November 20, 2017
As the country mourns the loss of Bahamian music legend Ronnie Butler BahamasLocal.com reflects on our time with the icon during an interview six years ago. We love you Ronnie.
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September 01, 2017
After a two-year journey that took this iconic exhibition to three islands - Grand Bahama, Eleuthera and Abaco- it is only fitting that the Max/Amos traveling exhibition bids us farewell in Exuma, the hometown of Bahamian folk and master artist, Amos Ferguson.
The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas developed the Max/Amos exhibition in response to the call to share Bahamian art with every citizen in our archipelagic nation. While our geography is responsible for the wonderful flavor of this country, which is grounded in the diverse cultural microcosms on our 17 inhabited islands, it is this feature that makes access to spaces like the NAGB challenging for persons living on the islands, especially those who do not travel frequently to the capital.
Family Island access to the national collection is a critical component of the NAGB's mission and by taking our collection to off-site locations on the islands we have garnered community support and participation and facilitated a creative initiative that is truly for all Bahamians.
Featuring the works of the masters Maxwell Taylor and Ferguson, this exhibition delves into the multiple dynamics of Bahamian society in relation to our global identification as a "paradise". Both Taylor and Ferguson go to the heart of the Bahamian experience with honesty and integrity, and an abundant respect for their fellow Bahamians, whose lives they represent in their work.
Taylor, a son of Grants Town, New Providence, first honed his practice at the 'fabled' Chelsea Pottery, although his path would lead him abroad. Taylor's experiences during his more than 20-year journey throughout the U.S. and Europe still shapes the lens through which he views his work and the world around him.
Hailing from the Forest, Exuma, Ferguson began his professional life as a commercial painter. Spiritual revelation compelled him instead, to paint the visions of his mind and community. The most famous and beloved outsider artist, Ferguson had no formal artistic training, choosing house paint over that of oil and acrylic - his canvas, cardboard.
It is no wonder then that these two great artists were selected to represent the brilliant diversity and passion of Bahamian art and artists. However, Max/Amos is about more than presenting work. The exhibitions have been displayed in local galleries and community spaces easily accessible to residents and have been accompanied by free workshops on the practices of both artists; public talks; school visits; and donations of museum literature to art teachers, schools and public libraries. Understanding that sufficient art materials in schools on the out islands are a concern, the gallery has also donated remaining workshop materials to schools that have demonstrated need.
"The exhibition has been well received on all the islands. The kids have appreciated the opportunity to work and interact with art professionals and people have been excited about having the work of Max Taylor and Amos Ferguson in their communities. They have had lots of questions about the artists and have been truly supportive of this initiative," says Jackson Petit, NAGB Digital Media Administrator and technical assistant for the Max/Amos exhibition.
Representing the NAGB with Petit is Community Outreach Officer Abby Smith; they will install and open the exhibition in addition to facilitating all other activities. In preparation for the upcoming exhibition, staff at the NAGB have been working hard to reframe, pack and ship 31 paintings, many of them familiar staples in art classrooms, ensuring that Max/Amos is given a phenomenal send off for its final presentation. A week of workshops for children and adults, public talks and scheduled school visits have all been planned and the Exuma community has been incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic.
The opening reception for Max/Amos will be held on Monday, September 11th at Wenshua Art Gallery in Georgetown, Exuma, from 6 p.m. - 8 p.m. It will be on display September 11th to November 15th, 2017. To keep up-to-date with the Max/Amos exhibition's final journey follow us on Facebook and Instagram!
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September 01, 2017
Bahamian history and memory are often trumped by the Empire and the identity it imposed on its subjects. Last month marked the 70th anniversary of India's independence from Britain, most of which was negotiated by Lord Mountbatten, the second cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, who was sadly killed by an Irish Republican Army bomb. These are facts independent of his role in negotiating the end of British imperial presence in India, but at the same time, the establishment of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and an Independent India during a troubling period called 'Partition'. In August 1947, when, after 300 years in India, the British left, they left a deeply divided and fractured country. Independence was one positive, but the legacy of Empire and the lasting impact of colonialism were deeply felt. Imperialism and colonialism have divided great swaths of land, usually from under the very people who inhabited those spaces.
In other words, the invention of tradition was a practice very much used by authorities as an instrument of rule in mass societies when the bonds of small social units like village and family were dissolving and authorities needed to find other ways of connecting a large number of people to each other. The invention of tradition is a method for using collective memory selectively by manipulating certain bits of the national past, suppressing others, elevating still others in an entirely functional way. Thus memory is not necessarily authentic, but rather useful. (Edward Said "Invention, Memory, and Place" Critical Inquiry Vol.26, No 2 (Winter 2000) p. 179)
The pain and loss, or torture and gain of independence and partition are concisely discussed in The New Yorker (2015) by William Dalrymple. The nationalist project in fractured post-colonial states is alive and well in defining how we see our traditions. It is interesting that, as Said points out, the small and unified communities began to disappear through the island to capital or rural to urban migration, we see the creation of a unified Bahamian tradition that attempts to erase the individuality of all the island communities and their unique experiences. Usually, we are cast under a deeply problematic Victorian shadow that never allowed individual identity, but insisted on a strict moral code that continued to exclude non-whites. E.M Forster's A Passage to India so splendidly captures the shadows.
Much like the partition of India into Bangladesh and Pakistan as it received its independence from Britain, the territories went on to live through decades of violence and tradition making that justified and promoted further ethnic and religious violence. Postcolonial nations are built on a feeling of loss and trauma without understanding why because so little is discussed. The idea is to silence opposition to and awareness of the events. Both BBC and Al Jazeera provide excellent histories of the partition and the independence event. However, the former seems to eclipse the latter, but they create an interesting if not comfortable coexistence of countries that were once regions governed under the Crown.
It must also be remembered that colonization was not about being a benevolent and loving patron of a people but a company ready and happy to extract all the wealth it can from the space it sets up shop in. Such was the case in India, where the Royal East India company began business as a private trading company. The BBC has provided excellent coverage of this before it becomes a 'national' interest. It must also be remembered that tradition was formed or create India, and that was the creation of tea, of hunting, of spices but also of controlled savagery or an interesting term from Homi Bhabha 'Sly civility'. Without India, Africa and the colonies in the Pacific, there would be no tea, something that has become so quintessentially British. Many of the images that we still identify with because we understand that it was better in the old days are imposed or created traditions, such as sugarcane processing. There would not have been sugarcane here albeit on a small scale compared to the other (former) colonies; the photo of the 'Native Sugar Mill' is a tradition imposed on the space by colonization, imperialism and slavery.
As the two outlived the latter, it is not unthinkable that the impact of the former will be that much more in depth in the psyche of people. The trauma of living under the whip and of facing unjust laws that made one less than human in what would be considered one's place of origin speak loudly to this reality. Living in the shadow of Empire is in great part all of that. The images of civilized colonial tropical living as presented from the gaze of colonial history would always entrap one's ability to be. There would be no tea without British colonization, as much as there is far more coffee in the rest of the Caribbean islands colonized by Spain is instructive of a past that has never ended and has continued to inform the traditions of today.
While it is important to understand and remember the reality of the past, as bell hooks notes, living in the margin as a site of resistance, not as a site of limitation, as so many colonizers may consider it to be. In The Bahamas, the margin created by segregation has all but vanished, though the legacy and the weight of the segregation and the demarcation of space has not. In fact, the weight of the margin and the marginalization of particular groups who inhabit those areas once seen as exclusively black is now even more pronounced. Though we no longer see it as racialized, in fact, the class and race of it go hand in hand. The racialization is far more nuanced and subtle as was evidenced in 2016 with the Paradise Beach Protest that was dismissed because it was carried out by a group of violent young black males who could not 'manage themselves and so needed to be treated violently as the photos on the front page of the Tribune attest.
Fast forward to the protest over the fire at the one time Harold Road dump, now known euphemistically as the landfill, earlier this year during the IDB conference at a yet unopened Baha Mar, where the scathing criticism of light-skinned and white people who could obviously not be from here. These vestiges of knowing one's place deeply entrenched and long lasting from colonialism and imperialism allow people to be othered in very interesting and disturbing ways. Both criticisms challenged the group's' national belonging, of not knowing their place and of being out of order.
These are huge legacies of colonialism that we do not see or hear because they have been normalized by the shadow of oppression. It is not coincidental that most of the population will not understand how to challenge the discourse that posits them as non-nationalistic when they try to speak up for themselves. This is when the common space and spatial justice is denied to people. While many will not notice this subtly deployed message of social control and order, it is clear: light-skinned people are non-nationalist and black people are violent and disorderly, all threaten the national fabric of the country; all must be controlled. We know better than they. The superior attitude of those who rule through ascent, and legacy, but who have never thrown off the colonial vestiges.
