August 01, 2018
Up and coming leaders from throughout the region were fired-up at a high-energy opening ceremony kick-starting a grand hiking expedition set to take Caribbean nationals from seven countries to Cat Island.
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July 31, 2018
THE BAHAMAS SET TO HOST THE BOYS ECNL FIRST NATIONAL
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July 26, 2018
Governor General Her Excellency Dame Marguerite Pindling attended the opening Eucharist of the Union of Black Episcopalians held at Christ Church Cathedral, Monday, July 23, 2018.
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July 24, 2018
South Floridians will be able to experience The Islands Of The Bahamas up close and personal when the first Annual, “The Essence of The Bahamas Festival”, brings the culture of The Bahamas to Overtown, Miami, this weekend, Saturday July 2 8th .
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July 23, 2018
Prime Minister, Dr. the Hon. Hubert A. Minnis brought remarks at Calvary Deliverance on East Street South 36th Annual Convention, Sunday, 22 July 2018.
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July 20, 2018
The first Bahamas branch of Toastmasters International Club 1600 held the Annual Installation of Executive Officers ceremony in the Ballroom of Government House on Thursday, July 19, 2018 under the patronage of Governor General Her Excellency Dame Marguerite Pindling.
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July 19, 2018
Teachers and students attending The Eva Hilton Primary Summer School paid a courtesy call upon Deputy to the Governor General Cornelius A. Smith at Government House
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May 08, 2018
The search is on for the best national recording artists, essay writers, runners and walkers as the National Independence Committee prepares to celebrate the country’s 45th anniversary of Independence.
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January 31, 2018
Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, the Hon. Michael Pintard recently met with the Cultural Affairs Division and discussed present and future initiatives for the promotion and preservation of culture in The Bahamas. Among.......
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January 04, 2018
The streets of Grand Bahama Island erupted with the sounds of the drums, horns and the shuffle of hundreds of dancing feet as the various Junkanoo groups turned out in their numbers for the annual New Year’s Day Parade.....
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November 20, 2017
As the country mourns the loss of Bahamian music legend Ronnie Butler BahamasLocal.com reflects on our time with the icon during an interview six years ago. We love you Ronnie.
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September 01, 2017
After a two-year journey that took this iconic exhibition to three islands - Grand Bahama, Eleuthera and Abaco- it is only fitting that the Max/Amos traveling exhibition bids us farewell in Exuma, the hometown of Bahamian folk and master artist, Amos Ferguson.
The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas developed the Max/Amos exhibition in response to the call to share Bahamian art with every citizen in our archipelagic nation. While our geography is responsible for the wonderful flavor of this country, which is grounded in the diverse cultural microcosms on our 17 inhabited islands, it is this feature that makes access to spaces like the NAGB challenging for persons living on the islands, especially those who do not travel frequently to the capital.
Family Island access to the national collection is a critical component of the NAGB's mission and by taking our collection to off-site locations on the islands we have garnered community support and participation and facilitated a creative initiative that is truly for all Bahamians.
Featuring the works of the masters Maxwell Taylor and Ferguson, this exhibition delves into the multiple dynamics of Bahamian society in relation to our global identification as a "paradise". Both Taylor and Ferguson go to the heart of the Bahamian experience with honesty and integrity, and an abundant respect for their fellow Bahamians, whose lives they represent in their work.
Taylor, a son of Grants Town, New Providence, first honed his practice at the 'fabled' Chelsea Pottery, although his path would lead him abroad. Taylor's experiences during his more than 20-year journey throughout the U.S. and Europe still shapes the lens through which he views his work and the world around him.
Hailing from the Forest, Exuma, Ferguson began his professional life as a commercial painter. Spiritual revelation compelled him instead, to paint the visions of his mind and community. The most famous and beloved outsider artist, Ferguson had no formal artistic training, choosing house paint over that of oil and acrylic - his canvas, cardboard.
