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Bahamian art: Presenting. Uniting. Educating.

Mixed Media Blog

Blank Canvas: December 6th, Michael Edwards and Dr. Ian Bethell-Bennett

Katrina Cartwright

Today on “Blank Canvas,” host Amanda Coulson is joined by returning guests Michael Edwards, UB Art Faculty and co-host of “Blueprint for Change” and Dr. Ian Bethell-Bennett, Associate Professor at the University of The Bahamas, who expound on Expo 2020 Dubai and the opportunities afforded young Bahamians through this initiative.

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Prospect New Orleans Art Triennale: Bahamian and Caribbean artists celebrated

Holly Bynoe

By Amanda Coulson

On November 16th-19th, 2017, hundreds of artists, curators, collectors and other art advocates, descended on New Orleans for “Prospect” its citywide art triennial, now in its fourth edition and currently subtitled “The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp,” curated by Trevor Schoonmaker (Chief Curator at Duke’s Nasher Museum). Founded after Hurricane Katrina, Prospect New Orleans was the brainchild of curator Dan Cameron, a self-confessed “Nola-phile” who had been invited to a public meeting about the role of artists in rebuilding their ravaged city. Having curated other international art events—in Taipei and Istanbul—and having seen first-hand the economic benefits that such happenings bring to their host cities, Cameron felt New Orleans was ripe for its own regenerative art project.

Like similar cultural events—the Venice Biennale being the mother of them all—Prospect invites contemporary artists from all over the world to participate, exhibiting in both traditional venues—such as local museums and galleries—but also public spaces and other unexpected sites, where everyday folk might stumble across art interventions they might otherwise not engage with. Aside from its impact on cultural tourism, with tens of thousands of people travelling to the city just for the event, its larger effect has been how artists have embraced the triennial’s social mission in creating projects that connect to the city’s history, culture, people, and institutions. Prospect, in fact, prides itself on facilitating the connection between “high art” and the deeper cultural landscape of the city itself, with its rich and diverse traditions of music, Mardi Gras Indians, second line parades, and other popular cultural forms, many of which are reminiscent of our Junkanoo, Goombay, Rake’n’Scrape and so on.

1.     Lavar Munroe, Of the Omens He Had As He Entered His Own Village, and Other Incidents That Embellished and Gave Colour to a Great History (2017). Deconstructed Junkanoo costumes, found fabric, bullhorns, beads, rubber, tennis balls, ribbon, mesh, wood, mask, synthetic hair, feathers and cardboard. Courtesy of the artist.

1.     Lavar Munroe, Of the Omens He Had As He Entered His Own Village, and Other Incidents That Embellished and Gave Colour to a Great History (2017). Deconstructed Junkanoo costumes, found fabric, bullhorns, beads, rubber, tennis balls, ribbon, mesh, wood, mask, synthetic hair, feathers and cardboard. Courtesy of the artist.

That is, while bringing in international artists from the outside, Prospect asks its audience to delve into the richness of New Orleans culture, as seen through the eyes of artists and locals, a lesson that we, as Bahamians, could learn from. Rather than cutting ourselves off from the world in an attempt to preserve our heritage, perhaps we might want to think about how outreach—whether inviting others in as well as extending ourselves outward—could be a way to heighten our own care and consideration for our institutions at home.

Prospect.4’s curator Schoonmaker commented, “All of the artists were incredibly thoughtful in the creation and selection their work, making sure that what we showed made sense within the city of New Orleans. The result is work that feels symbiotic with the culture and people of the city, and therefore has the ability to bring new people into conversation with contemporary art. The opening produced a genuine feeling of community, which is hard to come by, but something that I strive for in curation.”

While the first Prospect (2008) opened to a huge fanfare and saw 88,000 visitors (with 22,000 from out-of-town), the next 1.5 edition—a halfway stop while the biennial/triennial re-branded itself (2010)—saw a dip to 29,000 visitors. Prosect.2’s (2011) audience soared back up to 72,000 and Prospect.3 (2014) saw more than 100,000 local, national and international visitors. It was this edition, curated by the current Director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), Franklin Sirmans, which was the first to issue an invitation to a Bahamian artist, with Tavares Strachan’s stunning work in which a 27-foot high, billboard-sized hot-pink neon sign reading "You Belong Here" was mounted on a river barge that cruised the Mississippi River at night. The poetic message was appropriate for many other artists of colour of from regions considered marginal to the art world and could interpreted as an affirmation or a veiled question.

1.     Tavares Strachan, I Belong Here (2012), yellow neon, installed at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans.

1.     Tavares Strachan, I Belong Here (2012), yellow neon, installed at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans.

A similar, more diminutive version of this work—“I Belong Here” (2012)—in yellow neon currently hangs in the entrance of New Orleans’ Ogden Museum of Southern Art and was, again, a statement by the artist as to the aptness of his presence in the institution, and as a welcome and affirmation to the diverse visitors coming into the museum. Central to this iteration of Prospect, which has placed even more of its focus southward, with a greater emphasis on art and artists who engage with the American South and the Global South, particularly those from North America, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Africa and the European countries that colonized these regions.

Both of Prospect’s last editions’ curators have been to The Bahamas at the invitation of the NAGB, doing studio visits and appearing as guests on the radio show “Blank Canvas,” and both have, in the United States at their various institutions, worked incredibly hard over the last 15 years to broaden the representation of people of colour in the art world as artists, professionals, and as the positive, active subjects of the work itself. On the increase of these voices at international art shows globally, Sirmans comments, “These are the fruits of longstanding conversations that have been happening over years. Personally, when I saw Trevor (Schoonmaker’s) shows the core idea was that we could learn diversity or globalism from the recent past (post-conceptualism) and it all somehow made sense.”

Schoonmaker’s Prospect.4’s artist list clearly shows how this shift has taken place—with their being almost equal representation in terms of race and gender—and out of 73 artists, almost 10% identify as being of the Caribbean, including Sonia Boyce, María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Andrea Chung, Satch Hoyt, Zak Ové, Horace Ové, Alexis Esquivel and our very own Lavar Munroe. As one of the most important contemporary art survey in the US, having a Bahamian voice—for the second edition in a row—is obviously a major achievement for our small but feisty nation and one of which we should all be incredibly proud.

Furthermore, in keeping with the show’s concept of beauty flowering within inhospitable surroundings, Munroe created a work that rose to the occasion, literally as well as metaphorically, being over 12 feet high. Entitled “Of the Omens He Had As He Entered His Own Village, and Other Incidents That Embellished and Gave Colour to a Great History” (2017) his piece is a massive cardboard sculptural installation, towering over the visitors.

Munroe states.