We do not understand the weight of history and the legacy of imperialism. It is clear that most do not know or have never read Bahamian history where control was maintained through seriously destructive and divisive laws and policies like the Vagrancy Act, and "A Modified Form of Slavery: The Credit and Truck Systems in The Bahamas in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries" as Howard Johnson notes.
History and its knowledge are essential to a real sense of self. It is also necessary for a population to be able to read and write, count and think in a manner befitting of citizens, not subjects. When names of historical landmarks are changed, and spaces shifted, land sold off and erased, burial sites excavated and living memory erased, we become a history less place and people.
Said states it well when he writes about the erasure of Palestine for the creation of Israel.
"These territories were renamed Judea and Samaria; they were onomastically transformed from "Palestinian" to "Jewish" territory, and settlements-whose object from the beginning had been nothing less than the transformation of the landscape by the forcible introduction of European-style mass housing with neither precedent nor basis in the local topography-gradually spread all over the Palestinian areas, starkly challenging the natural and human setting with rude Jewish-only segregations. In my opinion, these settlements, whose number included a huge ring of fortress like housing projects around the city of Jerusalem, were intended visibly to illustrate Israeli power, additions to the gentle landscape that signified aggression, not accommodation and acculturation". (Said, p. 189)
The shadows are very dark spaces where it is extremely difficult to become one's self. The shadows always cover any individuality and identity that does not fit with the imperial project. Art continues to provide an excellent window into the past, in the shadow and what imperialism and colonialism looked like in the Caribbean or so often called the West Indies. It is also interesting to note that those who were intricately involved in the creation of the new India through partition, with the influence of Lord Mountbatten who is also so much involved in the early development of Bahamian land, as he and many of the Royals received handsome land grants, to which we still pin our identities. Eleuthera and Harbour Island are spaces specifically spatialized in this way because of their history of settlement. This resonates with what Catherine Palmer (1994) sees as tourism in The Bahamas depending so much on colonialism and its landmarks. When land grants were handed out, and as the special on Slavery produced by the BBC underscores boldly after slavery ended those slave owners who suffered loss were handsomely compensated for their losses. They gained exponentially through a change in the law that never ended the impact or the shadow of slavery. When the policies and laws remain rather similar or unchanged more than one hundred years after emancipation, how can we truly believe that we do not inhabit the shadows of Empire?
India and Pakistan, as well as Bangladesh now exist as independent countries, but their spatial identity and their social occupation of those spaces now rest heavily in the aftermath of partition and the violence it imposed. The creation of independent countries and identities is fabulous, but the legacy of violence and distrust is even deeper, heavier and more long-lasting. Here I quote from Dalrymple's story where he cites a book by Nisid Hajari: "Nisid Hajari ends his book by pointing out that the rivalry between India and Pakistan "is getting more, rather than less, dangerous: the two countries' nuclear arsenals are growing, militant groups are becoming more capable, and rabid media outlets on both sides are shrinking the scope for moderate voices." Further, the power of nostalgia to block the possibility of true post-colonialism is amazing.
When nostalgia rules the day and England or some parts thereof still think of the colonies as quaint places where uncivilized plebeians remain and should be civilized, and this is a glorious moment for us to retake our position of leadership, then we understand that Empire holds tightly clenched fists around the potential for development free of its shadows. Dalrymple states it thus:
The current picture is not encouraging. In Delhi, a hard-line right-wing government rejects dialogue with Islamabad. Both countries find themselves more vulnerable than ever to religious extremism. In a sense, 1947 has yet to come to an end.
Shadows are usually dark and frightening places/spaces of deep-seated fears, insecurities, anger, hatreds and often trauma. The shadows seem to be poised to consume all potential, unless and until we can deconstruct the legacy and remove the lack of speaking across foreign-created boundaries and barriers that have scarred peoples and places for millennia.
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September 01, 2017
This past summer at the University of The Bahamas (UB) Oakes Field campus through a meeting of creative minds, an enthusiasm to produce was met, with a heart to preserve. UB's Carpentry and Visual Arts Departments collaborated to host an intensive wood workshop in June designed as a pilot project to foster a sense of community through craftsmanship and creativity.
As part of UB's art faculty, I had the opportunity last semester to work alongside a colleague and skilled carpenter, Fritz Cox. This experience taught me the importance of comradery as a tool for social and professional development and exchange. Cox's desire to engage and mentor young Bahamians through his profession began four years ago when he first adopted the Albury Sayles Primary School, followed by L. W. Young Junior High School and most recently Palmdale Primary. Although unfamiliar with working alongside university students, his time with them became an organic and enriching experience.
Unlike Cox's carpentry style, which focuses on refined meticulous woodwork, a creative challenge and experiment was introduced as the workshop's focus. Bent on maximizing the potential of the students, the experience was designed for the group to create outside of their comfort zone. Similar to my creative practice, concerned with salvaging everyday objects from the environment; I wanted the students to learn and appreciate the process of working outside the luxuries of time and material, but with the expectations to create a meaningful piece in their unique style. In 3-hour sessions held across six days, with basic tools, and discarded wood salvaged from building sites on UB's campus we covered fundamental techniques in carpentry and woodturning.
UB students Jarrette Stubbs, Cordeia Munnings, and Matthew Rahming created a small collection of furniture from shipping pallets and sculptures from reclaimed wood. Inspired by a shared appreciation for materiality and process the group re-imagined the discarded material by challenging ideas of value and perception. The culmination of this experience, in the form of a group exhibition entitled 'Wood You' opened at The Pro Gallery on Thursday 24th August. Less focused on the final works, the artists were keen to share their creative process and personal experiences. We wanted to engender an appreciation for repurposing. Exploring conversations on environmental sustainability and urban design as a community effort through the question, "Would you?"
The title of the show is a play on words and rhetoric. On the one hand, it presents this idea of the relationship between man and material. While on the other hand asks the rhetorical question, Would you consider this, in the context of the project, the collaboration, the exhibition and the work. Beyond rhetoric, the exhibition is a call to action. The group challenges the public not to merely appreciate this effort, but to become creative ambassadors of the vision to reclaim, enhance and influence our community's physical and social landscape.
This mandate has not fallen on deaf ears but has sparked much curiosity within the campus and by extension the local art community. Interest for participation in future projects is increasing, self-taught artisans have emerged, collaborations have started, and the group was commissioned by to create outdoor furniture for Hillside House Art Gallery. A success and inspiration in many ways the Visual Arts Department is pleased to support this momentum by developing programming and related projects geared toward impacting its campus and the wider community.
The 'Wood You' collection spans a variety of functional and abstract objects including outdoor furniture, sculptures, and assemblages. Although the focus was wood, other natural and manmade materials were used to complement the body of work.
'Porch Lullaby' by art major Mathew Rahming Is an assemblage of finished lumber remnants that appear as a disarray of cladded wood on the frame of a chair seat. This wall hanging continues on Rahming's narrative of self-exploration. Presenting his view on the labour, process, and decisions he makes as an artist. The arrangement of the wood refers to the complexities and burden the artist carries through life.
'Native Styles' by art education Major Jarrette Stubbs uses unfinished plywood and fluid, organic shapes layered to form a hybrid portrait that appears as half woman and half animal. The duality of the piece touches on psychology and speaks to this idea of one's inner animal instinct.
'Cozy Cernie' by Art Education Major Cordeia Munnings is a two-person bench fitted with a built-in table was her first attempt at repurposing shipping pallets to create furniture. Like Cox's outdoor lounge set both artists' works speak to a need for more outdoor and green spaces in The Bahamas to promote a sense of place for closer and safer communities.
In contrast to the other works, my pieces are quiet and delicate and use mirrors as a way to place self within a conversation on material. The 'Discerning Frailty Series' includes three abstract wall hangings crafted from pieces of plywood, natural tree bark and broken mirror. Each material was used as it was found and paired with another object using their similarity in shape and quality to produce a minimal assemblage that is both functional and artistic.
'Wood You' will be on display in The Pro Gallery at the University of The Bahamas until September 13, 2017.
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August 25, 2017
The post office stands at the top of Parliament Street on East Hill street, a monument to 1970s development. It stands now condemned. The Churchill building stands condemned, much like the Rodney Bain Building on the verge of Parliament Street Hill on the way to the post office. Condemned buildings populate the city of Nassau. The shift has been rapid; from a thriving colonial backwater settled by administrators and Loyalists to a post-colonial shadow of colonial rule, to a derelict city of decay. This shift has been enormous.
In "An Eye for the Tropics," (2006) Dr Krista Thompson discusses the image of us created by the power in the centre. It was a romantic notion of what order and beauty should be and this is specially adapted and adopted to the tropics, an idea that had evolved from a dangerous, fecund space to the ordered space imagined into existence where time is suspended and our revelry was allowed for the benefits of tourist enjoyment. This removes attention from the leadership's exploitation of the masses, as visitors could come and frolic in the tropics and then return home unsullied.
