I’ve never done any art installation before. Most my work has been flat or sometimes digital. So for me it was a real eye opener to witness all the hard work that four talented artists put into the new art installations at Laughing Bird Caye and Silk Caye in Belize.
I was there to document the installation process for the Creative Action Institute (CAI), which has been working with the Southern Environmental Association (SEA) on developing interactive educational displays for the Cayes. The four artists, Anton, Jill, Andrea, and George each put together several pieces ranging from sculptures to signage to even a seesaw.
I was arriving separately from the artwork and met up with the artists in Placencia. From there we got a lift from the SEA rangers that took us to Laughing Bird Caye. We arrived in the afternoon and tourists were already scattered throughout the Caye. Never mind installing sculptures, simply unloading them was quite an ordeal. The concrete Angelfish and Hawksbill Turtle each required five people to unload. Once unloaded though, they were met with warm welcome. A child immediate gravitated to the turtle and took a seat. The seesaw came with some assembly required but you can bet that the whole team rode the seesaw as soon as it was put together. These two pieces along with a photo cutout became the children’s playground. The primary reason people come out here is to dive and snorkel but not everyone is able to do that so was necessary to have other alternatives.
Other artwork include a Welcome Sign, a Giant Storybook, and signage educating the public on conservation at the Caye. The signage is much needed because the older ones were either faded or dull. The old signs look like government issued regulation that wags the finger at you whereas the new signs are like a warm message from the locals. Putting in the sign was no easy task. Digging in the sand is harder than digging in dirt because we kept hitting the roots of the Coconut trees. I only dug briefly but my arm definitely felt a little sore the next day. The remainder of our the first day was spent digging holes and touching up the artwork.
After the tour groups left and as the sun set, we sat down to have dinner. It was a modest feast but we did have cake as we celebrated Anton’s belated birthday. Our meals were always simple as was our accommodations. After the meal I took a chilling cold bucket shower and tip toed my way to bed to avoid stepping on the hermits crabs which come out in droves at night. Most slept outside under the thatched palapa while the weak and feeble like myself slept on the hardwood floor of the visitor center in hope of avoiding bug bites. That did not help. It was only 8:30pm but with nothing to do and a long day ahead the next morning, I had no choice but to try to sleep.
I woke up the next morning to capture the sunrise and the boat arrived shortly after to take us to Silk Caye, a even smaller Caye with no structures other than a bathroom. It is on this bathroom that the team painted the mural. High atop of a precarious ladder and under the blazing sun, George painstakingly hand painted “Gladden Spit & Silk Caye Marine Reserve” of the front side facing the boats. The rest of us mere mortals painted happy marine creatures found in this area such as nurse shark, hawksbill turtle, and the barracuda. The barracuda being the only one I saw in my brief visit. Apparently there’s a lazy one always hanging around waiting for the tourists to feed it. The tourists were also met with the newly installed welcome sign with a low relief carving of a pelican on the front side while the back reminds visitors to “take only photographs, leave only footprints.” Tourists gawked at the live painting while we were fighting against time to finish before dark because Silk Caye has no electricity, food, or shelter.
We finished the mural in Silk Caye that afternoon but the work did not end there. We found out we had to leave Laughing Bird Caye early next morning. Pressed for time, the team continued to work long after dark to pour concrete and put up the signs. Even in the morning, final touches were still being added to some of the installations. When the boat finally arrived to take us away, we spent a few minutes photographing the finished work, or rather photographing each other in the photo cutout.
It was a rough couple of days, I got sunburned, bug bites, and blisters. Nonetheless, I was very grateful to be a part of this. I got to see the Caye in a way most visitors do not, from sunset to sunrise and even the night sky in between. I got to know the life story of Andrea and Jill and how they ended so far from where they started. I admired the arduous effort George and Anton put in even after creating their art. I am thankful to the rangers that helped us every step along the way. Hopefully, this will give visitors a sense of what goes on behind the art.