Culture

Look, listen, live

January 13, 2017

The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) has created a show we call the National Exhibition, now on its eighth run. This year, the event that opened on December 15 and 17 2016 has also been installed at a satellite location - Antonius Robert's Hillside House Gallery. It would have also been presented at PopopStudios had Hurricane Matthew not done his dastardly deed in October. The NE8 offers local artists and artists of the diaspora a space to express their ideas and thoughts, concepts and theories, but does not earn income. The artists do not sell work at the NE8, as the space is expressly to show and provide a voice for local art, artists and cultural practitioners.
It is an investment in the national development of the arts and Bahamian culture. A part of this year's exhibition is work by Nassau-born, North Carolina-based artist Tamika Galanis, who examines the danger of cultural loss we are facing as a country that grapples with huge cultural and structural violence. We talk about exceptional violence because the state responds to the street violence as if it were an exception, though, much of it arises in responses to the state's imposed structural violence on the bodies pictured in the work.
Galanis has two parts to her work; one is a photographic display of transformation as we speak and the other is an installation of 3D printed hybrid coral heads. Both aspects of the work trouble the waters and take a significant step in discussing what we as a people are not discussing: the real danger of national loss concomitant with climate change or what we call global warming that encompasses sea level rise of massive proportions as well as freak and dangerously strong and devastating storms, as embodied by Matthew and Joaquin, and the man-made dangers of violence.
The government speaks of the National Plan, but the real question is, what concrete steps and strategic plans, action points and achievable, measurable goals and targets with a timeline have been included in this much-publicized plan? Without these things clearly and obviously delineated and the responsibility for them being obviously identifiable, there is little to no hope of success. It is like having a plan without identifying anyone who will be responsible for carrying it out or saying how it will happen. In a country that has developed an aversion for accountability, this is heaven. What are we doing about the potential and real loss of us? What are we doing about the loss of cultural expression due to land tycoons developing paradise for a few jobs while paying thrupence on the pound?
Galanis' work, much like the work of John Beadle, Lynn Parotti, Jordanna Kelly, Keisha Oliver and others, gives us food for thought as we celebrate 50 years of Majority Rule. A movement away from slavery that legally ended in 1834 with a period of free labor between 1834 and 1838 and a further period of exploitation through credit and truck from that time until then.
These communities captured by the lens, are the most afflicted by these cultural policies and legacies. The system and ways of exploitation may change, but the result hardly does. What is so poignant about Galanis' work of the documentation of Grants' Town, is that this area was the real seat of local black development, activism, mercantilism and intelligentsia in the mid-twentieth century. It is also where most inequality, violence, and disenfranchisement thrive.
The story of The Bahamas would be altered without this area; one can hardly conceive of the development of Bay Street and other areas without contributions from the inhabitants of this area. We tend to forget that this is the place that provided the leaders of today. Nothing has changed, except that resources were abruptly withdrawn from the so-called inner city/ghetto, so as the human flight occurred so too did the resource flight. What we see now is a community at odds with itself and its neighbors, challenged for its very survival by the political economy of a colonial, postcolonial, neocolonial and neoliberal state where violence is exceptional but always justified when used by the state.
Ironically, members of the same community, deeply invested in their weave and go style, their bling culture and their images being on fleek, are controlled by a discourse they think they manage but are being so undermined by that they have fallen victim to the false promises made by a savior in white.
The problem with prophetic saviour in white is that the damage done by them is greater than that done by the so called 'black' plague.
However, we must look beyond race and see where the real problems lie and who to challenge when we talk about power. Power rarely if ever resides in the spaces perceived as powerful. We forget that power resides in us, but it is always undermined by the power and ability to control through oppression.
The Arts work against this.
Creating a national discussion of how we see ourselves causes discomfort, but that is what art is for. We cannot as a nation think that everything will be nice, soft and fluffy, especially as the threat of financial instability and sovereign devaluation looms large. The representations in the work are truly unkind sometimes, and when they are kind, we choose not to see the kindness because they disrupt our self-image. Our self-image that is covered over by cheaply engineered colorful bondo that hides our imperfection only as long as we continue to apply it. But who are we hiding from?
Galanis' work is incredible, troubling not only because it captures the day-to-day lives of a people the state blames for every evil in their national development agenda, gang crime, murder, rape, and poverty, because we know that poverty is a "choice", according to some, but because the community has lost its cohesion and is divided against itself. The work blows these images up. When put in conversation with the other projects in the NE, it destroys an image of weaved beauty and acrylic brilliance that now embodies us as a people, so much so that we may not be able to spell or count, or produce anything in our government jobs, but we sure can be on fleek.
Meanwhile, we hate women. We choose not to discuss these thorny issues. They make politicians unhappy and they, supposedly, pay for us to be here, so "I ain't speakin bout nothing," say people on the street.
In a disturbing turn of national events, we seem to have lost our way. As gang violence takes over the streets and some neighborhoods, especially those referred to as the inner city, a way of life begins to vanish through fear.
The images captured in Galanis' work show cultural moments that are fast leaving us as crime encroaches on our lives; government talk becomes less about people and more about jobs, all the while climate change threatens to pound those homes that can least afford it into oblivion. Many of these will never be able to rebuild.
Some of the characters serve to remind us of life's simplicity and the need for community. Others remind us of a rapidly changing landscape that is further being undermined by social media, where so much is played out beyond the street life of those persons in the photos. Social media changes life and as climate change impacts the way we interact so does social media.
Sadly, few are having these conversations. We no longer speak to one another but are told what to do, how to think and when to think. The government has used some interesting bullying tactics that have been adapted by those in the most precarious of positions because they see this as their only way to survive. Social empathy and local relationships are being lost. The images capture a way of life rapidly disappearing through multifaceted 'things' beyond our control but fairly easily mitigated against through more empathy, awareness and the refusal to be bought for a song or thrupence. Today's plight is that we are more interested in transactional relations over beneficial community strengthening and self-reliance, self-sustaining engagement and development.
Perhaps the best way to explore our identities, cultural, collective and personal is through the expression of culture and to allow the images to speak for themselves. These events and the spaces where they occur allow dialogue, and dialogue is essential for cultural survival. This is not simply about being sold out to the newest resort development that will destroy local development by diverting water, electricity, land and other natural and manmade resources from the local space into the hybrid space, that, when crisis threatens can up sticks and leave us to our devastation and ruin.
A population without access to land, for example, is a dying population. A population without access to empathy and community is a population, as Glissant states, on the verge of erasure. How do we float and become sustainable? We must begin to see what lies under the cutter special and the bondo mask that does not allow us to prosper. Art opens that up.
We must move beyond the weave and the appearance where we talk a great talk, dance a super dance, shuffle a lovely slide while are streets are being washed out by storm surges, houses being washed away by an ocean, much like gang violence and community erasure that threaten the very lives of the youth pictured here, we either learn to retool, or we disappear.
How are we looking, listening and taking action?