However, the image was always dependent on the imagination and then the space was created to meet that imagining. Nothing was real when the process began. The market woman Thompson described from Jacob Coonley's work is imagined into being and then her reality is constructed, so that it drives a dream and a particular notion of tropicality. It seems now, in today's Nassau, that we inhabit a space of tropical dereliction, which also determines how we live and perform.
Space, as Michel Foucault, Edward Soja, and David Harvey state, determines how we live. They make us good people or bad people. The space we live in determines our attitude and our behavior. Our culture has been determined by the space we inhabit, our space is determined by the natural environment around us. When we live in the space of open gutters, decaying buildings and collapsing roads, we are sent a message that says we are not good enough.
This is especially so when we see on the other side of the road a space of great beauty, high rises, well-manicured parks and open spaces, that butts up against our expectations and makes it clear how impoverished we are, though we may not think about it. This is worsened when those 'nice' tropical spaces are seemingly out of reach. However, the irony is not that we strive to be in those spaces, we somehow get trapped in seeing ourselves as undeserving of anything better. We can visit the imagined-into-being tropical space of lushness, but we cannot inhabit that space.
This is particularly so when we are taught to celebrate our oppression as Paulo Freire argues in "Pedagogy of the Oppressed," when he underscores that the oppressed are programmed into being through their education and their treatment at the hands of the oppressor. It is not coincidental that art does not inhabit our Over-the-Hill areas. We have, instead, buildings that are institutional, for the most part, many without running water, electricity or well-maintained roads. The art-filled walls and gardens are missing. The graffiti art seen in other inner city areas is absent here. Art programmes create a culture of creativity; a culture of creativity creates a culture of positive productivity and a space for humanity and self-empowerment and awareness.
When we produce people who inhabit spaces of power and possibility rather than spaces of crime and poverty, we produce development. The space and place for art in these areas and social justice is essential. Art is not simply about pretty pictures. It is about making spaces work for the inhabitants. Art is about design, about building and about mapping and creating the 'livability' of spaces.
Spatial justice is essential in any postcolonial community because so much has been decided on before the current leaders coming to power. Maps were made, boundaries drawn and re-presentations affected by the policies of colonial powers who sought to dispossess the population of their land. Edward Said does brilliant work on this. His work informs how we see the imagined and the stereotype and their impact on how we see ourselves. It is also not simply coincidental that governments when attempting to be proactive can be told by special interest groups to leave them alone and let them be. Once the land has been removed from the commons or, in this case, from the Crown, it is about the power to determine how land is imagined and how those who inhabited the land are imagined into or out of being.
Said and Soja both articulate this well.
Soja states: "Colonizing power and the imaginative geographies of Eurocentric orientalism, the cultural construction of the colonized 'other' as subordinate and inferior beings, are expressed poetically and politically in defined and regulated spaces. These colonizing spaces of social control include the classroom, courthouse, prison, railway station, marketplace, hospital, boulevard, place of worship...practically every place used in everyday life."
Like the market women imagined into being by Coonley in the heydey of colonialism and re-presentation, we are still being controlled by the idea of where we live and how we live in that space. That "Over-The-Hill" is defined in exclusively negative terms since the end of colonialism, followed by the depopulation of those areas by the then resistance movement, compounded by the removal of art or spatial justice, is telling of how much art can be used to develop an alternative and healthy notion of self and become a tool to empower. We need to work to continue to debunk the image and idea of the market woman and provide professions, careers and self-empowering images that are not limited to the ghetto or life in the service or tourism industry to be of currently seen as unproductive members of this small island.
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August 19, 2017
"On the Way to Market" (ca. 1877-78) by Jacob Frank Coonley, looks to be a work in progress, an experiment, with boxes in the foreground and a window decidedly within the frame of the shot. Ordinarily, a background so carefully constructed with thatch palms and painted fabric reminiscent of crashing ocean waves or rolling clouds in the sky would have been cropped just-so to eliminate the packing boxes and everything else to make us see clearly that this is a studio. There is no mistake then that studios are spaces of production, as markets are spaces of consumption.
As outlined in Dr. Krista Thompson's 'An Eye For The Tropics' published in 2006, the period of Caribbean history in which this photo was taken saw the region being shaped, shifted, and rebranded as a site of tourist consumption. The ideas of the 'tropical' and the 'picturesque' as they relate to the Caribbean were being formed at this point, with patiently framed shots of palm trees, beaches, and quaint clapboard houses being produced en masse and distributed in postcards and the like. The tropical was being advertised and sold to convince and change the minds of dubious populations in the mother-colonies.
While most of these images were being shaped and framed outside, planting trees specifically for photographs and for making the islands seem 'cultivated' and 'tamed' was being made real, being made manifest, and being made ever so slightly polished. The coconut palms were now lining streets instead of being dotted on beaches, and there was an abundance of silk cotton trees and poincianas to complement these efforts. So if most of these images were taking place outside, why bother with photo studios and with producing an 'inside image' as it were?
Just as the landscape was being shaped and polished, so too was the image of the people here: the 'smiling native' trope and the 'mammy' archetype. And photo studios and people armed with cameras became the localised and mobilised factories through which these representations were mass-produced. As we see this woman posed as though on her way to market, basket on her head with some rather confused turkeys, one bird clutched in her arms, and her head wrapped to suit the mammy image and to suit the difficulty of the work. As viewers, we are left wondering who she is, where she came from, if this is truly her job or part of her life or if this narrative around her is as out of place in her character as the thatch palms tacked to the walls and littered around the photo studio. We don't know her name, yet she is posed and waiting for the image to be taken, and it is possible that this story was constructed by the eye behind the camera. Often, that eye was of European-descent, male, and with enough money to own a camera, enough to put his name on the image though hers remains unknown.
The eye behind this particular image is Jacob Frank Coonley. An American born in 1832, Coonley was an accomplished photographer in New York before he moved to work in The Bahamas in the 1870s. He donned many hats, working previously as a landscape painter, colourist of photographs and Civil War photographer. But he was primarily known in the islands for his work with landscape photographs and studio photographs - as well as the tickling advertisements for his studio in the local paper. As Thompson outlines in "Bahamian Visions," an exhibition whose research acted as one of the predecessors to 'An Eye For the Tropics', she shares one such advertisement: "[g]o have your picture taken, and your beauty (if you have any) perpetuated and if you have none the Artist will make it appear as though you have" (Nassau Guardian, January 11, 1896).
Amusing at first, there is no doubt, but when we look at the bigger picture of not just how the islands were shaped but how images of women, particularly women of colour, were shaped things become more uncomfortable. The subject of this image has become an object of experimentation and the tropical, a test in Coonley's studio - or so it appears. There is a power in looking, in being able to be the person doing the looking, in being the person with the powerful gaze to shape an image, we know this as a people who are not a product of this time, but whose society and image was largely produced in this time. In the production of this representation, there is an idea of not just producing an image for someone, but also of speaking on behalf of someone.
A passage by bell hooks, the black feminist theorist, comes to mind: "There is] no need to hear your voice, when I can talk about you better than you can speak about yourself. No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. I want to know your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you in such a way that it has become mine, my own. Re-writing you, I write myself anew. I am still author, authority. I am still [the] colonizer, the speaking subject, and you are now at the center of my talk." As hooks outlines in "Marginality as a Site of Resistance" (1990), there is an allusion to the consumerism and consumption of people, stories, a culture that harkens back to the time when the subject of this image was pictured.
While we are dealing with times so rife with others speaking for others, and indeed for others, it does us well to take a moment to perhaps quiet ourselves and think before we speak, before we have knee-jerk reactions, before we decide we know what is best for a space we all share. As Roxane Gay so aptly put it, "Some women being empowered does not prove the patriarchy is dead. It proves that some of us are lucky." We can't move forward when some are left behind. This image might not say these things explicitly, but they open up this conversation and dialogue we so desperately need. We can't know Coonley's thoughts and intentions, nor those of the unnamed woman posing, but there are several things we do know: the social conditions of this time, the start of the tourism industry what this did, and how we come to know ourselves as Bahamians within this construct, and the great imbalance of social power and mobility we still see today. The lushness and abundance alluded to by the turkeys and palms only highlight how at this time, the grass was only greener for some; there is still much to be done so all can play fairly in this market.
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August 19, 2017
Art is considered by many to be one of the most critical subjects in the development of a young mind. It informs the way one processes math and science. It alters and expands the manner in which individuals seek solutions to complex problems. Understanding the way the world works, in both literal and figurative terms, is enhanced by consistent exposure to the arts.
When you ask an artist what or why they love the work that they do or how they first discovered wanting to become an artist, it often begins with a teacher or an experience at or with an arts institution.
Whether visual or performing art, the process of creatively expressing an idea strengthens our humanity and according to some studies - our intellect.
