March 27, 2017
“Cargo,” written and directed by Kareem Mortimer, had its world premiere at the Miami International Film Festival this past weekend. This compelling Bahamian drama opens with bodies washed ashore, portending the tragedies involved in human smuggling. Kevin (an excellent Warren Brown) is a down-on-his-luck and deeply-in-debt white Bahamian fisherman who needs to improve his life. He has an ailing mother and angry wife at home, and his son is about to be thrown out of boarding school for unpaid tuition.
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March 25, 2017
During the first two months of 2017, The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas welcomed its newest staff members, Malika Pryor-Martin and Katrina Cartwright. Since their arrival, they have dived into their roles as development and communications officer and education officer respectively, and have seamlessly integrated with the existing NAGB team.
There is always lots of work to do at non-profit organizations and the NAGB is no exception. "We have already begun thinking about next year's projects," says education officer Katrina Cartwright. While she anticipates that the coming months will be productive and challenging, 2018 promises to be particularly exciting and rigorous. "Work volume becomes secondary when working for an institution that puts emphasis on positive social impact." Malika Pryor-Martin, who has taken on the new role of communications and development officer, echoes these sentiments, "Serving a national institution is so much more than just a position, it is a passion. I'm not an artist, but I have a serious love for the arts."
Malika Pryor-Martin has been shaped by the unique landscape and enduring optimism of growing up in Detroit: an international city, where the world is truly small, and yet, never small-minded. As a child, she was surrounded by art and spent numerous hours in galleries and museums. "It's one of the perks of growing up in a big city," she says. She envisions the NAGB as a space where families, couples, children...communities go to enjoy outings and activities. "As the communications and development officer, it is my responsibility to see to it that the NAGB is articulating all that we offer and that we have the financial capacity, as we move into the future, to do that more and more and better. We are a great institution working towards being greater every day. If I can contribute to that worthy aim, then in however many years when my time with the Gallery is done, I think I'll be able to say that I did my job."
With a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Michigan and Juris Doctor from Wayne State University Law School, Malika is an attorney by trade, practicing for nearly three years in the areas of entertainment and domestic law in Atlanta, GA. However, she has spent the last decade professionally engaged in the nonprofit sector as an industry consultant and administrator, including holding tenure as the Director of Education and Programs at the Charles Wright Museum of African American of History in Detroit, Michigan. As a result of her work, Malika has considerable experience in fund development, specializing in grant procurement and corporate partnership.
She is also the founder and Chief Innovation Officer at M. Nicole Unlimited, a boutique experience curation firm that produces CurlyFest Bahamas.
Katrina Cartwright is a ceramist and arts administrator who has lived and worked in Nassau for the past ten years. She left her hometown in Long Island to attend the College of The Bahamas in 1999 and later obtained a BFA in Ceramics from Maine College of Art. She is currently pursuing an MA in Arts Administration at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland and has an intended matriculation date of August 2018.
An educator and arts advocate, Katrina has assisted with various fundraising and community initiatives locally and abroad. It is her belief that education plays a vital role in the continued growth and relevance of arts institutions. She has, until recently, been affiliated with Popopstudios ICVA as both a studio artist and Education Officer, and has worked as an adjunct instructor in the Art Department at the University of The Bahamas. Katrina has also apprenticed with local and international professional ceramists, and her work can be found in several collections in The Bahamas and the United States.
Before joining the NAGB team, Katrina was employed as the Membership Officer at the Bahamas National Trust, an experience that has cultivated a greater appreciation for the importance of conservation and preservation to The Bahamas. She is a partner in the start-up nonprofit, Exnihilo Art Center, which seeks to create sustainable opportunities for, and collaborations between, artists and existing art spaces and institutes, both nationally and internationally.
"The wonderful thing about working with a young institution like the NAGB is that the potential to create new initiatives and structures is almost limitless. Education is an important component of the Gallery's structure as it engages the community through programming and makes sure educational resources are readily available to the public. As the Education Officer, I am truly looking forward to building out the Education sector and implementing programming that will have a lifespan beyond my time at the Gallery."
Malika and Katrina bring their passion and love for the arts to their new roles at the NAGB, and the Gallery is pleased to have them on its team.
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March 25, 2017
Doongalik Studios is busy preparing for its TS2017 Exhibition under the theme "Inside/Outside Naturally" which will feature the works of eleven multi-disciplined artists as a part of the weekend art bus tour of six Bahamian art galleries on April 1st and 2nd.
Doongalik's pre-event activities will begin in the back gardens on Monday, March 27 when the public is invited to observe master sculptor Antonius Roberts, as he completes a live installation of the first Sacred Space in eastern New Providence from 9.30 a.m. until 3 p.m., by carving one of his renowned sacred figures from a rooted coconut tree that lost its top during Hurricane Matthew.
Roberts is eager to establish this landmark, which will be another first for him in his quest to provide such contemplative and healing art sanctuaries throughout The Bahamas, especially during these times of anguish and uncertainty.
"As artists, we are extremely conscious of the importance of making these creative statements in public spaces. This has been my mission since 2006 when I created the first Sacred Space with Tyrone Ferguson at Clifton Pier, followed by the second on Blake Road, and others throughout the Bahamian archipelago. People naturally seek hope and healing, and I am thrilled that I am able to use my talents towards this greater purpose," Roberts said.
"We are humbled and honored that Antonius will be gracing the property with this Sacred Space. What an amazing preview event for the TS Tour!" enthused gallery owner, Pam Burnside. Since we will videotape his installation, the TS weekend patrons will also be able to enjoy the experience."
Roberts' Sacred Space will stand amongst the garden along with the artwork of six additional artists including two ceramicists, a floral designer, a straw haute couturier, a multi-media artist, and a paper artist. These outside exhibits will be complemented by the works of three wood turners whose wood creations will be on display inside the gallery. The Doongalik TS2017 Exhibition will remain on display until Wednesday, April 26. Gallery hours are Monday to Wednesday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Tickets for the Transforming Spaces Tour are available for purchase at Doongalik Studios and The Place for Art, the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, and Hillside House. Much more information can be found on the TS website at www.tsbahamas.com.
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March 25, 2017
As University of The Bahamas students work to design smart, green, locally-responsive, environmentally attuned drawings for the Expo 2020 World Fair to be held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in three years' time, the nation also prepares to be under the microscope on the world's stage.
This massive event is the place where new ideas become reality and innovation and connectivity work to inform the future of the world. World's fairs are where buildings like the Brighton Pavilion and Crystal Palace become reality, both created for the Great Exhibition of 1851. We must, though, be ready to move beyond the locally known or lived reality and explore the unknown, the space out there that will be utterly different from where we are today.
As a Small Island Developing State, The Bahamas faces many unique and other common challenges. We face sea level rise and low rainfall followed by high levels of rain in short spaces of time, for example. New architectural designs must be prepared to meet that reality head on. This design would be a change from the poorly-thought through, rapid adoption of all American designs to the tropics, where they do not work because they are environmentally and/or culturally inappropriate, though they work well within their geo-cultural context.
These UB students have a unique opportunity to be inscribed into the future of the country while still extremely young and relatively inexperienced. We hope that this will pave the road for well-informed, well-researched and culturally sensitive models that can sustain our society into the future. The reality of 2040 will be far different from the reality today, which is already distinct from the reality 10 years ago. We now need to look at design and architecture as an art of the future that can relate to everything we think we will need.
Culturally, we will be distinct. Conch and Grouper, both Bahamian 'cultural icons', will be less readily available. How do we, as a people and later as a nation, plan to adapt to this essential change? We cannot continue to eat conch every day or even every week if we want our conch stocks to survive into the near future. This kind of cultural shift will signify a new understanding for and appreciation of sustainable living. Given that, we can no longer be controlled by an eye for the tropics that casts the country's islands as mere backdrops to a dream or film set where other people come to play temporarily, isolated from the inhabitants who reside here 365 days a year.
The eye must be controlled by these same architecture and art students, involved in Expo 2020, and others like them who create the gaze based on research and local adaptability and resilience. How can we begin to produce conch without further damaging the environment or creating unsustainable expectations and species that threaten the way of life even more?
Dr. Krista Thompson's work on the colonial vision of the past and its framing of today's Bahamian experience as sold abroad must be altered to capture, and reflect without distortion a local harmony and resilience where Bahamians are involved in their own design, not an international firm with little or no local experience who can step in and erect sky-scraping edifices that does not meet local building codes. Our designers, much like our artists, can and should be homegrown, developed in the incubator of the University of The Bahamas, that would need to develop a far more vibrant and dynamic offering, if we are indeed to meet the needs we see rapidly approaching.