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Building regional allyship

January 13, 2017

One of the great joys and privileges of working in the art field is the necessity of travel to meet colleagues, see exhibitions, do studio visits and, most importantly, create the networks necessary to support our artists. In the Caribbean region, this is even more important since we are -- by our natures as island nation -- more apart than together in terms of a regional identity. Exchanges -- between artists, curators, writers and other professionals -- are an incredibly important way to continue increasing one's professional knowledge and also to disseminate information on what is happening in one's home country to the outside world.
It was a delight, therefore, when The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas was invited by The National Art Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ) to be a participant as a selector for its upcoming biennial, giving us the opportunity to do research into contemporary artistic production in Jamaica, learn more about their history and development as a national institution, and forge closer bonds with our colleagues.
Firstly, it is always interesting to compare and contrast one's institutional history with that of one's peers. The National Gallery of Jamaica was founded in 1974 in Kingston and is the oldest and largest public art museum in the Anglophone Caribbean. Having started out in an historic home, Devon House (not unlike NAGB's Villa Doyle), the challenges of a domestic space proved difficult to manage and it moved, in 1982, to an unused department store of modern and spacious design. It currently has a massive 30,000 square feet of exhibition space (compared to NAGB's 4,500 sq.ft), not including its annex, NGJ West, in Montego Bay (3,500 sq.ft).
The NGJ has a comprehensive collection of early, modern and contemporary art from Jamaica, along with smaller Caribbean and international holdings, an extremely interesting divergence from our mandate at the NAGB, which focuses on solely Bahamian art. The NGJ is a division of the Institute of Jamaica, Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, the title of which also speaks to more inclusivity.
A significant part of the NGJ's collections is on permanent view and being able to look at a range of works--from wooden Taino artifacts; to oil portraits of aloof Englishmen, from the late 1700s; to the stunning Isaac Mendes Belisario hand-colored prints of their "John Canoe" (1837-38); to modern paintings from both Jamaica and other countries--certainly gives the visitor a much broader and firmer foundation and context in which to view local production. It does pose the questions as to how "national" a National Gallery must be: can one truly understand one's artistic output without looking at work by others and understanding the full range of global history in the arts? Can you understand Max Taylor without having looked at African tribal masks or Picasso's early Cubist period? Must being "national" translate into being exclusive and non-inclusive?
The NGJ has an active exhibition programme, which includes retrospectives, thematic exhibitions, guest-curated exhibitions, and touring exhibitions that originate outside of the islands. The NAGB can say the same and, conversely, the plus side of not having a huge historical collection to take up space and time to care for means that we can stage more local shows. Comparatively, the NAGB has a high turnover, which has translated into increased local buy-in. So, as one sees there are pros and cons.
The NGJ's flagship exhibition is the fairly recently re-branded Jamaica Biennial. This event was birthed in 1977, inaugurated as the Annual National Exhibition, not unlike our national exhibitions, such as that currently on show at the NAGB (NE8), which is generally an open call survey show. Having existed for 25 years, the Jamaica's Annual National show became the premier art exhibition in Jamaica, although it comes with some challenges. In the early days of the growing art scene, it was extremely important to encourage people to dedicate themselves to art and, as such, to support all attempts. The net was cast wide and, as artists reached a certain level of technical achievement, they were given a lifetime invitation. While this might have been a wonderful idea in the early days, the legacy of the initiative poses great challenges today, where a very long list of lifetime invitees must be curated into the juried section. Some of these invited artists may have given up a regular practise, even, and it makes a cohesive single exhibition almost impossible to pull off.
While the NAGB does not have this particular problem, we have still struggled with the issue of the National Exhibition and what that should mean. Should some "special" artists be invited and not subject to a juried selection? How does one make a sensible, unfolding exhibition with a clear direction out of 100 disparate works? For some editions, a theme was selected to try to curate an exhibition that created a parcours and told a clear story, so the viewer was not presented with a large, random selection of works that had no relationship to one another; sometimes this worked and sometimes it did not.
Also: who should be considered "Bahamian"? Should the show be open to expats resident here and, if so, for how long must one be resident to be considered an integral part of the Bahamian art scene? What about diasporic artists? How many generations may one go back to consider a US or Canada-based artists "Bahamian"?
Jamaica has also struggled with these questions and is moving forward in a very open and inclusive way, which is admirable. In 2002, their Annual National Exhibition was converted into the National Biennial and, effective 2014; it was renamed the Jamaica Biennial. The 2014 edition kept many aspects of the established framework for previous Biennials but with some important changes, to create a more dynamic biennial that both acknowledges the growing regional and international networks within which Jamaican artists participate and still supports the best of local art production. While it is an exhibition of current art, the Jamaica Biennial is committed to aesthetic and cultural diversity: it includes contemporary, traditional and popular art in all media, styles, genres and features new, emerging and established artists. In fact, a Bahamian artist--Blue Curry--was invited to be part of this exhibition in 2014, with an open-air installation in Downtown Kingston, the vestiges of which are still visible.
Amanda Coulson, Director of the NAGB, was present on the panel of four judges for the 2017 juried section, along with Trinidadian artist, writer and curator Christopher Cozier, and two locals in the persons of artist, art lecturer and head of the Fine Arts department at the School of Visual Arts of the Edna Manley College, Omari Ra, and art dealer, curator and art auction organizer, Suzanne Fredericks. The judging took place at the NGJ on January 9th -11th and the selection panel reviewed 175 works by 110 artists, of which 65 works by 47 artists were accepted.
In addition, select international and regional artists are invited to do special projects during the exhibition--these include Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons (Cuba), Andrea Chung (US, of Jamaican/Chinese and Trinidadian descent), David Gumbs (St. Maarten), Nadia Huggins (St. Vincent & The Grenadines), Jodie Lyn-Kee-Chow (Jamaica), Raquel Paiewonsky (Dominican Republic), and Marcel Pinas (Suriname)--which is a wonderful development.
Such presence increases dialogue between local and visiting artists, and more importantly for the home base, will bring attention to the exhibition from a greater range of locations, press, and public, exposing Jamaican artists to a broader international audience. The exhibition will also contain two special tributes to major Jamaican artists. The Biennial is thus a hybrid between a curated, invitational and submission-based exhibition, which the curatorial team of NGJ--consisting of Director Veerle Poupeye; O'Neil Lawrence, and Assistant Curator. Monique Barnett-Davidson--must craft into a cohesive whole.
Even with their 30,000 sq. ft. of space, just like here--where we have collaborated with Hillside House in order to extend the possibilities of our own NE--the Jamaica Biennial 2017 will be shown at the NGJ and at Devon House in Kingston, as well as at National Gallery West in Montego Bay, with additional venues in Kingston to be announced. The Jamaica Biennial 2017 will open with a series of events from Friday, February 24 to Sunday, February 26, 2017, and will continue until Sunday, May 28, 2017.
The future vision is for the Jamaica Biennial to be visibly positioned on the international art calendar as a Caribbean-focused biennial. Discussions have started to do this in collaboration with other public art museums and art organizations in the Caribbean, such as the NAGB, by creating a coordinated itinerary to make our region an unmissable destination for art and culture.