When you ask me, a person who by trade is an attorney, what has assisted me most in crafting an argument, articulating a position, or presenting an unpopular concept or idea in a dynamic or convincing way; while the pedagogy of law school and yes, years of practice, helped considerably, they aren't it. It's my life long experience with art. Having to get up and perform in front of strangers set the 'stage' for my ability to communicate, to truly see who and what was around me, and to approach unfamiliar environments with confidence.
I may never fully appreciate the value of walking into my cousin Josephine Love's salon, turned art studio in an old Victorian mansion, aptly named Your Heritage House, and watching the likes of sculptor Elizabeth Catlett, work.
Unassumingly, masters would roam the house, their works decorating the walls. I learned to glaze ceramics in her basement and how to change my mind about a sketch in her attic. I would never become the likes of a John Beadle when painting on the main level of that old Victorian. However, I developed perception and perspective. I learned to consider with depth, to ask questions and to accept that sometimes there were no definitive answers.
I could daydream about the various installations that hung and still hang on the walls of the local art museum, swaying and spinning between galleries. Diego Rivera's tale of the auto industry. Van Gogh's self portrait. When I finally became a parent, my first membership was to that very same museum.
Today, my younger daughter performs that same dance in Nassau. However, for her, it isn't Rivera who excites, but rather Amos Ferguson. As a transplant to The Bahamas, my family continues its inescapable relationship with art at the NAGB and other noted arts enclaves.
Here, at The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, this is our hope and our intention - our goal and our mandate: to facilitate the generational inheritance of Bahamian art and culture.
Through our in-school outreach, workshops and school tours, we endeavor to impart knowledge, explore new ways of thinking and above all to inspire. As lead of the Communications-Education Department at the Gallery, I occasionally have the opportunity to facilitate student tours, when my team is off doing other wonderful work. This summer, during our camp, a group of teens visited with their fantastic instructor. As they prepared to enter one of our major galleries, we happened to cross paths with the very artist to which the exhibition space was dedicated. As he graciously smiled and took pictures with the excited group, I couldn't help but be reminded of those afternoons in July when I was still a girl and an arts master smiled at me with the same brilliance and sincerity.
Arts institutions like The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas don't just share culture, they inspire makers, who ultimately are culture-creators. When art is supported, not only as individual expression but as cultural and national imperative, a strong and vibrant future is also our inheritance.
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August 11, 2017
Britain may have Sir David Attenborough, America might have Michelle Obama, but we, ladies and gentlemen of The Bahamas, have the wonder that is Darold Miller. Now, this is a bit facetious, as we have many a national hero to represent us, but the character (and, sometimes caricature) that is the sensational Miller is something most Bahamians can appreciate. Blue Curry has, not with little care, immortalized Miller's image in an artwork for us.
For many of us, growing up with, or witnessing the enthusiastic delivery of Miller has been a joy, the start of many laughs and in-jokes for the Bahamian public. Whether you have a Greek surname particularly replete with consonants, or you experience a geographical tidal wave and tsunami of a certain hue, it's beautiful to have these very specific experiences and characters depicted for us to speak about for generations to come.
Though based primarily in London, Blue Curry still exhibits here at home and throughout the Caribbean.
Though he is considered an interdisciplinary, contemporary artist who primarily works in sculpture and installation, in his early practice he also produced these 'alternative photography' pieces.
Curry's gamut of work usually involves some form of tongue-in-cheek critique of the tourism culture of The Bahamas, but this earlier work which stands in the National Collection from 2002 deals more with public response and representation than tourism as it is.
The link is still there of course, as the Straw Market on Bay Street has been well known as a spot for tourist consumerism since the 1800s, with the particular branding of the space that we know today coming out of a revamp in the 1920s.
Previously, however, the site was used as a market of a different kind, to process enslaved Africans to be sold later at the Vendue House.
"Ladies and gentlemen, what a tragedy" indeed. The lettering is scraped into the black of the paper, rudimentary looking, and the 'tragedy' here could easily stand for a number of things: the loss of this historic site, what happened at this site, the loss of livelihood for the vendors -- and the straw trade has been going for years.
The statement is open-ended, and the presenter, Miller, has his arm outstretched and delivering the message with undeniable fervor, as many of us can remember in seeing his coverage of the awful fire.
The enlargement of his head portrays him in a cartoonish manner, especially when juxtaposed to the bystanders depicted watching the scene -- in horror, astonishment, curiosity, or arsonist's pleasure, we can't tell --all of whom are of a normal physiology with their bodies in the correct proportions. Knowing that many of us view Miller as a character, Curry is making visual the very thing we all think of when we look on the screen at Miller's wild gesticulations and empassioned delivery of news.
Where photography and film is often seen to be a 'true' depiction of a time or a moment, (which isn't accurate, since images are a production of the gaze and minds behind the lens and subject to their own biases) we can take this 'alternative photography' to function as just that, an alternative way of looking at images and altering and framing images to tell the story intended by the maker. Most of the bystanders look on to the atrocity, but one turns his back on this.
Could this be the peanut seller who started the blaze? Perhaps he is one of the few Bahamians who refused to crowd scenes of accident and incident, as we are usually so wont to do.
His delineation of the work as 'alternative photography' also functions in regards to the production of images of the islands for tourist consumption that we know so well - so to have a space that is of such historic value to us, turned into a tourist spectacle, which Curry is then re-interpreting serves as a way to critique the picturesque we have been trading on for over a hundred years. Film and photography, through their associations with depicting a moment in time deal with just that, the idea of time, which Curry plays with here in his use of black and white image.
Curry takes his alternative photography and through this use of black and white we are left to wonder if this real-life historic scene, made fanciful with flames of foil and cartoonish heads, is meant to be taken as historic in its own right. In a way, it is. Art objects serve as a way for us to view how people think of their time, times before them, times imagined, and in "Bay Street on Fire" (2002) Curry has captured a feeling of a moment, in a time capsule of sorts, for generations now to consider.
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August 04, 2017
The air was filled with anticipation, impatient little legs swinging from the laps of their parents, who were awaiting the brief remarks and activity ahead. Younger siblings toddled through the center aisle while teens, hovering in the back rows, eyed the assortment of fruits and cakes little more than an arm's length away. The scene described would seem more fitting for a wedding but, in fact, it was the opening reception for the NAGB's Mixed Media Summer Art Camp's (MMSAC) 2017 Exhibition, A Journey Through Time: Telling Our Story. Taking center stage in the cube-shaped gallery within a gallery, or Project Space (the PS), campers' art transformed the room into a fantastic burst of color, light and joy on Tuesday, August 1.
The sources of inspiration range from Bahamian masters Stan and Jackson Burnside to Lillian Blades. Pieces that speak to the current obsession of youth - the world over, for manga (Japanese comics), to the whimsical use of collage and mosaic, akin to the works of Romare Bearden--the renowned African-American neo-expressionist artist who passed away in 1988--are all on display. They beckon the eye to come into the PS and then to move a bit closer, taking in some of the best that this year's campers, ages 5-17, had to offer. These youthful, artistic endeavours are not only whimsical and beautiful, they are the products of tremendous effort and work, of course on the part of the campers, but also of the volunteers and staff, both temporary and gallery at the MMSAC, this year.
The curriculum, structured by NAGB Education Officer Katrina Cartwright, provided the expectations and support for camp instructors, giving context for each exercise that cumulatively facilitated an artistic trip through Bahamian history. Artists and arts educators included, Jodi Minnis, Blair Gray, Steffon Grant, Tiffany Williams, Elkino Dames, and Averia Wright. They moved fluidly and creatively through the lessons, slowing the pace of the journey when campers struggled and enhancing, shifting and even adding to the lessons when campers moved through their next stop on the timeline with lightning speed. You could find them, usually smiling but always demanding, encouraging just a little bit more from their pupils. Two campers lamented on the eve of their last day that they were both ready and not so ready for the MMSAC to be over: not ready because they had made so many friends - a staple measurement for any great summer camp experience; ready because they were a little weary of being constantly reminded to add to or think more deeply about their work - a telltale characteristic of any great art teacher.
Abby Smith, the show's curator, Camp Coordinator and NAGB Community Outreach Officer worked tirelessly with her team to ensure that each camper was represented in the gallery at least once. That was the crux of her approach to leading the camp through two sessions over the course of six weeks; ensuring that every camper and even the volunteers (mostly teens), saw themselves reflected and celebrated in the program. That love for art and young artists served as the thread and unofficial theme of the camp. So, while participants were required to produce and put forth great effort, they also enjoyed Water Day, Camp Karaoke, and field trips aligned with the curriculum. Then there were the classic House Games, each house assigned a color and named after an outstanding Bahamian artist - this year, Antonius Roberts and Dionne Benjamin-Smith.