It is no wonder then that these two great artists were selected to represent the brilliant diversity and passion of Bahamian art and artists. However, Max/Amos is about more than presenting work. The exhibitions have been displayed in local galleries and community spaces easily accessible to residents and have been accompanied by free workshops on the practices of both artists; public talks; school visits; and donations of museum literature to art teachers, schools and public libraries. Understanding that sufficient art materials in schools on the out islands are a concern, the gallery has also donated remaining workshop materials to schools that have demonstrated need.
"The exhibition has been well received on all the islands. The kids have appreciated the opportunity to work and interact with art professionals and people have been excited about having the work of Max Taylor and Amos Ferguson in their communities. They have had lots of questions about the artists and have been truly supportive of this initiative," says Jackson Petit, NAGB Digital Media Administrator and technical assistant for the Max/Amos exhibition.
Representing the NAGB with Petit is Community Outreach Officer Abby Smith; they will install and open the exhibition in addition to facilitating all other activities. In preparation for the upcoming exhibition, staff at the NAGB have been working hard to reframe, pack and ship 31 paintings, many of them familiar staples in art classrooms, ensuring that Max/Amos is given a phenomenal send off for its final presentation. A week of workshops for children and adults, public talks and scheduled school visits have all been planned and the Exuma community has been incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic.
The opening reception for Max/Amos will be held on Monday, September 11th at Wenshua Art Gallery in Georgetown, Exuma, from 6 p.m. - 8 p.m. It will be on display September 11th to November 15th, 2017. To keep up-to-date with the Max/Amos exhibition's final journey follow us on Facebook and Instagram!
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September 01, 2017
Bahamian history and memory are often trumped by the Empire and the identity it imposed on its subjects. Last month marked the 70th anniversary of India's independence from Britain, most of which was negotiated by Lord Mountbatten, the second cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, who was sadly killed by an Irish Republican Army bomb. These are facts independent of his role in negotiating the end of British imperial presence in India, but at the same time, the establishment of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and an Independent India during a troubling period called 'Partition'. In August 1947, when, after 300 years in India, the British left, they left a deeply divided and fractured country. Independence was one positive, but the legacy of Empire and the lasting impact of colonialism were deeply felt. Imperialism and colonialism have divided great swaths of land, usually from under the very people who inhabited those spaces.
In other words, the invention of tradition was a practice very much used by authorities as an instrument of rule in mass societies when the bonds of small social units like village and family were dissolving and authorities needed to find other ways of connecting a large number of people to each other. The invention of tradition is a method for using collective memory selectively by manipulating certain bits of the national past, suppressing others, elevating still others in an entirely functional way. Thus memory is not necessarily authentic, but rather useful. (Edward Said "Invention, Memory, and Place" Critical Inquiry Vol.26, No 2 (Winter 2000) p. 179)
The pain and loss, or torture and gain of independence and partition are concisely discussed in The New Yorker (2015) by William Dalrymple. The nationalist project in fractured post-colonial states is alive and well in defining how we see our traditions. It is interesting that, as Said points out, the small and unified communities began to disappear through the island to capital or rural to urban migration, we see the creation of a unified Bahamian tradition that attempts to erase the individuality of all the island communities and their unique experiences. Usually, we are cast under a deeply problematic Victorian shadow that never allowed individual identity, but insisted on a strict moral code that continued to exclude non-whites. E.M Forster's A Passage to India so splendidly captures the shadows.
Much like the partition of India into Bangladesh and Pakistan as it received its independence from Britain, the territories went on to live through decades of violence and tradition making that justified and promoted further ethnic and religious violence. Postcolonial nations are built on a feeling of loss and trauma without understanding why because so little is discussed. The idea is to silence opposition to and awareness of the events. Both BBC and Al Jazeera provide excellent histories of the partition and the independence event. However, the former seems to eclipse the latter, but they create an interesting if not comfortable coexistence of countries that were once regions governed under the Crown.