“I introduced elements of the Bahamian cultural lineage, specifically in the form of discarded Junkanoo costumes that I decided to repurpose. Throughout my career, my work has thrived on a savviness and sophistication in my material use, whereby I take on the role as an alchemist of sorts.  Materially, it was important for me to use discarded Junkanoo costumes, as it gave me an opportunity to lend the history of a nation to a wider audience. Historically my choice of material – performed and discarded Junkanoo costumes—simultaneously served as the detritus from thousands of Bahamians that toiled and laboured to create elaborate artistic expressions that originated from our folk ancestral past but also conjured performative spirits that crossed over into the repurpose sculpture. Though the exhibited work was not physically performed in its current institutional setting, it was once performed in a public space, by hundreds of Bahamians from numerous social strata. The work I created for Prospect New Orleans holds the physical DNA in the form of literal blood, sweat and tears of The Bahamas. Other material in this work was sourced from a recent trip to a remote village in Tambacounda, Senegal, called the Sinthian Village. This material included found fabrics, animal horns and rope used to detain animals prior to them being slaughtered, among other things. Together, along with the material found and used on site in New Orleans, the final work draws a parallel that connects historic lineages from these very similar, yet different cultural spheres within the world.”

Install shot of Lavar Munroe's, Of the Omens He Had As He Entered His Own Village, and Other Incidents That Embellished and Gave Colour to a Great History (2017).

Install shot of Lavar Munroe's, Of the Omens He Had As He Entered His Own Village, and Other Incidents That Embellished and Gave Colour to a Great History (2017).

In both cases—Strachan in 2014 and Munroe in 2017—the work made an impact that was felt literally around the world and makes our nation more and more recognizable on the international stage for more than the ubiquitous sun, sand and sea. Even something as simple as an exhibition label stating that the work on show “was made possible in part by The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas” takes our name out into the world in a meaningful and tangible way.

Assessing the impact that inclusion in a show like this can have on an artist’s career is difficult, but certainly they have increased their visibility tenfold of not more. It's safe to say that before Strachan implemented his outstanding Bahamian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2013), was invited by Sirmans to Prospect.3, followed by Munroe’s invitation by Schoonmaker, The Bahamas itself was not generally considered a centre for “high” art. Indeed, a general reaction to stating what I did and where I worked was “Oh, really? Do they have art there?” Slowly but surely, we are changing this perception to elicit the comment “Oh, wow, they really have some art there!”

The NAGB Takes a New Look at Membership

Holly Bynoe

By Malika Pryor Martin

As a nation that generally contemplates membership in a civic context (think sororities, your local Lodge, or Rotary), the challenge to many cultural institutions is how we build a sense of loyalty and belonging in spaces that are new and often largely unknown?

Consider this: the oldest person born at the time The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas opened to the public, is currently, 14 years old. Let that sink in for a moment. There are literally no adults in The Bahamas who came of age with ready access to a public national arts museum. Beyond our relative youth, the NAGB’s outreach programming, which has expanded our capacity to serve a broad and diverse local audience, has only begun to take shape in the last three to five years. So, while some may hear criticism of the Bahamian public for not engaging their own cultural spaces with the veracity and commitment sometimes seen in other societies, it’s important to note that connectivity and history matter. Countries in North America, Europe and much of Asia have the benefit of an established - in some cases, centuries old - system of public museums and galleries. Those institutions are often tied to the very fabric of national identity, not only with respect to how those nations see themselves, but also how the world sees them (think the Louvre and France).

1.     Multigenerational fun and creativity on display as a grandmother and granddaughter participate in a recent NAGB workshop with visiting artist, Joiri Minaya. Image courtesy of the NABG.

1.     Multigenerational fun and creativity on display as a grandmother and granddaughter participate in a recent NAGB workshop with visiting artist, Joiri Minaya. Image courtesy of the NABG.

In the U.S., memberships to non-profits are incentivised at the federal level. National policy dictates that if you give to an organization by “joining,” you can in turn reduce your taxes owed by a percentage of that membership gift. In other cases, communities can decide to allot some of their municipal tax income to fund arts and cultural initiatives. In the States, we call them a millage. However, neither incentives nor taxes are leveraged in this way in The Bahamas. So, how do public museums and galleries, dedicated to the greater public good, encourage meaningful discourse and interaction from the very public we serve without similar personal incentives or direct-line funding?

For starters, we are tasked in some ways with redefining what a museum or gallery is at its core. If we are honest, much of what we see in the halls of the most renown art and cultural museums, particularly in the West, are the vestiges of an imperial past, marred by theft under the guise of exploration. As a former colonized state, we are neither privy to such treasure troves, replete with the spoils of war, nor do we desire to be framed in that manner. That means to engage with and be engaged by an arts organisation, here in The Bahamas, is an evolving relationship with the onus being squarely placed, and rightfully so, on the institution - to be the primary actor working to figure out how that relationship can look and how it can work.

So, at our core, we are an educational institution, not with the goal of being the grand colonial house atop the hill, looking down at Over-the-Hill communities, but instead to be a space where those who once could only enter through back gates, can now cross the threshold of the Villa Doyle with a sense of ownership.

This is your National Art Gallery, where we welcome all: citizen and visitor, alike. This is the manner in which we want to be seen and received, so much so that one is compelled to join, to visit, to expect that there is something here for all of us and indeed there is. Programming includes: rotating exhibitions; children’s events for all ages; school tours; and Free “Local Sundays,” which starting this weekend will include tours for visitors (at no additional charge).

We have even launched special events for NAGB members.

As a museum charged with the purpose of preserving and promoting Bahamian art, we are working to build community, so that whether you choose to become a paying member or not, as a citizen of The Bahamas or a resident in New Providence, it is clear that you belong here and that art is for you - in part - because the artists predominantly featured are of and from this grand archipelago. If art is being created by these Bahamian makers, it is because creativity, to varying degrees, is in us all.

Education Officer and ceramist Katrina Cartwright so eloquently articulates, “We live in a society where the arts are seen as “other” and artists and their practice as something mystical - a little otherworldly. The reality is that we all participate in this apparent mysticism on a daily basis, whether it is through the making or use of locally made crafts, decorating our homes and churches, or coordinating the production of children’s plays. This is why spaces like The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas are so important. By facilitating interactions between artists and members of the community, access to the arts and an increased awareness of the creative spirit that pervades our society is fostered.”

“The NAGB [is working to] create a space where new talent can be nurtured, [and] artists, whether through their works or instruction, can engage with community members to affect change in our society. When we make this connection, the arts, artists, and the institutions that support them are no longer seen as other, but as an integral part of the social and cultural fabric of a nation. After all artists are the visual documenters of our history, and it is only through knowing our history that we truly know ourselves.”

Sitting with the Dead: “Medium,” a show of Bahamian Religion and Spirituality

Holly Bynoe

By Dr Ian Bethell Bennett. Tie a black piece of cotton around the child’s wrist, Don’t walk outside at night without covering the child’s head, Be careful how you come into the house at night, Wipe your feet off well. Cover the mirrors with cloth, Open the house if the coffin comes by, let the spirit travel through, Rosemary helps keep away bad-minded things... To our mind, these are all local lore.  To many, these are discredited as they are lumped together with Obeah and dismissed as ‘evil, black, Dark and African.’  Our double-consciousness denies the survival or the importance of such cultural elements as Asue, Lodges, Burial Societies, Friendly Societies, all of which allowed our spiritual and physical survival during and after slavery.

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Celebrate: Art of the Bahamas Headed to the Elliott Museum

Holly Bynoe

Republished from TCPalm

Celebrate: Art of the Bahamas will open at the Elliott Museum on Dec. 15. This first-time collaboration between the Elliott Museum and The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, the D’Aguilar Foundation and the Dawn Davies Collection will run through Feb. 25.