In the end, it was the inspired originality of the campers, whose work on display at their National Gallery shined brightly, wowing their parents, sponsors in attendance and even each other. A thought book, displayed at the door of The PS, included comments like, "The exhibition was fabulous!", from pleased parents and that the Mixed Media Summer Art Camp was "hype", "sooo much fun" and "awesome", from our volunteers and campers - just the sort of responses one would hope to hear after such a successful program.
The NAGB thanks the Lyford Cay Foundation, New Providence Community Centre, Mr. & Mrs. Paul and Barbara Hepburn, Graycliff, Mario's Pizza, RBC, ALIV and our many donors and friends for their generous sponsorship and support.
The exhibition, A Journey Through Time: Telling Our Story is open in the Project Space at the National Gallery of The Bahamas, until Sunday, the 28th of August. Visit the NAGB's official Facebook page, @NAGB to view highlights from the exhibition and camp.
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August 04, 2017
A lonely husk of a seed floats across the oceans, from either India or Southeast Asia- we aren't quite sure which-and finds itself in various locales across that lateral band of the planet we call the tropics. This foreign species found itself here, rooted itself, and has become for us an integral part of the way we view our landscape as Bahamians, as a Caribbean nation, and as a "tropical paradise." But how? And what does it mean to have the coconut palm be a symbol of us as a nation, as part of the region, when it is not native to our limestone isles? This is what Jodi Minnis investigates in her new solo show, "Home|Home" on display at the D'Aguilar Art Foundation (DAF) through August 15th.
The selection of collages, using found material, and mixed media paintings of the same ilk, all speak to the investigation of home as it is related to our physical landscape and geography, but also more bodily, embody, ideas of home within us. The repetition of the coconut palm in various sizes becomes a symbol of the ubiquitousness of the palms in our everyday lives, just as they are present in almost every work in the exhibition. The works are Minnis' exploration of Bahamian identity and this questioning is a key part of her practice.
She looked into the misogyny in "sweet-hearting" culture in "It's A Bahamian Thing", her solo show last year at the Central Bank of The Bahamas. Her other solo show last year, "Undefined" at the Pro Gallery, saw Minnis exploring her place within abstraction in the Bahamian art community and provided a way for her to show the connectedness of the national art ecology. She exposed the interconnectivity of people's influences and how that fed into the production of works that often appear to have no easily discernible meaning due to their lack of representational qualities. Minnis has kept this spirit of camaraderie, despite the fact she has been living abroad for university, and uses "Home|Home" as a way to continue to add to the work done on unpacking our representation and visual identity. What then does this mean to the average Bahamian?
In her statement for the exhibition, she references how the islands are in biogeographic understanding-an archipelago that is "vulnerable to plant invasion"--and how, as stated in a report by Ross L Smith on "Invasive Alien Plant Species of The Bahamas and Biodiversity Management,"--"biological invasion is particularly prominent on islands because of reduced numbers of, and in some cases, extinction of native plants." What does this invasiveness really symbolize for our most marginalized communities, both physical communities and those based on how people identify themselves?
When we think of this in conjunction with our history and the fact we arguably have no original Bahamian inhabitants left after Columbus (or, at the very least, there weren't enough to produce any significant cultural impact by their presence), then we can think of this cultivation of our landscape in more than just the terms of invasive or foreign species of plants, but the fact that we are all by this definition foreign ourselves, though we have made our home here, just as the coconut palm has. Some 'classifications' of Bahamian residents, however, become less a part of the landscape and image of this place than others.
Minnis goes on to mention the inception of the Tourism Development Board in 1914, which she quite rightly suggests supports the idea that the islands were formalizing a process of curating and reconstructing the landscape (and image) of the islands for consumption by visitors, as Dr Krista Thompson explicates in her text, "An Eye For the Tropics." While the islands were being shaped to entice colonial tourists during the 1850s to 1920s, the image being put forth was being produced large-scale in situ - coconut palms, poincianas and silk cottons seen in postcards were being planted all along the islands to provide ample opportunity for producing more images of this "tropical picturesque." And the image still lives on long enough for Minnis to investigate it and for all of us to bear witness.
When parts of the island are strategically shaped to look a particular way and that lives on until the current day, who does this landscape belong to? Minnis mentions how people who live Over-the-Hill do not get to partake in this production and enjoy the paradise put forth into the world and neither do people choose to vacation in these communities. She likens it to building a house you can never live in - but perhaps you might catch a glimpse through a window.
And so it is that many of her works function as windows into these thoughts. Her use of wood is particularly apt, taking a natural substance--from elsewhere, as most wood that enters the islands comes from some other climate--and it is cut and polished and sanded and molded into the desired shape. The sandpaper used in the collages also becomes a way of re-creating a landscape: ripped edges become mountains and hills we do not have, but that were certainly put forth as part of our image. Then, we see spreadings of black acrylic, which stand in stark contrast to the geometric drawings on of some of the collages, with golden-gilt letters reading "Over The Hill" atop their blackness, a beacon and billboard amongst the tourist palms to remind us we ought not forget who dwells here and who does not find home in this idyll.
The forgotten bits of found material help to further solidify this, when we see discarded bits of coconut shell and learn where these found objects came from. "I scavenged in the NAGB Sculpture Garden and had bags of glass, ceramic pieces, and things of that nature. It made me think of placement in particular. Thinking about what that space was (the current site of the Sculpture Garden that lays where the doctor for the first African hospital in New Providence used to be, hence 'Hospital Lane') and I began thinking about these objects in relation to that space. The fragments and objects gave me ideas of construction and the development that space is going through now, the way we are reclaiming spaces here."
She points out a rusted bit of metal on one of the black painted pieces: "This part is a shovel I believe, and I thought that, since we're speaking about plants and species that invade and take space, how that all goes hand in hand." And indeed it does. When we see the Junkanoo embellishments on some of the other works, that idea of embellishment works in strong contrast to the sense of honesty and humility of these found pieces. Perhaps we ought to harken back to our more humble roots, especially in thinking about the evolution of Junkanoo, and think of how our embellished present might not fully represent the nature of who and what we truly are. This might just be the way to find 'home' as it truly should be for us, rather than under a particularly shady coconut palm.
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August 04, 2017
Last summer, I had the pleasure of turning my first bowl from Madeira wood with established woodturner and furniture-maker, Robin B. Hardy. With no formal training, he has developed a niche for one-of-a-kind pieces hand-crafted from a variety of wood grown in The Bahamas.
Operating out of his basement workshop for the past 17 years, Hardy's design style is simple, functional and elegant, allowing the wood to express its own qualities and natural imperfections. His practice as a woodworker is inspired by curiosity and the challenge each piece of wood presents. He has coined his creative repertoire as "discovered art in salvaged wood."
Keisha Oliver: For those that aren't familiar with you, can you tell us about yourself and how long you have lived in The Bahamas?
Robin Hardy: I was born in Lincolnshire, England, and moved to The Bahamas in 1952 with my mother and siblings. I attended Queen's College; at the time the school was located downtown between Charlotte and Fredrick Street. I later attended a technical school for two years, before sitting the Senior Cambridge examinations. I started my career in accounting working with Cross & Thomas, a local accounting firm. I ended up in charge of the insurance agency they owned, when they sold it I went to work with Peter Cole & Associates and then Cole Albury Insurance Agency. Before I retired, I was the coordinator for The Bahamas Insurance Association. Currently, I live in Nassau where I spend most of my time in my workshop.
KO: How and when did you get started in woodturning? Is it a hobby or a career?
RH: Woodturning started off as a hobby in 2000. I signed up for a workshop in Pompano Beach, Florida, bought my first lathe and the journey began. I began turning pens and in 2007 I decided to venture into bowl turning. Yes, it started off as something I was interested in doing, but over the years it has grown into a skill that I'm able to earn from. It's not a talent that someone can make a serious living from, but it helps.
KO: Can you describe your process and what woodturning entails?
RH: My process begins with gathering the material that is often collected when people are getting rid of discarded trees that have been trimmed or fallen. When you first cut from a tree, the wood usually has a lot of moisture in it. As it dries the wood shrinks and changes shape. This is usually the longest part of the process. I then cut the piece into the general shape I want before mounting it on the lathe. The lathe is a machine for turning wood that is used along with carving tools to develop and refine the form. It takes anywhere between a day and a week to turn a bowl and 30 minutes to turn a pen.
KO: Are there other woodturners producing work in The Bahamas?
RH: There may be a few woodturners, I don't know all of them, but Roddie Pinder was known as the foremost woodturner in The Bahamas. In 1991, to mark the quincentennial celebrations, he was commissioned by The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce to produce an urn of native hardwood for the landfall of Christopher Columbus. I have a few pieces of Pinder's work in my collection. I also own and currently use one of his original large lathes. There are a few wood turners in Abaco including Stephen Knowles, who specializes in bowl turning. In Nassau, Jeremy Delancy and David McGorrin are two wood turners I know very well and often share a booth with at local art and craft festivals.