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Heavy crown to bear

January 06, 2017

We have hair that defies gravity, hair that reaches down to remind us of the earth we are a part of. We have skin that is the most fathomless, rich umber that absorbs sunlight, and also skin so bright it shines when the sun hits it. We are black women, and among us, we have such a fantastic diversity that it beggars belief. Why then do we even consider that we are lesser? Why do we allow ourselves to be told so, to believe so, and why do we whittle away at the resilience of our sisters in the process? Why do we feel the need to cast aside our crowns?
For the Eighth National Exhibition (NE8), April Bey and Anina Major - both Bahamian-born and bred and currently living in the U.S. - unapologetically make their coronations as proud, black women. The criticality with which they question their placement as black Bahamian women seems quite pertinent - not only for last year with a failed referendum for equality but also with the upcoming 50th-year commemoration of Majority Rule. Considering that the women's suffrage movement played a significant role in helping to cultivate the ground for Majority Rule to grow into being, and given the current state of women as constitutionally lesser citizens, it seems that there is a question of just who counts as the majority today.
It is out of these conditions that so many women in The Bahamas make work dealing directly with their womanhood and their blackness. We may have won the racial struggle to let our black majority have the right to govern ourselves, but in these acts of human justice, it is sometimes easy to forget that people can suffer and be marginalized on some fronts at the same time.
As Audre Lorde, the lauded feminist, womanist, and civil rights activist - who, I might add, was born to Grenadian parents living in the U.S. - so aptly put it, "There are no single-issue struggles because we do not live single-issue lives." The lack of intersectionality in how we view struggles as Bahamians has let many of our 'majority' fall by the wayside. Art is a direct conduit for expressing this dissatisfaction with hierarchy, and serves as a way to disrupt that hierarchy by making yourself, a black woman, the top of that hierarchy as the queen you feel you are.
Anina Major quite literally uses her spiked ceramics to crown herself - but the weight of it is still much to bear. 'Heavy is the Head' (2016) pays testament to this, the simultaneous strength and the burden we carry that forces us to constantly show this strength. "It was a heavy summer for many women. So what started as a joke and bit of levity, with this spiky orb on my head, became a moment where the orb act as a genesis of me and where I'm from and the power and strength of where I come from, and then a representation of the strain of this load on us."
The work is situated at an intersection of performance, video, painting, and ceramic work - which seems like a tall order, but it this act of balancing everything all at once that conceptually ties it all together and addresses the issues she is dealing with in her work.
A video screen self-portrait of Major set in a gilt frame, she sits with the spiked ceramic orb on her head in a queenly bearing.
"The idea of putting the sculpture on my head, as the weight, seemed appropriate in dealing with how we as women are always trying to balance that. But nobody seems to talk about it! Dealing with my personal feelings and what was going on in the world, The Bahamas, The States - it all got quite overwhelming. Somehow, as a black woman, you aren't supposed to show any effects of this. I was finding that to be the ultimate balancing act."
Black women are constantly under strain, not only from external and internal struggles with politics, place, and being, but also with the exhausting task of constantly 'appearing to be strong'. It is wearying to have to display strength all the time, and through Major's self-portrait, she offers us all a crown and a nod to the daily grind we all face that often feels as though it wears us down. "At the end of the day, I had to carry that weight still, and do so with poise and not let it disrupt or destruct my daily activity while being that regal source of strength, 'got it together' person that we are expected to be. It's about that, that struggle, and how it's less about how we can handle it and always do but more about how it is not an easy task."
Where Major gives us crowns, April Bey immortalizes strong women in paintings installed as grand banners, holding testament to the 'triumph' of these queen Venuses, picturing the iconic Woman of Willendorf. The paintings on laser prints, suspended from the ceiling and shivering subtly in the space, feature hand-sewn strips of Ghanaian Hitarget Chinese fabric and act as a portrait of strong black women she has engaged with and had conversations with, women she has been inspired by: The Rt Hon. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Esenam Nyador (Miss Taxi Ghana), Sister Loretta Butler-Turner, Chief Theresa Kachindamoto.
The work is laborious, and while Major struggles with weight bearing down, Bey picks up the mantle of the difficulty of balancing hard work and the feminine. "I clocked 80-90 hours per scroll hand sewing. I'm thinking about labour, feminine ways of making and the strength needed to repeatedly complete hard tasks because life demands it."
Demanding is perhaps an apt word for the struggle. "Black Women Are Magic was a now common mantra I wrote down often while traveling and was the basis of my residency proposal for Ghana. Magic insinuates that which is beyond reality and logic. I've witnessed many black women in my life perform feats that are beyond reality and logic. The resilience and stamina black women have to navigate this world is awe-inspiring. Black women are ruthlessly sovereign, but society often teaches us to withhold the respect due". And Bey deals with this misogynoir, this societal injustice that black women must continually face, with grace and with fire.
These are women who are not only picking up what belongs to them, but what belongs to us all. Where the world fails to give you due recognition, you're your way of making yourself and your fellows realize they are sisters in the queendom. It is an act of self-love, which is so severely lacking amongst us.
Again, as Lorde says, "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." And this act is done with the poise, magic, and grace that we share with the world every day.

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Unearthing

December 30, 2016



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The Gall to speak

December 30, 2016

Bahamian women are often thought of as being outspoken, strong, 'biggity' - dare I say - and perhaps it is a result of this legacy of women who won't suffer fools gladly, that has lead to women being painted in a less favorable light. But can we be blamed? After the referendum, it became clear that many of us felt less-than, and the women artists participating in the 8th National Exhibition (NE8) have made their voices heard. Particularly, emerging artists Jodi Minnis and a first-time National Exhibition participant, Cynthia Rahming.
Why is it that two of our younger artists, decided to look into age-old folklore for material for this NE? We had more than enough rich veins of discomfort and dissatisfaction for people to mine for material to produce commentary through work: gender politics, racial politics, queer politics, the whole nine yards. And yet, these two young women chose to look to old-time stories, stories like that of the Gaulin wife, the 'trickster' bird-woman, through which to explore social and personal subject matter.
There is, of course, a myriad of different interpretations - to varying levels of 'dastardly' behavior on the part of the Gaulin, but the most common versions of the folklore have one thing in common: an eligible, yet choosy, bachelor is dissatisfied with the women around him, an old crone warns him against not 'settling down', a new woman comes to town, and he falls head over heels and gets married. Something seems not quite right about his supposedly perfect new wife, and then, at last, he finds out that she is a sham and not a woman at all so much as she is a humanoid, shifting bird-creature. The general theme remains the same, however, that a man has been swindled or hard-done-by this woman.
We are all made to feel sorry for the man of this story. Even in the tellings of Portia Sands and Patricia Glinton-Meicholas, where the Gaulin becomes a mysterious and alluring woman, she is still a villain because she has had the gall to deceive what is portrayed as a poor, unsuspecting man.
Minnis' work, a performance that took place at The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) grounds, took place just before the sun began to set, with the St. Francis Xavier church in the background. The work involved Minnis, dressed entirely in white, washing her clothing and repeating the actions of disrobing, washing, then re-dressing herself. The repeating action functions in an almost baptismal way, in keeping with the visuals of water and white clothing, signifying purity. Minnis puts on the mantle of being the Gaulin wife and uses the clothing and ritual of cleaning to baptise herself as the Gaulin before stripping herself of these ties making herself vulnerable again.
"I see myself as a quintessential young Bahamian woman. And if the Gaulin is meant to be just that, then I can also be her. My work deals with placing myself into these different representations of Bahamian women that we have in our society, trying to be critical of it."
Minnis is drawn to the story because she wishes to see what capacity there is for seeing more depth to the Gaulin woman outside of this negative representation. "I don't think she has been given any room to be seen in a positive light. When you think about deception, manipulation, scamming - these are all negative things and all that is shown about her. But if you think about the stories more deeply you can pull different narratives out of it. For me, being a young Bahamian woman, I think about her being misunderstood, being placed in a situation and just trying to be herself and just reacting to her circumstances and environment."
This is a view shared in part by Rahming, who had grown up with the story through her grandfather and his knack for storytelling, which is strong in keeping with our oral tradition. "I always thought it was an unfair representation. Each version of the story is heavily biased and one-sided. It's always seen through the eyes of the townspeople and sympathizes with the man who gets taken away by the Gaulin. But my work deals with what side people want to take on this story. Do they want to take the side of the Gaulin, as she has been seen as a foreign entity who has ties to the land the same as the townspeople - and she's just looking for a husband, for someone to love her? Or do we take the side of the townspeople and exile the bird? Or the side of the man slighted?"
Rahming is currently studying at the Academy of Art University, working online so that she can pursue her dreams of attending the Olympics for Judo - quite the balancing act, but balance seems to be part of the work. "I want the audience to understand that there are multiple sides of a story. I wanted my work to be interactive so that the audience is aware of the variation in points of view and that they can make their decision as to whether the Gaulin is negative or not".
Her work exists as a mixed media installation at Hillside House, the OFFsite of the NE8. Giant wings made of burlap, with leaf-shaped feathers stitched in a golden thread, are suspended, but also tied down by twine strings to the ground, keeping the bird captive. The work is also interactive, as the viewer is invited to cut the strings - or not - based on what side they choose to take in this story. It is placed just-so, so that anyone can stand in front of the wings and become the Gaulin herself.
Installation work, not unlike performance, has a way of directly engaging the viewer through the imposition of its presence in space. It almost forces engagement in this way, so the fact that both Rahming and Minnis chose to directly and actively engage the viewer - be it through physical action or the emotional intimacy and discomfort one experiences when watching another person disrobe - and that is a political message in and of itself. They wish to be heard, so they are forcing us to hear them.
These women, delving into this representation of a foreign or alien woman as a manipulative being, have presented their critiques of the story in quite different platforms, but there is one common theme to the two, the idea of performativity and the role of the audience. Yes, some might argue that this is the basis of just about any artwork, but these works look at these ideas of the classic artistic canon through the tale of the Gaulin wife in a way that is quite significant. It all becomes about how we perform identities to be able to exist peacefully and move through the world, just as the Gaulin wife does, but also about questioning the level of accountability of the people around us.