Expo 2020 is the future of the country, as witnessed when the students presented to Cabinet at the campus, and again when they presented to the National Committee at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building recently. We have to shift the paradigm from patterns of development that are unsustainable, much like high-occupancy, high-consumption, non-green, energy-sucking shrines of pleasure that seem to dominate the landscape. Architects and artists like the Anthony Jervis and the late Jackson Burnside, are two, who bring their local experience and appreciation for Bahamian culture, space and place to bear on their work, paving the way for these young people. This is where design thinking in The Bahamas needs to go.
It is sad and unfortunate that Jackson Burnside could not be with us today to see this potential transformation of the Bahamian sea and landscape into sustainable, culturally representative and environmentally responsive thinking and design. We are at a propitious juncture in our national development and our history where we must throw off old gazes that dictate how we see ourselves; we must create new visions and images that liberate us from those prisons.
The National Development Plan and Sustainable Nassau as well as Creative Nassau are required active participants. However, government and governmental planning should not be the sole guide in creativity and design as it is famously outdated.
Universities that offer advanced research and design are where the knowledge is, much like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Chicago Tech, and others famous for this kind of work.
Government, rather than constrain through its present vision and past limited experience, understands that the future rests with thinkers, creators and innovators and these young minds that are not mapped by national constraints, but transcend all strictures and boundaries to create the Crystal Palace and the Brighton Pavilion of 2040 and beyond. We must encourage the students and ourselves to think beyond our current binding strings that tether our imaginations and souls to sinking policies and archaic designs.
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March 17, 2017
'Nassau Boy' (1973) by Maxwell Taylor is a patterned, shifting mass of humanoid parts set against a lightly textured background, with a hint of houses and civilisation in the distance. This work is most certainly not what one expects of Taylor's practice, but it is one of the more rebellious and unexpected pieces in the National Collection, a bit of a misfit, and our March Artwork of the Month.
Initially, the work appears to be an abstract, expressionist, surrealist imagining of a gaunt, winged man - some haunted angel perhaps - and is unmistakably European in influence. This comes as no surprise, as Taylor and all of the Chelsea Pottery apprentices were deeply influenced by art books they could get a hold of, and that of course would be the better known European and Western movements in art history.
The Chelsea Pottery and subsequent Bahamian Pottery served as a safe haven for the burgeoning creativity of Taylor and his contemporaries of the time. Together with Brent Malone and Kendal Hanna, the young men looked to texts and found works they visually resonated with.
As Dr. Erica James states in 'Max Taylor: Paperworks 1960 - 1992', Taylor "was drawn to the work of many artists, but in these early years he evinced a special affinity for the paintings of Paul Klee. The series of works Taylor produced based on Klee's (work)... are significant not because he was able to faithfully re-present Klee's painting (which he does not), but because they reveal the artist's desire to grasp, capture or recreate qualities of the work that first drew him to it."
Though 'Nassau Boy' (1973) isn't an obvious reference to Klee, it is apparent that the Klee-influenced experimentations Taylor completed nearly a decade prior, had some lasting resonance in the dark palette and anamorphic form of the figure presented here. Works such as this are testament to the sense of urgency in Taylor and his fellows, having to search for information the good old analog way, before the ease of the ubiquitous Google search button on our phones and computers. They used what they had near to them, what was available to them, and thus begun the process of trying to understand what they each wanted their art practices to be.
The influence of the vast and varied artists of the Western canon as evidenced in the early practices of Taylor, Malone and Hanna is quite plain to see, but to simply write them off as experimentation alone is perhaps unfair to their significance here and to the art world as a whole. As Stuart Hall refers to Caribbean peoples as 'conscripts of modernity' (an idea coined by David Scott), we are "not the people who go forward and build the modern, but the people whose fate, whether they like it or not, has been to live the underside of modernity." We are not major players on the global stage of power, we live on the periphery but this cannot ever discount our experiences.
The work made by Taylor in the first two decades of his practice, during the run-up to independence, gave us the first depictions of Bahamian life and society outside of the false picturesque image we knew ourselves through - an image that has endured since its early British-colonial inception. Taylor was not some international forerunner in expressionism as the movement began, (he simply couldn't because of the timing!), but he arrived at it and grappled with it nonetheless; and had he not, he mightn't have given us our first visual representations of Bahamians in our lived reality. 'Nassau Boy' in its phantasmagorical display begins to give us just this.
The title alone is a declaration to his Bahamianness. Though the figure looks like something out of a fantasy, the houses in the background - on top of each other, pinched together, in the distance, are entirely reminiscent of houses from Over-the-Hill where he grew up. This dreamlike figure is perhaps an aspiration to overcome the adversity he would have faced growing up during the last years of British colonization in a place where inhabitants were not afforded the care and respect they deserved.
The thing looks to be growing, preparing to take flight, but isn't quite fully formed and defined yet - though it doesn't feel like it's something dysfunction or incapable of action. This being looks like an amorphous mass of untapped potential, waiting to figure just how to shape itself: much like our fight for independence and knowing ourselves as a nation. 'Nassau Boy' is a declaration of identity and self. It ties in European and African-Bahamian influences together, much like our history, and what is left between is something unclear but full of possibility.
In this way, even before his deliberate attempts to show the black Bahamian experience, Taylor's 'Nassau Boy' (1973) helped to provide us with representation outside of the rigid tropical ideals of the nation that formed how we were seen and how we saw ourselves since the 1800s. This is why we have chosen to unearth this work that lies outside of the 'typical' Max Taylor as part of the new Permanent Exhibition at the NAGB, entitled 'Revisiting An Eye For The Tropics'.
As Dr Krista Thompson, author of the text that served as inspiration for this show, 'An Eye For The Tropics', explains, "(Tropicalization) characterizes how, despite the geological diversity within "the tropics" and even in a single Caribbean island, a very particular concept of what a tropical Caribbean island should look like developed in the visual economies of tourism". This is rings true not just to the way that the islands are produced as images and dreams to be consumed by the public, but also to the various festival practices throughout the region.
Though our tourist industries throughout the region play to the stereotypes produced in these 'visual economies of tourism', and though they often conflate the different carnival and masquerade practices in the region as a single, similar entity, we know our own truth and we know the inherent differences in the ways these different celebrations function from island to island.
Even for islands that celebrate Carnival, the sheer difference in experience is obvious to those of us living in these places. We could never truly compare our Junkanoo to Kadooment/C in Barbados or to Carnival in Trinidad - but the tourist industry would have people believe that they are all the same, just on a different sunny location. 'Nassau Boy' (1973) might not appear to be a direct reference to Junkanoo from the muted color palette, but the influence is certainly there in the patterning, and even subtly in the idea of costuming and taking on other forms.
Taylor's work, despite the visibility and power of this forced touristic image we must constantly grapple with, helps us add to the visual lexicon of images around The Bahamas in an interesting way. Even it's lack of representational qualities in the way the content is abstracted is a statement against the tourism status quo - of sun sea and relaxation. The more we can display our varied experiences and expressions - even as far as the variation in one man's practice alone - the more we can add to the weave of our story ourselves.
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March 17, 2017
I have visions of color rubbing up on each other, sliding over liquid slopes of sun-drenched limestone and bleached out roads, deepened by heat and dust. Color capturing what we do not see, but refuse to ignore. Islands are aloof, detached, yet our islands lay under the vibrant eyes of people who do not know this. They have always travelled, always ventured, always known that life is bigger than us, bigger than this island in the middle of the water, surrounded by beaches of no value until the new people came and barred these things from our lives.
And colors run savagely across sun-drenched landscapes. Bright and salient water washes over unsuspecting reflective sands which tingle and glint under the unforgiving sunlight of the 'tropics.' Our waterscapes belong to no one, but us. Our coasts are our colorful and a collage of humanity mixing with inhumanity, slammed up against the silent resistance to my disappearance. I lie prostrate on a ground of melting asphalt under a hotter, more radiant sun of never before seen proportions. Beaches are fenced in and closed off from my unprying eye.
Color mixed with light melted down with noise and rebuilt with a spoonful of flavor keeps us alive. Always plant the okras away from your house, they attract ants. Water in the cool of the evening and never throw water wastefully on the hot ground, it will disappear.
Images of islands, idyllic homes, picturesque landscapes, quaint and quiet roads, no cars racing up and down, no police, no ambulances, no crime, no poverty, splendid beaches and book-reading in a hammock life where we slumber along.
Stephen Mouson's text A living tradition: Architecture of the Bahamas, works around some of these island images. These images as depicted in picture postcards and transcribed in lyrics of song that attract tourists to tropical shores butt up against the bawdy, boisterous, loud, bright, discordant but still beautiful colors and unfitting accidents of spaces in collision with each other, the difference between where I live and where they visit revisit that old idea of paradise off limits to locals.