KO: What type of wood do you use? Do you have a favorite?
RH: I use over twenty-six different types of wood. Last year I exhibited at the Bahamas National Trust's Christmas "Jollification" market. I had some pens crafted from local wood and some from salvaged wood. When people were told the difference they often reached for the local wood. They liked the idea that I was making use of something that ordinarily is discarded.
When I first started selling my work I would say the wood was native to The Bahamas. Then Eric Carey, Executive Director of the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) informed me that some of the trees were not in fact indigenous to The Bahamas. This was just before BNT started its nature reserve in Eleuthera, where they are preserving native trees. I have identified Madeira, Horseflesh, Wild Tamarind, Pigeon Plum, Ebony and West Indian Satinwood as the main local wood types. I don't have a favorite, but my least favorite is Casuarina you can't find it anywhere in my workshop. It is very unpredictable! It warps and cracks easily so you have to work it while it's wet, because once it dries it's concrete hard.
KO: Where can we find your work?
RH: My bowls and pens are available for purchase locally at The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas' Mixed Media Shop, Doongalik Studios Gallery, The Craft Cottage, and Bahama Art and Handicraft. I also participate in Atlantis' Art Walk at Marina Village, and BNT's Jollification and Wine and Art events. My decor and furniture pieces have been displayed in several group art and craft exhibitions.
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July 28, 2017
Three weeks of Italian summer and being surrounded by art professionals sounds like a dream, and in many ways, of course, it is. From the "shallow" things--like eating gelato for breakfast (which, I'll have you know, is entirely civilized)--to the deeper stuff, of discussing intense readings around the purpose and history of curatorial practice and being able to view Caravaggio paintings in resplendent old buildings, the Goldsmiths 'Curating The Contemporary' summer art intensive, hosted at the British School at Rome, was an education, and in ways I had not anticipated. I was supported by the Charitable Arts Foundation as well as The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas to embark on this journey of professional development that would prove to also be one of intense personal development.
We were a troupe of 17 delegates all from different stages of our careers (some only just considering embarking on a curatorial practice after finishing Fine Arts studies, some long established) and we were also from considerably different backgrounds - all, however, were women. There was a large European base of participants (from Poland, Denmark, Germany and quite a few UK citizens), but also a few American women (who ranged from recent graduates to Whitney and Guggenheim employees). There was also a contingent of us from the peripheries of the world, including myself, a Portuguese director of an
institution in Macau, and a Columbian university lecturer. This was, no doubt, a way to try to ensure a diversity of experience and opinion as we went through discussions on the best practices of curators, what curatorial practice is, what it should do, and the difficult political history of 'the museum' as an institution.
Perhaps, at this point, it might be apropos to explain just what exactly curating is. The course has problematized the way I feel that I can best elucidate it, but while that aspect might be difficult it has, however, made clear to me what I feel my role as a curator is and should be. Simply put, curators are often exhibition-makers (though that is now often used as a term in itself, hence my problem) as well as the caretakers of collections. This means that the role of a curator can span anything from cleaning and arranging the care of a damaged work, to installing artwork in an exhibition, to working out the logistics for shipping out work, to researching artworks and coming up with the theoretical framework to ground an exhibition. It should become obvious, then, that curators are Jacks- and Janes-of-all-trades wrapped into one.
For myself, the most important part of being a curator is knowing how best to support the arts 'ecology' and environment in which you work. Supporting artists, letting the work lead, is all part of it. To curate comes from the latin word 'curare' which means 'to care.' Many of us have lost our care and have put ourselves in a position of irrefutable power, to the detriment of ourselves and the community of artists and people we serve - and more still, some of us forget that we cannot and should not speak for people whose experiences we know nothing of. Support is meant to be the order of the day here.
It may be quite curt to say, but I find myself quite disillusioned with the institutionalization of art - from the indoctrination into what 'counts' as art that we receive in university to the way that certain institutions become validators of what is 'good' contemporary work. Even people themselves become a sort of institution, or biennales become an institution and 'tastemaker' for work. Don't get me wrong; I had brilliant tutors at a small university who cared deeply enough about my experience and potential to give me what tools I needed to make up my mind about my position in the world and therefore my position within the art world. However, even they are subject to the pressures of academia and how to prepare students for life outside of the cushioned (albeit perpetually broke) life of university. They delivered to me the information about art theory and practice that is so rooted in problematic ideals of the Western art world, with not just a heavy pinch of salt, but full-on seasoning that would satisfy any Bahamian. They didn't just tell us that "Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida are important" but also that "Foucault and Derrida have great ideas but are entirely inaccessible to the larger public and what does that do for us? Who does that serve?" For that, I will be forever grateful. They had, at least, sparked that seed of doubting who and what counts as important, allowing me to make up my mind about what was important to me and so many other people like me.
In many ways, visiting the Venice Biennale at the end of my trip helped further to crystallize this. The pomp and glamour of the almost 200-year-old art event - one of the biggest for the art world - seemed to me akin to playing dress-up. That is particularly facetious to say, of course, but there was in the main grounds of the Biennale this feeling of trying too hard that I couldn't quite put my finger on. This was not my first time at the Venice Biennale, my first experience had been in 2011 as part of a university trip, and the whole thing changed my life and view of art forever. But while nostalgia and my ignorance at the time might be bathing it in a rosy glow, there was something that happened there that I did not feel this time.
Maybe this is 'growing up' in the art world, but something was missing and something felt forced, that is until I left the main grounds to view the smaller independent pavilions throughout the city. Mongolia, for example, had a small pavilion that was entirely funded by the artists (whereas most national pavilions are at least in part government-funded, and the politics inherent within this becomes apparent), and it showed. It lacked the sleek polished finish that the main spaces had and it had an honesty in its articulation that shone through.
"I cannot create as a curator." Beatrix Ruf, a German curator and the current director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, said this to us during one of the many talks we had with a number of curators from different stages in their career. Ruf is quite renowned and for good reason. She is an absolute force of a woman and at the heart of her curatorial practice is the artwork and the audience. She spoke of not being able to "create" because for her the role of a curator is to see what is there in the world and to highlight it - which, ironically, sounds like how many view art practices now, and I certainly do. She pushed the idea of not turning artwork into 'documents' that illustrate our ideas as curators; she stressed the importance of not silencing work.
"You can always trust your audience." The Mongolia pavilion certainly did. Ruf was adamant that no matter how experimental an exhibition or work is, quality always comes through to people. Adding to this, I would argue that honesty always comes through to people. Trust is what we need to make any art environment thrive and it is something that many feel the art world is lacking.
The content of the discussions and readings were stimulating and I don't believe I will ever be able to live amongst a more eloquent and empathetic group of people in such large number again. However, what I learned most from this course, from this journey I dare say, was through my introspection and the treading of a difficult line as someone who is both of European descent and who is Other, existing outside of that Europeanness. I have gained more in insight than any book could give. My personal conclusions at the end of this course: I know myself and my ethics in working in more acute detail than ever before; the art world is struggling under the weight of its own difficult and dominant Western, Eurocentric history; and lastly, the care in curating is still there - we just may need to look South to find it.
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July 28, 2017
Five days a week, you'll find Bahamian ceramicist Jessica Colebrooke in her Nassau studio, which is tucked away behind her home in the Gleniston Park community. 19 years ago, Colebrooke started out in a 10 x 10ft room with a sheet of plywood on two crates and a small kiln. Today she owns and manages "Jessica's Tileworks Studio," one of the leading ceramics and tile manufacturers in The Bahamas. As a mother, wife, educator, artist and entrepreneur, Colebrooke has committed her life and work to supporting and nurturing a culture of creativity.
Keisha Oliver: When did you first realize you wanted a future in ceramics?
Jessica Colebrooke: I realized my love for ceramics when I was a second year student at The College of The Bahamas (COB). Since high school, my love and passion for painting was always drawn towards realism. To visually see something and to recreate it exactly was a challenge and I love challenges. At the time (early '90s) I researched and met some of the major Bahamian artists including Brent Malone, Antonius Roberts, Ralph Harris, Eddie Minnis and others. I enrolled at COB still in awe of realism, but I found myself surrounded by students and emerging artists with interests in abstract art and educators who were pushing for students to embrace a wider variety of art forms. I appreciated the styles but they weren't for me. In my second year at COB, it was in my ceramics course that I realized how much freedom the medium gave me.
KO: How would you describe the emergence of ceramic art in The Bahamas?
JC: Our history dating back to the Arawaks and Chelsea Pottery in the '50s is fading, because there is not much reference material left from that time. So, I've always quoted Denis Knight as the driving force of ceramics in The Bahamas. Knight lived and worked in The Bahamas since the '50s teaching in the public schools and at COB. Unlike, Chelsea Pottery, which was known as a space for producing commercial pieces, Knight pushed ceramics in the arena of fine art. His work always had a unique and expressive quality. In the '90s, just before I left for Rhode Island School of Art and Design (RISD), the artists who I knew were practicing included Joann Behagg, Sue Bennett-Williams, and Sabrina Glinton.