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Renewal opens at The Pro Gallery

December 30, 2016

U.S.-based Bahamian artist Omar Richardson returns to the University of The Bahamas (UB) in January to exhibit a selection of works from his 2011 series 'Renewal.' The exhibition opens to the public Thursday, January 12 at The Pro Gallery located on UB's Oakes Field campus. He will also give a talk about the works on January 11 in the gallery and a printmaking workshop on January 12th in UB's Visual Arts studio.
Richardson joined The College of The Bahamas in 1999 where he pursued an AA in Art. He later transferred to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Savannah, Georgia where he completed a BFA in Painting and a minor in Printmaking in 2006 and his MFA in Printmaking and MA in Commercial Photography in 2010. Richardson also completed a BFA in Graphic Design at The Art Institutes in Atlanta, Georgia in 2013.
He has exhibited in various art galleries in The Bahamas and United States with his work belonging to notable private and public collections including the Inter-American Development Bank's permanent collection. Richardson currently lives in Tampa, Florida, where he owns O. Richardsons Design, a branding company with over six years of experience working with international clients and teaching as an adjunct art professor at The University of Tampa.
Richardson's first solo exhibition "Similar Differences" was hosted at The Pro Gallery in 2000. Almost 17 years later the artist returns to the space that birthed his artistic ambition to inspire a new generation of Bahamian art practitioners, educators, and creative thinkers. "I am proud to be in a position where I can plant seeds of knowledge and encouragement in the future Bahamian artists. My hope for the institution is to see the art programme become more diverse with a focus on design, photography, fine arts and the business of art. Hopefully, one day I can be a part of the faculty that brings this dream to life."
'Renewal' includes a selection of works originally debuted at Richardson's 2011 exhibition 'Renewal of Life' at The Central Bank of The Bahamas Art Gallery. The works explore cultural and personal symbolism as it relates to the human condition. Richardson's work is concerned with themes of memory, reflection, loss and reinvention. He believes the combination of photography, text and printmaking best reflects the multi-faceted nature of his concept. His technique pushes conventional approaches to printmaking by layering colors, dramatic marks, text, and photography. He believes that by combining these processes, a variety of emotions and energy can be seen in the same piece of work.
"The series includes portraits of people, depicting their life experiences. Each piece merges the human form with abstract shapes to emphasize a specific and extreme emotion. This allows the viewers to see and hopefully appreciate different aspects of individuals and cultural expressions with which they are not familiar."
Although Richardson's initial approach to this work was to explore human emotion, the elements of memory and reflection seen in his final pieces are rooted in a deeper conversation concerning cultural identity and universal experiences. The monoprints and woodcuts capture the complexity of the human and universal experience through his personal journey as an Afro-Caribbean male and creative professional.
"I've drawn inspiration from the element of Bahamian culture that is most visible to me, Junkanoo." The origin of Junkanoo in The Bahamas is rooted in West African culture. When you look at how the costumes are designed, you will notice they often include a tribal look very reminiscent of Adinkra symbolism" explains Richardson. "Our culture over the decades has been influenced by a mixture of cultures, and I try to express this diversity in my mark-making."
Even though, the visual construct of the black community lies at the heart of his work the undertone seems less about racial issues and more about cultural awareness. His modern photographs of black women, men and children layered with woodblock prints of West African portraits challenges values of perception and appreciation. Making connections with his Bahamian and African heritage, he researched the Adinkra, symbols that are used as decorative elements in West African cultures.
"My work also connects the expression of the subject to the viewer and the spiritual and emotional aspect of the project. The images of people frozen, doing things in their everyday life like expressing disapproval, or joy, to capture these in a photo is like capturing life."
'Renewal' will be on display at The Pro Gallery until mid-February. Gallery visits are by appointment only. For more information on the exhibition, artist talk and workshop availability, please contact UB's Visual Arts Department on (302-4485/4422) or theprogallery@ub.edu.bs.

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Made in The Bahamas

December 23, 2016



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December artwork of the month

