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THE Free National Movement has planned a number of activities this weekend in Grand Bahama to celebrate the life and legacy of the late Sir Cecil Wallace Whitfield, who founded the FNM party in 1971.
By DENISE MAYCOCK
in a close-knit community where many of its members are bold, some are funny and a few might even be described as brazen, meeting Angelika Wallace-Whitfield is refreshing. While I explored the modest garden of the D'Aguilar Art Foundation, her voice broke the silence and invited me in.
Face to face she is reserved, and I know she's young, but as soon as she began to answer my questions, I forgot that she is many years the junior of most of the country's artists.
She showed me to the gallery where her works still hang from her second show, held two weeks ago, and I was impressed.
Others have been blown away by Wallace-Whitfield's talent too. In addition to the D'Aguilar Art Foundation, her work has been displayed at Doongalik Studios and the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB). This is surprising when the 20-year-old reveals that, aside from studying art at The College of The Bahamas, she has received no higher education in the field.
She began finding her way around a paintbrush when she was four, in Sue Bennett-Williams' after-school lessons.
"Art was something I always had done," she said. "I was in Sue Bennett-Williams' classes since I was four, so after-school classes. But I was always a principal's list, honor roll student. So after graduating high school I went and did pre-med in Florida for a year, and I figured out that wasn't for me.
"Although I was book smart, I wasn't motivated. I wasn't passionate. So I came back and started at COB."
Many are glad she did. Her show, an effort to raise funds to further her education in the U.K., was a success by most measures. Of the 35 works displayed at the show, five remain unsold.
"Well, this show, I didn't confine myself to a theme because...it was a fundraiser, so I wanted something for everyone - something that everyone can relate to. So there was no theme."
The artist is known for her mixed media paintings, which often marry feminine figures with animals. Her "Animalistic" series features the heads of animals like octopi, lions and elephants on female bodies.
"Well, the elephant started from a series on National Geographic that I watched about elephant mothers and how they sacrifice so much for their young, and being raised by a single mother, that really hit home with me," said Wallace-Whitfield.
"And just being really interested in feminism and women's studies, I started researching more animals, specifically female animals. I went on to do lions because the lioness protects the group. She brings the food. She takes care of the babies."
The painter has earned her achievements. Volunteering with the NAGB for a year opened the door to several contacts in the arts community. It was there that she first met Saskia Shutte-D'Aguilar, director of the D'Aguilar Art Foundation.
"I was doing a lot of volunteering at the National Art Gallery so my name just kept coming up and I think that's one thing that got me the job that's beyond my education, not my years - because I showed the motivation," said Wallace-Whitfield.
Growth and youth
Not your average office job, Wallace-Whitfield's work has two facets and several perks. Her "nine-to-five" post at the D'Aguilar Art Foundation keeps her busy; accompanying run-of-the-mill administrative duties are the contacts she makes on a regular basis.
"I'm constantly surrounded by different art pieces and people that inspire me. There's always out-of-the-box conversation going on," she said.
Wallace-Whitfield credits her painting work, her evening job, with providing constant motivation and a "release" for her inspiration.
It's not all a bowl of cherries, though. The most difficult part of the curator's work is being young.
"The people that would have worked before me would have had a lot more education than me, and [are] also older than me, and I think that has been the greatest challenge for people to take you seriously. But once you get over that first barrier, then you're okay," she said.
Being a woman has also presented some unexpected hurdles for the artist, who said she has had to deal with "inappropriate comments" by others in the industry and in the Bahamian community, in general.
Overall, her experience as a curator may soon be the envy of many of her peers at the University of Kent, where she's been accepted to study the history and philosophy of art and culture. The painter, who originally planned to attend the University of the Arts London, is excited to have been offered a place at her first choice. That's a good thing, too, since she plans to be there a while. When asked where she wants to be in the next five years, Wallace-Whitfield responded: "In school is where I'll probably be, because I want to at least get my masters...by then it will be either my masters or thinking about a Ph.D."
Though she's come a long way, her momentum is only picking up. The artist's well-earned successes have resulted in a fierce tenacity. Reflecting on her younger years, Wallace-Whitfield said: "I wish I had more confidence in myself when I first started. I wish I knew what I was capable of when I first started. I doubted myself a lot and I think that caused me to lose a couple opportunities along the way...But, I think every curve that I've been thrown has been a learning curve, and I'm grateful I learned it at the time."
As for what happens at home while she's in the U.K., the curator has confidence in the local arts community. Describing it as "ahead of the game" in the Caribbean region, she has hopes for a re-coupling of the arts and culture, citing the unification as a viable tourist attraction.
"I think right now it's a great time to be an artist in The Bahamas, because us young artists have had a good foundation laid to us and we have a lot of people willing to open up doors for us," said Wallace-Whitfield.
"And we have all these...art hubs and more are coming, so I think if we just keep developing on the path that we're going, we'll be good."
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is my great pleasure to welcome you to todayís ceremony. I am especially pleased to welcome Lady Naomi and Sir Cecilís children and other relatives, former colleagues and friends as we dedicate this new Centre in the name of Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield.
Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham yesterday officially opened and dedicated the new Cecil Wallace-Whitfield Centre on West Bay Street which is now the home of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).
In attendance were Vincent Wallace-Whitfield, son of Sir Cecil and his widow, Lady Naomi Wallace-Whitfield.