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Bahamian art: Presenting. Uniting. Educating.

Taking Up Residence - Popop Junior Residency Prize Recipients settle in and set off

Mixed Media Blog

Taking Up Residence - Popop Junior Residency Prize Recipients settle in and set off

Natalie Willis

L-R: Keith, Nowé and Navarro. Photo by John Cox.

L-R: Keith, Nowé and Navarro. Photo by John Cox.

Incentivising Local Emerging Artists

It is a long upheld tradition in ‘the art world’ – that seemingly separate planet where for many it is baffling that one can take an unmade bed or a pile of bricks and call it art. Nevermind the fact this is all done with good conviction and reason – artists of all ages and in stages of their career can embark on the near-baptismal journey of the artist residency. Emerging or established artists uproot their lives and set those roots outside of their everyday  - for a period of weeks, months or even a year – and set out to make work and ruminate on their surroundings.

For the Popop Junior Residency Prize recipients, things are thankfully a little bit closer to home. The College of The Bahamas (COB) students Nowé Harris-Smith, Navarro Newton, and Keith Thompson showed the utmost gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity awarded to them, courtesy of a collaboration between Popopstudios, The Charitable Arts Foundation and The D’Aguilar Art Foundation who’ve kindly offered to support the studio rental and art-study trip that accompanies the residency and PopopStudios. The former establishing and undertaking this important incubator for emerging Bahamian artists for the past 8 years.

Work in progress by Navarro Newton as seen in studio. 

Work in progress by Navarro Newton as seen in studio. 

The newly anointed residents will benefit not just from a free studio space and beautiful grounds to work in, but from the active community of artists who occupy the space – including their tutor, Heino Schmid, who will continue to help oversee their development, albeit in a different manner than they might be used to. Schmid emphasizes. “Truthfully, I try to keep the dynamic very different and treat them as emerging professionals who want to work, and it has worked out in their benefit.”

Even in the fledgling stages of this residency, the artists appear keen to agree, and it would seem that they aren’t the only ones who are creatively profiting from the experience, as Schmid adds, “I think all the past residents that we’ve had have really benefitted from the experience and we have jointly benefitted from having them here.”

He stressed this very particular sort of symbiotic relationship between the students and the usual denizens of the studios. In particular, the mutually beneficial way that the prize winners thrive from interacting with the long-standing artists already in the space. In turn, the new residents help inject the familiars with their enthusiasm helping to loosen the rigidity that can come along with having an established practice.

With John Cox (former lecturer at COB, as well as the founder of Popopstudios ICVA), Schmid explains that they nurture this "delicate stage" of their artistic development and the "fragile confidence" associated with these nascent phases of their burgeoning art practices.

 

Keith Thompson, ‘Church’, acrylic on wood, 2016. Image courtesy of artist.

Keith Thompson, ‘Church’, acrylic on wood, 2016. Image courtesy of artist.

Beginnings

All three of the residents come from a rather similar background of art when it comes to their high-school education, two of them spent their years here in Nassau whilst Newton underwent the majority of his schooling in North Andros. Then they were on different paths, aiming towards more inflexible schools of thought in the sciences before they were all plucked up by teachers and committed themselves to the arts.

Thompson was found drawing on lunch breaks and took the BGCSE without attending a class, his teacher giving him all the prompts for coursework and coaxing him to sit the exam. Similarly Newton was commandeered into art in the 9th grade after an almost identical experience, and Harris-Smith found herself changing her major from Biochemistry at the college to a BA in Art Education.

Harris-Smith couldn’t imagine her life any differently and is champing at the bit for her chance to dig into her practice and the space.  She hopes to “pretty much gain general exposure and experience of art itself - whether it's through my research or through what I see when we travel as well as developing my own skills: [be it] photography, painting, anything like that.” Harris-Smith has also landed herself yet another advantageous residency for young practitioners – the Caribbean Linked IV residency scheduled to take place in Aruba during August where she will work alongside eleven emerging regional artists and writers along with international scholars, curators and critics. These are just her first two residencies.

 

Nowé Harris-Smith, 'Painted Projections’, digital photography, 2016. Image courtesy of artist. 

Nowé Harris-Smith, 'Painted Projections’, digital photography, 2016. Image courtesy of artist. 

Art Abroad + Future Plans

The group all show the expected excitement of not just working in the studio, but also for the prospect of being exposed to more art than they can ever have imagined in a stimulating museum-based trip to New York City. The group will be working with some of our Bahamian greats like John Cox, Heino Schmid, Tessa Whitehead and Kendal Hanna who all call Popop their home, while being inundated with iconic work from the most influential contemporary and modern artists and collections of the past century.

Though perhaps this is because they aren’t solely undertaking their practice for themselves, all three seem to feel a higher calling to add to the rigour of Bahamian art and culture. They are also concerned about the environment of their local space and want to help nurture young groups of artists on their own. Newton shares his ideal plans for a youth art space, “[I’d like to] gather up students from all over the country or all over the island and just have them come together and create … because oftentimes people don’t realise that art is fundamental for expression - regardless of which art form it is”. Harris-Smith seems to share these views, expressing her joy at the thought of becoming the next Sue Bennett-Williams, a teaching pioneer in Nassau whose youth art classes have helped shape generations of artists.

As for Thompson, who has been drawn into the forays of black culture in his art practice, he wishes to dig more deeply into Bahamianness and Bahamian blackness during his time at the studio. His aim is to delve into life  as we know it from a cultural sense of civic duty, “because [he feels] like our country is in a state of identity flux” and he wants to do his part to help us unpack our very peculiar state of cultural affairs.

The Popopstudios Junior Residency has its own esteemed legacy and has helped a number of our younger artists find their paths to artistic discovery. It is a genuine philanthropic effort that is meaningful to the artistic community who get to benefit from the project’s merit. The residency continues to provide a key cultural function in the formation of the Bahamian art scene, culminating in just about any format possible, a presentation, a performance, a public sculpture, an exhibition, a book, or a middle finger to the world.

As long as it’s done with conviction and a true sense of justification, it’s all adding to the cultural work we are building as a society in The Bahamas, and we must simply ‘sit small’ and wait in anticipation to see the harvest.