December 23, 2016

'Clay Oven' seems to be a quiet watercolor, content to sit amongst the bright splashes of color from John Beadle, Jackson Burnside or Brent Malone. If you were unfortunate enough to have a flying visit to see 'From Columbus To Junkanoo', where you had a supermarket dash style run through the galleries then you might miss it. But this kind of work can be the most interesting, especially if one has the time to scour, to be curious and stroll. Sometimes the things that don't have the flash and bang and spectacle we love so much in Caribbean work; things that don't have the unabashedly bright colors and bold strokes and jarring geometric shapes, provides us a moment where we can pause to think, make connections and ask something of the quietude presented.
'Clay Oven' (1912) is earthy, it is full of sepias and greens and stony grays, and, it is homely and sincere. This watercolor by ex-patriot Elmer Joseph Read, more commonly known as E. J. Read, is of our oldest works in the National Collection, outside of the traditional black and white film photography by Jacob Coonley, on display in the first wing of the current Permanent Exhibition 'From Columbus to Junkanoo' curated by Averia Wright and Jodi Minnis. While the photography of 'Doc' Sands and Jacob Coonley are immensely important to us in seeing what our colonial Bahamas of the 18th Century looked like, Read's work is significant in a similar way.
'Clay Oven' is a picture of domestic life and work, and the loose strokes and lack of detail in the faces makes us feel that these people could be any of our ancestors. The hearth in classical paintings was often used as a way to show people in conversation, in their domestic spaces - and here too it is domestic, but it is tending to the flame of sustenance and life rather than conversation. Living off the land takes work, and this image makes it seem quite quaint - but it was commonplace, it was how people lived. Perhaps if the image were to be reimagined now, the bodies toiling away in the sun and in front of the fire would be covered in the sweat of their hard work, their eyes would be squinting against the light and the heat of their struggle - rather than the romantic notion of unblemished pale blue or yellow clothing.
'Clay Oven' is not a portrait of realism but one of an idea of a place. The figures present are more than likely not people asked to sit for long periods of time, posing, and therefore not at all like the people with the stern faces we see in so many portraits and photographs from that time. These are working women going about their daily toil, and young ones occupying themselves with anything to hand. The palette suggests a quaint scene, but the way these women are working is anything but tranquil. This is hard graft. They aren't being depicted for likeness perhaps so much as they are for feeling - which is apparent in the small child staring blankly at the viewer as he catches a ride in the cart of slightly older youth. This is a moment of people going about their daily business; there is nothing out of the ordinary for those depicted. In fact, the mothers-cum-cooks-cum-farmers and their children could be representative of the idea of a number of people in similar situations. It seems that it is honest and sincere, but in truth, it is problematic.
While the photographs of Coonley contain some of our first visual documentation of Bahamians of that era, this painting does so as well. But where the former is capturing a moment with a certain sense of immediacy - because despite the time it took for film to record an image - photographs were still considerably faster to produce than a painting of this nature. Though both were expensive; the latter tries to interpret these moments in a marginally different manner, to give feeling where many of the photographs simply logistically could not.
Furthermore, both this watercolor and the colonial photography provide us with the representation of everyday Bahamians that we so desperately need in helping us to anchor where we come from. Seeing black bodies in photographs and paintings from this period aids us in seeing and re-writing our stories into history now with the various strides being made in art history and cultural studies alike. Taking the time to re-inscribe ourselves helps us to feel like we can do at least a little of the talking instead of being talked about. So this is the significance of historical imagery and scholarship for us today, to reinscribe ourselves and our importance and struggles into stories that might have skewed them because of who was doing the photo-taking and who was doing the painting. We are all subject to our subjectivities, no matter what level of privilege or lack thereof - the key is to be open about them.
While both visuals give us depictions of black bodies in these spaces when ordinarily they mightn't have been photographed or painted had they been anywhere else, it is still an idealized and romanticized depiction of the 'native.' The trope of the 'happy local' toiling away is ubiquitous in images from this period. So while we are happy to have representation and images present at all, what is the cost at which this is done?
Elmer Joseph Read was simply a privileged observer of his time. American-born and with means, like many of our colonial photographers in the collection, he came to Nassau with a very specific viewpoint in life. He lived during a time with an obvious divide in power, class, and race - but yet, he still saw fit to take the time to show everyday Bahamian life, to render it in his way. The act of choosing to paint can be political in itself because of the time and effort it takes as much as the intentions the painter wishes to share. In choosing to spend the time to render this image of Bahamian women working, doing manual labour no less in a time when many of the women that Read would know personally could never be seen to get their hands dirty, is a political act. He chose to depict these women and children though the image would be so commonplace - in short, he chose to see and to spend the time painting them acts as a choice decision in where to invest his time when it could be spent elsewhere. The act of depicting the everyday serves as a way to bring it into sharper focus, to allow for time to be spent giving these things more than a cursory glance, to allow us not to take them for granted.
Watercolors are so often associated with leisure and the gentry, but now we do of course have more recent artists reclaiming the medium from this elitist tradition. All of the work being done is 'on the shoulders of giants' as they say. We live in an era where we know more about hegemony and power struggles and have the capacity to fight it. Having these glimpses into the past helps us to stand taller when we see where we are now, no matter how unsettled and troubling the times are at present.
And the present is where we are now, and we can find a bit of the present here within the subtle landscape, within the countryside bathed in swashes of greens and browns and a great swathe of blue washing across a clear sky. And this is very familiar in its own way. Bahamians are seen as living happy lives of servitude that is all too ingrained to us, the idea of always being in service of! But we are now choosing to challenge this notion, some of us are choosing to change the nature our tourism to serve ourselves just a little, rather than to sycophantically seek to please others; some are learning to trust in our beauty and richness rather than trying to fit ourselves to an image that lacks truth and integrity. We are working to reify ourselves outside of a falsified image we have taken as truth, and the work most recently showcased in the National Exhibition 8 (NE8) shows the efforts being made to be critical of our identities outside of this tourist branding, to be honest with ourselves.
Amidst the work dealing with these aftershocks of the colonial era that continue to keep us on shaky ground and tenuous ties to knowing ourselves, we have the work of Jodi Minnis. Minnis' work, 'The Gualin: She Went to the Water' in its political statement, exists as a one-time unique performance. There are of course images to document the event, but the fact that it exists as a moment, that it deals with black womanhood, that it deals with labour (perhaps in both senses), that it deals with baptism and rebirth - and the fact that it took place on the grounds of Villa Doyle, this reclaimed post-colonial building, shows a concerted effort to exert our energies into working for ourselves for a change.
As we come to the end of the year, we can look to the hearth of Read's depiction, to the lazy spiral of smoke emerging from it, as a way to temper ourselves for newly imagined futures. We have dug up and instigated much this year that is not ideal, and it shows, but sometimes you have to uproot what you know to till the ground for something new - and hopefully we can take this chance to plant seeds of something fruitful for a new year.

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Painting of Nassau by Sir Noel Coward available at NY Gallery

December 20, 2016

Sir Noel Coward (1899-1973) was one of the most prominent and versatile creative talents of the twentieth century, authoring over fifty plays (many of which he starred in) and having a hand in writing, directing, and acting in more than twenty-five films, as well as composing hundreds of songs and producing numerous short stories, poems, musical revues, a novel, and a three-volume autobiography. Later in life, he added painting to his repertoire of artistic endeavors, transforming what was initially a recreational pastime for purposes of relaxation into an accomplished sideline activity meriting serious consideration. Though most of his paintings—which generally took the form of landscapes and seascapes—were executed in his adopted homes of Jamaica and Switzerland and his native British Isles, the historical record reveals a few rarely viewed efforts from other Caribbean locales, including the painting Nassau, the single extant oil known to have been produced in The Bahamas.

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Activism as art, art as activism