You’ll see paintings dating from the late 1800s to the present, with an emphasis on art created by Bahamians after 1960s. You’ll also see work by South Florida artists who painted the islands, including Howard Schafer, Jerry Rose and Stephen Scott Young.

The Market Wharf by Edison Godfrey Rolfe, is part of the exhibit to come to the Elliott Museum, starting Dec. 15.(Photo: CONTRIBUTED BY NATIONAL ART GALLERY OF THE BAHAMAS)

The Market Wharf by Edison Godfrey Rolfe, is part of the exhibit to come to the Elliott Museum, starting Dec. 15.(Photo: CONTRIBUTED BY NATIONAL ART GALLERY OF THE BAHAMAS)

The exhibition is in collaboration with the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, the Dawn Davies Collection and the D’Aguilar Foundation and is sponsored by Jean Schafer Cox, Lucy Hoop and others.

The compelling and unique exhibit opens with a kickoff party on December 14 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Cost to attend is $5 per person and you’ll enjoy a cash bar and free munchies. RSVP at 772-225-1961 or RSVP@elliottmuseum.org.

Jacob Coonley. On The Way to Market

Jacob Coonley. On The Way to Market

The Elliott Museum, 825 NE Ocean Blvd., Stuart, is open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Regular admission is $14 per person for adults; $12 for seniors over 65, $6 for children 6-12 years; children under 6 and members are free. Groups of 10 or more who plan to visit Celebrate: Art of the Bahamas should email Al Simbritz at asimbritz@elliottmuseum.org.

Blank Canvas: November 29th, Lauren Holowesko and Natascha Vasquez

Katrina Cartwright

It’s an all-female cast in the “Blank Canvas” studio this week. Joining your regular host, NAGB Director Amanda Coulson, are Lauren Holowesko, Director of The Island House boutique hotel on the West End of New Providence (left), and Natascha Vasquez (right), the Creative Arts Programming Manager at The Current, studio and gallery at Bahamar. Natascha is also a painter who is having her first solo show at home in The Bahamas at The Island House this Friday, December 1st.

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Seeking Divine Creativity: Allan Wallace’s new works revisits his religious upbringing

Holly Bynoe

By Keisha Oliver

The relationship between art and spirituality is more connected than many of us realise. There exists between them a peculiar kinship used to inspire personal and universal endeavours toward an ideal reality. History teaches us that philosophy unifies the two at a point where intuition and the self-conscious embrace spiritual-mindedness. For Allan Wallace these parallels sit at the foundation of his pursuit/exploration in self-awareness and survival, framing the trajectory of his life’s work/creative practice.

Portrait of Allan Wallace. All images courtesy Holly Bynoe

Portrait of Allan Wallace. All images courtesy Holly Bynoe

From the masters to the contemporaries, Bahamian artists have been seen circling conversations on faith and ritual since the late sixties, yet few consider it their divine calling. Master intuitive and folk artist the late Amos Ferguson is regarded for his life’s work, largely influenced by his religious upbringing. Ferguson believed his repertoire of Bible and Bahamian scenes were a result of divine instruction from God.  Although their styles couldn't be more dissimilar Wallace and Ferguson share the journey of prolific self-taught creatives, who emerged as artists of the gospel in their generation.

Bolstered by the immediacy of technology and social media, Wallace has gained unprecedented influence within the contemporary urban art scene in recent years. Embracing a sort of creative Evangelism, Wallace has crafted a unique approach to his art that engages and inspires. Although famed for his idiosyncratic style of salt art portraits, live art experiences, and colossal murals, he views his ability to share the brilliance of God through his talent as paramount.

Invited by The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas to participate in its upcoming exhibition "Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism," Wallace is humbled to have the opportunity to produce a collection of 12 ink drawings that revisit his religious upbringing.

Portrait of Allan Wallace. All images courtesy Holly Bynoe

Portrait of Allan Wallace. All images courtesy Holly Bynoe

“A lot of my recent work consists of private commissions, live art paintings and murals, but the invitation and freedom to produce a series of drawings focused on a theme so close to my heart was timely and appreciated” 

Growing up in a Christian family as the grandson of an apostle, then continuing to serve in ministry as a 16-year old deacon, established Wallace’s roots in Christianity. A familiar story to the traditional Christian home of the eighties, where children in obedience follow their parents to church every Sunday. The “Bahamian Church culture” has a very different reality today.  Faced with an abundance of spiritual paths and alternative lifestyles, this generation of youth are embracing their freedom of choice. Not always in defiance of their family’s Christian heritage, but more often they are simply gravitating toward a more relatable substitute.

Wallace’s work is known to use surrealism and symbolism to critique and reimagine contemporary Christianity. Sometimes, like Ferguson, biblical narratives or references are used, but Wallace is also seen delving into an investigation of religiosity and the role the church plays as an object of influence. From dialogues on wrath versus the beauty of God, the dynamics of church titles and hierarchal system, the architecture of the physical and the spiritual realms, he addresses a plethora of experiences, perspectives and questions raised in his faith walk.

Inside the artist’s studio.

Inside the artist’s studio.

His bewildering drawings are layered both conceptually and technically. “The God Fruit” is a re-figuration of the forbidden fruit from the Adam and Eve narrative that hopes to encapsulate the brilliance of God and man’s ability not even to comprehend his majesty.

“I always found it interesting that the object of desire was always represented as food. The complexity of the work, which is contained in a section of an apple, reveals an internal matrix. To the naked eye, it seems never-ending. I wanted to touch on the fact that  the decisive moment, when man consumed the forbidden fruit, is also the ultimate point of choice that births an ongoing spiral of free will and expression.”

Golden Touch and Go: Jace McKinney’s imagines golden kings and living dangerously in “Trumped” (2013)

Holly Bynoe

By Natalie Willis

Ours is a region filled with spirituality, mysticism, myth, and the ghosts of these things and our histories still to this day haunt us. As an artist dealing often very explicitly with his faith—in the divine, in this place we call home, in these people who we feel such pride in and who equally send us out of our minds—Jace McKinney tackles questions of identity, being, and masculinity in “Trumped” (2013). Far from a commentary on the current, infamous US President, “Trumped” (2013) deals with the game of life, playing hard-and-fast, and who truly holds the ‘trump’ card in the deck.

The genesis of this work has unexpected origins as a serendipitous image taken after the first lap of New Year's Day 2011 Junkanoo celebrations. A couple lie together, sleeping, the man encircled in his partner’s arms and the pair of them are spent from performing. McKinney was a Junkanoo photographer at the time and took the image unsure of when he might use it. He paints through visions as inspirations, seeing the painting come together before committing it to canvas. It would be another two years before this image took on a life very different from the moment it was taken - though the exhaustion inherent would become the tying thread.