KO: You are known as the first female tile manufacturer in The Bahamas. Why do you think there seems to have been a shift from the Denis Knights, Maxwell Taylors and Brent Malones to a modern reality where women dominate the ceramics practice?
JC: When I was a student at COB, there were a few practicing, female working as ceramicists like Joan, Sue, Sabrina and even Sonia Isaacs. So here you had these women who were making their contribution, but rarely recognized. I've realized one of the main reasons is that male artists tend to self-promote more than women. From my experience the woman's role as a mother, wife and homemaker has played an important part in why women are not as visible in ceramics and the arts in The Bahamas. A lot of women of my generation and before had to wait until their children were grown to focus on their creative practice. So, while a male artist may spend a lot of his time in his studio a female artist is divided. I'm divided. The reason why I'm able to get my work out is because I sacrifice the time and spend many nights in my studio.
KO: What do you feel are the qualities that determine the success of an artist in The Bahamas? Do you feel biases in gender, age or otherwise exist?
JC: Success is a personal thing. Once you've set goals and achieve them you are successful. A Bahamian artist who may be living and working abroad is not necessarily more successful than the artist who is doing the same here in The Bahamas. Biases like racism will always exist. These are hurdles that we should learn from. I have experienced gender bias in the art community. Individuals and entities that should be neutral in providing equal opportunities often lean toward promoting and supporting male artists more. My advice to women is to focus on what you are doing, promote and invest in yourself, and be dedicated so that you can navigate your progress and positioning in this community.
KO: Is there a market for ceramics in The Bahamas? Does it have a sustainable future?
JC: Before I went off to RISD there wasn't. In Nassau artists were only holding exhibitions, but in Treasure Cay Karen Mcintosh had been running Abaco Ceramics a commercial ceramics studio since the early '80s. While finishing my degree, I grew spiritually and one of the things I asked of God was that I wanted to return home to be more than simply a teacher, I wanted to be a working artist like Antonius Roberts and Brent Malone. In my senior year, I studied Henry Mercer for my thesis. He was one of the founding fathers of the arts and crafts movement in the US in the late 1800s. He also created a sustainable market for pottery and tile manufacturing. I realized that his model was something I wanted to bring to The Bahamas.
My vision for "Jessica's Tileworks Studio" (JTS) started there. I wanted to bring a unique artistic flair to the commercial products. After returning from RISD there was a blossoming season. The pioneers like Sue and Joan still practiced, but artists like Imogene Walkine, Trevor Tucker, Katrina Cartwright also emerged. There is still a lot room for the industry to evolve. I see Bahamian artists like Anina Major and Alistair Stevenson as contemporaries who are working toward this. The financial and technical obligations to the craft make it an unattractive venture for many, but slowly we see through exhibitions and manufacturing there is a market and a future.
KO: How is your studio organized?
JC: JTS is a two-story facility with a ground floor production area, an outdoor kiln area, and an upper floor gallery and showcase space. I work more than I play, but always make time for my children. I work alongside a team who focuses on the commercial brand, but I also contract artists and students to work on specific projects. I was commissioned to produce tiles for the Stix Noodle Bar at Baha Mar. A small group of artists worked on this project with me. Those are the things I'm concerned about, creating creative and financial opportunities geared toward collaboration.
KO: What are you currently working on in your studio?
JC: The studio is always busy. I'm working on developing a collection for a 2018 exhibition, my team is filling orders for clients and distributors, and we're working on a new project with Atlantis. The resort has been recently promoting and supporting Bahamian individuals and businesses and I was commissioned to produce pieces for its' Earth and Fire Pottery Studio. The venture is going well, because I think tourists realize that they aren't just acquiring a souvenir, but buying an authentic Bahamian piece of art they aren't able to get anywhere else in the world. Here you have this corporate giant identifying a local artist they want to take a chance on. I'm excited about this partnership because it is a challenge that introduces the JTS brand to a new area of manufacturing.
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July 21, 2017
The dream sold is of young men being told that they are prosperous, only to realize that they are imprisoned in a tangled web of failure or underachievement. Young men from the inner city, once the thriving home of Blacks -- forced by segregation and reduced circumstances to live in particular parts of town -- is cast as the worst place in the country, a place that only produces criminals.
These young men are taught they are not allowed to demonstrate emotions other than anger and are to be "hard" young men, which means to procreate, while collecting and discarding women. They come from broken families where no one has the time to talk, to share and they are expected to support the family in early adulthood. Such is the stereotype of the young, poor, Black male.
Gender constructs become a social prison in this environment that compound development and produce cultural norms that undermine national progress. Normalizing this kind of gendered behavior reduces a young man to a violent body expected to feel only through deriving sexual pleasure, never providing the same. The Caribbean boasts this kind of set-in-stone male stereotype, where men are seen as soft if they are educated and causing many to join gangs as a form of identification and belonging.
"The Ballad to Deangelo Johnson from Quakoo Street" is much like Diana McCaulay's 2010 novel "Dog-Heart", only installation art is different from literature and poetry, is distinct from prose; it is also set in The
Bahamas as opposed to Kingston. All the same, it is much like a trap that devours young people through the hard and fast playing out of stereotypes and racialized behavioral patterns that negate any individuality or soul.
In a deeply colonized, fervently Christian, deeply corrupt and class-stratified society, the ability of poor young men to ascend out of the limitations is almost impossible. They can be gangsters or basketball players, and they must work hard to rise out of the swamp of peer-pressure if they choose the latter.
In the exhibition series"Double Dutch" the latest edition of which opened yesterday, Friday, July 21st at the NAGB brings together two artists, one from The Bahamas and another from elsewhere in the region. This iteration of Double Dutch "Of Skin and Sand" focuses on Bahamian Edrin Symonette and Jamaican Leasho Johnson, who use different media to communicate a similar message. Although distinct in their work and their depiction, the overlaps between these two young men are quite interesting. Masculinity and the cultural tragedy that destroys it, similar to Ian Strachan's play "Gun Boy's Rhapsody," break silences through visually disturbing the view, first through nudity and then through masculinity on display.
In 2017, the severely damaged national fabric as shown in these works is not unique to The Bahamas but is regional as can be attested by Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados. It is no accident, however, that The Bahamas has one of the highest rates of sexual violence in the region, even though underreported especially when men are expected to behave in said fashion towards women. The system in our countries is deeply dehumanizing and although often romanticized as a friendly paradise, it is not paradise for those who inhabit Over-the-Hill with their strict codes of conduct, their limitations and their crushing social constraints that reduce masculinity and femininity to what tourists want and so we are produced for consumption by those who come to revel on our shores.
Earlier this year, Sue Katz Lightbourn showed her work on images of women at Hillside House, which critiqued the sexualization and objectification of women in popular culture and media. These two young men work with similar images, but this time more focused on males and masculine stereotypes and identity.
At the same time, Johnson depicts images of 'typical' Black women in other work displayed in Jamaica. His 2015 "Back-fi-a-bend," created with yeast paste on a wall in Kingston, Jamaica, presents the image of a Caribbean woman, who Zora Neale Hurston in her anthropological work such as "Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica," (1938); "Mules and Men," (1935), "Dance Songs and Tales from the Bahamas," in the Journal of American Folklore (July-September, 1930, issue) would have called a beast of burden, carrying bananas on her head and her back. The first part of the images in Johnson's work is of women fully be-gowned and crowned with the emblematic fruit of Caribbean servitude, the Banana. The last in the sequence is of a woman bent over, naked with the bunch of bananas on her back. Although all images depict servitude, they also show a degree of resistance to that servitude. However, in this show, Johnson approaches the work from a different angle, examining more the images of human sexuality, perhaps better said is the idea of beastly sexuality and masculinity. To join this Symonette's installation presents a male body prostrate on the ground covered in sand and sawdust with genitals exposed.
In The Bahamas, although silenced, the fact that no other real or sustainable form of national economic dependence is ever mentioned other than banking a pipe dream sold to a largely minimally functionally literate audience, where people are to be servers in the air-conditioned bliss of resorts while ignoring the exodus of banks. The new focus on Tourism and its plantation-based economic model is fully explored in the play "Smile Orange" by Jamaican playwright Trevor Rhone. Originally performed on stage in Jamaica in 1971, it captures the insidious exploitation with which we are complicit victims, according to Rhone. It is not ironic that some 40 odd years later, the paradise dream or myth is even more entrenched and the population less aware of the social and economic degradation that partners with tourism.