It must also be remembered that colonization was not about being a benevolent and loving patron of a people but a company ready and happy to extract all the wealth it can from the space it sets up shop in. Such was the case in India, where the Royal East India company began business as a private trading company. The BBC has provided excellent coverage of this before it becomes a 'national' interest. It must also be remembered that tradition was formed or create India, and that was the creation of tea, of hunting, of spices but also of controlled savagery or an interesting term from Homi Bhabha 'Sly civility'. Without India, Africa and the colonies in the Pacific, there would be no tea, something that has become so quintessentially British. Many of the images that we still identify with because we understand that it was better in the old days are imposed or created traditions, such as sugarcane processing. There would not have been sugarcane here albeit on a small scale compared to the other (former) colonies; the photo of the 'Native Sugar Mill' is a tradition imposed on the space by colonization, imperialism and slavery.
As the two outlived the latter, it is not unthinkable that the impact of the former will be that much more in depth in the psyche of people. The trauma of living under the whip and of facing unjust laws that made one less than human in what would be considered one's place of origin speak loudly to this reality. Living in the shadow of Empire is in great part all of that. The images of civilized colonial tropical living as presented from the gaze of colonial history would always entrap one's ability to be. There would be no tea without British colonization, as much as there is far more coffee in the rest of the Caribbean islands colonized by Spain is instructive of a past that has never ended and has continued to inform the traditions of today.
While it is important to understand and remember the reality of the past, as bell hooks notes, living in the margin as a site of resistance, not as a site of limitation, as so many colonizers may consider it to be. In The Bahamas, the margin created by segregation has all but vanished, though the legacy and the weight of the segregation and the demarcation of space has not. In fact, the weight of the margin and the marginalization of particular groups who inhabit those areas once seen as exclusively black is now even more pronounced. Though we no longer see it as racialized, in fact, the class and race of it go hand in hand. The racialization is far more nuanced and subtle as was evidenced in 2016 with the Paradise Beach Protest that was dismissed because it was carried out by a group of violent young black males who could not 'manage themselves and so needed to be treated violently as the photos on the front page of the Tribune attest.
Fast forward to the protest over the fire at the one time Harold Road dump, now known euphemistically as the landfill, earlier this year during the IDB conference at a yet unopened Baha Mar, where the scathing criticism of light-skinned and white people who could obviously not be from here. These vestiges of knowing one's place deeply entrenched and long lasting from colonialism and imperialism allow people to be othered in very interesting and disturbing ways. Both criticisms challenged the group's' national belonging, of not knowing their place and of being out of order.
These are huge legacies of colonialism that we do not see or hear because they have been normalized by the shadow of oppression. It is not coincidental that most of the population will not understand how to challenge the discourse that posits them as non-nationalistic when they try to speak up for themselves. This is when the common space and spatial justice is denied to people. While many will not notice this subtly deployed message of social control and order, it is clear: light-skinned people are non-nationalist and black people are violent and disorderly, all threaten the national fabric of the country; all must be controlled. We know better than they. The superior attitude of those who rule through ascent, and legacy, but who have never thrown off the colonial vestiges.
We do not understand the weight of history and the legacy of imperialism. It is clear that most do not know or have never read Bahamian history where control was maintained through seriously destructive and divisive laws and policies like the Vagrancy Act, and "A Modified Form of Slavery: The Credit and Truck Systems in The Bahamas in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries" as Howard Johnson notes.
History and its knowledge are essential to a real sense of self. It is also necessary for a population to be able to read and write, count and think in a manner befitting of citizens, not subjects. When names of historical landmarks are changed, and spaces shifted, land sold off and erased, burial sites excavated and living memory erased, we become a history less place and people.
Said states it well when he writes about the erasure of Palestine for the creation of Israel.