NE8 participating artists Dave Smith's 'Passin thru' and Attila Feszt's installation 'Fake Plastic Trees' have put together, though not in the same room or at the same time, a clash of ideas and colors, perhaps even of sounds, that provide a kaleidoscope of images and meanings that work together to roughen the sea. Though working through different media and at different times, these two artists' works have collided in my mind to create a story that is far too often being overlooked and/or forgotten to the sweet sounds of yellow bird over the tinned music at the newest hotel resort that has catered to a class of travellers who do not want to be seen by the plebs in Paradise but want to be in Paradise.
Two things aside from the amazing juxtaposition and disharmony and tropical bliss of this work that struck me was how they speak to a recent New York Times piece, ' President Trump's Island Mentality' which reduces all of us islanders to:
1. remote, detached, or aloof
2. illiberal or narrow-minded
3. isolated or separated
These islands have been anything but isolated, remote or even aloof. If there is anything to be said, it should be that we have been far too open. As the heat turns up on the people, we find ourselves facing down two worlds, and the former must always inform the latter and vice versa. Sadly, in the world of Art, what we are usually confronted with has already happened. In the 19th-Century, great Romantic poets works foresaw the gloom and doom, as well as the rot and the harsh beauty of nature. Also, in reaction to the Enlightenment, Romanticism valued the inner broodings and the power of emotion and depth of feeling, so to misquote those poetic masters, over the logic and rationalism of reason. They lived intensely!
As both Enlightenment thinking and Romanticism have deeply influenced our present but also quietly moved into the shadows, we can now live to challenge both schools. We are now a nation for sale. This harks back to the 1984 special report created by Carl Hiaasen and Jim McGee of the Miami Herald that explores the rife corruption in The Bahamas. As studies show, when corruption increases in a well-off country, one can note the deterioration in the driving etiquette and observation of road rules. We are facing another kind of sale, and this time it is the literal sale of everything for a song.
Smith's and Feszt's works untie the strings that blinker our eyes from what is afoot. The Romantic notion of serendipitous cohabitation is trounced by the stark juxtaposing, in Smith's work, of the local color and the exotic space. Here spaces collide as much as they do not harmoniously coexist. When people come to paradise, they come to enjoy the local beauty, soak up the soundscapes, and enjoy the warm hospitality that means people leave you alone enough for you to enjoy yourself. The new rendering of Paradise as Feszt shows is everyone buying their piece and moving it out of the world where they enjoyed the local color and tradition. His 'Fake Plastic Trees' installation exudes ironic spice and seriously examines the concept of a nation for sale or even paradise for sale. How can we sell paradise when we have nowhere else to go?
Bahamian culture cannot survive without the very land we need to live on. One time ago, people leased land that would revert to the landlords at the end of the lease cycle. This has changed. How is this sustainable?
Both Feszt and Smith use color to create happiness that is undergirded by an unsustainable nightmare of death, crime, murder, consumption and a rapidly changing, if not vanishing landscape where locals are casualties to the almighty dollar. If there is one thing islands are no longer, it is detached and or isolated, remote and narrow-minded. The colors may indicate a happy-go-lucky mentality, but the tragedy of this is that our islands are changing and our culture is being eroded through overexposure. What Feszt calls Plastic Fake Trees, a term I think so poetic and a harsh reality check for islands that rely on the pine barrens to attract rain, but choose to bulldoze and replace them with ubiquitous palms, a symbol of tropicality, as expressed in Dr. Krista Thompson's work.
As we uproot, tear down, build out, get rid of all old clapboard houses that stood the test of time, because, according to insurance companies, they are not insurable, we erase ourselves. It is not unrelated that as we claim to be developing, many of the islands lose their links to the outside world as the usual RBC branches close up shop, up stakes and leave, abandoning the Islanders. Are we to return to ideas of illiberal narrow-minded hiding money under mattresses, as we supposedly did in the early twentieth century? At the same time, bankers, tycoons, and money washers come ashore like the flotsam and jetsam, unchecked and unchallenged and devour miles of sea front views. They leave us landlocked near the landfill. We can be pro internationalization and pro land sales to international persons, but it must be well managed, or we face the threat of simply selling ourselves into disappearance.
The amazing beauty of both these works, one an installation, the other a slam of juxtaposing a dying culture under the weight of international consumerism and transnational remapping of spaces and places to serve the tastes of those who visit paradise, want to own a slice, then, once it has been denuded of it nature, plucked of its people, deforested of its thoughts and uniqueness, erased of its difference, will once again up sticks and leave, selling the dream of paradise on to the next consumer, who will never know the cost of development. Small communities become a threatened oasis that quickly vanishes like myriads in the desert.
Feszt's work 'Fake Plastic Trees' opened in the Project Space Room on 21st February and will run until tomorrow, Sunday, March 19. Dave Smith's work is a part of the provocative and disturbing NE8 show and will remain on view until April 16. How much damage can passin thru do? Can we paste colors without being wiped out of the collage?
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March 13, 2017
Legendary Bahamian musician King Errisson has recently written a book about his life from childhood in The Bahamas and his climb to fame as a world renowned percussionist. His book “My Life, My Loves” tells the story of his early years of growing up in the beautiful Bahama islands and knowing that one day he would be somebody. His grandmother knew he was special and she called him “King.” He is known worldwide as an illustrious percussionist, composer and actor.
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March 11, 2017
John Beadle was born in 1964 on the island of New Providence in The Bahamas. He received his BFA and MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and the Tyler School of Art of Temple University respectively. Beadle delves into various art genres, including painting, printmaking, sculpture and installation. Often, his highly conceptual work consists of everyday materials such as wood, found objects or metal. According to Beadle, "Material - the found, already weathered stuff carries with it a fragmented narrative that makes for very interesting placement possibilities."
Beadle demonstrates great dexterity through the use of non-traditional material such as fishing hooks, machetes, and oars which are frequently contained in his works. The process of incorporating these found materials into the pieces presents an intimacy to the works that wouldn't otherwise be achieved - people can relate to them on a personal level, with materials that may be familiar outside of an art context.
Row Yah Boat is made up of a variety of materials, including wood, metal, plaster and other found objects. The viewer is presented with a trolley on wheels, carrying multiple plastered heads on top of a brownish-red, gravel-like/dirt-like material. Above the heads within the perimeter of the trolley hangs a wooden oar, delicately balancing on seven wires making a V-like shape. The oar extends outward over the gallery floor, where a glimpse of blue string wrapped around catches the eye, providing a stark sense of contrast against the weathered brown wood of the oar.
Beadle's statement for the project states: "The piece started with me collecting the oar. The piece answers nothing. 'Row, row, row yah boat. Row, row, row yah boat. Row, row, row yah boat gently down the stream, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily life is but a dream.' Wake up! This piece started with me collecting the oar! How did I get here? The dream."
The poetic arrangement of Beadle's statement raises many questions and leaves interpretation wide open for the viewer in determining the concepts behind this sculpture.
The oar is traditionally used as a means of transportation through a technique known as sculling. Sculling is unique to The Bahamas and consists of the sculler standing at the back of the boat facing forward, with his right foot forward. The sculling notch is located on the port crown of the transom and balances in a notch sculpted into the back of the boat. In the left hand, the sculler grips the oar and pushes and pulls in a rhythmic motion. Through this effort, the boat is propelled through the water with great power and minimum effort.
A theme of physical movement is evident in this work, directly alluding to a form of transportation that feels somewhat primitive, but also authentic to The Bahamas and its people. Many of Beadle's works deal with the gloom of illegal migrants and the inevitable identity struggle that encompasses the life of an immigrant. He often questions what it means to be a Bahamian person. For that reason, the back and forth motion associated with the oar may be a symbol of the movement of people from one place to another, and the complexities that come with establishing stability in a new environment.
Beadle's formal choice of stringing the oar amidst the trolley with seven repeated identical wires adds an aura of the sensation of movement, particularly the rhythmic, steady motion that a man executes through his sculling.
On top of the trolley, lie twenty sculpted white plastered heads. Details on the faces are limited, with only the subtle engravings of eyes, a nose, a mouth and ears presented to the viewer. We cannot distinguish the gender of the heads, nor the race or age. Some heads are stuffed with silk cotton balls and others with simply crafted wire structures. The blue rope seen on the top of the oar is repeated on some of the heads, deliberately covering their eyes and mouths. Various heads have been covered with the brown gravel/dirt-like fine powder that they sit on, and one head is lined with spikes from a silk cotton tree. The heads are intentionally placed with materials that are associated with that of a laborer.
Beadle is making a plethora of references with his choice of found material interacting with the sculpted heads. One of the heads dominantly sits on top of a wooden pedestal, and two others are suspended on a wire platform. The variable heights animate the sculptures, providing a dynamic that feels rather active. The juxtaposition between physical movement and the lifeless heads exhibited without bodies adds an interesting layer of context to the piece. The idea of physical labor is presented through the oar and the trolley, but the emotionless heads provide a sense of a lack of expressive freedom.