-       “Trumped” (2013), Jace McKinney. Mixed Media on Wood,  24” x 48”. Image courtesy of the Dawn Davies Collection. “Trumped” will be one of several works by McKinney highlighted in the upcoming exhibition “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism”

-       “Trumped” (2013), Jace McKinney. Mixed Media on Wood,  24” x 48”. Image courtesy of the Dawn Davies Collection. “Trumped” will be one of several works by McKinney highlighted in the upcoming exhibition “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism”

In exploring ideas of the hero’s journey and ‘decoding salvation’—the hero as the saviour—McKinney began to look at ideas of King Midas. How would we interpret Midas in a Bahamian context: would he be a politician? An affluent businessman? A numbers house owner? These all seemed possible, but to truly capture the tragedy and instantaneous riches of Midas, he decided to look to the life of the drug dealer. After a chance encounter on a family island, where he met a man who was essentially in exile after a hit-gone-bad (all drug-related of course) in Jamaica, McKinney begins to craft the image in his mind of this new Midas. The live-fast-die-young nature, the lavishness, the eventual demise; all of this is encompassed both in the life of the successful drug dealer and the Greek-mythical King Midas.

Having grown up seeing what he claimed to be all the ‘cool guys’ getting girls, wearing chains, and generally being well liked, he realised most of them are now dead or in prison or, in the case of this man, in hiding. The man he met felt to be turning everything he touched to gold in his own way, bringing his affluence to his small island community. It is the fate of a number of young men who come to the capital looking for work, or who move to Nassau in high school, and have their family island ease rooted out of them in favour of performing their identity in what was deemed a more masculine and appropriate way. The hypermasculinity of our Black men is nothing new and its detrimental effects are seen everyday in these hauntings of dealers, harassers, and men who generally seem unable to love and be soft and vulnerable.

“To create loving men, we must love males. Loving maleness is different from praising and rewarding males for living up to sexist-defined notions of male identity. Caring about men because of what they do for us is not the same as loving males for simply being. When we love maleness, we extend our love whether males are performing or not. Performance is different from simply being. In patriarchal culture males are not allowed simply to be who they are and to glory in their unique identity. Their value is always determined by what they do. In an anti-patriarchal culture males do not have to prove their value and worth. They know from birth that simply being gives them value, the right to be cherished and loved,” state the ever-relevant bell hooks in “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love” (2004)

The Black feminist powerhouse takes a moment to speak on many of the important things that get lost when we speak about feminism - the love we all yearn for. She speaks to the way that McKinney, like so many others, would deify the confident characters ‘getting all the girls’. It is stunning that still today we have so many moments where we quantify our being, ourselves, and men, on what we have.

The Bahamian Midas is crowned as a king, and clearly has the love of his partner who is also decadently dripping in gold and jewels, but the machete in the coconut tree behind her speaks to the violence they have encountered. She seems like the Bonnie to his Clyde, his ‘ride or die’. So many men seek the love of their mothers in their partners and crave intimacy they can no longer access outside of the bedroom when their emotions have been systematically stomped out of them: the only acceptable ones become anger and desire. And this desire spreads not just to knowing someone in a biblical way, but the desire to appear to be through all the things that tell us we have become something. Flashy cars, gold chains, gold teeth, and guns do not a man make. But it is one way of being seen to be something and that craving, much like Midas’ craving for gold, is the one that haunts us time and time again. We see history repeated in these small places over in a way that is just as painful as the last, but we become desensitized to this constant brutality on being.

The fear of being caught is an everyday for the dealer-Midas, one he can accept, but the fear that his partner may leave him is one that he cannot. In this movement of mother’s love, to partner’s love, to fear of abandonment and the ultimate demise of the dealer, images of Michelangelo’s ‘La Pieta’ (1498-99) are echoed in the work. Michelangelo depicts the body of Jesus in the arms of his mother Mary, but she could just as easily have been Mary Magdalene - if not a lover, a female confidant and contemporary. Again, we see this need for love and acceptance. Because what comfort does one have in this kind of life? It is impossible to trust, and love cannot exist without trust.

McKinney takes us through the initial envy of men who ‘have it all’, to the eventual question “this isn’t going to end well, is it?”. There must be some due reward; Midas must eventually meet his end - be it the end of his existence or his reason for it, as in a version of the original myth he loses his daughter because she gets immortalised in gold at the touch of his hand. When you lose your reasons for living and being, even gold doesn’t shine in the dark.

What began as a moment of intimacy between partners became a lesson on intimacy and on the dangers of being through appearing - so dependent on light, when the light goes out and no one can see you, what do you become? How do you become? As Derrida speaks to the idea of Hauntologies (a play on the french pronunciation of the word which becomes a homonym for Ontology), we see time go out of joint - the past in the present, the present in the past. We have all these energies here in our hauntologies: violent colonizers, peaceful Lucayans, tense and despairing Africans. The way that many of our ancestors in the islands were only able to ‘be’ by how much they produced, what they could bring you. The slave of old had to bring in sugar and cotton and sisal, but today we are enslaved to appearing through a lifestyle that is impossible to afford for most - except through one ‘trump card’. Unfortunately though, we do not hold the deck, we are merely another card in this game.

 

Unpacking Identity with Joiri Minaya

Holly Bynoe

The sixth iteration of Double Dutch “Re: Encounter,” featuring the works of Dede Brown and Joiri Minaya, starts to address how important it is from a curatorial perspective to provide opportunities for artists, who are looking for ways to mitigate the sense of frustration that they feel within their practice, by allowing a moment to experiment.  The following is the first in a two-part series of long-form Q+As that seeks to expand upon both projects. We connect with Joiri Minaya, a Dominican-American multi-disciplinary artist whose work deals with identity, otherness, self-consciousness and displacement.

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Blank Canvas: November 22nd, Pierre Richard Parsien, Pam Burnside and Holly Bynoe

Katrina Cartwright

On this week’s “Blank Canvas,” we have the opportunity to learn more about the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and their activities in The Bahamas and the region through Gevon Moss, their local Civil Society Liaison and Resource Planner. Aside from their general activities, he’ll speak to their recent annual meeting in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, from November 8-9, examining sustainable development in the region.

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A Wry and Writhing Mass: New works by Natascha Vazquez’ “In A Space That Glows”

Holly Bynoe

By Natalie Willis

The onslaught of colour and organic masses of shape in Natascha Vazquez’ current body of work hides just that: a particular kind of body and experience. Her thesis exhibition “In A Space That Glows” is a distorted, shifting, chaotic visceral mass of body parts. When you look closely enough: a rib cage here and there, trickles and splashes of fluid, the flare of a hip bone, the fleshy, squashy intestinal quality to some of the shapes bombard you. Vazquez takes us to the guts of painting in her journey during her Masters programme at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). While she may be dealing with the ‘rebel-turned-canon’ that is abstraction in regards to how this particular genre of painting rejects our need for visual meaning-making, she gives us these beautiful and grotesque colours and shapes that are as familiar as they are abstract.

Headshot of Natascha Vazquez, who is currently completing her Masters in Fine Art at SCAD.

Headshot of Natascha Vazquez, who is currently completing her Masters in Fine Art at SCAD.

“Art is a matter strictly of experience, not of principles, and what counts first and last in art is quality; all other things are secondary.” - Clement Greenberg (“Late Writings”, 2003)

Greenberg (1909-1994) has been lauded as the most important and influential art critic of the 20th century, particularly in relation to his influence on American Modernism. He was very much concerned with the formal qualities of painting, believing that the work should contain within itself all that is necessary to understanding it, and - as we can see from his words - he valued quality above all. His work continues to influence many artists today, and in conversation with Vazquez it isn’t long before his name crops up. It is apparent in the sleek and smooth flatness of the larger, vinyl-painted shapes in the works, with their crisp and scalpel-sharp edges that she too believes in the quality of having things executed impeccably in work despite the thin, runny and free-flowing underpainting.

