Culture

Three Bahamian artists represent at this year's VOLTA NY

February 27, 2015

The Bahamas will be maintaining its reliably strong presence at VOLTA NY this year with the participation of three visual artists and National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) Director Amanda Coulson.
The international invitational art expo, held in New York City and acknowledged by Fodor's Travel as one of the top 10 art fairs in the world, has strong ties to The Bahamas through Coulson, who continues to act as a consultant for the fair's artistic direction. Her influence and interests at home - particularly those revolving around the subjects discussed in the Seventh National Exhibition (NE7) Antillean: an Ecology, such as race, class, economy and gender - will be echoed in the 2015 VOLTA NY. Taking place March 5-8, VOLTA NY will showcase the works of 90 artists reflecting a strong emphasis on identity and cultures within Caribbean, African and African-American societies. Some of the countries represented at the 2015 edition of VOLTA NY include Kenya, the Ivory Coast, Senegal, South Africa, The Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.
Frequented by discerning collectors who come to see cutting-edge emerging art, VOLTA NY offers Bahamian artists a significant platform for international exposure. This year, VOLTA administrators expect to tally up a headcount in the region of 40,000 visitors over the four-day run.
Coulson has emphasized the importance of exposure to artists, particularly those from smaller countries like The Bahamas.
"With resources such as these finally within reach of Bahamian artists, our artists will be able to develop and foster relationships with the important global markets needed to sustain them," said Coulson. "In turn, the world will see that we can easily operate on an international level with equal success."
For the third year in a row, PopopStudios will be present. A local independent art studio and gallery, Popop was established by artist John Cox for the advancement of "alternative Bahamian visual culture". This year, PopopStudios Resident Artist Kendal Hanna will represent the organization with a suite of new paintings for the fair's discerning audience.
At 79, Hanna is one of the expo's most senior participating artists, but the abstract painter easily holds his own among other visual artists whose works have been exhibited the world over. As a participating artist in the NE7, Hanna's work can currently be found on display at the NAGB.
His paintings will not be the only ones to represent The Bahamas in VOLTA NY. Hanna and fellow participating Bahamian artist, Lavar Munroe, were selected by an independent panel to be featured in VOLTA NY's promotional video, which is expected to reach as many as 45,000 international art collectors and enthusiasts.
Munroe - known for exhibiting internationally in his London 2014 show, Grant's Town Trickster - will be present at VOLTA NY with gallery NOMAD. NOMAD is based in Miami and Brussels, and is known for being the first Belgian gallery to highlight work by artists from the African continent and diaspora. Munroe will be honored doubly at the fair as one of the 12 exhibiting artists selected to design a limited edition artists' T-shirt, which will be premiered at VOLTA NY and later be made available at the NAGB Mixed Media store.
The third Bahamian artist is Arnold Joseph Kemp, who be representing Portland gallery, PDX Contemporary. Based in Portland, Oregon, PDX Contemporary is known for featuring artwork with a "slight conceptual edge". In doing so, the gallery hopes to appeal to the visual sense and stimulate the mind, simultaneously. Like Hanna, Kemp is one of the NE7's participating artists whose work can currently be seen at the NAGB.
For more information on the 2015 VOLTA NY, visit http://www.voltashow.com. To find out more about participating artists in the NE7, visit http://nagbne.org.

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The presence of absence: A lecture by Dr. Jonathon Holloway