Disembodiment has a role in society of being a type of unruliness that is visible to some, but invisible to most. According to Coates in 'Between the World and Me,' "Disembodiment is a kind of terrorism, and the threat of it alters the orbit of all our lives and, like terrorism, this distortion is intentional" (114). To Coates, being black in a white supremacist society is similar to living in constant fear. Black male bodies are thought of being insensitive, superhumanly strong and threatening. Trayvon Martin threw an adult man's head into concrete with consistent force, and Michael Brown was a demon who charged into a storm of bullets toward an officer's gun, with no hesitation. Despite these assumptions, Coates describes the black male body as vulnerable and poses the question of how it is to live in a body that is both scared and scary, simultaneously.
Beadle's choice to exclude facial details that may provide insight into the person's individuality further speaks to a lack of identity, an issue commonly felt by migrants. The piece shines a light on the worker, perhaps being used for his or her physical power, and commonly seen as an object rather than as an individual. Their bodies are used as a means of aiding in the completion of a task, like a machine perhaps, rather than a being of spiritual significance.
Beadle's use of a neutral color palette makes direct reference to the land, further emphasizing the job of a laborer, working conceivably in a field or on a farm. The piece in its entirety draws attention to the relationship between people, cultural identity, post-colonial labour and freedom in The Bahamas.
"Row Yah Boat" is currently on view in the NAGB's National Exhibition 8 through April 16, 2017.
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March 11, 2017
It is quite apparent in taking a stroll around the 8th National Exhibition (NE8) that there are a number of works by women, for a start, but also that many of these works by women deal with just that, with womanhood. These works are explicitly centered on the feminist canon of tackling the issue of women's rights, or more subtly trying to turn our eyes to other aspects of femininity. Take, for example, the work of Averia Wright and her nuanced reinterpretations of our straw-work culture and the feminine, or the collaborative effort of Joann Behagg and Jackie Pinder with their clay tower of faces and chains confronting basic human rights for women and girls.
This isn't surprising, of course, given that while the open call for this NE didn't have a set theme (unlike the past 3 calls), 2016 was so wrought with negativity: towards women, toward people of color, towards anyone capable of having their existence or way of life targeted, that certain themes naturally emerged. There is much to grapple with and to unpack as women here, and that covers rather a lot of ground: women of color, queer women, lesser-able bodied women. There is so much to think through in trying to find ways to establish autonomy, to have it recognized, to have it accepted, to be able to find a way to navigate in the world when it often seems we have more than one stack of odds set us against us. Something as simple as 'allowing' people the basic right to work to sustain themselves is a start.
The notion of working women is one that often makes us feel empowered, and is so very often seen as a symbol of feminism and the advancement of women. This week, March 8th marked International Women's Day. For many, it is a day that marks a celebration of women and work, and particularly women working outside of domesticity, women working in the field. The 'International Working Women's Day', as it was originally known, was first celebrated on February 28th, 1909, following a strike the previous year. Women of the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union, primarily immigrants, marched in New York to demand better treatment, and to demand justice in regards to their social and civil rights. Not unlike the image of Rosie the Riveter, the post-WWII icon of women and strength, the day was founded on the idea of women working outside the home and finding a sense of strength, autonomy, and purpose.
This is, however, a very problematic day and a very problematic image. Though the original International Women's Day was held on a Sunday, expressly to allow women who otherwise might not be able to attend because of, of course, attending work, the most recent celebration coincided with the 'A Day Without Women'. The 'Day Without Women' was intended to be a day where women forego all work - in their jobs and their home lives - but instead, to many, it became a situation for those with the privilege to march to be seen and exclusive of those who might not have the chance to sacrifice. Some simply cannot afford to not show up to work, and more often than not, these are people who are marginalized in some other way, be it class, or creed or color. Further, the idea of women working being a hallmark of the advancement of women in itself is difficult - black women have been working both inside and outside the home for our entire lives, but these are not stories that get told quite as they should or quite as often.
This is why the work in the NE8 is so important, to give a vast range of expression from people who might be put down or put aside in more than one way. Sometimes people don't just struggle because they're a woman, sometimes it's also because they're a person of color, or queer, or of a particular religion. To express support for our sisters and brothers who might experience oppression on more than one front is to be intersectional in your feminism. It means that you accept and want to help those who might struggle in a way that is entirely different to your personal struggle, and to want to offer yourself as an ally. This isn't a new concept in truth, and has in some form or another been present even since the days of the abolitionist movement. When enslaved Africans and their allies were fighting to end the practice of slavery, there was also acknowledgement that liberation and empowerment should not just be given across race, but also across gender, as Soujourner Truth campaigned for the rights of blacks and women both.
"And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne
thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?"
Truth's cry of validation and recognition rings true in its own way in the work made by black women today - whether it deals with the matter of black womanhood directly or not. We can see it as Wright walks confidently across the screen through her video work, "Tropes of Caribbean Identity" (2016). She carries a straw-work bag cast from bronze, weighing at least thirty pounds. The bag is entirely absurd, a useless to carry around. In many ways, we can see this as the emotional labour women so often have to bear, and particularly that black women must bear. Too many of us know that we are - willingly or otherwise - the confidants of friends and strangers alike, but who do we have to listen to us? This is merely another form of work that we undertake as women that so often goes unrewarded or taken for granted.
Given that her mother runs a stall on the straw market, it's easy to see how this might influence her work outside of the obvious aesthetic. Straw work here seems to be simultaneously a symbol of pride and Bahamianness here, as well as a dying art in many ways as younger generations forego the practice - it isn't the most lucrative, and more often than not the weavers are women. As Wright walks amongst these foreign lands in her video work, the idea of trying to navigate history and identity is very much felt.
Or we can look to Behagg and Pinder's clay tower, 'Equality?' that makes a towering statement around the rejection and failure of the past two referendums for equality in The Bahamas. They aim to give voice to the women in The Bahamas and the Bahamian diaspora who feel disillusioned with their place and value in our society. They address the fear-mongering around the referendums, the resistance to change, by stacking different layers of the traditional roles of the sexes in an almost totem-pole structure that also seems to act as a hierarchy in some ways, or a timeline. Women are the bottom layer of this pole, but they are also the foundation - mothers, caregivers, housekeepers, professionals - though equal pay and treatment are still denied us.
As women of all walks of life have always been tied to labour, it's long time the hard work no longer goes unnoticed. Women of color, queer women, lesser-abled women alike, 'An we is woman too?'.
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March 03, 2017
We are very much accustomed to seeing our islands in various forms of media, anything that can spread the image of our too-blue-to-be-true water. And it is true, we do have some of the most beautiful water on the planet (along with a number of other countries though, we mustn't forget), and we are, according to certain NASA astronauts, "the most beautiful place from space". However, despite the natural beauty of our landscape, for almost 200 years we have been packaged up and sold as this pristine image that seems to be as clear-cut as our crystal waters.
The colonial era postcards and photographs in the National Collection, ranging in time from what is estimated to be the 1850s to the 1920s, give us insight into the era - though perhaps not quite how one would imagine. Photography as a medium is often associated with a sense of truthfulness, honesty, immediacy, and often voyeurism.
There is a prevailing view of traditional photography as a way to capture a 'snapshot' as a way of capturing a moment, of showing the world as it was at the time it was taken. This assumes a sort of neutrality that is, if not dangerous, simply false. Photographs are not and cannot be neutral, the assumption of objectivity cannot be true - because they are, like everything else visual, completely subject to the eyes behind the camera.
These postcards and images then, are much better at showing us how we were seen rather than how the place actually looked.
The tourism machine of our early British colonial rule produced what in some ways could be considered propaganda. There was an image pushed forward of what we were that wasn't quite on the mark. Geographically speaking, The Bahamas doesn't fit into the ideal of the Caribbean tropics: we are not mountainous volcanic islands full of high vantage points to view the lush tropical forest, we are not this imagined eden or paradise. In fact all of the islands in The Bahamas aren't located in the tropics, some north of the Tropic of Cancer.
The images of Jacob Coonley, a New York photographer who had migrated to take up residence in the islands, and his young Bahamian apprentice, James Osborne "Doc" Sands originally from Eleuthera, became a way to skew the image of the islands to fit an unattainable ideal. Trees were planted with photos in mind, and things were framed 'just so' to show the docile native, the wide expanse of untouched land so full of potential. All was set to entice the good people of our 'civilized' mother-colony to have no fear, to choose a distant locale to start over, a place to escape the industrial Victorian grime, to heal, to recover.