A formalist at heart perhaps, it is clear in the meticulous and regimented layering and process, and the way she situates herself and speaks to the history of the medium and genre, that this painting practice is more at home in research-based work. A bit of getting to the heart of what makes painting ‘work’, a question we’ve not quite got to the bottom of yet, despite the millennia of painting history we have to draw on and the years of study dedicated to it. It is a 40,000 year old history and we feel and see the weight of it every day in the art world.

“Glow in the Light” (2017), Natascha Vazquez, acrylic, vinyl and charcoal on canvas, 51” x 53”. Part of the thesis exhibition “In A Space That Glows” at The Island House on December 1st from 6:00pm to 9:00pm.

“Glow in the Light” (2017), Natascha Vazquez, acrylic, vinyl and charcoal on canvas, 51” x 53”. Part of the thesis exhibition “In A Space That Glows” at The Island House on December 1st from 6:00pm to 9:00pm.

The series of works on canvas that comprise the collection exemplify Vazquez’ serious study and love of the medium and history and process of painting. By mixing batches of colour, numbering them, and then painting with them in ascending and then descending order, she is able to generate a real depth to the work that is quite interesting for abstraction. Often thought of as a flat surface with various focal points, it feels like she is trying to stun you with colour and then draw you in slowly. The structured patterning paired with the looser underpainting all help to give the competing points of interest that are thought of as typical for the genre, but the depth created gives each of them a sort of tunnel to peer through that draws us into these caverns. She plays with the history, with the process, in a very knowing and wry kind of way that shows both her love of formal qualities and her desire to push what paintings means - for her and for this space. With Netherlandish artist Jan Van Eyck’s ‘Arnolfini Portrait’ (1434) as an unlikely influence for someone so rooted in modern and contemporary abstraction, she takes this early Renaissance work and its method of using perspective to draw the viewer deep into the work, and crafts this sucking and pulling in to function for her in her abstract practice.

Though Greenberg and Vazquez both value formalist interpretations of work, the beauty of artwork today lies in the way that work is not autonomous and its meaning does not exist purely within the work itself. French semiotician Julia Kristeva offered us the possibility of this freedom through her groundbreaking work on literary theory and the idea of ‘intertextuality’. Intertextuality predicates on this idea that everything in a text (or work) is part of an intertext of the texts before it, the author’s (artist’s) life, all the influences within the field and the maker and the reader (viewer) of the piece itself. This is much more true to our experience of art today, and speaks to how the artist’s life context and experiences and cultural influences shape the work itself. Whereas formalism implies an idea of objectivity in artwork, intertextuality is deeply rooted in acknowledging the specificity of our individual subjectivities and how they inform the meaning produced in the work - at these intersections of aesthetics, culture, and experience.

“Inside a Dance” (2017), Natascha Vazquez, Acrylic, charcoal and vinyl on canvas, 55” x 85”. Part of the thesis exhibition “In A Space That Glows” at The Island House on December 1st from 6:00pm to 9:00pm.

“Inside a Dance” (2017), Natascha Vazquez, Acrylic, charcoal and vinyl on canvas, 55” x 85”. Part of the thesis exhibition “In A Space That Glows” at The Island House on December 1st from 6:00pm to 9:00pm.

This genre, that began in its rejection of meaning and formalism, and its development help us to see how the application of these ideas over the years have informed such an interesting practice not just for Vazquez, but for Bahamian art as we make sense of the emergence of abstraction in our context. One of our ‘founding fathers’ of abstraction in The Bahamas, Kendal Hanna, has dedicated his life’s work to painting practice, and Vazquez comes into the fold she stands on those shoulders and builds. In a region that is still sifting through the muck and mess of the weight of Western art history in relation to Caribbean history itself, Caribbean practices are not quite about translating that visual language at times so much as building out our own.

Vazquez’s works are a play on the intertext of her life - growing up here in The Bahamas to a Caribbean father and European mother and studying abroad for the past four years, it all shows in the work. From her tongue-in-cheek use of the hyper-tropicalised colours so ‘trendy’ in much of Western art practice, Vazquez dissects and reassembles in Frankenstein-fashion with the history of painting to delightful and discombobulating effect. And she does so because she can. Given her history as both a Caribbean and European subject, she can shift and move where she wishes, choosing whether to play to that overbearing weight of Western art history or the daunting, exciting, and terrifying openness of possibility in our young (by comparison) Bahamian and Caribbean art history. That freedom and dedication to play and experimentation shines through. “In A Space That Glows” is testament not just to the particularities of light and colour in this space, but to the resonating light of potential that young creatives in the region have and take unabashed ownership of. The exhibition will be on view at The Island House on Friday, December 1st from 6:00pm to 9:00pm and will run for one night only.

The Curator's Lens: A Series - Antonius Roberts, Chief Curator at Central Bank retires

Holly Bynoe

by Malika Pryor-Martin

Antonius Roberts is both man and seemingly, artistic machine. In the last 35 years, he has either founded, constructed or enhanced virtually every significant art institution in The Bahamas. All this, while serving as Chief Curator at the Central Bank of The Bahamas, teaching full time, mentoring numerous artists, and also creating his works. Roberts isn’t just a national institution builder. He is an institution.

It was 1973, and the resounding rally cry of national unity and pride rang through the air and across the airwaves. The Bahamas was now a nation, the property of a diminished empire, no more. Roberts heard the voice of Sir Lynden Pindling proclaim, “We need all hands-on deck. We need teachers…” The list of other necessary vocations continued, but it was ‘teacher’, arts educator to be specific, that rang truest for Roberts. “All of my art teachers were foreign: one was North American; one was British.” Young and inspired, he decided he wanted to empower young Bahamians in the arts. For his future students, becoming a professional artist would be an easy exercise of the imagination. Stated pointedly, Roberts says, “I studied art to be a teacher.”

Antonius Roberts at the NAGB with his piece The Nine Angels. Carved from the wood supports of his family’s historic home, the angels represent his mother, grandmother and the incredible women who shaped him.

Antonius Roberts at the NAGB with his piece The Nine Angels. Carved from the wood supports of his family’s historic home, the angels represent his mother, grandmother and the incredible women who shaped him.

In hindsight, it is no surprise that in 1982, Roberts joined the Central Bank of The Bahamas (CBOB) to develop the then, nascent gallery’s first competition. The programme, which has since launched or served as a springboard for the “who’s who” of next-generation Bahamian artists, was designed by him and then CBOB Governor William Allen to be a platform for young makers. “We wanted to further encourage creative exploration, portfolio development, and fill that gap year between high school and the College of The Bahamas (now the University of The Bahamas).” Out of the competition, which is now comprised of multiple calls, came a fully formed gallery that before the opening of The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB), served as the preeminent visual arts institution in the nation.