February 27, 2015

The presence of absence was disturbing. It is disturbing that I can continue to be absent, even though I know that I am present. I can continue to be invisible to all which people then call bad luck. But it is not bad luck; it is structural absence. The power structure has chosen what can be seen and unseen, what can be silent or what can be heard. Historically, blacks in the Caribbean could not be seen or heard, even though they were the economic producers. In fact, they produced for the economies in Europe as much as the locals. What they grew here was consumed there. So, their bodies, their strength, their prowess was consumed in the metropole, although they were exploited here. By the time the products arrived in London, Paris, Madrid, they were cleansed of the taint of exploitation. The colonizers did not have to sit with the blacks at their tables nor near them, at least not the field blacks.
Silence is profound, and this kind of silence is even more profound because it removed the entire unit of production from the process. Labor is erased, much like the young women in Bangladeshi sweatshops. They do not exist, but the products of their labors do. In The Bahamas, our gardens are usually well-maintained and our kitchens clean, but the units of labor that 'cause' this are absent.
Absence means that people do not exist, except for themselves. In the Travon Martin case, the verdict showed the invisibility of the black population in the United States when it came to possibilities; but it highlighted the presence of black people when it came to being murdered, racially profiled and exploited - even in the 21st century, a period that is supposedly post-black. We are told that slavery is done, skin color is no longer an issue, even though blacks in Jacksonville,
Florida can be shot because they are listening to the "wrong" kind of music. Slavery ended, when? Ironically, blackness is as absently present as is whiteness in the Bahamian context. You are not Bahamian if you are not black. Yet you cannot be Bahamian if you are too black! How does this work? There is only a level of acceptability to darkness. So, the history of the African presence is too black, yet the blackness of the country under majority rule is taken as a given but never really examined. Let's not dwell on blackness too much, lest we feel uncomfortable with our internalized inferiority.
In The Bahamas, despite living under majority rule, we rarely speak about true blackness. True blackness means accepting the culture of Africa and embracing the blackness that was an integral part of our history. We choose, though, to ignore the slaves who peopled the then colony and to somehow romanticize slavery and emancipation as being less hostile here than elsewhere. What is more, tourism insists that we can no longer talk about the differences between whites and blacks because that makes for a charged environment and not for good tourism. We erase the history of us and plasticate it with a history that is comfortable for tourist consumption. We white-out struggle and poverty in favor of resorts and gated communities where history lies cemented under mansions.
The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas began its Seventh National Exhibition, Antillean: an Ecology, in December 2014, and it has been a revealing and troubling look at race and identity, among other themes, in our country. As a part of this, the gallery has sponsored a number of talks. It most recently sponsored the talk by Dr. Jonathon Holloway, dean of Yale College, (in fact, the first black dean of Yale). The lecture took place on Monday, February 2 at 6 p.m., and was preceded by a performance of "Haitianize", an installation and performance work by Dr. Keithley Woolward of The College of The Bahamas. The performance/installation explores and problematizes the ways Bahamians see Haitians and the ways they/we refuse to see Haitians. We see them as dirty, having too many children, black, etc., yet we refuse to see their humanity. We deny that they are present, except through their absence, notwithstanding the reality that they have been residing in this country for over six decades. The piece disturbingly troubles our perceptions of Haitianness and our understanding of our place in the cosmos. It comes at an interesting time when Haitians, much like under Roker in the 1980s, are being rounded up and detained--only this time, much of the activity is actually ultra vires the law of the land, (although lawyers will always talk their way out of illegality). Meanwhile, foreign direct investment (FDI) is buying up as much acreage as possible. Once again, the reality of the absent presence is poignant; although Bahamians are aware of the land sale bonanza, do we understand the significance and long-term impact that this has on people?
Dr. Holloway's talk presented a stark reality of silence and absence of black bodies and black history from the official discourse. While there are no museums of blackness or the black American experience, the black presence is profound, just highly ignored. He troubled the discourse on racial stereotyping and the production of history to make it palatable to tourist consumption. Further, as racial profiling in a black country cannot be the same as it is in a majority white country like the U.S., so fathers do not need to have 'the talk' with their sons about their experiences with racism and segregation, the reality of police intimidation and brutality against poor, black youth remains a constant. How can this be? Is the majority-rule Bahamas really post-racial? Or is it a country where neither whiteness nor blackness is really dealt with in a real way? They are left under the carpet of darkness and when someone too light marries someone too dark, the resistance is obvious. Though people 'try not to talk about it', Aunty or Grammy will say "Don't bring no black girl or boy home dat I g'a have ta strike a match to see". But to us, this is fine. We don't think about the damage this does to our own psyche.
Blackness is seen as less than. It is the absence of intelligence of potential, of brain power. Why do we perpetuate this myth that has been created in order to subjugate the former enslaved, to justify slavery, to justify why the master was "superior"? Haitianize depicts Haitians as we render them - as untouchable, sick, diseased, demonic, poor. This is not what we believed, but what the myth of Haitians has become, and that myth, like the myth of blacks being inferior to whites that came from slavery, resonates with some people. Usually, though, it is used to maintain their position of power and control. Race does not disappear because we no longer live in colonialism or because we are no longer enslaved. Race remains a marker of difference, and can be positive or negative, but it is always there. We cannot be post-racial, as only those who have what they would like to think of as absolute power and control, will argue that there is no longer race. However, all those who inhabit a skin that is not the same as the dominant group, live a different reality. They live a reality where race has gone nowhere. They cannot escape from their race nor the limitation or possibilities it exposes them to.
Living in a majority-black country does not mean that everyone understands the complexities of the colonial and slavery past. These things are virtually absent in the lived experiences of the people. The danger of this is that it allows the horrors of history to be repeated. Colonialism was awful. The Belgians were famous for being particularly brutal during their colonial period. They put blackness on show. They opted to exploit what they saw as retrograde, as different, as inferior, in a museum for public consumption. This meant that people normalized the idea that blacks were inferior. Imagine, never seeing black people except in a museum or in an exhibition where they are posed as exotic animals, who are built for exploitation. The idea quickly sinks in that they must be what the exhibit says they are. Art has power and museums have even more power to sway the way we think. The way an exhibit is hung or presented can completely alter the message the viewer receives. Museums did not change this way of presenting blackness for centuries. The world expos and fairs also sold the same image. When the image did begin to shift, the Atlantic world, particularly the Caribbean, became an exotic place for curing oneself of consumption while being waited on by blacks.
Slowly, the trend shifted, and exhibitions of blackness began to discuss the presence of blacks as opposed to ignoring their presence in 'white' art. The museum holds power. And the curator holds even more power to change, mold and manipulate a show to deliver a particular message or to create a certain outcome. Blacks are dangerous - they have a show that can depict that. Blacks are diseased - as U.S. policy began to exaggerate the disease of Haitians at the dawn of the AIDS pandemic.
Museums have changed in Europe. They have begun to embrace the absent presence of blackness. However, in this country, where slavery was real, we still do not really see the reminders of slavery around us. Those are erased in preparation for more and better resorts. History is erased in order for development to occur. The only site left is Clifton. Holloway's lecture brought home the serious damage being done by eradicating the history of a black people. It matters little that the government may look like some of the people they claim to represent, they no longer see themselves like them. The erasure of history and recreation of mental slavery are simple enough. As a country built on the coast, historically dependent on it for survival, it is odd that we should cede so much of our coast to be developed out of our reach. Yes, tourism is our bread and butter, but tourists do not inhabit this space, nor will they be here when life gets tough. We are creating an Atlantic World trope of inferior blackness that the Caribbean has trumped out. Holloway's lecture illuminated not only the vanguard work of the NAGB, and the curators of the NE7, but also the profound presence of absence of black history in The Bahamas. We would not want to scare off the tourists now, would we? Tragically, Holloway also underscores that they want to see that history, and not in palatable morsels that are lovely and digestible. History is filled with unsavory events and bitter characters; that is no reason not to remember it.
The memory of the past has been so utterly wiped out that we are happy to render ourselves dependent on the new FDI master, so as to throw off the shackles of farming and fishing. Where are the slave graveyards if history and slavery were so benevolent here? Where did the African graveyards that are not white and brown disappear to? Why would we pluck out our history if it only means that as a people, we have no idea where we are going? Holloway's talk and Haitianize, if not the entire show, bring all these to the fore and underscore that a nation without history, silenced by development, is rudderless on the sea of life.

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Three wood artists exhibit at Doongalik Studios

February 27, 2015

The work of three emerging wood artists, Robin Hardy, David McGorrin and Jeremy Delancy is currently on display at Doongalik Studios in a show titled From Within. The exhibition, which opened on Sunday, February 22, highlights the talents of the trio, who specialize in woodturning and between them have over 40 years of experience in the art.
According to Doongalik Studios owner Pam Burnside, the show's name alludes not only to the organic beauty found within trees but also the talent, skills and vision that are within each artist. The primary purpose of the show is to expose visitors to the idea that wood can be an excellent artistic medium with multiple properties extending far beyond everyday, functional purposes.
From Within also seeks to pay homage to the ancient craft of woodturning - an invention of the ancient Egyptians and one that has grown far beyond its humble beginnings. Modern day woodturning artisans produce high-end fine art fit for display in any home or gallery, as is evidenced in the exhibition.
Delancy, Hardy and McGorrin are known for using wood from native trees, particularly those that have been salvaged from the paths of storms or construction sites.
From Within is the first show for the three artists, who unveiled their skills to collectors, fellow artists and the general public.
Of the show, Burnside said, "Doongalik is pleased to be providing the venue to expose the work of these extremely talented artists. This will be the first time that the gallery has exhibited an all-wood show so we are very enthused."
From Within will be on display at Doongalik Studios on Village Road until March 13. The exhibition can be viewed from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Monday to Wednesday, and 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. on Saturdays. For further information, contact the gallery at 394-1886 or doongalikart@batelnet.bs.