Where photographs are often seen as truth, so is painting seen traditionally illusory in nature, a trick. Translating a three-dimensional world into a two-dimensional plane is, by its essence, is a sort of deception. So how did hand-painting and hand-coloring play into the way that these touristic shots were consumed? This mixture of assumed truth and assumed trickery?
Until around the middle of the 20th century, the majority of photographs were monochrome, so hand-coloring photos and postcards was the most popular method to bring the images to life, to make them seem just a bit more real. The association of the Caribbean with bright colors isn't just because of our warmer climates lending themselves to greenery year-round, it's also largely to do with us being produced and commodified in this way: as a tropical kaleidoscope of brilliant color, but also a place to convalesce. Arguably, the hand-color of these old postcards has a fair bit to do with this stereotype. While hand-painted photography had much of its origins rooted in Europe, it is undoubtedly the Japanese who took the stirrings of this method and mastered it, starting in the 1860s.
Swashes of green over the previously static black and white images was a way to literally and figuratively add color to the way the islands were seen. The act of adding this color is political in its own way, and when we look to how hastily so many of the postcards were colored, it becomes apparent that there was a sort of urgency or fever in disseminating the images as far and fast as possible.
The color gave the images life as well as vibrancy, and were intended to make them more 'real' and exist less in the imaginary - though the painting is clearly so haphazardly done that it was never intended to be reality nor artistry. They were done for easy production as far as we can assume. These indiscriminately painted pictures weren't just ways to entice, they were also souvenirs - acts of memory under rather murky and false versions of reality.
The technicolor and sometimes acid/caustic image we have now is a development from something that may not have been nearly thought through, a shaky foundation for an industry that founded f our economy, identity and sense of self upon.
Perhaps it is time to move out of this base of 'slam-bam' color and into something with a bit more depth? A bit more sustainability? Indeed, it may be time to move away from this image tarnished with age and a warped history and bring into sharp focus an image that may suit us as we are, an image that t shows our sense of our humanity, our independence, our particularities and our nature. This, as complex as it might be, would allow for us to actually find likeness in our own image.
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February 24, 2017
The act of making art is often framed to and by many of us as a joyous extracurricular, a hobby, something therapeutic. While for many it can be this pleasant and easy experience, for those who consider themselves artists in the sense of being art-workers, it is a labour of love. It is perhaps therapeutic more in the sense of physiotherapy - hard work, blood, sweat, and tears, but the end goal is gaining a full range of motion, a freedom you hadn't anticipated but undoubtedly require. Art making is at once brilliant for mental health, but also the catalyst for a very specific kind of mania. This is the way that Jordanna Kelly, the 2016 winner of the Central Bank of The Bahamas' (CBoB) Open Category Competition, perpetually finds herself making and working.
Kelly is known for having, as she admits, a very involved process of making. This is evident in the meticulous nature of her current work 'Discarded Pearls' (2016) currently on show as part of the 8th National Exhibition (NE8). Beer bottles are filled with layers of sand collected from beaches throughout the archipelago and displayed alongside macro-shots of the sand, documenting the variety within each shore of the islands. It is a process that is at once scientific, methodical, and, quite frankly, a little torturous.
For her solo show, however, she has perhaps reached levels of commitment to the hand-made production of her work that borders on the masochistic. Thousands of sheets of paper - and I must stress, this is not hyperbole - have gone into the series of wall-based and installation works for 'Bugs, Blessings, & Barriers' which opens at the Central Bank Gallery on March 3rd from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm. It all unfolded starting with the origami as a starting point, something that she revisited from her days at the College of The Bahamas (COB).
A work that she feels will have the most presence in the space is an interactive installation called 'Shower of Blessings.' This will be a 6ft x 6ft pedestal, and by stepping onto the platform, the audience becomes the artwork in a sense. The idea of the viewer becoming the viewed, of the audience becoming a vital part of the visual of the artwork is referred to as 'relational aesthetics,' a term coined by French critic Nicolas Bourriaud in his 1997 text of the same name. It creates work that is an experience, work that isn't complete until the viewer becomes part of it. It is a way to take away some of the power from the sanctitude of art, to allow you to touch and cross the distance that we so often achingly must obey as regular gallery-goers.
The audience will be invited to step onto the pedestal and utilise a sculptural umbrella prop from her days at COB. "The umbrella acts as a barrier, but it also has holes cut out in shapes of flowers and other beautiful things. I'm trying to say that sometimes it's good to let your walls or barriers down, to let some of these things
inundate you and to get a little wet. Sometimes through the negative things, if you share what's happening you can receive positivity. We hate the rain, but it makes the flowers grow."
The idea of balance and appreciation of your past struggles as you move into new spaces in your life is the main idea that Kelly wants to impart. It is fitting, given the laborious nature of the work. Papercuts and paper burns (this is an actual observable phenomenon just by looking at her fingers) are the trials she must go through, stints of working from 7:00 am til 1:00 am the next day: all these things give way to works that are bright, beautiful, colorful, intricate, and delicious to the eye to partake in. She has given us what we want, but without wanting purely to satisfy - it is beautiful work with the purpose of being enjoyed for certain while providing us with a moment of gratefulness for our tribulations of the past.
"Some of them are flowers that are 1.5cm but made of 5 sheets of paper, and others are one sheet of paper but made using 38 folds. They are labours of love. For the entrance, there's going to be an installation of an overhang suspended above everyone's heads holding 5000 hand-folded paper flowers. I want it to be something a little overwhelming. You won't be able to see them for what they are as you enter, but when you move upstairs and get on the same level, you'll be able to see the flowers in greater detail."
Hindsight and the way it engenders an appreciation for the things that shape our present is the notion Kelly wishes to leave us with. Just as her wall-based works are collaged layers - some dark, some light - that create a single cohesive image, she wants us to see our lives as a collage where the darker elements are entirely necessary to add depth and perspective to our respective bigger pictures.
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February 24, 2017
The legitimacy of the Willie Lynch speech "The Making of A Slave" is one of much controversy within Black history. Lynch was said to be a British slave owner in the West Indies who was invited in 1712 to teach his methods to his American counterparts on the banks of the St. James River of Virginia. While activists and historians argue Lynch's existence and the credibility of the speech, what remains interesting is the evolution of the rhetoric surrounding the propaganda. Fact or fiction, it prevails as an ongoing public discourse with a myriad of responses across academic and artistic platforms.
Bahamian animator Jason Evans, otherwise known as Artist Javan, recently joined the discussion with his animation and installation "Making of A Slave - response." Evans came across Lynch's speech during his studies at Drexel University in 1995 -- a time when much attention was given to Lynch marked by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan's references during his Million Man March address. Although always intrigued by Lynch's myth, it was only in 2016 that Evans decided to formalize his research and respond to the speech creatively.
Currently on display in The Pro Gallery at the University of The Bahamas, "Making of A Slave - a response" offers an animated narrative to a discussion that is uncomfortable for many. You are welcomed by a projection of Evans' artist statement beginning with an excerpt from Lynch's speech "I HAVE A FULL PROOF METHOD FOR CONTROLLING YOUR BLACK SLAVES. I guarantee every one of you that, if installed correctly, IT WILL CONTROL THE SLAVES FOR AT LEAST 300 HUNDREDS YEARS." For those unfamiliar with the text, the abrupt inhumane tones leave you slightly unsettled but curious.
The moment you enter the gallery, the installation space seems intimate with theatrical undertones. The animation is projected in a dark room with an aged sofa for the viewer's comfort and a vintage satchel in a distant corner. The audience versus the two objects stages a composition for conversations on history, separation, and complacency. The presence and aesthetics of the sofa and satchel offers an interesting preface to the animation. Their placement and distance from each other touch on broader issues of black Caribbeaness and our willingness, or lack thereof, to engage with our entire history in a meaningful way. This prompts the question, are we merely spectators or contributors?
In The Bahamas, we too are guilty and blinded by our stubbornness and safety net. Like the audience viewing the satchel, our past is still our present. We acknowledge our ancestral heritage as Afro and Caribbean people, which for the most part was passed on from our European influences, but our history is more layered. There is much to be told. What is lost are the moments that co-exist with the colonial narrative. The undocumented stories that are buried with our ancestors are unable to reach future generations. The question is, when will we rise from complacency and continue on the path of Bahamian historians like Dr. Gail Saunders, Dr. Keith Tinker, and their contemporaries? Research is far from glamorous, but necessary, and artists like Evans teach us that non-traditional and artistic ways of analysis and revisiting a subject matter are valid and important for our cultural authenticity.