December 16, 2016

The recently opened eighth National Exhibition (NE8) contains much of the Bahamian art we've come to know and love over the years. We are a nation and a region with a very strong tradition of painting and wall-based work, which has expanded into the 3D realm, which we have also grown increasingly comfortable with accepting into our arsenal of Bahamian creative practice. But we also have grown into more expanded fields of engagement and display.
Socially engaged art practices are nothing new, and arguably they mark the start of modernism in art: work that uses the stuff of politics as material. This itself perhaps started with painting but socially engaged art as we know it is the product of the last 70 years or so. This kind of work is a bit harder to pin down as art, if we aren't aware of it. How can actions be art? Well, that's easy enough to think about with things like performance art or dance, we get that. But human interaction and activism as art? These things are a bit slippery for many of us, despite the fact that this kind of work has been going on for quite some time now.
The art world we've inherited is, of course, the product of the past two centuries of art - not at all like the work that has existed for the past two millennia, or even the past 20. The art world we know is, of course, tied up in the art market, which has understandably complicated our relationship to work as people who make art and as viewers: do we make to sell? Do we view to tap into that sense of grandeur? Some do for certain, but it is out of these conditions - and the elitism that many find inherent in contemporary art as it relates to the art market - that socially sensitive projects exist, in part at least.
Art and activism have developed quite a happy marriage over the past few years, and as we have seen recently from the impact of social media coverage of art and comedy social commentary, it would appear that where the mainstream media has failed us, in some ways the ubiquitousness and accessibility of social media has provided a way to bypass the powers that be and spread news of fantastic projects that we mightn't ordinarily hear about.
Artists, theorists and philosophers alike want to write marginalized peoples back into the center; there is an urgency in this, and it has only increased its energy and trajectory since these ideas - primarily driven by postcolonial and cultural theory - gained widespread attention in the late 80s and 90s. Further, work of this kind is so utterly important and necessary for the Caribbean and has been the bed on which so much of our art as a region has been made.
In particular, we can look to two projects in the NE8 that explicitly deal with these ideas. Hilary Booker is the first researcher/artist-in-residence for both the NE8 and Hillside House as part of its new program to create a space to nurture the production of new works. For the next four weeks, she will be sourcing and creating plant-based meals using mostly local produce to help us re-engage with our environment through food. 'The Moonflower Room' - her new framing of the space at Hillside House - will be a way also to help us reframe how we view our food practices in relation to knowing ourselves as Bahamians.
"I am most interested in looking at the intersection between the intentional food practices of people in Nassau and their spiritual journeys or journeys of consciousness, and how
people's very material everyday, and the most mundane thing that people do every day, actually translates into people's sense of who they are and desires for decolonization and healing spiritually, physically and emotionally." Booker quite clearly understands the importance of food not just to Bahamians in general, as we so often joke about how much we love to eat, but how food functions for us in social contexts, and the capacity of sharing meals for eliciting a sense of emotional wellness as much as physical.
Some might not immediately see the linkage between creative practices and scientific ones, and it must be noted that Booker has just completed her doctoral research in environmental studies. But her keen interest in the community, in people, and in using creative platforms to think about data shows how utterly necessary such a holistic approach is. Science is never removed from life and can never exist in a vacuum, despite the myth that we can be objective as human beings in looking at data. We all process everything we come across based on our past experiences, and science is no exception. Just as science cannot exist removed from our experiences, art deals with the material of it in much a similar way.
"As an interdisciplinary artist, I'm interested in environmental studies, so I'm interested in looking at the people and Ecology. So much of this project is about merging the beauty of the two and looking at the ways that the ecology effects and develops the culture. I want to find a way to reflect this beauty that I see back to everyone."
Dealing with our post-colonial condition and, as Booker says, our desire for decolonisation can be such heavy work, but she frames this project with a spirit of hopefulness that is impossible not to believe in.
On talking about the inspiration for the title of the project, she shares "In a simple way, a moonflower is a plant that has an incredibly intoxicating fragrance and it blooms in darkness. For me, there is something about that idea, that there is this beauty that is presented in darkness, that blooms at night-time. To be able to express beauty even when there are so many challenges and in a situation that you wouldn't think suitable to sustain it. And aside from that, it's also a plant that is often used in indigenous cultural and medicinal systems and it is an extremely potent. I like to think it works as powerful medicine on both those levels."
So then, this asks several questions on this kind of work: Is the action the work? Is the presentation of information the work? Is it the connection of people? Is it the creation of a safe spaces or spaces of catharsis?
Or can it also be a question of representation?
Whereas Hilary's project deals explicitly with our connection to food and colonial heritage and how the environmental and social ecologies of The Bahamas are affected by this history, The Commission of the Queer deals perhaps most obviously with a need to be seen and be heard when you have been marginalized.
The Commission of the Queer (CoQ) shares with us the experiences of Bahamians who identify as queer - be it any part of the LGBTQQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Ally) spectrum. And while it does deal pointedly with the experiences of those who have moved from our islands elsewhere - for refuge or otherwise - it also tackles the difficulty of existing openly here and trying to navigate this space.
Jon Murray, who is part of the collective, speaks of the difficulty in not only providing the right language for us to speak about queerness but also to speak about this kind of work. "I don't even know what word to use for these kinds of projects: agency, entity, organization. All of them seem very restrictive when I'm viewing it as this network and connection and web that is living and growing as it needs to. Whether that's growing bigger or smaller, time will tell."
They are just that. This is perhaps why projects such as these are so hard to pin down. They don't exist in the way that we think of artwork.
"To think of social practice as a living thing is the best way to approach it. I feel that with autonomous artworks they have a potential for timelessness in the presentation of the image - or whatever other form the work takes when it is presented. They're more like snapshots from a film instead of the film in its entirety. But with a project like this where people have to be brought to the table to create dialogue, it can ever be truly finished. It makes the work a living thing. It can last a long time; it can die off and come back. This is what relationships are, and this is what these works are made on."
Another question gets posed then: what is the capacity for change with social practice as art?
"I think change is implied, or even unavoidable. This type of work is about building connections and creating connections between people, so I think it can be an act of providing representation, by the act of simply doing that in itself. In the pure sense of social practice as artwork, where you're creating a context in which people work toward something or interact, through that context and situation there is a faith in the project that change simply has to occur. I think that by doing one (providing representation), you're doing the other (change), and they become interchangeable in a way."
In a year of such intense political tension, the creation of safe spaces and spaces of healing and wellbeing are paramount. The change began on Thursday evening, December 15th at the NAGB, and starts today, Saturday, December 17th at Hillside House. The National Exhibition 8 runs through April 2017.

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Royal history is revealed in Turnquest book

December 06, 2016

CELEBRATING an achievement 15 years in the making, loved ones and colleagues gathered at Government House for the launch of former Governor General Sir Orville Turnquest's book on the Duke of Windsor's reign in The Bahamas.

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Hurricane effects force Music Makers to pull out of Junkanoo

December 06, 2016

THE Music Makers Junkanoo group yesterday announced that it would not be participating in either of the upcoming holiday parades, with officials blaming the effects of Hurricane Matthew for the group's inability to field a performance.

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The Order of Entry and Themes for Boxing Day and New Year's 2016

December 06, 2016

Order of entry Boxing Day 2016 A Division/Themes...

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Apathy, antipathy, and action