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Laying foundations at The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas

February 20, 2015

Next month, The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) is heading back to basics with a canvas stretching teachers' workshop. Lending a hand in equipping the next generation of artists with strong foundational skills, the gallery hopes the workshop will serve as a refresher course for experienced practitioners and an introductory class for those who have little to no experience in canvas stretching.
NAGB Educational and Curatorial Support Associate Abby Smith believes such building blocks are necessary for those serious about fine art.
"You should know how to stretch a canvas at some point in your career, as it helps cut the cost on buying materials like pre-stretched canvas, which can be expensive," she explained. "You can go into a store and see the high cost of pre-stretched canvas and primed canvas and compare that to buying a roll of canvas and strips of wood and stretching it onto the frame yourself."
Workshops like next month's canvas stretching class are designed to ensure that art educators are well versed in basic techniques. This in turn plays an important part in the ripple effect such knowledge can have among up-and-coming artists, who can use the skill for the duration of their careers.
Some, like NAGB Director Amanda Coulson, believe that working on pre-stretched canvas can affect the degree of seriousness ascribed to artworks by dedicated and knowledgeable collectors. She likened painting on pre-stretched canvas - as opposed to the construction of a tailor-made, non-generic canvas - to "purchasing a pre-fabricated white mug and painting a design on it, compared to throwing your own mug on pottery wheel - creating a unique size, shape or texture - and glazing and firing it".
Coulson added: "There can be quality judgments made by professionals, museums or collectors, on paintings that are made on a store bought, standard-sized canvas as opposed to unique canvases made specifically for a piece."
Smith also feels that learning to stretch a canvas leads to developing a greater appreciation for the visual arts and fine artists.
"I hope the teachers get a better awareness for what it means to be an artist, a true artist. By that I mean someone who can produce their own materials for their artwork. Sometimes we take for granted the work or the process in creating artwork, so you want to pass this knowledge on to students. It gives them a better understanding of what artists go through. It gives them a better appreciation of the craft."
The class is scheduled for 10 a.m., Saturday, March 14 and will be held at The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. Fine artist and NAGB Videographer and Installation Technician Jackson Petit will lead the workshop.
Those educators interested in attending the class should register by Friday, March 6. The cost of the workshop is $30 per person, and each participant must bring his or her own staple gun and canvas pliers. There are 40 spaces available on a first come, first served basis.
For more information, contact Smith via email at asmith@nagb.org.bs or NAGB Education Officer Corinne Lampkin at clampkin@nagb.org.bs or call the NAGB at 328-5800/1.

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NAGB interns select February Art of the Month

February 20, 2015

One of the things National Art Gallery tour guides often ask students during tours of the NAGB's permanent exhibition, Bahamian Domestic, is to point out the scenes they recognize in the works. A show centered on portraying life in The Bahamas, Bahamian Domestic includes visual representations of the places Bahamians live, work and play. It also takes a deeper look at some of the social issues that The Bahamas still grapples with today.
Visitors, particularly younger ones, recognize fairly quickly the landscapes shown and storylines told in many of the paintings located in the front of the exhibition - the part of Bahamian Domestic which was curated by Averia Wright. Kody Conyers and Winzel Smith, two NAGB interns and C.R. Walker Senior High School students, are no exception.
Sixteen-year-old Conyers, a senior student, is drawn to Rolfe Harris' "Grant's Town Vendors" (1984), an oil painting depicting two women and a toddler at an outdoor produce stand. One of the women is shelling peas while the other minds the small child. At their feet are piles of bananas for sale.
Though it was painted 31 years ago, similar scenes can still be found at Potter's Cay Dock and at roadside stands throughout New Providence.
"It's more realistic," said Conyers. "These are things that would have happened in real life. It's like someone just took a picture."
The painting's colors and rich imagery are what caught the student's eyes. Aspiring to be an artist, Conyers has been painting since 10th grade. His portfolio includes imagery of landscapes and human subjects, some of which respond to themes of violence and slavery. "Grant's Town Vendors" has inspired him to try using oil paints
"I have never tried oil. I'm more of an acrylic painter, but I think this oil painting brings out something in me. It's based on older times. The texture is very nice. It's just beautiful to me," he said.
For Winzel Smith, Peggy Herring's "Five Children at Street Water Pump" is one of Bahamian Domestic's more striking works. The scenery, one of young children pumping water, presumably in an inner city community, is sadly familiar to just about every Nassuvian. Though painted over 30 years ago, the activity and landscape in the piece have not changed much. The painting is considered a social commentary for its ability to challenge viewers to consider the ways in which, for many Bahamians, the quality of life has not improved, despite the nation acquiring more wealth.
"Today we still do that. I see certain parts of Nassau I see children carrying water inside trolleys back home to their parents," said Smith, also a senior.
The 18-year-old was first introduced to the visual arts as a boy, watching his uncles sketch.
"They used to sketch a lot, and I wanted to do that because I liked watching them. So I just picked up the pencil one day and tried to copy what they were doing," he recalled.
These days, Smith has added graphic design and painting to his repertoire. Currently specializing in portrait drawing and painting, Smith's long-term goal is attending the Art Institute of California. To fund his studies, he hopes to pursue a career with Bahamas Customs after he graduates high school.

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NAGB receives TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Award

February 20, 2015

The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) has been awarded a 2014 TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Award and been named one of the top 10 museums in the Caribbean by the distinguished travel site.
Travelers' Choice Awards are bestowed to destinations, attractions, restaurants and hotels that are selected by TripAdvisor reviewers from across the globe as "the very best of travel". The NAGB is ranked 10th of 10 Caribbean museums and is the only Bahamian institution to make the list of award recipients.
So far, the gallery has received 114 reviews and a score of 4.5, out of 5 possible marks for excellence. Guests, who include locals from Nassau and visitors from as far away as Switzerland and South Africa, describe the museum as "small but special" and "a national treasure". Villa Doyle, the historic colonial mansion where the gallery is based, is praised for its elegance and proximity to other sites of cultural and historical interest.
On behalf of the gallery, NAGB Director Amanda Coulson expressed gratitude to the TripAdvisor reviewers for their positive and constructive feedback.
"We take a lot of pride in what we do at the NAGB," she said, "and we get a great sense of achievement when we hear from others, directly or indirectly, who find the work we do valuable and who recognize the level of fine art being created in the country."
The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas is located on West and West Hill Streets. It is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday, and 12 noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. The gallery offers free entry to locals on Sundays, and admission is free for visitors under 12 any day of the week. During other hours, students and seniors pay $5 at the door, local adults are charged $7 entry and international visitors pay $10.
For more information on the NAGB, visit the gallery's website at nagb.org.bs or Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TheNAGB.

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Blooming this spring: Transforming Spaces 2015

February 13, 2015

This spring, artists, collectors and art enthusiasts around the country are eager to experience the return of Transforming Spaces - the annual art tour unveiling thought-provoking transformations in galleries and creative spaces across New Providence. Held over two days, March 21 and 22, the 2015 Transforming Spaces bus tour will treat explorers to metamorphosed areas at Hillside House, Doongalik Studios, PopopStudios, the D'Aguilar Art Foundation, The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) and Liquid Courage Gallery.
As they've done in previous years, this year's Transforming Spaces curators will work closely with administrators at each participating gallery to compose a series of six unique exhibitions and collections. More than 40 visual artists along with College of The Bahamas architecture students will be involved in transforming each space.
However, unlike previous years, there is no overarching theme for this spring's festival. Instead, artists have been asked to use each gallery's history, location and position in the context of Bahamian society as inspiration for transforming the space. In particular locations, some artists have also been encouraged to utilize local materials, including indigenous plants, in constructing the transformations.
Pam Burnside, member of the Transforming Spaces Organizing Committee, has expressed her enthusiasm for the return of the annual event.
"I am proud to be a part of this group which has, over these 11 years, been able to stimulate continued awareness of and appreciation for Bahamian visual arts, not only locally, but also increasingly in the international arena," she said. "Transforming Spaces has also been able to provide an essential platform for emerging artists, which bodes well for the strengthening of this sector. Creativity is the wave of the future and can be the third pillar of the Bahamian economy."
Tickets for Transforming Spaces can be purchased for $35 from Doongalik Studios, on Village Road, or The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, on West and West Hill Streets. Bussed tours of the transformed spaces will be held from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. and 2 - 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 21, and 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. on Sunday, March 22. Members of the public are also welcomed and encouraged to attend the week's highlights, which include a public talks forum on Thursday, March 19, at the NAGB and an opening party at Hillside House on Friday, March 20.