"These territories were renamed Judea and Samaria; they were onomastically transformed from "Palestinian" to "Jewish" territory, and settlements-whose object from the beginning had been nothing less than the transformation of the landscape by the forcible introduction of European-style mass housing with neither precedent nor basis in the local topography-gradually spread all over the Palestinian areas, starkly challenging the natural and human setting with rude Jewish-only segregations. In my opinion, these settlements, whose number included a huge ring of fortress like housing projects around the city of Jerusalem, were intended visibly to illustrate Israeli power, additions to the gentle landscape that signified aggression, not accommodation and acculturation". (Said, p. 189)
The shadows are very dark spaces where it is extremely difficult to become one's self. The shadows always cover any individuality and identity that does not fit with the imperial project. Art continues to provide an excellent window into the past, in the shadow and what imperialism and colonialism looked like in the Caribbean or so often called the West Indies. It is also interesting to note that those who were intricately involved in the creation of the new India through partition, with the influence of Lord Mountbatten who is also so much involved in the early development of Bahamian land, as he and many of the Royals received handsome land grants, to which we still pin our identities. Eleuthera and Harbour Island are spaces specifically spatialized in this way because of their history of settlement. This resonates with what Catherine Palmer (1994) sees as tourism in The Bahamas depending so much on colonialism and its landmarks. When land grants were handed out, and as the special on Slavery produced by the BBC underscores boldly after slavery ended those slave owners who suffered loss were handsomely compensated for their losses. They gained exponentially through a change in the law that never ended the impact or the shadow of slavery. When the policies and laws remain rather similar or unchanged more than one hundred years after emancipation, how can we truly believe that we do not inhabit the shadows of Empire?
India and Pakistan, as well as Bangladesh now exist as independent countries, but their spatial identity and their social occupation of those spaces now rest heavily in the aftermath of partition and the violence it imposed. The creation of independent countries and identities is fabulous, but the legacy of violence and distrust is even deeper, heavier and more long-lasting. Here I quote from Dalrymple's story where he cites a book by Nisid Hajari: "Nisid Hajari ends his book by pointing out that the rivalry between India and Pakistan "is getting more, rather than less, dangerous: the two countries' nuclear arsenals are growing, militant groups are becoming more capable, and rabid media outlets on both sides are shrinking the scope for moderate voices." Further, the power of nostalgia to block the possibility of true post-colonialism is amazing.
When nostalgia rules the day and England or some parts thereof still think of the colonies as quaint places where uncivilized plebeians remain and should be civilized, and this is a glorious moment for us to retake our position of leadership, then we understand that Empire holds tightly clenched fists around the potential for development free of its shadows. Dalrymple states it thus:
The current picture is not encouraging. In Delhi, a hard-line right-wing government rejects dialogue with Islamabad. Both countries find themselves more vulnerable than ever to religious extremism. In a sense, 1947 has yet to come to an end.
Shadows are usually dark and frightening places/spaces of deep-seated fears, insecurities, anger, hatreds and often trauma. The shadows seem to be poised to consume all potential, unless and until we can deconstruct the legacy and remove the lack of speaking across foreign-created boundaries and barriers that have scarred peoples and places for millennia.
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September 01, 2017
This past summer at the University of The Bahamas (UB) Oakes Field campus through a meeting of creative minds, an enthusiasm to produce was met, with a heart to preserve. UB's Carpentry and Visual Arts Departments collaborated to host an intensive wood workshop in June designed as a pilot project to foster a sense of community through craftsmanship and creativity.
As part of UB's art faculty, I had the opportunity last semester to work alongside a colleague and skilled carpenter, Fritz Cox. This experience taught me the importance of comradery as a tool for social and professional development and exchange. Cox's desire to engage and mentor young Bahamians through his profession began four years ago when he first adopted the Albury Sayles Primary School, followed by L. W. Young Junior High School and most recently Palmdale Primary. Although unfamiliar with working alongside university students, his time with them became an organic and enriching experience.
Unlike Cox's carpentry style, which focuses on refined meticulous woodwork, a creative challenge and experiment was introduced as the workshop's focus. Bent on maximizing the potential of the students, the experience was designed for the group to create outside of their comfort zone. Similar to my creative practice, concerned with salvaging everyday objects from the environment; I wanted the students to learn and appreciate the process of working outside the luxuries of time and material, but with the expectations to create a meaningful piece in their unique style. In 3-hour sessions held across six days, with basic tools, and discarded wood salvaged from building sites on UB's campus we covered fundamental techniques in carpentry and woodturning.