However, Roberts didn’t only want to see young artists develop; he wanted them to lead. In the early nineties, having served as the Chief Curator for CBOB for a decade or more, he decided to pass the curatorial ‘torch’ onto Monique Rolle, before returning sometime later. After operating in the capacity again, he brought on Heino Schmid, now one of the heads of the department of visual art at UB. However, providence favoured Roberts, and he eventually made his return for a third tenure with the historic gallery. Set to retire from CBOB at the end of this year, he promises that this farewell will indeed be his final. Roberts shares, “For institutions to grow, you have to have opportunities for growth. The world is changing. Institutions need change in order to remain relevant. Those who lit the flame, at a certain point, have done their best. Language changes. The audience changes. [It’s for another generation] to reach the next major milestone.”

Over the course of four decades, Roberts’ intention and work have positively affected the development of institutions that are shaping the way Bahamians see themselves and will eventually change the way the world sees The Bahamas. The Central Bank of The Bahamas; FINCO Summer Arts Workshops; Charitable Arts Foundation; The Lyford Cay School Scholarship Fund; and Junior Junkanoo, of which he is the principal founder, are just some of houses Antonius Roberts helped build.

When asked where he sees visual arts headed in his beloved country, Roberts pauses. “I’m not sure where it’s going. What I can say is that I see so much talent, some of the most creative people on earth.” Beyond creative capacity, he wants to see artists delve deeper into their respective practices and for institutions to both challenge and support them in the process. “There’s scratching at the surface going on. I don’t see a lot of attention to detail - a commitment to excellence. We need more sustainable funding to encourage creatives to really focus, investigate and explore meaningful projects. Institutions have to be more mindful of our role, and not just bestow the title of artist onto those who have not yet earned it… I never thought I’d walk away and say I was an artist. I worked with someone [Brent Malone] who considered me an artist, but it was something that came from outside.”

Now, preparing to celebrate his 60th year of life, having spent most of them either: becoming; training; or practising as - an artist, Antonius Roberts has decided to focus on his arts practice. “It may sound selfish, but it’s time for me to come to me - discover the deeper and greater mission that artists have.” In retirement, he intends to look inwardly, but he also has plans that will take him across the globe.  The most significant stop being West Africa, a region to which he’d planned to move after graduating from the Philadelphia College of Art. “I got stuck here.”, Roberts laments. But when nudged a bit about the idea of being stuck versus deciding to remain in Nassau, he’s clear that he wouldn’t change the outcome even if he had the chance to do it all over again.

Luckily for us, Antonius Roberts stuck with The Bahamas and after nearly 40 years of service, has begun to see the fruits of his labour manifesting in unexpected ways. From dinners honouring the newly installed sacred space at The Cove Atlantis, to interview requests from around the world, Roberts is hitting his next stride. He’s excited to be working in his studio, revisiting ideas of sacredness and the transformation of landscapes. He has brought his unique and dynamic vision of The Bahamas to places that aren’t frequently open to all Bahamians, and Roberts considers it an achievement to know that his work identifies those environments as no longer off limits.

Even with his renewed mission to “just be an artist”, what seems to bring Roberts the most joy is that his work fosters community and learning. With a current project in partnership with the Bahamas National Trust and one launching in January with The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, he still can’t help but teach.

In Antonius Roberts’ world, all hands are still needed on deck and artists should be leading the way.

Elevated Island Views: Allan Jones debuts aerial photography exhibition

Holly Bynoe

By Keisha Oliver

At some point in time those who have enjoyed a window seat traveling to or from The Bahamas by air have marveled at the amazing views. Without a doubt, these aerials of an archipelago stretching along the Atlantic capture our islands in all their glory. For emerging documentary photographer Allan Jones, these snapshots are everything. Their vast beauty and complexity are the focus of his debut exhibition ‘A Gull’s Eye View’.

Portrait of Allan Jones.

Portrait of Allan Jones.

Jones is a self-taught photographer who discovered a creative outlet in his love for art and science when he bought his first camera in 2011. Working primarily in digital photography with interests in portraiture and journalistic imagery he has established an urban style and candid approach to explore narratives of identity and the environment.

During his year-long project that started in 2016, Jones used his travel time between islands to build a collection of photographs that observe abstract qualities and document geographical patterns. Previously only shared through social media platforms, he was invited to exhibit his work at The Pro Gallery at the University of The Bahamas this month.

“I was pleased to be given an opportunity to share the work in a gallery setting. Having the photographs printed to a large scale shifted the perspective and validated the conversations surrounding the project.” Says Jones. “The images highlight weather patterns, land masses and detailed shots of the intricate formations that can only occur in nature and are indigenous to our islands. Whether it was Andros or San Salvador, each island radiates uncharted and natural aura that I hope can ignite a passion for conservation.”

Concerned with surveying and exploring the environment, Jones’ images provide a unique perspective of the relationship of with land, water, flight and photography. Often mistaken as drone shots his use of traditional high-altitude photography changes the way we see and understand the landscape. More importantly, it raises a very interesting question on whether distance equates objectivity. Do we only appreciate home when we are not there? Are we aware of how climate change is affecting our land and seascapes? Have we allowed tourism’s postcard image to overshadow our values of the island’s reality? These environmental and cultural nuances challenge the perception and appreciation in our imagining of paradise, but these questions are not new to our ongoing public discourse. Dr. Krista Thompson’s critical book ‘An Eye for the Tropics” and Dereck Walcott’s life’s work referencing our relationship to sea and Caribbean history through poetry and study the connections have been made clear through a regional voice.

Earlier this month during the 17th Annual International Conference of Caribbean Literature in collaboration with the 7th Annual Critical Caribbean Symposium Series artists, writers, students and academics addressed the theme ‘I Goin’ Away! I Goin Home: Vernacular Spaces in Caribbean Literary and Performance Arts.’ The panel discussions featuring local artists and scholars raised similar parallels to Jones’ interest in ecological survival.

Photography from ‘A Gull’s Eye View’ collection by Allan Jones. 2017

Photography from ‘A Gull’s Eye View’ collection by Allan Jones. 2017

Tamika Galanis a documentarian, visual artist and instructor at Duke University presented her overarching project ‘Hacking the Narrative’ which examines the complexities of living in a place shrouded in tourism’s ideal during the age of climate concerns. One of the sculptural components of the project ‘The Human-Coral Hybrids’–presented at the 8th National Exhibition which closed earlier this year–touches on historical and contemporary Caribbean identity with a focus on water. Making reference to the Middle Passage and the role a history of oppression has played in defining our ‘love/hate’ relationship to the water is supported by Dr. Ian Bethel Bennett, English Professor at the University of The Bahamas. Bethel-Bennett’s ideas of “Structuring Paradise” investigates how spatial boundaries and social injustices that deprive residents access to space, land and water only exist to fuel and commodify The Bahamas and other Caribbean countries as servants to a privileged toursim model.

Although Jones’ images capture the beautiful and the breathtaking, they also exist as a reminder that these spaces and views will change resulting from a myriad of societal and global issues. The questions art, literature, science and public discourse will continue to raise are the hows and whys, but as an island people we should ask ourselves what are we doing to help maintain and preserve this tropical charm?

‘A Gull’s Eye View’ will be on display at The Pro Gallery until Sunday, November 19th. For more information about the exhibition an upcoming events follow the gallery on social media or email theprogallery@ub.edu.bs.