December 02, 2016

Recent events in the nation, perhaps most notably the We March protest that took place last week, showed that The Bahamas has begun to shake off the veil of apathy that we have slumbered under for what feels like too long. This year has been a belter for politics and people of all beliefs making their feelings known - for better or for worse. And, as art so often engages with the state of society, so it is that many of the submissions for the eighth National Exhibition (NE8) at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) were brash, bold, opinionated and deeply political, reflecting how strongly so many of us feel after the various events of 2016.
Regardless of your personal political bent, this year has been, without question, one of the most openly divisive and tense we have experienced in a while. This isn't just because of the war-torn images of places in turmoil like Syria, where it feels as if there is more rubble remaining than anything else. The images are inescapable, and though we often feel so far removed from much of what plays out on the world stage, it is still there to play at our consciousness. The violence is still painfully visible. It is strange for us to think of, but we are currently living in what is historically classed as one of the most 'peaceful' periods in history - imagine that! It certainly doesn't seem so to anyone who follows the news for more than five minutes or a cursory glance.
So why all this tension? Why the growing anxiety when we turn on the tube and look at the images and see the spewing of hateful vitriol coming through the airwaves?
This is because the wars aren't just being played out with airstrikes; they're being played out on streets, and in the way black bodies are policed - these are the politics that have come to the forefront and that feel so much closer to home than the atrocities happening 'elsewhere'. Our gender equality referendum, Brexit and the Trump campaign and consequent election exposed the insidious undercurrent of prejudice, discrimination and hate that was brewing beneath the surface for so long, latent just waiting for the right moment to spill making all of these ills normalized. This also isn't anything new; this is just the reverberations from our colonial era, from slavery - all the power struggles, hegemony, and systemic issues that were born into. We can't quite blame any one event for bringing into sharp focus what has been residual, and very much felt by so many groups of marginalized persons for so long. And these people have made their voices heard through art for generations, because when people feel that their power to speak has been taken from them, art can often provide that platform.
Though so many among us complain that Bahamians have stood down for far too long when it comes to our rights and how best to move the country forward, that our apathy has allowed us to be run over by any and all who choose to, we are still a country with a tradition of protest and political activism, like so many of our other Caribbean siblings. We had slave revolts, to be sure, but in more recent public memory we had the suffrage movements, riots and the road to independence we love to romanticize. Maxwell Taylor has always unabashedly dealt with the politics of black bodies in his work, and Kendra Frorup has produced work that tackles child abuse in the nation and the way much of it echoes of the violence our enslaved ancestors endured.
We are no strangers to speaking up, but we have felt a little quiet until recently - a little bit lacking in our Bahamian 'biggityness'.
We now live in a time that feels so reminiscent of the racial and cultural tension felt during the civil rights era, and even further back to the mass genocide and displacement of WWII. No matter your side of the fence on any of the major events this year, the point is just that - there is a fence. There is a sense of division, and there is a very serious cry internationally coming from the layman at large, from those vilified to those into blaming their issues on their demonized fellows of differing creed or color. These moments of dissension and upset peak in waves, as we constantly see with feminism and with human rights movements throughout modern history, and the art world has always responded critically.
Particularly, artists of color have always used art as a tool for 'becoming' and for knowing ourselves. As the late, great Jamaican cultural theorist Stuart Hall shared, "Far from being grounded in mere 'recovery' of the past, which is waiting to be found, and which when found, will secure our sense of ourselves into eternity, identities are the names we give to the different ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves within, the narratives of the past."
We live in constant negotiation of ourselves in addition to the negotiations ongoing of how our lives are governed. This is why art holds such an importance and why artists have always had socially engaged practices; art is a way for us to know ourselves outside of the media chaos, outside of the 'powers that be' that box us into stereotypes. It is an honest way for us to voice our issues and to give voice to our experiences as we know them, in truth.
Art and art communities have always provided a safe space, a neutral harbor for those who want to voice their dissent and their rejection of the injustices of the world - no matter how big or small. While of course we still deal with the problems of art pandering to the art market (and therefore the issues that capitalism brings), creative spaces themselves are still spaces where those who feel pushed aside and excluded can feel their existence and identity is legitimate.
We often say art acts as a mirror to reflect society, but I'm not certain that is quite apt. It might be more appropriate to consider it a litmus test for dissatisfaction, or perhaps a speaker to project the voices of those who are so often sidelined who need their moment to shout. Art isn't just the voice of the masses, it is the voice of those who have something to say, who need their voice to be heard.
The NE8, then, certain shows us the interesting chemistry of this year as it pertains to the status of women, of black people, of LGBT people, of all and any who feel pushed aside or slighted by the events of this year on the world stage, as well as here at home.
In the Caribbean, we are so often at odds with ourselves and our situation: we are Western and have to deal with the historically European hegemony that comes with this, but we are also a region where the demographic shows we are mostly black or people of color. We are the majority, and yet we still deal with many of the struggles that our brothers and sisters living abroad as minorities deal with. It is all part and parcel of the history. Out of this confusion and adversity, we have played host to and nurtured some of the most revered thinkers of the world, who have in turn influenced the work of countless creative practitioners. Frantz Fanon, Stuart Hall, Edouard Glissant, to name but a few, and their legacies have inspired so many artists and cultural workers not only in the region but across political and art factions the world over.
We are seeing a little more action, with a distinct rise in peaceful protest and grassroots campaigns for tolerance popping up with the likes of the #WeMarch protest for transparency within the government, and organizations like Hollaback! Bahamas helping to promote feminism and call for an end to street harassment in the nation.
It is clear that the feelings of resignation to our situation and our indifference to feeling so consistently slighted as a nation are starting to give way to positive, tolerant and healthy ways to show dissatisfaction and begin the rallying cries for change and progress. And it must be noted that many in the art community here have been in support of this sort of action for a long time.
There will be much more for this year's NE8 to instigate conversation perhaps than previous years, though the National Exhibition itself has always held work that is unabashedly critical of ourselves, our government, and some of our more antiquated ways of thinking. Clive Stuart for the NE3 presented his "Work Permit: This Lawn Will Die Without Care", which alluded to the presence of Haitian labor in The Bahamas and played to the prejudices surrounding migrants from our fellow Caribbean nation (and which did, I might add, cause quite the furor because of its very contemporary display of ready-made objects as sculpture).
For NE7, Kareem Mortimer presented a film exploring the difficult politics of the way that black and white bodies are racialized (and, which again caused a little contention with the nudity present - even though nude figures in art are perhaps nearly as old as art itself!). Also that year, Nadine Seymour-Munroe's overtly busty, slim mannequin figures donning afros and slogans for bleaching creams and the necessity of the ideal big 'bungie' tackled the constantly clashing ideals that we must strive toward as women - and the pasties covering these figures weren't nearly big enough to hide the self-hate we fight day in and day out. These works will be in good company with this newest continuation of the NE. From Lynn Parotti's collaged images that eerily echo to the former grandeur of those few who benefitted from the colonial era and the ruins that remain, to the investigations of black womanhood and the politics around Ghanaian fabric in the work of April Bey.
Some might think this is merely 'speaking up for the sake of speaking', but we have long since moved from the days of 'art for art's sake'. Art is about seeing yourself. It is so important when we live in a world that constantly tells you what you are via hurtful stereotypes that you see representations of integrity in art spaces, that you see that people like you can (and indeed should) be seen publicly, and that they should be loud. Artwork has a loud voice because people need to be heard.
The NE8, then, will be a glorious cacophony of sound, of becoming, and of being. Join us at the NAGB on December 15 for the opening of NE8's ONSITE exhibition, and on the 17th for our OFFSITE exhibition at Hillside House. Quite clearly, there was far more to be said than could be contained in one chapter, in one space, and we are excited to share this growing, more expansive, louder National Exhibition.

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Art, culture and represen-tation

December 02, 2016

Representation in art tends to be the ability of art to reflect on and capture the trueness of life. It is not a sketch of naturalistic or impressionistic images, but a 'true' to life picture of what we see. However, what we see can always be influenced, changed or distorted by our position, our vantage point, and bias or where we stand. We can look out at sea and see a glare of whiteness as the sun reflects off the water's surface. Representation sometimes is used to qualify how good art is; we feel more comfortable with art the closer it comes to showing us images that we can identify as a part of our life. But what happens if these are not a part of our socio-cultural context? What happens if we are abroad in a field that is unfamiliar to us and we are asked to comment on art that captures this.
In the early days of colonial education, the colonial power brought cultural education and imposed it on a place and people that were foreign to that culture. If we could not read, understand and critique the images as deployed by those texts, we were not functioning. We then learned as colonialism deepened to adapt the art of the West to the reality of the Caribbean. As cultural practitioners would say, the snow no longer landed on the towns in Shropshire, but on the canefields in Barbados. So, when independence came about in 1973, it was assumed that the colonial mindset and representation ended.
The end of representation, though, as Jacques Derrida would indicate and Stuart Hall maintains, is not simply the end of direct colonialism. One of the vexing and ongoing problems with representation, however, is as Gayatri Spivak will show is the constant silencing of the subaltern, the 'other' in the guise of national development. When we look at the 'national' image of the country, it is limited and often in reaction to or against something. We often exclude women from active participation in the national image, which is reserved for males, except we include women in their roles as mothers and representatives of the feminine aspects of the landscape; beauty is often equated to women, or women are equated to the beauty of a feminized space. At the same time, we are actively pursuing the image creation of a dangerous other, one who is different from us and we style ourselves as being who he is not.
In culture, we have created a barrier between them and us. So we have generations of Bahamians who are absent in local cultural representation that still relies heavily on the same colonial fears and polemics that functioned in the 18th and 19th centuries to keep the negroes under control. When the Haitian uprising and revolution was underway and then succeeded, the fear it sparked in the region was due to the worry of enslaved Africans hearing of the uprising in Haiti, encouraging 'their' slaves to think they could revolt too.
The history of slavery in The Bahamas is peppered with resistance to slavery's cruelty, but the representations of that by the
mainstream is that slavery is easier and more gentle in The Bahamas, even though Mary Prince was beaten horribly in Inagua, which is The Bahamas. Narratives produced by the West may not be kind to those voices of torture and suffering, but the narratives produced by 'others' speaks to a past built on inequality and hardship and torture.
Thus, when we think of Haitians, we think they will bring about deepened poverty, again, this goes back to the representation inflicted on them by the West. The power of representation usually employed, then, is to silence people who are seen as undesirable or cast as undesirable so as to empower a particular language and image of what we are.
Bahamian art and culture are often full speed ahead regarding the way it shows what is happening. It is dangerously biased when we look at the representation of what happens. The danger here is that the representations reflect, rather than depict. In the reflection, there is a dangerous distortion toward the political will or a created 'fear' or threat of destabilization.
The gender-equality referendum was an example of how the representation of the reality was used to foster fear and distrust so that images of pregnant women as needing protection because of their fragility is alarming. The underlying image rendered by this is that foreign men are dangerous and threaten Bahamian women and so Bahamian culture. However, we have had foreign folks here forever.
The Bahamas is built on heterogeneous groups as Patricia Glinton-Meicholas' essay, "Migrations", indicates. Nicolette Bethel's essay, "Roots and Routes", shows how disparate Bahamian realities are, and speaks to the variant identities and influences. However, we still exclude those voices more than we include them. We deploy an image of beaches and not of people. We build on a representation of blank space where visitors can lie on white-sand beaches and enjoy a daiquiri in splendid exotic bliss where the natives don passive smiling faces in the shadow or standing in the water in service; never to be people with culture.
Our unrepresented culture is alive and thriving, even as it is threatened by the exclusivity of foreign direct investment at the expense of national development. We are hacking off our dynamic creative cultural productivity to become a destination. We are also allowing the power of representation in official discourse silence what is happening.
The presence of cultural infusions from Jamaicans, Haitians, those born in The Bahamas to international parents is obvious, dynamic and rich. We must embrace that. Let us leave off the official line of what we think people want us to be and embrace where we are.
In no way is this proposing to throw out the image of beaches, in favor of something else, but rather to allow things to coexist the ways the are currently living on the ground. It is about embracing our culture and forgetting the colonial misogynistic representation that has come to hound and burden us.

