By Malika M Pryor.
The air was filled with anticipation, impatient little legs swinging from the laps of their parents, who were awaiting the brief remarks and activity ahead. Younger siblings toddled through the centre aisle while teens, hovering in the back rows, eyed the assortment of fruits and cakes little more than an arm’s length away. The scene described would seem more fitting for a wedding but, in fact, it was the opening reception for the NAGB’s Mixed Media Summer Art Camp’s (MMSAC) 2017 Exhibition, A Journey Through Time: Telling Our Story. Taking centre stage in the cube-shaped gallery within a gallery, or Project Space (The PS), campers’ art transformed the room into a fantastic burst of colour, light and joy on Tuesday, August 1st.
The sources of inspiration range from Bahamian masters Stan and Jackson Burnside to Lillian Blades. Pieces that speak to the current obsession of youth - the world over, for manga (Japanese comics), to the whimsical use of collage and mosaic, akin to the works of Romare Bearden—the renowned African-Amercian neo-expressionist artist who passed away in 1988—are all on display. They beckon the eye to come into The PS and then to move a bit closer, taking in some of the best that this year’s campers, ages 5-17, had to offer. These youthful, artistic endeavours are not only whimsical and beautiful, they are the products of tremendous effort and work, of course on the part of the campers, but also of the volunteers and staff, both temporary and Gallery at the MMSAC, this year.
The curriculum, structured by NAGB Education Officer Katrina Cartwright, provided the expectations and support for camp instructors, giving context for each exercise that cumulatively facilitated an artistic trip through Bahamian history. Artists and arts educators included, Jodi Minnis, Blair Gray, Steffon Grant, Tiffany Williams, Elkino Dames, and Averia Wright. Theymoved fluidly and creatively through the lessons, slowing the pace of the journey when campers struggled and enhancing, shifting and even adding to the lessons when campers moved through their next stop on the timeline with lightning speed. You could find them, usually smiling but always demanding, encouraging just a little bit more from their pupils. Two campers lamented on the eve of their last day that they were both ready and not so ready for the MMSAC to be over: not ready because they had made so many friends - a staple measurement for any great summer camp experience; ready because they were a little weary of being constantly reminded to add to or think more deeply about their work - a telltale characteristic of any great art teacher.
Abby Smith, the show’s curator, Camp Coordinator and NAGB Community Outreach Officer worked tirelessly with her team to ensure that each camper was represented in the gallery at least once. That was the crux of her approach to leading the camp through two sessions over the course of six weeks; ensuring that every camper and even the volunteers (mostly teens), saw themselves reflected and celebrated in the program. That love for art and young artists served as the thread and unofficial theme of the camp. So, while participants were required to produce and put forth great effort, they also enjoyed Water Day, Camp Karaoke, and field trips aligned with the curriculum. Then there were the classic House Games, each house assigned a colour and named after an outstanding Bahamian artist - this year, Antonius Roberts and Dionne Benjamin-Smith.
In the end, it was the inspired originality of the campers, whose work on display at their National Gallery shined brightly, wowing their parents, sponsors in attendance and even each other. A thought book, displayed at the door of The PS, included comments like, “The exhibition was fabulous!”, from pleased parents and that the Mixed Media Summer Art Camp was “hype”, “sooo much fun” and “awesome”, from our volunteers and campers - just the sort of responses one would hope to hear after such a successful programme.
The NAGB thanks the Lyford Cay Foundation, New Providence Community Centre, Mr. & Mrs. Paul and Barbara Hepburn, Graycliff, Mario’s Pizza, RBC, ALIV and our many donors and friends for their generous sponsorship and support.
The exhibition, A Journey Through Time: Telling Our Story is open in the Project Space at the National Gallery of The Bahamas, until Sunday, the 28th of August. Visit the NAGB’s official Facebook page, @NAGB to view highlights from the exhibition and camp.