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'I's Man' screens at the NAGB

February 13, 2015

With high crime rates still being partly attributed to fatherless homes, and the highly publicized delayed referendum on gender, it seems as good a time as any to have a chat about masculinity and gender identity. The Seventh National Exhibition (NE7), Antillean: an Ecology, at The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, has already gotten the ball rolling. Addressing issues like race, gender, class and economy, the NE7 has been spurring constructive conversations about the hard topics through visual art and a series of discussions and talks. One such talk will be happening this month at The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, where COB Vice President of Advancement Dr. Ian Strachan will be screening his documentary, "I's Man".
The film offers a humorous exploration and sober analysis of issues of masculinity and identity. In it, Strachan examines a range of current issues, including the role of media in gender identity formation, paternal absenteeism and the marital rape debate.
Inspired by Strachan's childhood and experiences growing up in a single-parent household, "I's Man" addresses issues - particularly those of identity - that fatherless boys often face.
"I grew up in a single parent home with my mother, and I lived a life as a young male that was in some ways typical and in some ways atypical. I didn't practice or express masculinity in the ways that the culture around me glorified or valued... The street life, as well as the school construct of masculinity, wasn't one that I fitted in entirely. So I suppose all my life I've been interested in and curious about our constructions of masculinity," he explained.
In academia, the professor is known for specializing in gender and politics, specifically in the context of The Bahamas. Linking his studies with his observations of trends involved with violent crime, Strachan noted the serious complications regarding family dynamics and gender relations that remain unaddressed in the country.
"Obviously as violence and criminality in our society has increased, which is mostly perpetrated by males, this issue of what is a man and the issue of absenteeism have become more and more prominent," he said.
Filmed in 2013, the issues raised in "I's Man" are indisputably, and regrettably, still relevant. Hoping that the film evokes critical thinking among its audience, Strachan is keen to spur a closer examination of the contributing factors behind the attitudes to gender equality, homosexuality and 'sweethearting'.
"What should emerge is a sense that we are not really being intentional enough or thoughtful enough about how we prepare boys and girls for adulthood and for participation in our society," he explained. "What we've done is left huge territories of the human experience that are not addressed adequately by our socializing institutions. And we need to pay attention to these things because they have serious implications for our public health, for our national security, for our competitiveness as a nation, for our economy... I hope people leave with a sense of urgency and a conviction that we need to be more intentional and more serious about these issues."
"I's Man" will be screened at The National Art Gallery at 7 p.m. on Thursday, February 26. For more information, contact the NAGB

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NAGB announces call for summer camp volunteers

February 13, 2015

The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) is making the call for volunteers for the 2015 NAGB Mixed Media Art Summer Camp.
Held from June 22 to July 31, the camp will host students between the ages of five and 15 who are interested in learning art techniques, exploring different avenues of visual creativity and developing their knowledge of art in social and historical contexts. Believing that this opportunity should be extended to every young Bahamian, regardless of household income, nearly one third of campers - who come from disadvantaged backgrounds - will attend free of charge. While every camper may not grow up to become part of the next generation of Bahamian master artists, it is the NAGB's hope that each student develops leadership abilities, creative ingenuity and a well-rounded and healthy lifestyle.
The NAGB is now looking for volunteers interested in shaping and educating young Bahamians through visual art. Preferred applicants will have some experience in art and craft and a desire to work with younger people. All applicants should have a strong work ethic and interpersonal skills.
The camp will be divided into two three-week-long sessions: session one, from June 22 to July 9, and session two from July 13 to 31. Successful applicants may sign up for as short as one week to the full six, but must be able to commit to working the full week, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday.
Volunteer application forms can be found online, on the NAGB's website at http://www.nagb.org.bs/_m1640/News, or on the gallery's Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/NationalAGB.
All applicants should submit an application package to NAGB Education and Curatorial Support Associate Abby Smith including a cover letter with details of the applicant's preferred volunteering session, resume, completed volunteer form and current police record. The deadline for applications is May 4, 2015.
For more information on the NAGB Mixed Media Art Summer Camp or its application requirements, contact Smith via phone at 328-5800 or email at asmith@nagb.org.bs.

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Seventh National Exhibition draws Yale Dean Jonathan Holloway

February 06, 2015

The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) welcomed a full house on Monday, February 2, 2015, when local and international visitors turned up to hear NAGB guest, Dean of Yale College and Professor of African American Studies, History and American Studies Jonathan Holloway speak. The talk came as part of the February programming for the Seventh National Exhibition (NE7), Antillean: an Ecology.
The NE7 opened on December 11, 2014 and incorporates the work of 52 literary and visual artists who respond to the dynamics of social codes around race, class and the economics of privilege in The Bahamas. Influences like citizenship, migration, slavery, religion and the creolization of the Caribbean and wider world are explored through the works as well as a complementing series of discussions, of which Holloway's talk was a part.
The Yale dean's area of specialty is post-emancipation United States social and intellectual history. On the evening, he discussed the ways curators, as historians, have attempted to identify and give meaning to concepts that have historically been considered beyond knowing or not worth worrying about, such as race. Honing in on the black Atlantic world, he revealed the challenges that curators have faced when thinking about the significance and social impact of racial absence. Racial absence refers to the literal absence of people of color in Atlantic historical art and sites, except as persons in positions of servitude who might be easily overlooked or dismissed.
Contrasting this widespread tendency with the works in Antillean: an Ecology, Holloway acknowledged the NAGB's departure from "traditional narratives".
"I think it's always important to have shows like this, especially in a place like the National Art Gallery that had a traditional narrative," explained Holloway. "These traditional narratives don't include everybody; in fact, they do a lot of work of excluding people. So to have a show that tells a different story, especially in a traditional space, I think is incredibly important."
Picking up on the NE7's capacity to impact the way many people - both from The Bahamas and abroad - consider or think about race, Holloway acknowledged the level of discomfort some visitors might feel among the works.
"I think it's going to upset people, and that's totally fine," he said. "It's going to challenge them, and some of those will be upset. Others will say, 'I've never thought about this before', and they probably never have thought about it before. And for those people, a certain portion will just go back to living their lives like nothing happened, and others will stop to think the next time their minds start travelling down a certain route. So I think this is a perfect example of how art can be transformative. I think it's pretty wonderful."
It was precisely this kind of reaction that NE7 Co-curators Holly Bynoe and Michael Edwards were hoping for when putting the exhibition together. ARC Magazine Founder Bynoe and COB Professor Edwards put out a call to Bahamians and members of the Bahamian Diaspora in early 2014 for works responding to common perceptions of race, class and economics.
"A large part of the show is to interrogate these kinds of perceptions we have. I think it's important for people to understand that we're all part of this cultural matrix... And the role of the artist is to challenge these perceptions, to reframe them, to re-constitute and retell a different kind of narrative," said Edwards.
Antillean: an Ecology will be on display at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas until May 10, 2015. For more information on future talks in the NE7 programming series, visit the NAGB online at nagb.org.bs or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NationalAGB.