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Project aims to explore Lucayan past

November 30, 2016

AN excavation project for the discovery of additional ancient Lucayan remains in Long Island is set to begin today, with local and international archaeological experts yesterday touting the excavation project as a big step towards the redefinition and subsequent better understanding of recorded Bahamian history.

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Different Strokes

November 25, 2016

The painting workshop series at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB), starting today, November 26, is just another side of the gallery's range of programming. The NAGB has talks and openings and all the things often associated with a national gallery, but it also offers more practical, tangible knowledge and learning opportunities and experiences to the local public. This new workshop, part of the programming for the NAGB's current permanent exhibition, From Columbus To Junkanoo, offers a chance for the public to work with two of The Bahamas' prominent artists, Jackson and Bernard Petit.
The chance to work with artists who are renowned in the local art community is a rare and beautiful privilege that locals get from living in such a small nation with such a high saturation of talent. That level of accessibility and familiarity is unheard of in a lot of the world. The Bahamian art community treads a fine line between elevating local artists without putting them so high that they seem out of reach. They are every bit as human as the general public, and anyone who knows the Petit brothers, knows that they boast a great sense of humor and laugh and joke with rest of us.
Abby Smith, the community outreach officer at the NAGB, is ready and raring to go. Given her title, it is natural that working with the public is part of her passion when it comes to Bahamian art.
"It is a great learning experience, to work with artists here who are doing so much, and the fact that you can come and sit and chat with them. They are not up on pedestals like artwork; they are real people who can laugh with you and teach you."
Smith also had the public in mind in choosing the brothers as instructors. Though they are both accomplished painters, with over 15 years of experience, their painting prowess is not their only qualifying criteria. Smith, while interested
in highlighting their skill, is also incredibly concerned with their approachability and the level of humanity that each of them possess. Their experience is one shared by so many Bahamians here. The brothers are proudly Haitian-Bahamian and hold a deep sense of their dual nationality. They are not half-Bahamian or half-anything: they are 100 percent Bahamian and proud. End of story.
"To me, it just seems like they do not get the level of recognition that they ought to. They are quite well known of course, but these are some of the most talented young people we have, and I feel they get sidelined sometimes. They came up like any other Bahamian student: through high school at CV Bethel, studied at the College of the Bahamas and studied abroad. They even came back and started their company - there is so much we can learn from them and not just painting but from their ambition and who they are as successful Bahamians."
Inclusivity has been the name of the game for the NAGB since its inception. The gallery serves as a way for Bahamians to tell their stories from all walks of life here. We are a varied people, and that is what makes us beautiful. The brothers were inspired and trained by some of the biggest figures in art and art education. Names we know all too well: Burnside, Beadle, Malone. However, also, the strong women who helped to mold so many young generations of artists here, most notedly the late Mrs. Sandra Illingworth-Adderley, who passed earlier this year, who was instrumental in the development of the men as artists and as people, having mentored them both from a young age.
As Jackson fondly put it, she "discovered" them in the 9th grade at A. F. Adderley. He was working on his BGCSE coursework at the time - yes, in the 9th grade when most students are completing their BJC qualifications, Illingworth-Adderley came across his work and invited him to meet with her. She informed him of the Finco Summer Workshops and helped him fill out the form and had him do some sketches - and thus the mentorship began. It was not until he went to CV Bethel that she became a formal teacher to the Petit brothers. She was instrumental in ensuring they continued their arts education - despite the pressures that so many artists face in securing their academics in school, as art is so often not seen as a serious career option.
This is precisely why Smith wants to push the workshops and continue this kind of work we do at the gallery. "Who knows? By making sure that people in the community come here and know this is their space we might be cultivating the next generation of artists. It is all about nurturing and helping people understand that this is a viable avenue for a career, understanding your culture, even if it is just people interested in taking up art as a hobby. It all counts."
There is a strong tradition of mentorship here in the arts and a sort of unspoken legacy that we hand down and it is a precious and tangible thing you can see for yourself. It is clear, in looking through 'From Columbus To Junkanoo,' that our younger artists were inspired by those practicing before them and found their success, as Jackson explains: "I was always pressured to do something academic: Biology, Physics, Spanish, things like that. I ended up dropping the Spanish and keeping up with art, so did Bernard, and Mrs. Illingworth brought us books on Bahamian artists and things like that. One of the first major paintings I saw was a Brent Malone painting, the one on the cover of the Finco art book. She then showed us John Beadle, Jolyon Smith - the works she collected from artists and students over the years. Her house was a personal gallery in a way."
However, Jackson quickly moved on to galleries of a different sort, working at the NAGB in 2007 - just four years after the institution's opening. He is very much 'part of the furniture,' and instrumental in much of the digital and technical operations in the functioning of the space. Moreover, what's more, he exhibited his work before he started working here, having his work selected for the NE3 in 2006. He and his brother both have work within these walls, and Jackson says he is proud to be able to work here as well as display and continue his art practice.
And so Smith wants to continue this mission to have Bahamians from all backgrounds, much like the staff working in Villa Doyle, have their chance to pursue and be inspired by Bahamian art and its history. "I feel as though oftentimes people get caught up in the glamour of the gallery being related to art instead of thinking of the purpose. We have to understand that the NAGB is housed in a historic part of downtown with a long-standing community of its own, and the impression that a grand space like this gives off is that the residents around us have been shunned: this is the mislead belief of so many people, because the NAGB is a national treasure, this is a space for all Bahamians. And so my goal is to bring the community back. To give them access to what is really theirs."
The Petit brothers will be walking you through the fundamentals of good picture making: from the technical to the conceptual, using the age-old tradition of the 'still life' study as the subject matter. Some of the principles to be discussed include composition, accuracy in drawing, color theory, understanding form and modelling and lighting. The skills explored in the workshops are translatable and easily applicable to any style or genre of painting.
The painting workshops will take place today, and the following Saturday, December 3rd, 2016 with Jackson and Bernard, on the NAGB grounds. This is programming for adults, so anyone aged 18 and up are more than welcome to join us, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on both days.
The fee for NAGB members is $25, and $35 for non members - price is inclusive of all materials. All you need to bring is yourself, an open mind and heart, and perhaps wear some clothes you don't mind getting a smear or two of paint on. The act of painting is often a passionate one, and passion plus paint can sometimes equal a little mess!

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