer Memorial Secondary School, she was writing comics for herself and her peers.
Times have certainly changed, as she has had celebrities such as American tennis star Venus Williams purchase her artwork.
Using animation and performance art, Rose has captured quintessential Barbados, not limited to the stereotypical images of beaches, vendors or donkey carts but rather the everyday life of Barbadians. With social media as her platform, or rather her gallery, she has conjured skits featuring the Bajan parent, the serious art critic Mr Fox, and a fancy female to name a few.
With her strong social media presence, the contemporary artist has been passionately advocating for a national art space or gallery to highlight and showcase the vast amount of talent on our 166 square miles.
Embodying the theme for International Women’s Day, Be Bold For Change, Rose’s personality and disposition are outspoken and evolving.
A teacher at the Barbados Community College, Rose is not afraid to take risks or be the loud voice for a silent minority.
“We [artists] need to educate ourselves, the buyers and locals to have a greater appreciation for the arts. We need to stop treating us as if we are decorations and we are only there for accommodations, being a convenience for when it is Crop Over or Independence. We are more than that; we aren’t just decorations. We need to provide a national art gallery, we need to provide more spaces,” declared Rose.
Expressing that the local art scene was dying, Rose called for artists to take risks and be bold for change.
“I find in Barbados we are very scared and I question what are we scared of? . . . Be bold, be you, stop watching face,” she said.
Contending that Barbados lacks the cultural encouragement for the arts that is evident in countries like Jamaica and Trinidad, she urged local artists to be united in their efforts but unique in their works.
“We need to encourage ourselves and stop thinking like crabs in a barrel. The only way we can move forward is to stop watching face, keep doing what you are doing, stop complaining to yourself, be more vocal – use it in your art.”