"End of Year Show" for UB Visual Arts at the Pro Gallery

Natalie Willis

The UB's Visual Arts Department 2017 End of Year Show opens this week. This juried exhibition features work produced by students from all disciplines who are enrolled in courses in the Visual Arts Department. The opening will be held on Wednesday, 22nd November, 2016 from 6:00pm in The Pro Gallery. The opening evening is a collaboration with the Tingum Collective who will be hosting their 'Community Poetry Night' in the gallery from 7pm. Artwork will be on display until Wednesday, 6th December.

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Building empathy through culture: Taking a seat at your table

Holly Bynoe

By Holly Bynoe

On Being: Timed Out

On November 8 and 9th, over 250 members representing 26 countries from civil society convened in Santa Cruz, Bolivia for the 17th Annual Inter-American Development Bank Civil Society meeting. The IDB conducts quarterly meetings with Civil Society to expose civil society to international networks, and strengthen local capacity through information exchange. These annual meetings are an expanded and more dynamic and thus an important gauge for the regional work. The Caribbean region was represented by members from The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname. As a cultural worker, I understand how important it is to position these meetings in the belly of Latin America and within the Global South, as it offers us a great moment to congregate, share, exchange and grow the already broad historical and social affinities that we have.

Hosted on the fecund grounds of Los Tajibos Hotel and Conference Centre located just outside of the third ring of the centre of Santa Cruz–nine radials and rings construct and divide this growing circuit– the meeting's primary focus was to have a moment of conversation between the IDB and civil society. In other words, an orientation to figure out the temperature of the broader societies that constitute our expanding countries and the things that are tickling our fancies and imaginations, as we develop our future cities and smart cities. As Information, Communication and Technologies (ICTs) become the wave of the future, the dawn and rise of the digital era are bringing about new attitudes for working which involve greater institutional demands along with the updating of methodologies.

Fertile and lush grounds of Los Tajibos Hotel and Convention Centre where peacocks and peahens roam freely.

Fertile and lush grounds of Los Tajibos Hotel and Convention Centre where peacocks and peahens roam freely.

It was clear that the driver for all of this is the human capital and talent bringing these innovations to the table. Within this is the problem of regulation and policies to protect workers and keep the markets open. As a region that often plays second fiddle to the dominant Latin America, I was particularly interested in hearing how The Orange Economy and digital activism and advocacy is working to change our playing field. Sadly, The Orange Economy was mostly left out of the dialogue, which to me was a contradiction as the vast networks of creativity needed to implement these changes and to advocate for a fairer more just system of innovation will, in fact, land squarely in the hands of those listening to the cultural heartbeat of their countries and participants across the industries.

As a region which is grappling with severe limitations- access to resources, underdeveloped infrastructure and problems with education and digital/visual literacy, human capital became the centre and the pillar of all of the conversation, and it was interesting to see how technology is becoming a tool of further separation and I think, inequity.  If we don't rise to the moment and figure out how to invest and integrate, we are left out. Our burgeoning startup culture while provocative and an under-tapped resource, is still very nascent in its development. Groups like the IDB can position themselves more proactively in the region to engage in training within industries that have a lateral mobility.

The Caribbean,  with its history of colonisation and the eventual independence for most countries, is already mostly out of opportunities with regards to its timeline of development in conjunction with the new world. The trauma of post-colonisation and the current wave of investment further strips away our integrity and humanity. It is crucial for these development and social initiatives to work in context with the situations that they find on the ground. I thought it very interesting that one of the most influential buzzwords dropped around and spoken about with equal parts superficiality and depth was “empathy”. Human capital, if an essential thing in the estimation of innovation and the evolution of the tech industry, is undoubtedly something that cannot be overlooked.

But, are we in the Caribbean there yet? When you look at major projects like Elon Musk’s Tesla or SpaceX initiative, it feels as though we are light years from wielding power to transform our local spaces through means that are similar to these. I'm admittedly not saying that local innovators should be working to open up space to humanity, but thinking about it very simply, we still haven’t started to agitate for alternative power and energy across the region. Not in any comprehensive way to buffer the current threat of climate change, rising sea levels and the many wars brewing- the war against terror, the war against poverty, the war against difference.

If we further separate ourselves from the land, from nature, and get caught up in materialistic and superficial–capitalistic-things,then we end up suffering more. Caribbean bodies have a particular relation to the landscape and nature. Can we rise to be the protectorate of our lived environment given our history?

The region also has a murky relationship to governance, investment and corruption. There is a way for us to work towards the remediation and health of this space, but can civil society advocate for such when hierarchies keep us from communicating and trusting?

If we are moving into thinking about technology as a forefront and pioneering space for abundance, inclusion and regeneration, perhaps we might want to start with unpacking the baggage we bring to the table  instead of embracing trite and superficial buzz words that work out of context with our space and realities.

A seat at the table

Part of the Bahamian cohort included Gevon Moss, IDB Resource Planner and Civil Society Liaison; cultural pioneer, Pamela Burnside, director of Creative Nassau and a founding member of Transforming Spaces; and longtime social advocate and Haitian activist, Pierre Richard Parisien, who currently lives and works in The Bahamas with the displaced Haitian diasporic community.

Bahamian Cohort at the XVII annual civil society meeting in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. L-R: Pam Burnside, Gevon Moss, Holly Bynoe and Pierre Richard Parisien. All images courtesy of Holly Bynoe.

Bahamian Cohort at the XVII annual civil society meeting in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. L-R: Pam Burnside, Gevon Moss, Holly Bynoe and Pierre Richard Parisien. All images courtesy of Holly Bynoe.

Pam Burnside, the co-founder and President of Creative Nassau continues to fight for the visibility and advancement of culture in The Bahamas. Creative Nassau was formed in 2008 by the late Jackson Burnside III and a group of passionate Bahamians who applied to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network to have the City of Nassau designated as a UNESCO Creative City of Crafts & Folk Arts, an objective which was achieved on December 1, 2014. Creative Nassau’s mission is to “celebrate and promote Bahamian Art, Culture and Heritage from the Inside Out” in a platform which revolves around the adoption of the “Orange Economy” model as a means of encouraging the growth of Creativity as a sustainable development tool for the country.

Haitian activist Pierre Richard Parisien, budding politician, advocate and leader of HOPHAS (Haitian Organisation for the Prevention of HIV/AIDS & STDs), has been living and working in Nassau for the last nine years with the Haitian community to figure out ways to mitigate social challenges and create more integration within the Bahamian space. Parisien works in his organisation with women and youth who have been identified as the vulnerable demographic and lately has been working to increase the visibility of art in their outreach programming as it is one of the best ways to eradicate stigma and discrimination.

As someone working with culture and in particular with visual art, it isn't hard to see why we want to be at the table for these conversations, especially as our budding partnerships cultivate a space of education and advocacy and as we try to wade through our complex history and the erasure of indigenous culture. There is a way that the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas becomes a pilot for being one of the first spaces that would be home to this kind of technology. Whether it be partnering with local initiatives to increase our national visibility or working with artists and advocates who are thinking about how we move to work towards inclusion to create a more harmonised and tech-savvy space.

As a cultural hub and an incubator of ideas, we want to keep abreast of the works going on in the region with civil society so we can start making motions to figure out efficient and equitable partnerships. I am not even speaking so much about a real reciprocal exchange, but a way to consider the deployment of tech in the third world and the solutions that are emerging slowly to aid the learning and development of our general public. As art practices also advance, how do we continue to agitate for the institution to move forward? Learning modules are being updated, spaces are becoming more tech integrated, and artists are now working with data, information and visuals more seamlessly.

