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Art & mythologies to question our gaze

I met Ronald Cyrille for the first time at the Memorial Acte, in full preparation for his artistic residency. Dazzling sun, blue sea, view of La Darse: a postcard from a museum that aims to be a center of expression and memory of slavery, with unique architecture in the Caribbean.

A large room on the left side of the building is made available to Ronald Cyrille aka B. Bird, to allow him to prepare his paintings. It must be said that the exhibition planned at the Memorial Act has its counterpart at the Pérez Art Museum Miami: a major project for the artist therefore!

A storytelling artist

Here, pots of paint, brushes, bombs are everywhere. You can see what a prolific artist Ronald is. He works on several mediums, several techniques, several disciplines. Painting, tapestry, cutting, bomb… He multiplies the tests in a dizzying burst of creativity.

And what strikes me when observing the paintings around me is that you can clearly see that they belong to the same universe. The situations differ, yet the same symbols, the same characters run from one canvas to another, in a colorful universe - but without compromise.

Creole dogs, birds, plants, boat people... between fantastic bestiary and humanoids, Ronald's entire universe is in motion, forcing us to question ourselves about the situations presented. Huge faces, characters alternately in introspection or in movement. I see the composition of his canvases as full of little stories that tell one and the same big story, with striking details.

“I paint like a storyteller. And each character, each symbol has a coherence in my stories”

It would be good to specify here that the tales have in the Caribbean culture, in Guadeloupe as in Dominica, an enormous role to play. In the oral tradition, they are told in Creole, outdoors, between dog and wolf, and the storyteller punctuates his story with calls for the public to participate. The tale begins with the traditional “Yékri!” to which the crowd responds “Yékra!”. These stories are populated by characters like Compère Lapin, Compère Zamba, Compère Cochon, the Devil and others to whom the most improbable adventures happen. Tales often have a moral or a message to convey, a bit like fables. If you want to get an idea, here are some tales in their original version by one of the most famous storytellers in Guadeloupe, Benzo!

Personal mythology: how his story feeds his creation

To better understand his art, we must go back to the origins of Ronald Cyrille. He grew up on the island of Dominica, in the countryside. At the age of 9, he joined his mother living on the neighboring island of Guadeloupe. That's why the symbolism of boat people is also present in Ronald's work.

Even if Ronald says he is "nostalgic" for his childhood, I have the impression that when he arrived in Guadeloupe he simply stopped being a child: no more carelessness in the countryside, no more family closeness that he had known in Dominica. It is in the heart of the city of Abymes that he must build himself, find his place, while he is still a little boy. By reuniting with his mother, and his sisters and brothers, he experienced a form of rebirth in Guadeloupe. We feel that this stage taught him to adapt, allowed him to become stronger, and I think that in the end Ronald is grateful for the opportunities he had when he left Dominica.

Really, I had goosebumps. And I saw flashing in my mind the happy times of my own childhood. At the risk of digressing a bit too long, I encourage you to listen to a piece of Dissonance, which our conversation made me think of and which I listen to while writing these few lines: Amerture.

Child in Dominica, teenager in Guadeloupe, student in Martinique, influenced by the American culture of members of his family living in the United States, Ronald considers himself a pure Caribbean product. He draws on all these sources of inspiration to create.

“I don't have to choose an identity. I am all of these. I don't reject anything, I'm curious about everything. I am connected to the world.”

A sensitive look at the world, which pushes us to introspection

The beginning of B. Bird's artistic expression: drawing. As far as he can remember, he has always drawn. To reproduce Picsou or other comics for example. When I ask him why he started drawing, he doesn't even remember… maybe it's just part of his identity… After drawing, painting, sculpture and photography came into his life, probably through art classes. Street art came much later.

But for me, Ronald Cyrille's creative flame comes from his sensitive view of the world. He seems very calm, his voice is calm and quite low. But there is a muted revolt in him. Ronald sees, in Guadeloupe or in the world, injustices and situations that push him to question himself. And, along with his family history, this mindset developed when he was very young:

“I did a lot of introspection, I took a step back, I asked myself a lot of questions. What is this world? How did so many injustices appear? I was angry, sad.”

His art pushes us to question ourselves, too, about the preconceived ideas we have, about the situations we accept without even thinking about it, to look at our behavior with a fresh eye.

“I paint what annoys me, what I don’t like. It has happened that I have been told that there is violence in my works... I do not deny it. But I think that the works are never more violent than the history of humanity. My paintings show a reality that we try to hide, as long as it does not concern us directly.”

At these words, images of daily life come to mind... all the times we turn our heads when we see a homeless person, all the times we lower our eyes when a colleague is being humiliated, all the times we simply does not say the bottom of his thought… We are all in a framework, in a mold where we try not to make waves. But why ? Is this the attitude that best corresponds to our sensibility?

This work of deconstruction that Ronald Cyrille proposes to us to do with him, is a work that he himself started. He tells me in a low voice, very gently:

“For my mother, we had to avoid “making a mess”. And me very quickly, I took the opposite view: I'm not going to make a scandal, but if I have something to say, I will.”

This explanation brings me back to my own upbringing, which I am trying to gradually deconstruct. I was brought up with the idea that you have to be strong, not show your emotions, grit your teeth. Of course, our parents give us the information they consider useful to help us in life. That said, anyone, once an adult, can take the time to revisit their beliefs and transmitted ideas to reclaim them, even to discard what does not correspond to them. Besides, single parents are not at the origin of all the ideas that run through our heads... Education and society as a whole promote certain behaviors, but that's an article for another day!

I would like to conclude by emphasizing that in addition to asking himself all these questions about our society, and expressing his emotions through his art, I had the impression that Ronald showed a lot of lucidity and humility in its approach.

“I don't pose as a vigilante, and I don't claim that my art can change things. It is simply my way of expressing my doubts and my vision, even if this vision would not always be shared.”

Son art estHis art is above all the fruit of his feelings, as if he were laying bare his soul on the canvas.


The works of Ronald Cyril

An invitation to introspection


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