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Visitors find patterns in Self Conscious

February 06, 2015

The D'Aguilar Art Foundation (DAF) saw January out with the opening of its most recent exhibition, Self Conscious.
Curated by DAF Curator Tessa Whitehead, Self Conscious comes as the result of discussions between Whitehead and DAF Director Saskia Schutte-D'Aguilar, who sought to explore the balance between representation - that is, symbolic imagery that serves as visual metaphors - and conscious mark making - intentionally and purposefully creating marks and textures in an artwork.
According to Whitehead, the body of work features artists working on the figurative "fringes of the art world". These fringes refer to those cities and centers in the art world which are not solely influenced by a single art movement or trend, but in which an amalgamation of larger art movements is reflected in the locale's visual art community.
"I'm finding that, in The Bahamas and in the Caribbean, there's still the trickle of modernism coming in and slightly influencing the work, and I just found that fascinating," she explained. "I just wanted to put it together to see what it looked like as a whole in terms of the collection."
Each of the pieces in Self Conscious is part of the DAF Collection, with the exception of Morgan McKinney's "Sea Egg", which was selected by Whitehead and Schutte-D'Aguilar for its relevance with the show's other works.
The DAF curator believes visitors will find links between the works, which are "grounded in storytelling and devotional imagery" and involve conscious marks revealing the Modernist movement's heavy influence. It is that influence that stretched - quite literally - across oceans to draw works from Australia, Yugoslavia and Zimbabwe into a network that includes pieces from Latin America and the Caribbean.
"Works such as Ras Ishi Butcher's 'Barbs and Thorns' and Joelle De Lam's 'Traditions and Peace' characterize this practice with a rhythmic balance, variations of intuitive but slow visible brushstrokes and a contemplative composition. Simultaneously the works draw from familiar and biblical motifs; De Lam's work references the strong and central Mother Earth figure, and Butcher's work the Crown of Thorns, giving the audience keys into a larger collective narrative and cultural story," writes Whitehead of the exhibition.
She hopes that the noticeable narratives running throughout Self Conscious will prompt visitors to explore the historical, social and artistic connections between the communities that are represented.
"I love the fact that somebody in Australia can be working on the same kind of mark making that somebody in Haiti could be," said Whitehead. "So it's fascinating.
"I love that, even though it's a relatively small collection, there are these strong themes throughout it. I think it's important to see works that relate to each other, because it helps you to understand the context. My aim in putting together exhibitions is to focus on that, and I hope that people find the connections interesting and educational and a point of conversation."
Self Conscious will be on display at the D'Aguilar Art Foundation until March 9, 2015. Visiting hours at the DAF are 10 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays or by prior arrangement.

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Forget the North Pole, shop locally

November 14, 2014

Pushing for more support from the community and government as they compete with cheaper, mass-produced, imported goods, local artisans with authentic, Bahamian crafts have been struggling year-round to keep their heads above water. With December rolling in, and many Bahamians planning to make trips to Florida, where they believe they may get more bang for their buck, local craftsmen are encouraging Bahamians to support their art-forms and the Bahamian economy by shopping for gifts and decorations locally.
Doing so doesn't have to come at a hefty price tag, nor does it mean being limited to kitschy or rudimentary items. Bahama Art and Handicraft and The Craft Cottage are two locations that specialize in selling 100 percent Bahamian-made, high-quality products at affordable prices.

Bahama Art and Handicraft
Opened in August, 2007, Bahama Art and Handicraft has been making a name for itself as a family-owned retailer dedicated to promoting local artisans. Its founder, Lou Moseley-Cuevas, a descendent of Founder of The Nassau Guardian Edward Charles Moseley, comes from a family long dedicated to the country's development. Discouraged by the lack of support for Bahamian creatives, she decided to open a place where everyday craftspeople could show their work.
"She was looking for a place for Bahamians to show their work because they're really isn't anywhere other than the straw market and they don't really have Bahamian products," explained Moseley-Cuevas' daughter, Luciana Hall. "Also she's been collecting and making art out of recycled material for probably 40 years now and she, herself, didn't have anywhere to display it."
Moseley-Cuevas' sea glass murals can be easily identified in the shop, which is also filled with the works of over 150 other Bahamian artists and crafts people. At the store, located at the corner of Shirley Street and Kemp Road, visitors can find fine art, locally-made teas, straw work, stemware, wood work, Christmas decorations and delicate jewelry made by Bahamian gold and silversmiths, among many other precious finds. Prices for small trinkets and gifts start at $6 and run up to $600 for high-end artwork. Bahama Art and Handicraft also offers gift certificates for those who aren't sure what friends or family members might want to sit under the tree, and many of its artisans are accommodating to those who request custom orders.
"We don't like to discourage anybody," explained Hall. "If we're not sure if a product's going to sell right away, we'll even take it on consignment to give it a try. We try to help everybody and we try not to discourage any artists, especially youth."
Still going strong in their mission to grow the Bahamian creative industry, provide a source of income for independent artisans and serve as a venue for showcasing the nation's talents, Moseley-Cuevas and Hall want to encourage Bahamians to recognize quality craftsmanship in their giving this Christmas.
"Bahamians should shop locally so the money stays in The Bahamas and supports our Bahamians. A lot of them don't have anywhere to show their stuff - that's what they're trying to live off of and there's nowhere for them to sell it," said Hall.
Bahama Art and Handicraft is open Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. To find out more about Bahama Art and Handicraft, visit its website at http://www.bahamaartandhandicraft.com/default.htm or Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BahamaArtAndHandicraft.