Art is not meant to cajole us into comfortable acceptance, though for some people a pretty view is all that art should be decorative. At the same time, the social praxis is often expunged from the work because it makes people uncomfortable. This show is uncomfortable. It exposes the world's view of Caribbean masculinity, indeed Black masculinity as nothing but a penis used to sire more bodies of labour or to provide pleasure for those who come for a few days of paradise sunshine.
Patricia Glinton-Meicholas's "No Vacancy in Paradise" (2001) and Ian Strachan's "Paradise or Plantation" (2003) form a dangerous alliance with Jamaica Kincaid's caustic little book "A Small Place" (1988), that exposes the underbelly of Caribbean life, and it is even thrown into sharper focus in her "My Brother" (1998), penned 10 years later. These works, pave the way for what Symonette and Johnson capture in their installation. Though the region has become less pithy and less critical of its unholy alliances, it is still deeply invested in self-exploitation through romantic self-selling. Perhaps the best way of examining an absurdity palpable in Rhone's play is through the ironic images of Caribbean alterity deconstructed and critiqued in Dr. Krista Thompson's "An Eye for the Tropics," (2007).
It is also ironic that 44 years of independence has produced a far less self-critical group of leaders that were perhaps satirized by the earlier Caribbean artists and thinkers but are far less criticized today. Although problematic, V.S. Naipaul's "The Mimic Men" (1967) soundly castigates these leaders who become the same colonial masters from whom they saved these small post-colonies. Rhone's play shows how merciless writers and artists were in the early days of idealism and social reform. Today, we are made uncomfortable by nudity, even while we celebrate the prostitution that tourism embodies. Governments come and go, yet tourism, notwithstanding all discourse of sustainability and nationalism, remains the fatted calf that cannot be criticized.
What is so oxymoronic about the nudity and the use of the Black body, or even more pointedly the mulatto body is its silence. We choose to ignore the selling of souls. We are so closely monitored and tightly wound in our Christianity closet that we dare not discuss sexuality, sex, sensuality and commodification of the body. We cannot contain our delight when it comes to bashing art or the possibility of women achieving some degree of equality. We have become so consumed with an irony of the tongue cocked solidly in the cheek that we cannot even see the glaring irony, painful paradox and (a)cute oxymoron of morality in paradise. Paradise is always deeply sexualized and always ready to be exploited.
The artwork produced for "Of Skin and Sand" is so wonderfully disturbing and yet so quiet, except, of course for the minor problem of a male member being exposed in the set. Do we not get the awful political correctness and lack of awareness being produced by a people who can no longer see nudity without cringing but can walk over, by, past poverty and death without batting an eyelash? It would have perhaps been truly pushing the envelope if the tone and metre of Rhone's play and Walcott's work could have even been approached by these two artists.
We can talk about women being beaten, about not challenging men and their need to behave badly, about the patriarchal privilege of leadership and the use of the penis to rule over an entire community, but we cannot discuss the objectification and the commodification of bodies who barely matter to those who lead them. Sexual violence and sexual exploitation thrive in such inequalities and silences. We are the beach on which other people's dreams, fantasies and even perhaps nightmares are played out, especially when deposits of semen are left behind, though we daren't mention such. It is not ironic that we are bent under the weight of the paradise myth and the continued sexploitation of "Otherness" and the inherent loss of identity that occurs through national erasure of multiple stories.
Johnson and Symonette show us so many deeply silenced and nuanced stories that we can choose to ignore the penis lying there. It is also not ironic but tragic that all most people care about is buying into the myth of Black masculinity perpetuated by a long-lasting stereotype that all Blacks and especially mulattos are only good for....
I appreciate and love the work and the discussion it can produce, but also the damage to personal and national psyche it demonstrates. Similar to Katz Lightbourn's show, this work deconstructs how we see masculinity and femininity and shows us that we are being sold off at an amazingly low price, yet we see nothing wrong with the packaged deal. We are the silenced subalterns in 'Stella Getting her Groove Back' who are not even aware of the damage done, but who serve other people's hang ups and downs.
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July 21, 2017
The title is undoubtedly provocative, given the Bahamian bent toward Christianity, but "Let Us Prey" (1984-86) is, quite literally, a gift. Donated by Dave Smith in 2007, the work is at once an act of good faith while simultaneously critical of bad. It's another painting from the National Collection that we have given some gentle care to and put on display for the current Permanent Exhibition, "Revisiting An Eye For The Tropics", and fits into the theme of the Bahamian everyday that works within this exhibition.
Dave Smith is a British artist who moved to The Bahamas and spent 17 years here before moving to the U.S. Arriving on our shores as an abstract painter, he is now hailed as a home-grown Pop-realist, with Smith's paintings depicting the Bahamian every day in the style of Pop Art. Art can become a way of knowing a place and Smith's way of looking at our struggles and idiosyncrasies comes from a position of one who is simultaneously 'inside' and 'outside'. He no doubt has strong ties and feels at home here, but he is also from an entirely different cultural background to many of those living in these Bahamian scenes that he paints -- this duality of being familiar with 'The Bahamian', whilst concurrently holding his own Britishness, gives his works a very particular perspective in viewing our society. Certain things seem curious, like the old cinema titles he so carefully renders in his work, but his attention to the minutiae of our lives are shown in such detail it can only be an act of care and consideration.
Smith captures the strange and sometimes the uncomfortable beauty of the place in which we live -- outside of tourist ideals. Tacky figurines with strangely European scenes of dogs catching fowl hunted by humans, distorted TV screens, and shiny pink cars with headlights rendered meticulously -- all this alongside hastily-painted but carefully crafted clapboard. It's a snapshot of Bahamian life in a nutshell. Our obsession with the news, with strange customs and tendencies toward U.S. and British culture, the love of cars and looking like you 'have arrived', all against the backdrop of the classic clapboard house to root us again in our history, it's all here in "Let Us Prey" (1984-86). By building the symbol of a home in the work, he is helping to visually build our world as we know it in the form of an artwork, an object up for consideration by us and, as such, he helps build the arsenal of images depicting Bahamian life.
The advent of Pop-Art after World War II marked a period of art investing itself in the mechanical production of the West as it rebuilt itself and a pointed move away from art being for 'the elite.' Art began to make use of the everyday and of 'kitsch,' thereby making itself a product of the people - and it was certainly a product, commenting on the consumerism of the art market by having work made largely by machines. It became less about the hallowed idea of the 'original' work of art and more about people, the quotidian and what we see on a daily basis. By moving away from the elitism around the 'unique,' it made itself no longer out of reach for our growing consumer populace. This is a genre that Dave Smith still finds himself in years later because it holds a certain relevance to us. It helps us to see ourselves and what surrounds us in an accessible way, in a way that we are familiar with.
"Let Us Prey" (1984-86) sounds like a warning and a command in one and this simple play on words speaks volumes, chapters, tomes - just like the verses and books of 'The Book' that many of us read from on Sundays. The ironic play on words of 'pray' and 'prey' might cause some to bristle at the thought, but this is not the work of a heretic so much as a critique of how we have come to know ourselves and our sense of compassion. On the one side of this work, are the articulately detailed images of those things we find ourselves concerned with - and they all have to do with image and how we represent ourselves. Figurines and other material items with which we present our homes, the pastor screaming aloud on TV, and what looks like a shiny Cadillac below, are all symbols for how we value what image we put forth to the world. We show ourselves as proudly Christian and, as the clapboard on the right of the work might suggest, we do very differently behind the walls of our homes and within our hearts. If it is all for show and we are too caught up in material goods and appearances, then we truly have turned our 'praying' to 'preying' upon each other - as the only thing that can come out of keeping things up for appearances is to bring others down.
From the time of this work's creation to now, we still turn on the TV to consume the horrors of the world, albeit told from our very specific perspectives and biases, but they are horrors nonetheless. The screaming face, genderless, and rendered in the scratchy lines of TV 'back in the day' would hold good competition with the iconic painting "The Scream," by the Norwegian Expressionist painter Edvard Munch,,- which the advent of mechanical reproduction made available on everything from posters to mugs to tea-towels. Some might say, why shouldn't it be? Whereas Munch and other Expressionists looked inwardly to provide visual displays of intense emotion, Pop Art had a more outward mission: to make art familiar and to collapse some of the perceived mystery or boundaries seemingly inherent in artwork.
Works do not ever solely exist in the time they were made--the context is undoubtedly important and is part of the meat of the work--and meanings and significances accrue throughout time that can make work relevant and meaningful in the present. "Let Us Prey" (1984-86), viewed in the context of the citizenship and gender equality referendum, for example, can serve as a poignant reminder of how we 'preyed' upon those more disadvantaged than ourselves, how much of the debate around the referendum became a class war and a matter of, "How can you possibly think this way!?" from both sides, and how the church became once more tied up in state affairs.
Its relevance runs deep, and this is why these works have lives of their own that continue to add more to our own stories as Bahamians as much as it might add to their own as an artwork and as a lens through which to examine life.
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