The installation experience revisits this idea of mind control. Committed to the small space, while subjected to the harsh audacious sequence taken from Lynch's speech, you are forced to be attentive as the words move quickly across the screen. What is most interesting is the void of sound in the piece, which touches on the absence of the speech giver. Who is Willie Lynch? Is he a myth? This also addresses the psychological issues associated with engaging with such a statement. How it makes you feel lies at the heart of the ongoing public debate.
Initially, when the animated words appear and disappear in the black background you are slightly disappointed as you think to yourself, 'Is this it?' After a short build up, the script begins to form an outline of the human brain. The artist's attempt to visualize the "Willie Lynch mentality", a construct of a racial and social divide, the oppressor versus the slave. Lynch's malicious tone "Don't forget, you must pitch the OLD black male vs. the YOUNG black male . . . You must use the DARK skin slaves vs. the LIGHT skin slaves," portrays the art of division in skin color, age and gender; sadly a social ill haunting us daily. It is vexing on many levels. But unlike our slaved ancestors, we have no one else to blame. Not all of us are public activists, but these warped values will remain if as individuals we don't bury fascism and promote cultural and social advocacy.
On the subject of film, blackness and Bahamian history we all can learn from the life and career of the iconic Egbert "Bert" Williams. Williams was a Bahamian actor and comedian who defied the odds and excelled in the 19th century, an age when racial inequality and stereotyping were the norm. This past week The Antiquities, Monuments and Museum Corporation (AMMC) in conjunction with the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), commemorated the legacy of Williams who was the first black actor in film and Broadway and is considered a pioneer during the Vaudeville and Renaissance era of black entertainment throughout the Americas.
The way Williams embraced the 'blackface' used mainly as a trend for non-black performers of his time to represent a black person is similar to Evans methodology. Both artists adopt the subject matter meant for oppression and subvert its build-up to demonstrate new thoughts on the construct of black identity through film.
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February 17, 2017
Images can create wealth, or they can be used to create ideas of paradise that serve only to silence those who occupy the place of paradise. Can we begin to use new art or contextualized images to tell a story that sells a place to the world that builds local and resident brands instead of disempowering them?
In the late 90s, there was a noted shift to recapturing the image of empire in England and other parts of the world. The new shift was towards nostalgia of a past that was distant, but close, a past that was great, a moment when Britain ruled the waves or was that Britannia, either way, it was the same. The move brought plantation living back to life and reframed race and the encounter differently.
Publications such as Islands Magazine did a few stories that were noteworthy for their re-presentation of what had been cleansed of its stigma and boutiqued by the passage of time and the slippage of memory. One story was on Antigua and the nostalgia for slavery and the plantation, and the other that I found informative was on Cat Island in The Bahamas, the island that time forgot. Both stories rendered the Caribbean this space that was utterly delightful for its backwardness and its charm; of course, the people were lovely and accommodating. We had learned well from our colonial days of submission and suppression.
The ways in which art and especially photography captures this is significant because the gaze focuses in on an aspect that re-presents the entire culture or place while silencing everything else that was afoot then. So, exploitation, rape, and pillage were taken out of the text and what was seen was a happy native who smiled and was responsive to colonial projects.
The project to recreate nostalgic bliss in the hemisphere that was imperially controlled by the Europe plantation economy, and then by the US through the Monroe Doctrine without any mention of such devices, except to say how good those days were. This was instrumental in re-establishing a place of inequality and hierarchy where locals resided below, and international corporations resided above. The images left behind from those days, especially those black and white photos that render us happy with servitude, are windows to how race and re-presentation become seriously troublesome by de-historicizing and de-contextualizing the image.
In hindsight, looking back on the new millennium seventeen years in, it no longer seems coincidental that at the same time the resort was taking off in the Caribbean, those images of colonial subjectivity and bliss began to circulate in new and interesting ways. The resort was different in the way it 'captured' large swaths of land and gated them off from local communities. The image was also different because it was now us sending out those old images and offering ourselves as bait to entice fishers of men and women.
The old colonial office was now a tourism board, and the pith helmets were replaced by power suits or flowered shirts that sold us to them. We had gone from being rendered as darkies diving for pennies in Nassau harbour or 'natives' waiting for coppers in Grants Town, to a beautifully-landscaped and managed destination.
Tourism is not a problem! Tourism and culture when combined well can be an excellent driver of economic development and when locals and residents are involved as owners and entrepreneurs - managers of their ownership. But when beaches are closed off to tourists, residents and Bahamians who do not stay at a particular resort then it is damaging. It only becomes exploitative when sold as a foreign-owned enterprise that divests local development of any chance to focus on itself and creates absolute dependency. In fact, when it creates serious inequalities through disempowering both tourists and locals in favor of exploitative business practices is when everyone who visits and stays over suffers.
This is when resentments build and passions reignite. The images that begin to circulate allow this kind of festering resentment to build because rather than being depicted as equals, everyone who inhabits the space is re-presented as an exotic trope to a trolloping public, to use a term from the 19th century made famous by Anthony Trollop. Catherine Hall has worked with the 'Going a -Trolloping: Imperial man travels the empire' (1998) motif for a while, investigating the exploitative nature of this exploration and the ways in which masculinity was re-inscribed in different ways through the expansion of the empire.
The photographic image is a fabulous way to speak for and on behalf of a subject, and to use the subject's image to render the space open for business. It is also interesting that when the old images began to recirculate, they were never contextualized by present day images of progress and national development, but rather with mushrooming resorts and private playgrounds. Integration is missed.
The sale is of a romanticized old world existing in current day surroundings, much like the writer who claimed in the last three years that The Bahamas still did not come up to western standards of living. Rather we still inhabited cardboard huts and ramshackle, makeshift buildings that could be easily replaced when washed away. Perhaps Hurricane Matthew proved her wrong.
When projects like these create expectations of an Edenic paradise, they set the people up for failure. Culturally speaking, they render the entire culture subject to others, to cite Moira Ferguson's title from her 1994 text. Bahamian culture and people are far more than a paradise that laments the missing past of slavery and the plantation; or where people are afraid to walk by graveyards, or wish for a return to the old ways when blacks knew their place and laws were obeyed without question.
These images are dangerously strong and resilient and re-present not a culture but the idea of a place where people can come and play. Art transcends a simple marketing tool that silences so much of what is here, the parts that travelers are truly interested in seeing but are closed off from them by gates that only allow particular images to filter through.
Why can't tourism be used to drive Bahamian development that is beyond Paradise Island or Baha Mar? This place where the GDP is now outpaced by debt, where the level of inequality has soared at an alarming rate. If we examine the Gini coefficient, where the local or onshore economy has become a place that has dropped to the bottom of the ease of doing business list, and it takes months for regular business people to get permits, licenses, and approvals; where the investment status has been junked, and many of the regular people teeter precariously close to disaster and demise.
As much as we talk about tourism driving development, as it stands today, everything from legislation, to public policy stands against national development in the tourism sector. Bahamians are shut out by laws that allow transnational businesses to buy the best land between $1.00 and $10.00 an acre and then give the latter millions or trillions in 'incentives'.
The image then that is being sold does not match the reality of the times and in fact, buries the local voice and the voices of anyone doing business in the country who does not come connected from above or sit at the top of the ivory tower.
Old images are fantastic, and the stories they tell can draw travelers and bolster a thriving tourism industry, but they can also re-create disparities and re-present old ideas that no longer serve anyone and undermine any form of national development other than transnational, no-boundary business that leaves no real wealth onshore.
Art is a fantastic tool for development, let's use it wisely.
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February 17, 2017
The first of a series of three solo shows, "Metanoia" featuring the work of Navarro Newton, is the culmination of a year's hard graft at Popopstudios ICVA. Newton is one of three recipients for the 2016-2017 period chosen to work under the support of the Popop Junior Residency Prize (PJRP), alongside his fellows Nowe Harris-Smith and Keith Thompson. The residency is offered as a way to help nurture and support our young emerging artists, and to quite literally offer them space to create.
For Newton, the title of the show represents just that. "Metanoia is the constant changing in one's mind - and the inspiration comes from the whole experience of the PJRP. I was finally in a space where I could create. Having a space in the Popop studios and being surrounded by so many different artists, there are so many options, so much freedom. This show for me is what happens when you give someone space to create, when you give people that freedom, give them the support they need to grow."
Metanoia, as it is defined in regards to psychology, can also signify the breakdown and subsequent rebuilding and reformation of the psyche - perhaps even of the self. It is in this vein that the repeated dot and line imagery of Newton's work comes into particular significance. The pattern of dots and lines are an abstraction of the classic, haunting image of how slaves were packed onto ships during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and the idea of metanoia can become a way to see ourselves and our way forward as a postcolonial nation with this history.
"I was just going to use it as a background at first and put figurative elements over the top of it, but just through the application of it
- using different brush sizes, different strokes, different colors - I was able to get imagery. It seemed like the images were almost dancing to me, so I just ran with it and kept overlaying. There's a kind of distance between the imagery as it's presented to you and their original source."