The Craft Cottage
Based on the same compound as Doongalik Studios, on Village Road, The Craft Cottage shares strong motives with Doongalik owner, Pam Burnside, in its mission to promote the Bahamian creative economy. Led by three of its original six founding members, Sosefina Christie, Rukenya Nash and Nadine Ramphal, The Craft Cottage has been open for nearly three years (its anniversary is in February).
In addition to managing the shop, Christie, Nash and Ramphal also make 80 percent of the goods sold at the cottage, with the remaining 20 percent sourced mainly from Family Island craftspeople. There is plenty to browse between Christie's jewelry, Nash's soaps and scented body care products and Ramphal's decorated glassware. Unafraid of testing their hands at new projects, they experiment with funky ideas and repurposed materials - think cufflinks boasting 15 cent coins and drinking glasses made from recycled beer bottles alongside classic straw work and cheeky hand-painted signs.
The cottage's laidback atmosphere means that visitors are welcome to browse for as long as they wish - Christie claims that most customers "have to go around this shop at least three times to get a good look". But the shop's attendees and artists are happy to assist and get feedback on their creations whenever visitors come calling.
"We are interacting with the public, so we're not at home creating and don't know what the public feedback is," said Ramphal. "We work based on that dynamic of what people love and what they say they enjoy."
The shop's original work has made a name for itself abroad - The Craft Cottage has been featured in travel publications and the famed New York Times as one of Nassau's top destinations.
"There's a comfort that you get when you surround yourself with things that have memories from your childhood and memories of Family Island life," said Ramphal. "You find that people, the further they go, the more they miss out on the basic touches, and when you surround yourself with natural fibers and hand-made things, there's a more personal touch. Things that, when you purchase them have a story behind them, I think those things mean a lot to people."
Shoppers can find stocking stuffers for as little as $2 and exquisite, handcrafted jewelry for under $100. Gift certificates are available.
The Craft Cottage is open Monday to Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. To find out more about The Craft Cottage, visit its website at http://craftcottagebahamas.com/ or Facebook page, which is updated daily, at https://www.facebook.com/craftcottage.

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The paper trail down Bay Street

November 07, 2014

Once, during an interview with artist Stan Burnside, he told me how he and his late brother, Jackson Burnside, would often lament the fact that their country failed to acknowledge the "incredible gift" of Junkanoo and use it to its economic advantage.
A founding member of the One Family Junkanoo group, Burnside said: "In Junkanoo, you have an incredible opportunity, and I can't overstate that. [It is] an incredible gift. Tourism was just given this gift in their war to create and sustain the attraction called The Bahamas, and the gift is just sitting there, and they won't shoot it. They won't use it. You know? They're in the war, getting weapons from everywhere and the weapons are not as powerful as this gift right here, and they're just leaving it there, sitting. And for some reason they seem to be afraid [to use it]."
A few months later, newspaper pages erupted with the findings of a study by Dr. Nicolette Bethel, head of the department of psychology, sociology and social work at The College of The Bahamas. Titled "The Economic Impact of Junkanoo in The Bahamas", Bethel's four-year study (it began in January 2009 and ended in May 2013) reveals that Junkanoo each year operates at an astonishing loss.

The bad news
According to the report, Junkanoo expenses - that is the cost of food, materials and overheads - amount to somewhere in the region of $8 million to $10 million per year. In addition to that staggering figure, Bethel believes there is at least another $10 million being lost in unpaid labor.
"There is one element to Junkanoo that we overlook tremendously, and that is that it is a result of hours and hours of unpaid labor. People are working in the shacks, but they're not paid for that work. Now if you want to make it an industry, they should be able to be paid. So that represents some $10 [million] to $11 million dollars, annually, in labor," she said in an interview.
To calculate the figure, Bethel and her students visited a Junkanoo shack over an eight-week period. They used an average of $10 per hour - a rate higher than minimum wage "because Junkanoo is a labor-intensive activity, so it shouldn't be minimum wage", but lower than the average national hourly wage of $13.50 because of the Junkanooers' young ages and earning potential. The team observed Junkanooers spending an average of 20 hours per week, over 17 weeks - the length of time that Bethel believes most Junkanoo shacks take to prepare for the parades.
With an idea of the tradition's monetary losses, Bethel sought to uncover its gains - an endeavor easier said than done. The only measurable source of revenue from Junkanoo is ticket sales, which fluctuate, along with sponsorship.
"The Junkanoo groups have sponsors. Other sources might be exchanges in kind... They do a number of things that one would associate more with a volunteer group, those kinds of fundraising activities, rather than taking a business-like approach. That's the gap. Everything is done very much from the voluntary model as opposed to a business approach, saying 'These are our costs. These are what we have to cover. These are what we're going to create as revenue streams'. That doesn't seem to happen," she explained.
Tallying up the only numbers she had - those of the ticket sales - Bethel found the number that Junkanoo groups stand to make, on average, each year. Four-hundred thousand dollars is what's currently being pulled in each year by ticket sales to cover about $20 million in costs.

The better news
Bethel believes the situation is fixable, not least because the tradition has managed to survive against all odds, apparently out of Junkanooers' sheer love for the rush. Still, she's recommended several action plans to prepare for the days when love may not be enough.
Marketing Junkanoo and making it more accessible to tourists is at the fore.
"There's almost a hands-off, non-involvement from the Ministry of Tourism. Junkanoo is never promoted to tourists. Junkanoo is used in the promotion of The Bahamas, but Junkanoo itself is not promoted to tourists." she said.
Officials have told her that the main reason for this is "that nobody is traveling on Christmas day, so the Boxing Day parade isn't going to be sellable to tourists". Countering that, she argues in her report that there is a spike right after Boxing Day in tourist arrivals. This, she believes, could be beneficial to the New Year's Day parade.
"Junkanoo has 76 percent occupancy, by our calculations," she said. "That means that 24 percent of the tickets don't get sold. These are available for the tourist population. And even if you don't want Bahamians to pay more than $45 or $50 a head, you could charge tourists $100 a head because they don't have the opportunity to see it more than once, and they will pay."
Bethel thinks a chat about the current local ticket prices is worth having, too. Current prices for Junkanoo tickets have been capped off by the government at $45 in a move she believes to have been unwise. In her research, the professor found that one third of the people she interviewed, who were largely from a young, financially-dependent, student demographic, were willing to pay up to $50 for a Junkanoo ticket.
"If there's a third of the population out there who's willing to pay more, capping the tickets at less than they're willing to pay does not make economic sense. So that's the first thing. The ticket prices are currently too low, and that's a Cabinet decision," she said.
She also mentioned the lowest available price of a ticket for the Boxing Day or New Year's Day parade - $5. This is half the price of the lowest available ticket price for a Junior Junkanoo parade.
Another starting point for additional revenue is the Junkanoo practices. Bethel believes practices should be ticketed events, citing the fact that vendors who sell refreshments at the practices stand to make substantial sums of money - she knows of one such vendor who has made up to $10,000 over two nights - while the Junkanoo groups do not gather any revenue. This method of making quick money has been touted by the Bahamas National Festival Commission as the reason why so many Bahamians stand to benefit from the Bahamas Carnival; few know that the opportunity already exists in the Junkanoo community.
A key point Bethel hopes to highlight is the need for groups to set aside their differences and take the Junkanoo reins out of the government's hands.
"The Junkanoo community, over the last 20 years, is waiting for the government to take the lead in providing these solutions. That's where they make their mistake. It's not the government's job to do that," she said.
She added: "The difficulty that's happening right now is that the generation of leaders who forced the government to take note and invest in Junkanoo are dying. The people coming behind them never had to fend for themselves, so there is a learned helplessness in the community that has to be conquered."
Bethel has emphasized the need for the Junkanoo groups to operate "as a cooperative" for the benefit of the tradition itself. A lack of trust among groups, and even among separate shacks within the same group, has proved to be one of the most difficult hurdles to revitalizing what has been called a dying breed in recent years.
With the professor's study confirming what many had already suspected - that the tradition is indeed at risk - Bethel hopes it will also serve as a wake-up call to preserve a national treasure. Echoing Burnside's sentiments, she said: "In Junkanoo, people are making music and dancing and carrying costumes all the same time. This is unique... What we have failed to do is recognize the uniqueness and make the most of it."
Perhaps, in so doing, the country might preserve what Burnside has called the "fragility of Junkanoo".
"Junkanoo is something that we should treasure," he said, in that earlier interview. "We should try to never do anything that will put it at risk. I feel that we shouldn't take for granted that the Junkanoo artists are always going to come to Bay Street and produce what they produce."
"The Economic Impact of Junkanoo in The Bahamas" has been published in Volume 20(1) of the International Journal of Bahamian Studies and is available online through The College of The Bahamas.