Cultural Booth of Trinidad and Tobago with the branding of chocolate by artist Brianna McCarthy.

Cultural Booth of Trinidad and Tobago with the branding of chocolate by artist Brianna McCarthy.

Do we not have to advocate for the presence of this kind of work nationally? There is an incredible amount of power and empathy when we think about connecting to vulnerable communities and the institution as a protector, arbitrator and advocate for such is essential. As the world becomes smaller and as industries become more porous and intersectional, digital transformation, as evidenced by the rise of social media, is something we can't ignore. It is the culture of our new world. The economics of The Bahamas is changing given the migrations of people and investment. However, we must stand as advocates within the institution to be able to educate our public regardless of their social strata.

It is important also to state the truth about these challenges and the fear of not being able to advocate or advance in a legitimate and fair way. We live in a world where artists, agitators and advocates overthrow governments and maybe the Caribbean is often seen as a passive region. However, our history is anything but, with Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago, as examples of the fragile state of governance. At times we become complacent in our attempts to agitate for real change or forget our collective power.

The investment in startup culture with groups like Shift the Culture and Starter Island, who are leading this field and their work in tandem with cultural institutions, continues to be essential as we find  ways to partner and learn about their concerns and be a witness to their works. We already have such a problematic time at the institution when we think about accessibility and nation building through visual art, patrimony and heritage. How are we going to work to humanise the digital revolution in our cultural institutions? Do we think about the evolution of our National Collection and access to it through sites like the Google Art Project or other platforms that are quickly coming on stream? Will the walls of the National Gallery become fluid as we open up our methods to the changing pressures of technology?

With high and growing levels of visual illiteracy, how are we giving support to, or pioneering the fields of digital and visual literacy in New Providence and across our Family Islands? If the future of our cities will be integrated with digital technologies, what is the role of the institution to be a space of involved cultural innovation and advancing material culture?

If the institution fails to keep up with the changing times, we get left out of another important and all-encompassing conversation around this shift and lose the younger demographic, millennials included. There isn't an institution on this planet that can prosper without the youth contributing heavily to its success. In 2011 creative goods and services earned $646 billion globally–to opt out of this economy is to accept a certain death.

Culture at the centre

The conference ended with a roundtable session where we spoke about the importance of working on trust, transparency, reciprocity and true engagement, instead of the typical hypotheticals that often feel shallow. It was clear that the similarities within the cultural space, even though we have different colonial histories and governments, was a familiar and profound thread and common terrain across the region. There were small pockets of culture present during the conference, for instance a stall and presentation by Arte Campo, an organisation created in 1985, that unites twelve associations of indigenous groups of arts and crafts’ manufacturers. It has been the result of training, exchange of experiences and cooperation between existing groups of artisans and to date, it supports over 1000 families and encourages individuals to value themselves, strengthening their personal and collective cultural talents.

Inside of Cathedral Basilica of St. Lawrence at the city centre of Santa Cruz.

Inside of Cathedral Basilica of St. Lawrence at the city centre of Santa Cruz.

At the end of the two-day conference, the cohorts were taken to the centre of Santa Cruz to visit the 24 de Septiembre Square which is almost 500 years old and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Lawrence, also called Santa Cruz de la Sierra Cathedral, the main Catholic church in the city. We were welcomed by Santa Cruz’s Mayor Fernandez with a special performance by musicians and talented youth.

Again, these kinds of development events and meetings are always bookended by some cultural event. It exists on the periphery as entertainment and it, in my estimation, decreases the value. The Orange Economy as it stands can change the economic statue of the region if we decide to invest and meet the needs of artists, entertainers, writers, and those pushing these avenues forward.

Our creative and human capital can marry and through culture make transformative waves across our region. We cannot afford to treat this natural partnership as peripheral and cursory. There is always going to be value in meeting people doing social work–work linked to environmental protection, poverty eradication, education and the like. This continues to be invaluable as a resource to build partnerships, but there also comes a moment where regional cultural workers must stand in awareness and fight to be involved in these meetings that discuss development and innovation, so that we can be a part of keeping our authentic spirit alive and flourishing.

Blank Canvas: November 15th, Pro Gallery Celebration

Katrina Cartwright

On tonight’s “Blank Canvas,” joining host Amanda Coulson are Allan Jones, an emerging creative and photographer whose exhibition, A Gull’s Eye View, is on view until November 19th at the University of The Bahamas (UB); Suhayla Hepburn, a UB English Major, who will be participating in a Poetry Night as part of the End of Year Show collaboration; Keisha Oliver, UB Assistant Professor, who has been coordinating and promoting the Pro Gallery; and Matthew Rahming, a UB Art Major who has been assisting with installations at the Pro Gallery.

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Two Arts Professionals: One Mission

Katrina Cartwright

"It's the National Collection, not the Nassau Collection." That was the sentiment, expressed by NAGB Assistant Curator Natalie Willis and triumphantly echoed in the National Art Gallery's very first travelling exhibition. At its heart an outreach project, Abby Smith, the NAGB Community Outreach Officer led the way. What began as a visit to one island, evolved into a four island tour that included workshops, curator talks and school visits. However, none of it could transpire without the art and the story.

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Creative Youth: Reevaluating our values and the work of young people.

Natalie Willis

By Dr Ian Bethell Bennett.  The Bahamas has quickly become a country with multilayered and multifaceted youth conflicts.  Over the last ten years, these issues have taken the fore and removed the focus from real and positive change.  Violence, youth disengagement and youth disaffection can be addressed through creative expression and creative practice.  However, in a school system that argues for a focus on the STEM and not STEAM, but without any real engagement–where art and performance are seen as outside and unwanted stepchildren–it is significant that some young Bahamians are excelling in their work and their creative expression. 

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The MAX/AMOS Exhibition: Last Stop, Exuma

Katrina Cartwright

In the fall of 2015, NAGB director Amanda Coulson gave a directive: We must take art to the Family Islands, starting with Grand Bahama. So, Community Outreach Officer Abby Smith got down to the business of developing an exhibition that would also be an act of community and cultural affirmation - using the National Collection. With Assistant Curator Natalie Willis, herself a Grand Bahamian, the two co-curated the museum's first inter-island exhibition - "MAX/AMOS: A Tale of Two Paradises".

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From the Collection: “A Distant View of Nassau” by Jacob F. Coonley

Natalie Willis

By Natalie Willis.  Looking at this photograph, “distant” is certainly apt in different facets of the word. It is a distant, far off view. It is a distant time, a bygone era. It is also a distant idea to think of Nassau in this way - so largely uninhabited with stretches of green bush for miles, sisal and rocky paths to illustrate this difficult land - formerly difficult for our floral inhabitants, now harder for the people living in what feels like harsh social terrain. The reactions witnessed to this image are very telling, the astonishment on locals faces when they try to imagine a Nassau like this seems like having to tell someone to imagine us in prehistoric times, not just over 200 years ago. That surprise speaks to the way the development has become so utterly integral to our identity in the capital, and truly the country as a whole.

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