The way he plays with the image, producing a pattern that is so seemingly removed from its origins - quite literally a move from a black and white drawing into bright and colorful paintings - is in many ways an act of trying to reckon with our cultural memory, with the way our history is felt in our everyday lives though we never personally endured these events.
"I can never fully identify with the slaves in the slave trade - the whitewashing, the books we studied, the lessons we learned were things like "Christopher Columbus saved our little country by 'discovering' us". So from the beginning we've had this idea that a white man saved us when our reality is that we are descended from people who were enslaved and brought over against their will. But we don't hear it like that, we don't learn it in a way where it's framed truthfully, it's all skimmed over."
This act of reckoning, of reconciliation, is even more evident in looking to his 'puzzle' works: pieced together from old works that were hacked apart and reformed. The process through which he creates his paintings holds just as much significance as the works themselves. They provide Newton with a way to think through this history and what it means not only to him personally but also what these things mean to Bahamians in general.
"It's odd for me, because I'm actually of a mixed race background - my mother is biracial - and it's weird because I feel like "what culture is it that I have? Are the roots of this something I even want to be attached to?" It's hard to come to grips with."
The fact of the matter is, whether it is through direct lineage as in Newton's situation, or not, all of us as Bahamians have to grapple with the fact our culture is rooted in this duality and binary of Afro-Caribbean and British. This is what makes the culture in The Bahamas so particular and so uncomfortable to deal with, but this is a regional discomfort we deal with - being of a culture that is in part from the colonizer, in part from the colonized.
"I feel there's a missing part of my existence, a part of my history I can never quite claim and that puts you in a strange space. There's a gap, a distance I can never cross. I want these pieces to be a conversation about what they mean to the person viewing them and why, I want it to be something contemplative, something that inspires an internal dialogue to get people thinking about these things and what they mean to each of us individually."
Just as we have our own history, so do many of the works. Painted on roofing plywood, Newton works around the knots and 'imperfections', using them as part of the work, letting them inform the way he moves forward with each piece. In many ways, this serves as a hopeful metaphor for how we can view ourselves and our history as Bahamians.
We have a particular grit and grain to us as a people, and rather than smoothing everything over and painting over it all to start afresh, we can recognize these knots, cut off the pieces that no longer serve us, and piece together something new and beautiful - with the truth of our past and the hope of our future fully on display and presented as a balanced whole.
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February 10, 2017
Kendal Hanna, a Bahamian artist and forerunner of abstract painting, brilliantly captures energetic expression and emotion through the intense repetition of line exemplified in Untitled (Rainbow Explosion). Hanna has masterfully engaged in his medium, stretching its ability to exist both boldly and lightly, from heavy black in the foreground to a luminous yellow in the background. Splatters surrounding the composition and within provide insight into the craftsmanship of the work, leaving signs of active brushwork -one can imagine Hanna physically engaging with the paper, paintbrush and paint with high energy, working confidently as his subconscious mind expresses itself on the paper.
Hanna was diagnosed with schizophrenia early on in his life, a mental disorder affecting the way in which a person thinks, feels and acts. They may have difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is imaginary. Hanna was said to work primarily in black and white until after his treatment when he began experimenting and working with color more extensively. The abstract aesthetic illustrated in Hanna's work may also correspond with his experience of non-reality, shining a light on his remarkable ability to experiment non-objectively through his art practice.
Influenced by Abstract Expressionism, Hanna's work sits in dialogue with revolutionary artists like Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg and Willem de Kooning, to name a few. De Kooning often left his works with a sense of dynamic incompletion, as if the work was still in process. The paintings embodied the term 'action painting'- proof of the high-energy physical work that went into its creation. Similarly, Hanna's work exemplifies a process-oriented development rather than the finished traditional work of fine painting. Pollock known as "Jack the Dripper" engaged with his canvas in the non-traditional way of flinging paint as he stood over the massive canvas on the floor. He engaged in the paintings through physical movement, and each mark exemplified the high energy process of which he worked. Rauschenberg engaged in physical mark making, as well, and was quoted to saying that he wanted to work "in the gap between art and life", comparable to Hanna's struggle with schizophrenia and being an artist.
Hanna was also widely influenced by artist John St. John, an American abstract painter whose works of cities, mountains, trees and sea were carried from reality through to abstraction, to almost non-objectivity. St. John primarily worked with a painting knife, constructing chaotic compositions with highly dynamic gestural marks and color. Many describe his work as capturing the feeling of light while conveying a sense of space. Untitled (Rainbow Explosion) similarly displays a harmony with color and space. Although non-objective, one may imagine a foreground and a background suggested through high contrasted color, providing a sense of order within chaos, and perhaps a sense of reality within non-reality.
At the top left of the painting, the viewer may experience a series of vertical repeated lines in black, rapidly leading the eye from left to centre. Orange and blue sit quietly between each heavy line, complimenting each other as they do, providing a contrast against the heaviness that is black. The eye is interrupted halfway through with a circular, organic form that feels quickly constructed through its imperfection- it is not fully filled in nor is it perfectly circular- one may imagine a moment where Hanna had paused and allowed the paint to seep into the paper, leaving evidence of the intermission. It rests the eye until it continues again to the right of the painting, where a diagonal line intervenes and leads us down towards the center of the work.
The centre feels the heaviest, a spot that slows down the eye until it is woken up again by a swift intrusion of white. Two white marks, subtle and stark allow a sense of contrast to break up the composition. It provides proof of a foreground within the disorder, and one can distinguish the placement of the orange, blue and yellow from the black and white. We are then led onwards, towards the bottom left of the composition to find another circular shape, coated with a series of white lines that provides visual texture.
We are shuttled out from the left corner back towards the centre of the work by a cone-like form composed of two black lines encompassing an ocean of more blue and orange, tangled together like a series of webs. Watery drips line the surface of the paper, emphasizing materiality and the process-based nature of the work.
Untitled (Rainbow Explosion) reminds me of art critic Clement Greenberg's idea of art for art's sake, the idea that the painting is the art object, and that its underlying theme rests in an expression of material. The works of many contemporary artists living and working today epitomize this same ideology, and celebration, if you will, of the process of art making as their artworks content. Greenberg felt that abstract work had the ability to create in-depth thinking and questioning, a skill that one would benefit from in thinking on a larger scale, within their communities and ultimately in the world. This work inspires deeper investigation and contemplation, an enlightening experience for the viewer.
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February 10, 2017
The Bahamas has been a tourist location far longer than we have been independent - not hard, of course, with less than half a century of self-rule under our belt. So it makes sense that understanding ourselves and our national and cultural identity is quite difficult. The anxieties with trudging our way out of the muddled mix of British and African influence, the power of tourism in shaping our image as a tropical locale 200 years ago, all of this led to some very difficult territory to navigate.
Consumption is arguably the nature of our existence as a place - as far as the West knows it anyway. We have always been a product to consume, to indulge in - an exotic luxury and experience to be had. Not much has changed since then. From the time of the first wave of colonial activity, we were seen as this unreachable Eden, and now the Eden is paradise and paradise is easily accessible for anyone with deep pockets.
The postcard 'Eating Oranges' (estimated c. 1890-1930), featuring the photography of James Osborne "Doc" Sands, a Bahamian of European descent, gives us a literal snapshot into what was being thought of The Bahamas at this time - albeit from the position and gaze of a privileged man. Smiling faces- mouths open wide all lined in a row, ready to take in every juicy drop of the citrus goodness - look to the camera, dangling the fruit to tease us amidst their spread of other delights. It is taunting, enticing, edging you to come and experience this other world, this 'paradise'.
In 'An Eye for the Tropics: Tourism, Photography, and Framing the Caribbean Picturesque' (2007), Dr. Krista Thompson, who has previously curated exhibitions at the NAGB, gives us insight into how our colonial history with Britain not only shaped our cultural landscape, but also the actual physicality of our landscape. We don't have all these majestic old silk-cotton beauties in our older settlements for no reason! Thompson looked to archives of photographs, postcards, booklets, and just about any resource available that dealt with tourism paraphernalia from the early British colonial era to help us better put our image from this time into focus, to add in strokes of color where things seem too black, too white, too gray.
Thompson shares a snippet from Stark's History and Guide to the Bahama Islands (1891) "The view of Nassau from the sea is very striking, but whether it is the beauty of the situation that impresses the visitor so much, or the fact that everything tropical is so strangely fascinating to the unaccustomed beholder, I know not; perhaps it is both. To a person coming from a northern climate, it is realizing for the first time a picture one has been in the habit of seeing for years in their imagination".