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A thought on culture

November 07, 2014

The Minnis retrospective exhibition, titled "Creation's Grace", at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas is a fantastic walk through Bahamian visual and musical culture. It is a glimpse of what we are and where we came from and what we love. It showed, too, this family's cross-generational gift for capturing culture that is not adulterated by the recolonization of the Bahamian psyche.
In one space, a lifetime of exposure to art and the Minnis family can make a lasting impression on the Bahamian psyche. They have invested beyond millions in Bahamian culture, but the importance of that investment is quickly eroding. Yes, time moves ahead at a winged-chariot pace, but the damage that our un-remembering of the past is doing is simply criminal. What is fabulous about the exhibition - including the impressionistic realism of the watercolors of Harbour Island beauty, the comic fun-poking at political icons and the musical rendition of island life - is the capturing of the Over the Hill area. It showed it, not in a romanticized fashion, nor did it render it empty of life and value, as we are so tempted to do today; it presented rather as being alive, relevant and vibrant. It may have been blighted by its problems, but it created some of the most significant artists and Bahamians. Unlike those who claim themselves to be the most important figures in the country's history, it showed true people.
Over the Hill was not a world lost to possibility, as we so often render it today, nor was it a space empty of worth and easily bought for a dime. It was a community that thrived on its own self-awareness and consciousness. This self-awareness has mostly died today because it has been encouraged to die. Its replacement is a plastic feel-good copy of what we render as Bahamian.
The Minnis retrospective is an honest and invaluable journey through more than 40 years of national development. It shows the reality of young, unwed-motherhood with children in tow but also the pride in house and home, since vanished and replaced by a pride in car and clothes. It provides social commentary, both critical and comic, but also encourages us to strive to be our best. It is timeless in Eddie Minnis' depiction of the social problems of young Bahamian males: "He either in Fox Hill or..." holds cultural poignancy decades later.
The exhibition is timely, too, as its opening coincided with Edmond Moxey's death. Like Eddie Minnis, Moxey was a cultural icon, a man who perhaps saw beyond his time. The exhibition speaks to a need to remember that we have a culture of great worth. There are talented artists who capture our lives as they are, not for the pleasure of some outside gaze or vision of what The Bahamas should be as it develops into a painted copy of itself, sanitized and safe. Some of the artwork captures buildings, many of which were left to rot or be eaten by the worms of under-development, later turned into car parks and roads for progress to pass through on route to resorts, walled away from prying local eyes. How ironic that a man like Moxey, who was so much before his time, who celebrated the simplicity and realness of Bahamian identity and culture, who was destroyed by the power that devalued blackness but unrealistically elevated it to fragility and museum fossilization, should be mourned and heralded as a hero at the same time that the Minnis' cultural impact was being celebrated. Much like Moxey, Eddie Minnis lent a serious voice to black Bahamian life, to political critique and to encouraging Bahamian arts and culture. The Minnis family lends voice to the hidden culture exceptionally well, capturing multiple gazes of different real Bahamases that we who live here become blind to.
The exhibition pulled away the veiled covering that repeats that we are nothing but a cultureless backwater. This idea is far too prevalent in the 21st century young Bahamian psyche. The Minnis family shows how much we painted,drew and wrote, and that we could criticize the follies of old-time leadership through comedy. Simultaneously, the exhibition is a fabulous and poignant statement of the loss of culture that carnivalizes or cannibalizes us into tourist-imaged rap-steadiness.
The slice of culture that hangs on the walls of the national gallery is only the beginning of what we can hope will become a revival of true Bahamian culture. Yes, there is true culture. It is not the plasticized stuff that we trot out with whenever we want to perform who we are for the tourist gaze. The real culture spans a history of life in Long Cay, where one of the oldest churches in the country stands as a beacon to a pre-civilization that was almost destroyed by the change in power and that bears witness to the problem of falling from government's grace. Perhaps, better it fall from grace than be devoured by the greedy jowls of mass-developed tourism that seeks only to Happy Meal us all, and fit us into a cultureless world of tin can music and performed authenticity.
The exhibition offers color, texture, depth, music, voice, pain and pleasure of a people alive in themselves. How can we reinvigorate that life energy that was perhaps not so fast to sell itself to the savior promising trinkets as Columbus' men once did? We may sell ourselves for the $100 today, but tomorrow holds some serious bad belly after the ball. Eddie Minnis criticizes these problems with his music and his cartoons. How can we revalidate what the Minnis retrospective shows as being so much a part of our being?
The exhibition is a fabulous sliver of Bahamian life. Why can we not celebrate this culture and continue to present ourselves as we are and not as we think people want to see us? We must commend the years of dedication and incredible cultural wealth the Minnis family artists have endowed the country with.