UB students Jarrette Stubbs, Cordeia Munnings, and Matthew Rahming created a small collection of furniture from shipping pallets and sculptures from reclaimed wood. Inspired by a shared appreciation for materiality and process the group re-imagined the discarded material by challenging ideas of value and perception. The culmination of this experience, in the form of a group exhibition entitled 'Wood You' opened at The Pro Gallery on Thursday 24th August. Less focused on the final works, the artists were keen to share their creative process and personal experiences. We wanted to engender an appreciation for repurposing. Exploring conversations on environmental sustainability and urban design as a community effort through the question, "Would you?"
The title of the show is a play on words and rhetoric. On the one hand, it presents this idea of the relationship between man and material. While on the other hand asks the rhetorical question, Would you consider this, in the context of the project, the collaboration, the exhibition and the work. Beyond rhetoric, the exhibition is a call to action. The group challenges the public not to merely appreciate this effort, but to become creative ambassadors of the vision to reclaim, enhance and influence our community's physical and social landscape.
This mandate has not fallen on deaf ears but has sparked much curiosity within the campus and by extension the local art community. Interest for participation in future projects is increasing, self-taught artisans have emerged, collaborations have started, and the group was commissioned by to create outdoor furniture for Hillside House Art Gallery. A success and inspiration in many ways the Visual Arts Department is pleased to support this momentum by developing programming and related projects geared toward impacting its campus and the wider community.
The 'Wood You' collection spans a variety of functional and abstract objects including outdoor furniture, sculptures, and assemblages. Although the focus was wood, other natural and manmade materials were used to complement the body of work.
'Porch Lullaby' by art major Mathew Rahming Is an assemblage of finished lumber remnants that appear as a disarray of cladded wood on the frame of a chair seat. This wall hanging continues on Rahming's narrative of self-exploration. Presenting his view on the labour, process, and decisions he makes as an artist. The arrangement of the wood refers to the complexities and burden the artist carries through life.
'Native Styles' by art education Major Jarrette Stubbs uses unfinished plywood and fluid, organic shapes layered to form a hybrid portrait that appears as half woman and half animal. The duality of the piece touches on psychology and speaks to this idea of one's inner animal instinct.
'Cozy Cernie' by Art Education Major Cordeia Munnings is a two-person bench fitted with a built-in table was her first attempt at repurposing shipping pallets to create furniture. Like Cox's outdoor lounge set both artists' works speak to a need for more outdoor and green spaces in The Bahamas to promote a sense of place for closer and safer communities.
In contrast to the other works, my pieces are quiet and delicate and use mirrors as a way to place self within a conversation on material. The 'Discerning Frailty Series' includes three abstract wall hangings crafted from pieces of plywood, natural tree bark and broken mirror. Each material was used as it was found and paired with another object using their similarity in shape and quality to produce a minimal assemblage that is both functional and artistic.
'Wood You' will be on display in The Pro Gallery at the University of The Bahamas until September 13, 2017.
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August 25, 2017
The post office stands at the top of Parliament Street on East Hill street, a monument to 1970s development. It stands now condemned. The Churchill building stands condemned, much like the Rodney Bain Building on the verge of Parliament Street Hill on the way to the post office. Condemned buildings populate the city of Nassau. The shift has been rapid; from a thriving colonial backwater settled by administrators and Loyalists to a post-colonial shadow of colonial rule, to a derelict city of decay. This shift has been enormous.
In "An Eye for the Tropics," (2006) Dr Krista Thompson discusses the image of us created by the power in the centre. It was a romantic notion of what order and beauty should be and this is specially adapted and adopted to the tropics, an idea that had evolved from a dangerous, fecund space to the ordered space imagined into existence where time is suspended and our revelry was allowed for the benefits of tourist enjoyment. This removes attention from the leadership's exploitation of the masses, as visitors could come and frolic in the tropics and then return home unsullied.
However, the image was always dependent on the imagination and then the space was created to meet that imagining. Nothing was real when the process began. The market woman Thompson described from Jacob Coonley's work is imagined into being and then her reality is constructed, so that it drives a dream and a particular notion of tropicality. It seems now, in today's Nassau, that we inhabit a space of tropical dereliction, which also determines how we live and perform.
