Though we are nine days into the new year, excitement from
the recent Boxing Day and New Year’s Day Junkanoo parades is still in the air.
It isn’t difficult to see why the tradition resonated so much with Brent
Malone’s ability to paint a spectrum of subjects is one of
the reasons why he stands out as one of the greats in Bahamian art history. Being
the first to give life to Junkanoo on a flat surface has made him memorable as
an exceptional artist as well as a patriot and advocate for national pride and
More than visual representation, Malone’s Junkanoo works evoke
visceral responses from his audience, whose senses are challenged by the
would-be sounds of drums and cowbells and an explosion of color. In the aftermath of Junkanoo, NAGB Registrar and Assistant
Education Officer Darchell Henderson selected “Beller” as the January artwork
of the month.
The NAGB’s artwork of the month is selected from the
National Art Collection, which the NAGB has committed to grow and preserve for
the benefit of locals and international visitors. The National Collection includes
works by some of the country’s foremost artists, who have become respected for
their commitment to documenting Bahamian history, the environment and the
political landscape. “Beller” is owned by architect Anthony Jervis and is on
long-term loan to the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas; as such it is a
valued component of the collection in the care of the NAGB.
What it lacks in color, Malone’s “Beller” makes up with
organic emotion. Standing 40” tall and 32” tall, “Beller” shows a shirtless Junkanooer
in deep concentration. A whistle hangs from the man’s neck and he grasps two
cowbells, his wrists wrapped in their chains. His torso shines from the labor
of rushing and he appears to have lost himself in his commitment to the moment.
A mixed-media work composed of pastel, charcoal, graphite and watercolor on
paper, “Beller” joins 200-plus works that comprise the Reincarnation
“Junkanoo season just finished, and you can feel Junkanoo
through this piece. You get the essence of the behind-the-scenes rawness
involved in the Junkanoo shack,” said Henderson.
Clearly alluding to Junkanoo’s origins, the chain that
dangles from wrist to wrist is suggestive of wrist shackles and a history of
enslavement. Heavy with African influence, Junkanoo has survived centuries since
slaves began the tradition in more simplistic forms. While today the Junkanoo
costume typically involves bursts of color and sparkle, and paraders include
trained musicians and coordinated dancers, the occasion was once purely a
grassroots celebration. On their few days off from work, slaves would decorate
themselves in paint, rags, newspapers and palm thatch and dance to the
rudimentary sounds of conch shells being blown, cow bells and drums.
“The yearnings of slavery gave birth to Junkanoo,” said
Malone of his work on the subject. “It was at the very beginning a shout of
freedom, a celebration of life. That institution, known as the Slave Trade, is
something of the past, but still there is a spiritual need that cries out for
“Beller” maintains notions of celebration; in addition to
chains, ribbons hang from the cowbell ringer’s wrists. The man appears spirited
and in perfect health.
“Beller” and many more Malone originals can be viewed at the
NAGB until April 3. Locals and residents are invited to view the exhibition
free of charge until January 16, courtesy of Insurance Management, which is
covering the costs of admission.