Sheena Rose — Barbadian artist breaking boundaries in the Caribbean

Sheena Rose (Photo: IDB)

A lonely girl in Barbados needed to draw. It was an “urgency,” she says. Starting with one simple notebook, Sheena Rose would eventually turn her house into an art-filled exhibition space, attracting hundreds of visitors and international attention.

(Photo: Instagram — @sheenaroseartist)

That was only the beginning. In a country without a modern art museum, Rose took her creations to the city streets, saw them featured on book covers and travelled south to create billboards in Suriname.

“Artists don’t see themselves as business, we just see self-expression”

— Sheena Rose

She exploded on social media, and her work eventually reached international collections and art biennales.

Sheena Rose artwork (Photo: Instagram – @sheenaroseartist)

Leading by example, Rose believes that the region’s talent can spur economic growth.

“Artists need to promote themselves and get more critical. We need to be educated…”

— Sheena Rose

“I’ve been doing this for years to prove what creativity can do, to show how to be successful,” she says. “Dream, don’t give up and keep working. People are listening right now.”

The Caribbean has already distinguished itself on the international scene for its creative flair, from festivals to food to music. It is the birthplace of reggae and the source of inspiration for award-winning writers such as Derek Walcott and Junot Díaz.

The late Derek Walcott, Nobel-prize winning St Lucian poet

According to UNESCO data, cultural goods amounted to more than 16 per cent of Barbados’s total exports in 2016 – the highest percentage among all countries analysed.

“Dream, don’t give up and keep working. People are listening right now”

— Sheena Rose

Still, the business potential of the region’s creative industries has not been fully realised.

According to Launching an Orange Future, an in-depth IDB study about creative entrepreneurship in Latin America and the Caribbean, nearly 40 per cent of business failure among those surveyed was due to lack of financing and strategic planning.

Cover of study done by IDB

It’s a reality that Rose has had to contend with, too. She says she had to learn from friends about how to register her business, handle taxes and build a solid foundation for her creative work.

Sheena Rose (2nd right) joined by her family in presenting the Mural sketches to the IDB in Barbados.

“Artists don’t see themselves as business, we just see self-expression,” she says. “You need to understand the nature of the business and make the right decisions for your career… Artists need to promote themselves and get more critical. We need to be educated, to have workshops and advisors.”

For Rose, part of the effort to rewire the local art scene is to accept the island’s potent touristic lure, but to not have it condition the country’s creative products. She argues that tourism could be used to show Barbados and the Caribbean beyond just leisure, and instead expose people to an alluring creative and cultural landscape.