Space, as Michel Foucault, Edward Soja, and David Harvey state, determines how we live. They make us good people or bad people. The space we live in determines our attitude and our behavior. Our culture has been determined by the space we inhabit, our space is determined by the natural environment around us. When we live in the space of open gutters, decaying buildings and collapsing roads, we are sent a message that says we are not good enough.
This is especially so when we see on the other side of the road a space of great beauty, high rises, well-manicured parks and open spaces, that butts up against our expectations and makes it clear how impoverished we are, though we may not think about it. This is worsened when those 'nice' tropical spaces are seemingly out of reach. However, the irony is not that we strive to be in those spaces, we somehow get trapped in seeing ourselves as undeserving of anything better. We can visit the imagined-into-being tropical space of lushness, but we cannot inhabit that space.
This is particularly so when we are taught to celebrate our oppression as Paulo Freire argues in "Pedagogy of the Oppressed," when he underscores that the oppressed are programmed into being through their education and their treatment at the hands of the oppressor. It is not coincidental that art does not inhabit our Over-the-Hill areas. We have, instead, buildings that are institutional, for the most part, many without running water, electricity or well-maintained roads. The art-filled walls and gardens are missing. The graffiti art seen in other inner city areas is absent here. Art programmes create a culture of creativity; a culture of creativity creates a culture of positive productivity and a space for humanity and self-empowerment and awareness.
When we produce people who inhabit spaces of power and possibility rather than spaces of crime and poverty, we produce development. The space and place for art in these areas and social justice is essential. Art is not simply about pretty pictures. It is about making spaces work for the inhabitants. Art is about design, about building and about mapping and creating the 'livability' of spaces.
Spatial justice is essential in any postcolonial community because so much has been decided on before the current leaders coming to power. Maps were made, boundaries drawn and re-presentations affected by the policies of colonial powers who sought to dispossess the population of their land. Edward Said does brilliant work on this. His work informs how we see the imagined and the stereotype and their impact on how we see ourselves. It is also not simply coincidental that governments when attempting to be proactive can be told by special interest groups to leave them alone and let them be. Once the land has been removed from the commons or, in this case, from the Crown, it is about the power to determine how land is imagined and how those who inhabited the land are imagined into or out of being.
Said and Soja both articulate this well.
Soja states: "Colonizing power and the imaginative geographies of Eurocentric orientalism, the cultural construction of the colonized 'other' as subordinate and inferior beings, are expressed poetically and politically in defined and regulated spaces. These colonizing spaces of social control include the classroom, courthouse, prison, railway station, marketplace, hospital, boulevard, place of worship...practically every place used in everyday life."
Like the market women imagined into being by Coonley in the heydey of colonialism and re-presentation, we are still being controlled by the idea of where we live and how we live in that space. That "Over-The-Hill" is defined in exclusively negative terms since the end of colonialism, followed by the depopulation of those areas by the then resistance movement, compounded by the removal of art or spatial justice, is telling of how much art can be used to develop an alternative and healthy notion of self and become a tool to empower. We need to work to continue to debunk the image and idea of the market woman and provide professions, careers and self-empowering images that are not limited to the ghetto or life in the service or tourism industry to be of currently seen as unproductive members of this small island.
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August 19, 2017
"On the Way to Market" (ca. 1877-78) by Jacob Frank Coonley, looks to be a work in progress, an experiment, with boxes in the foreground and a window decidedly within the frame of the shot. Ordinarily, a background so carefully constructed with thatch palms and painted fabric reminiscent of crashing ocean waves or rolling clouds in the sky would have been cropped just-so to eliminate the packing boxes and everything else to make us see clearly that this is a studio. There is no mistake then that studios are spaces of production, as markets are spaces of consumption.
As outlined in Dr. Krista Thompson's 'An Eye For The Tropics' published in 2006, the period of Caribbean history in which this photo was taken saw the region being shaped, shifted, and rebranded as a site of tourist consumption. The ideas of the 'tropical' and the 'picturesque' as they relate to the Caribbean were being formed at this point, with patiently framed shots of palm trees, beaches, and quaint clapboard houses being produced en masse and distributed in postcards and the like. The tropical was being advertised and sold to convince and change the minds of dubious populations in the mother-colonies.