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A celebration of diversity

October 24, 2014

Making its grand return, the 19th annual International Cultural Festival was held last weekend at the Nassau Botanical Gardens. The festival, known for its multitude of booths representing a myriad of countries, was this year no less a success than its predecessors. The two-day event featured performances, competitions, food, drink, craft items and, of course, lots of cultural pride.
The current International Cultural Festival Board of Directors, led by Chairperson Janet Johnson, took over management of the festival in 2009 and has been working to expand and improve the annual affair over the past five years. The team of directors includes Sheila Bethel, Eric Carey, Peter Goudie, Gershan Major and Brendon Watson.
It seems the board's efforts are working. Initial attendance counts revealed the festival's visitor count over the weekend to be in the region of 32,000 to 34,000. Hoping to get more international visitors involved, the board partnered with Bahamas Experience Tours, which offered a shuttle service for tourists to and from hotels on Paradise Island and Cable Beach as well as Festival Place in Downtown Nassau.
There's no mystery why people flock in droves; the festival is known as an event for everyone - families, couples, senior citizens and children reveled in the gardens and patronized this year's booths, of which there were more than 100 representing approximately 24 countries.
Doing more than incensing the garden's air with the smells of cooking food, the booths delighted the visual senses, as well. Dressing up the booths is one of the festival's traditions; not only does it give booth holders the opportunity to celebrate unique cultures through festive decorations, but it also gives them a shot at one of the festival prizes.
Divided by geographical region, the festival booths vie for first or second place in their respective divisions. There is also a best in show prize given to the booth deemed the most festive overall. Judging this year was done by a team led by artist John Cox, who chose the Republic of The Philippines' booth as the best in show. The win was the second consecutive for the booth that wowed judges with dances, food showcasing, craft demonstrations and a brief overview of the country's history.
Zeleka Knowles was part of the team representing Ethiopia as the sole African nation at the 2014 festival.
"Two years ago, South Africa was there, which was very exciting to at least have them present," she said. "But this year we heard that South Africa wasn't going to have a booth, so we thought that it'd be important to represent Africa."
The Ethiopian booth was one of the few offering vegetarian and vegan options at the festival. Served with Ethiopian flatbread, known as injera, the booth offered misir wot, a spicy red lentil stew; kik alicha, a yellow split pea curry, and garlic and ginger-infused collard greens. There were also beef skewers brushed with cardamom and rosemary butter, Ethiopian honey wine - a mead - and artisan, Ethiopian jewelry.
"We had a great reaction," said Knowles. "We got very positive feedback from a lot of people. The Rasta community was - as was to be expected - very intrigued by the booth."
Originally from Ethiopia, Knowles recognized the opportunity the festival presents for expats to connect with others of similar backgrounds.
"We did meet other Africans at the booth, so that was another exciting part about having this booth because it's such a small community of Africans here. It was an opportunity for me to meet and connect with other Africans living in The Bahamas," she said.
A nonprofit venture, the festival is sustained by a 10 percent deduction on the profits made by vendors each year. While a good portion of the funds provides for the following year's infrastructure, the board also uses a part of the money raised to support local educational and charitable ventures. Prominent beneficiaries of the festival are students who participate in Model United Nations conferences and debates in local schools. The International Cultural Festival provides sponsorship for the winning debate team to travel to the United Nations Headquarters in New York with the minister of foreign affairs.
Special mention has been made by a member of the board of directors for the Embassy of the People's Republic of China, which, every year donates the total proceeds from its festival booths back to the International Cultural Festival.
Though this year's festival just ended, the planning process for the 2015 International Cultural Festival is only a few months away. Those who are interested in getting involved may contact the board from early February onward. To find out more about the International Cultural Festival, visit its website at http://www.culturefestbahamas.com/.

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Making the transatlantic connection

October 24, 2014

Making its return to The Bahamas for the first time in over 30 years and featuring a Bahamian cast for the first time ever, "Sizwe Banzi is Dead" blew audiences away in the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts Black Box Theatre during the sixth annual Shakespeare in Paradise Theatre Festival (SIP). Directed by SIP Artistic Director Philip Burrows, "Sizwe Banzi's" two-man cast starred COB Professor Mark Humes as Sizwe Banzi and IT professional Dion Johnson in a double role as Styles and Buntu.
The co-stars had acted in previous SIP seasons and knew each other from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream". "Sizwe Banzi's" return was spurred by Johnson's interest in testing his talents onstage.
"I normally try to play comedian-type roles. I wanted to challenge myself with this type of role because it's not so often you can actually portray something that is serious, significant and historical," he said.
Johnson presented the idea of a one-man show to Burrows in 2013. Advising that such a production would be "something he really needed to research, workshop and spend quite a bit of time working on", Burrows suggested "Sizwe Banzi" in lieu.
"I said, 'Well I do know there's this play if you want to do a one-man experience; there's like a 40-minute monologue that opens the play, if you want to work on that'. And we started to discuss 'Sizwe Banzi' as a possibility," explained Burrows.
Having experience working with Humes, whose stage presence he admired, Johnson decided to consider the roles of Styles and Buntu, acting opposite Humes as Sizwe Banzi.
Written during the apartheid era in South Africa, "Sizwe Banzi is Dead" is the product of a collaborative effort by South African activists and playwrights Athol Fugard, Winston Ntshona and John Kani. The play tells the story of Sizwe Banzi, a black South African man in search of work in Port Elizabeth. Originally from King William's Town, Banzi travels on a passbook, which gives him permission to look for work in Port Elizabeth for a finite period. With his - what could essentially be called a visa - expired, he is told that he must return jobless to his family in King William's Town. After an evening of drowning his sorrows with his friend, Buntu, Sizwe Banzi encounters the body of a dead man whose passbook gives him permission to stay in Port Elizabeth. Sizwe Banzi deals with internal conflict and an identity crisis in a world that defines him by the government stamps on a book. With the unwitting help of photographer Styles, Sizwe Banzi 'dies' when he replaces the picture in the dead man's passbook with his own.
"The reason I wanted to do 'Sizwe' is because, when I read the background information on it, based on apartheid, I realized the connection that it has, especially with regard to the ending of apartheid and to our own prime minister, the late Sir Lynden Pindling," explained Johnson.
The Bahamas voiced its disproval of the apartheid system in 1985, at a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting held in Nassau. The Nassau Accord was drafted at Lyford Cay and called on the South African government to strike down the apartheid system and "initiate... a process of dialogue across lines of color, politics and religion". Upon his release from prison, Mandela traveled to The Bahamas to thank the Bahamian government for its activism.
Humes noted the story's relevance in a current day Bahamas: "We (he and Johnson) were so concentrated just on learning the lines that, that was the main focus; you really didn't get the essence of it when you were learning the lines and rehearsing. But there was one day in rehearsal when we did the scene where we saw the dead guy, and Bantu was actually going to walk off, that it really hit me. I have never experienced anything like that in my life - it really shook me - and I started to actually cry. To feel that, to have that possibly happen to you - and I've seen many Haitian persons in our community just struggling to get an identity... I've seen several people in the Haitian community here who just walk around with this whole bunch of papers. And it hurts. It really does hurt to see that there are people living in our society like that. And it was kind of real to think about it."
The show's director also observed other linkages in curiously coincidental ways.
"It's very much a connection [between The Bahamas and South Africa]," said Burrows. "Things kind of happen very strangely. I had set the dates for "Sizwe Banzi is Dead" having no idea that the date that we opened was 40 years to the day that it opened in South Africa. These kinds of things sort of just happened as it came up. It (2014) was the year of the 20th anniversary of Mandela being released."
Eerie happenings aside, "Sizwe Banzi is Dead" was well-received by the Bahamian public, who congratulated the cast and director on the show's closing night with a standing ovation. By popular demand, Burrows, Johnson and Humes have decided to bring the play back to the black box theater for three nights only. Those who missed "Sizwe Banzi" during the Shakespeare in Paradise Festival will now get a chance to see it performed from November 13 - 15. Tickets will be on sale at the Dundas next week.
To reserve tickets, contact the Dundas on 393-3728 or visit its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/thedundas. To find out more about "Sizwe Banzi is Dead", visit the Shakespeare in Paradise website at http://shakespeareinparadise.org/.

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