We start most of our tours at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) downstairs, in the space showcasing our permanent exhibition, Bahamian Domestic. A show centered on portraying everyday life in The Bahamas, Bahamian Domestic includes visual representations of the places Bahamians live, work and play. It also takes a deeper look at some of the social issues that The Bahamas still grapples with today. For locals and international visitors, it serves as a comprehensive overview of works by some of the country’s younger and more established artists.
While many of Bahamian Domestic’s works attract wandering eyes, one of the paintings that draws the most attention is Dave Smith’s 2010 “Cul-De-Sac”.
Known as a pop realist, Smith’s work is recognizable through the presence of vibrant colors, American cars and the juxtaposition of the idealized Bahamian landscape and unpleasant realities. His work continues to be exhibited and collected in The Bahamas, and currently six of his paintings hang at the NAGB. One of those pieces is “Cul-De-Sac”, which hangs in the part of Bahamian Domestic curated by former NAGB Archives Manager Ashley Knowles.
The painting shows on one side a well kept home in what is presumed to be a quiet and secure neighborhood on a sunny day. As is common with Dave Smith pieces, a curtain, operating as a barrier, splits the painting into two halves. The second half of the painting is cast in shadowy darkness. A partially obscured picture of Christ is situated above imagery of a sexual assault being committed by a well-dressed man on a woman.
The elements present in “Cul-De-Sac” – the image of Christ, the tranquil home and sexual violence – are also ever present throughout The Bahamas. The country, which touts itself as both a Christian nation and paradise, also ails from distressingly high rates of domestic and sexual violence. Marital rape is a non-issue in The Bahamas. Gender rights groups have rightly expressed outrage at the level of seriousness attributed to domestic violence; others believe it to be a problem confined only to lower-income families.
Smith’s “Cul-De-Sac” is meant to spark curiosity and provoke the reactions it has about the country’s illicit problems that coexist with the marketable image of paradise. Like many of the works in Bahamian Domestic, the piece is a social commentary on the dualities that prevail in the country.