While most of these images were being shaped and framed outside, planting trees specifically for photographs and for making the islands seem 'cultivated' and 'tamed' was being made real, being made manifest, and being made ever so slightly polished. The coconut palms were now lining streets instead of being dotted on beaches, and there was an abundance of silk cotton trees and poincianas to complement these efforts. So if most of these images were taking place outside, why bother with photo studios and with producing an 'inside image' as it were?
Just as the landscape was being shaped and polished, so too was the image of the people here: the 'smiling native' trope and the 'mammy' archetype. And photo studios and people armed with cameras became the localised and mobilised factories through which these representations were mass-produced. As we see this woman posed as though on her way to market, basket on her head with some rather confused turkeys, one bird clutched in her arms, and her head wrapped to suit the mammy image and to suit the difficulty of the work. As viewers, we are left wondering who she is, where she came from, if this is truly her job or part of her life or if this narrative around her is as out of place in her character as the thatch palms tacked to the walls and littered around the photo studio. We don't know her name, yet she is posed and waiting for the image to be taken, and it is possible that this story was constructed by the eye behind the camera. Often, that eye was of European-descent, male, and with enough money to own a camera, enough to put his name on the image though hers remains unknown.
The eye behind this particular image is Jacob Frank Coonley. An American born in 1832, Coonley was an accomplished photographer in New York before he moved to work in The Bahamas in the 1870s. He donned many hats, working previously as a landscape painter, colourist of photographs and Civil War photographer. But he was primarily known in the islands for his work with landscape photographs and studio photographs - as well as the tickling advertisements for his studio in the local paper. As Thompson outlines in "Bahamian Visions," an exhibition whose research acted as one of the predecessors to 'An Eye For the Tropics', she shares one such advertisement: "[g]o have your picture taken, and your beauty (if you have any) perpetuated and if you have none the Artist will make it appear as though you have" (Nassau Guardian, January 11, 1896).
Amusing at first, there is no doubt, but when we look at the bigger picture of not just how the islands were shaped but how images of women, particularly women of colour, were shaped things become more uncomfortable. The subject of this image has become an object of experimentation and the tropical, a test in Coonley's studio - or so it appears. There is a power in looking, in being able to be the person doing the looking, in being the person with the powerful gaze to shape an image, we know this as a people who are not a product of this time, but whose society and image was largely produced in this time. In the production of this representation, there is an idea of not just producing an image for someone, but also of speaking on behalf of someone.
A passage by bell hooks, the black feminist theorist, comes to mind: "There is] no need to hear your voice, when I can talk about you better than you can speak about yourself. No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. I want to know your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you in such a way that it has become mine, my own. Re-writing you, I write myself anew. I am still author, authority. I am still [the] colonizer, the speaking subject, and you are now at the center of my talk." As hooks outlines in "Marginality as a Site of Resistance" (1990), there is an allusion to the consumerism and consumption of people, stories, a culture that harkens back to the time when the subject of this image was pictured.
While we are dealing with times so rife with others speaking for others, and indeed for others, it does us well to take a moment to perhaps quiet ourselves and think before we speak, before we have knee-jerk reactions, before we decide we know what is best for a space we all share. As Roxane Gay so aptly put it, "Some women being empowered does not prove the patriarchy is dead. It proves that some of us are lucky." We can't move forward when some are left behind. This image might not say these things explicitly, but they open up this conversation and dialogue we so desperately need. We can't know Coonley's thoughts and intentions, nor those of the unnamed woman posing, but there are several things we do know: the social conditions of this time, the start of the tourism industry what this did, and how we come to know ourselves as Bahamians within this construct, and the great imbalance of social power and mobility we still see today. The lushness and abundance alluded to by the turkeys and palms only highlight how at this time, the grass was only greener for some; there is still much to be done so all can play fairly in this market.
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