The concept of the 'tropical' and of 'paradise' and its history are by and large the reason that the rest of the world views us as this mecca of warmth and light and lushness, and why we as Bahamians and Caribbean people view the region as such and hold such esteem to our landscape. Expectations and meeting them for the western public are key in these parts. This golden chain of islands in the Caribbean basin, once seen as a purgatory of disease, sweltering heat and unbearable humidity, were rebranded to the British and American public as a safe-haven for rehabilitation of those with pulmonary or respiratory disease - the physical beauty and relaxed life were seen as therapeutic, restorative, and not in fact a breeding ground for mosquitoes and peculiar foreign ailments.
However, as The Bahamas is an entirely different geography to much of the rest of the Caribbean - being limestone-based hunks of coral, floating above the Tropic of Cancer - we had to re-frame the islands to fit with this ideal of lushness. The view that tourists sought after couldn't quite be had in the islands - we simply didn't have the same elevation required for the rolling mountains snapshots of untouched oasis that they were expecting.
The disillusionment some tourists deal when visiting the islands today is concurrent with accounts that Thompson brought to light in her text. Edgar Watson Howe, in his travel memoirs 'The Trip to the West Indies' states his dissatisfaction quite plainly. "Go ashore and get some dinner? There isn't anything to eat there. - Fruit? None to speak of; sour oranges and green bananas" (Howe, 1860). Being of the constitution that we are, our land simply could not support the large-scale farming of produce like the volcanic islands dotted through the rest of the Caribbean - hence the lack of lasting success in farming sisal, tomatoes, oranges, pineapple. Our thin, rocky soils could sustain farming for only a short while before the nutrients in these pockets of soil were exhausted.
And yet, images like this, with visitors happily munching on oranges amongst an arrangement of distinctly non-western produce of the most unfamiliar sort, display the islands as a sort of cornucopia and wealth of fresh and exotic delights. The tourism machine was carefully framed and arranged from even these days, and it is apparent that some were left with a bad taste in their mouths.
The swashes of bright color helped to bring the images to life, and the placement of hand-painted color itself was key to setting the scene and enticing those outside the islands to find their way in, and to do so as soon as possible - the fear of missing out was real even then. The framing of the image itself in this style of The Last Supper seems almost tongue-in-cheek given the reality, but our friend to the far left looking into the distance looks to know more than he might be able to say, as if he even might have known what was to come.
"Culminating in the 1920s, these initiatives unevenly and adversely affected the island's black communities.... efforts to make white business and residential areas picturesque - orderly, manicured, and clean - would lead to the imposition of social controls on the island's black inhabitants, contributing further to racial stratification and segregation. Thus, making Nassau like "a picture in the imagination" or "strangely tropical" prescribed not only a way of seeing and a program of landscaping but a way of governing. These aesthetic concepts became central components of political practices that informed the production and use of social space, especially along the lines of race." (Thompson, 2007)
Knowing the conditions through which so much of what we know today, these relics of our colonial past, while difficult, are also key to helping us to look forward. To actualize Eden in more real terms, more limestone-rock solid terms. As a region that once provided Britain with so much wealth, it is a reminder to us that we can serve ourselves, sustain ourselves, and most importantly - that we don't have to fit ourselves to a mould that doesn't suit us in accordance with an image that was generated centuries ago. An image that no longer holds relevance to our live realities. Holding truth in how we represent ourselves means that not only do we meet and manage our expectations for ourselves, but that we also set them straight for others.
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February 03, 2017
We are a region with such variety of experience and such particular history that it warrants study. As the cultural pioneer and visionary Stuart Hall so often put, we are a region of people 'from elsewhere' - that idea of a lack of origin is in part what sets us apart from the rest of the world.
"One of the senses in which the Caribbean can be considered modern is as a space of what I would call 'cultural translation.' Most of the people in the Caribbean were not originally from that area.... It's not a question of what is in people's consciousness so much as the constitutive space they are obliged to address, whether they want to or not." (Hall, Introduction to 'The Caribbean: A Quintessentially Modern Zone,' 2002)
And with Hall being counted as one of the 'founding fathers' of cultural studies, it would only make sense that someone from our beautiful little pocket of the planet would be so keenly interested in culture and identity to try to give it form in language and literature.
The Caribbean Studies Association (CSA) convenes for the 42nd annual conference this year here in Nassau at the Melia, under the theme 'Culture and Knowledge Economies: The Future of Caribbean Development?', taking place June 5th - 10th. This gives us a moment to think of just where we see ourselves going, or where we want to go as a nation and as a region. Thinking of the future here is almost a kind of Afro-Futurism, imagined black futures - except this isn't Sci-Fi, it's our very real, very near future.
'We don't think of the future!', 'this plan is too myopic, too close-minded - we need to think out the box!', or 'this is only a short-term fix, how is this helpful for the long-term?' These utterances are all too common in many a new venture springing up in this country, be it government-driven or privately owned. There is a clear need not only for forward-thinking but for lateral thinking too, for thinking about things that exist just outside of what is directly in front of us and outside of the obvious. The possibilities emerging are exciting and vibrant as they can lead to possibilities that extend outside of the norm.
This is why the CSA has teamed up with the NAGB to bring the creative arts purposefully into the fold this time around. With visions of an exhibition and a collection for the association in the future, CSA President 2016-17, Keithley Woolward, is truly bringing the sentiments of the association's mission forward. "In the long term, I envision the CSA building a collection of artwork, with a view to exhibiting works from this collection to serve as a visual introduction to each conference that can travel as the conference travels. We can build a body of work that will allow us to track the history and evolution of art practices in the places that we've been to. I'm sure if we had started this from the beginning of our existence we would see intriguing trends in the visual and cultural arts."
This collaboration has brought forth a competition for the book cover of this year's conference, with the deadline coming up February 28th - with a prize of $1000 for the selected artwork. This does not, however, render the work selected as a mere illustration for the branding of the competition - quite the contrary.
Seeing how people engage with their life here in a visual way provides just as much value as the scholarship and literature around the same subjects, and CSA is making a concerted effort in showing the value in the visual culture and how that operates in the wider economies and culture of the region. This begins with using the arts as a way to provide a more holistic way of thinking about the topic at hand, and with treating the chosen artist appropriately by compensating them for their work and providing an appropriate vehicle for display and dissemination of the work to wider Caribbean and global audiences.
Woolward shares, "The CSA executive some years ago made a commitment to have an impact in the communities that welcome us for our annual conference above and beyond just occupying hotel beds and contributing on the level of economic advancement either by booking hotels and paying for taxis, etc. We wanted to actively engage the artistic and creative communities in ways in which we organize our conferences."
This ethos of integrity to ourselves as Caribbean subjects is, and has been, the driving force behind the organization and, I daresay, behind Caribbean Studies as a subject of study in and of itself. For the NAGB's Chief Curator, Holly Bynoe, this is by no means her first experience with the CSA, as she recalls her experience in 2012 as the conference met in Grenada, totally transforming one of the forts - Fort Matthew in St. Georges - to set the appropriate environment for this exchange of ideas. "As somebody who was operating as a curator, instigator and a publisher thinking about activating the Small Island Developing States, it was essential for me to gather a different understanding of how artists from these smaller spaces are playing into the picture of what Caribbean art is and how we can build experiences to make the work be more of an experience than anything else."
The conference includes all manner of Caribbean thinkers, from the institutional academic to the investigative blogger - and all of it is vitally important. Bynoe continues: "Professionals like Yvette Romero who runs the cultural blog Repeating Islands - she's been a pioneer in publishing, blogging the Caribbean experience but also looking out and rooting for the underdog. She scours, she's really in there getting information in places that are even black holes to me." This cross-pollination of Caribbean experience and ability to provide open spaces for dialogue and engagement is the lifeblood of this kind of work - be it visual or literary - in understanding ourselves as Caribbean people, through our similarities and our differences, through shedding light on practices that might not ordinarily be quite so visible to us. It's a sharing of local knowledge
to engage on the wider regional scale, with a view to helping us understand not only who we are but also how this informs how things like art museums should function in the region - and for whom?
"So thinking about these parameters, I think it becomes really important for us as an institution to define that Bahamian-ness because it's something we also come up against in the institution or its something we have to reckon with over and over, the alienation of who belongs where?"
Conferences like this help us to get away from our national insecurities of identity, from feeling threatened by the idea that we aren't individual as a country, that we are too similar to other countries in the region to feel a sense of distinctiveness. We have such similar histories that we can't help but identify with our other Caribbean sister islands, and the beauty of this similarity is that we still hold such a multiplicity of experience. We can even see this diversity of experience in our countries, one look at the NE8 (8th National Exhibition) can show you that. So then opening up the lens to the area just around us, looking regionally instead of locally - looking laterally, can help to reinforce the projecting and building of this image and thereby our identity.
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