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Bahamian art: Presenting. Uniting. Educating.

Mixed Media Blog

Blank Canvas: December 27th, Bill Strickland

Katrina Cartwright

The Blank Canvas is extremely excited to welcome Mr. Bill Strickland to The Bahamas and into the studio. Bill is a community leader, author, and the President and CEO of the non-profit Manchester Bidwell Corporation based in Pittsburgh. The company’s subsidiaries, the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild and Bidwell Training Center, work with disadvantaged and at-risk youth through involvement with the arts and provide job training for adults, respectively. 

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Experience your school tour in a whole new way

Katrina Cartwright

The NAGB has revamped its school tours to give students and teachers a truly comprehensive experience that goes beyond their visit to the Gallery. Our school tours are designed to stimulate curiosity, reinforce and augment curriculum-based learning, engage students in critical dialogue about the works they see, and bridge subjects so that students can experience artwork in its entirety – as a visual expression of historical, mythical, political, social, spiritual and personal narratives.

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Spirituality without religion and religion without spirituality? The magic meeting of both

Holly Bynoe

By Dr Ian Bethell-Bennett

When a loved one dies, always remember to be respectful.

Always wear black for at least six months, then half-mourning is permissible for another six months.

In Greece, they say, mourning can last a lifetime.

Why spend a life mourning when death is a celebration?

When the wind blows, close the windows, do not sweep at night because the good will be tossed out with the bad.

Throw a pinch of salt over your shoulder when you cook.

Always give an offering to those who have gone before.

Always read the signs around you.

Take up King Tut’s book of dreams to see what you dreamed, and play your number accordingly.

How he die?  He die good or bad? 

And so it went, and so it goes… yet we claim that we do not associate with these things. 

Art has a way of laying bare so much of what we do not do and in that way we can see who we are not.  

Today, these sayings and customs have become associated with something other than Christianity and spirituality, though many people still fear walking past a graveyard at night.  Most people refuse to remember the dream book that paved the way for a roof, a window, a car, when numbers were peddled illegally around Nassau by particular numbers men whom everyone knew, everyone named but no one challenged.  Today, numbers are a staple, but gambling has lost its ‘original sin’ aspect, even though the legislation still holds it and other games of chance as being illegal. 

 Installation shot of Netica “Nettie” Symonette’s “No Cross, No Crown” on view in “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism,” at the NAGB through March 11th, 2018. Images courtesy of the NAGB.

Installation shot of Netica “Nettie” Symonette’s “No Cross, No Crown” on view in “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism,” at the NAGB through March 11th, 2018. Images courtesy of the NAGB.

Mind you, Bahamians cyan go to no casino on the other side of the bridge, only those set in shopping plazas and what Island Luck and What fall and so on…Bahamians cannot Gamble in the casino, they can now go to church wherever they wish, though St. Agnes, Bethel Baptist, Wesley Methodist all have their place in Bahamian class and race history.  We no longer remember this part of the painful past.    

Vodoun is not originally from Haiti (though so many condemn Haiti for practising black arts) but from Africa.  African slaves, or enslaved Africans, were beaten to death for insisting on their humanity.  Today, we ignore this and gloat in our sense of entitlement.  We have lost so much of the meaning of the past, mixed with so many other pasts, and brought to another shore, that we have elided any sense of who we were not allowed to be.    

As I walk through the setting up for the newly opened "Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism," I am struck by the incredible wealth of talent in the art presented.  I am brought to remember by Netica “Nettie” Symonette’s work and the works of Amos Ferguson, the attraction-repulsion of my early days.  Church was sacred part of Bahamian or Nassuvian life, as people prided themselves on attending twice on Sundays—at least—once on Wednesdays, perhaps once or twice on Saturdays and maybe one day in the week.  However, the church was a part of the community that helped build a sense of community.  Today, this is no longer the case.  Many churches close their doors and bar their windows against the incursion of ‘others’.  The whole message of Christianity, as far as I have read, is to love.  Somehow, we have lost that message.  At the same time as thinking all of this, these artists brought back a remembrance of times past.  

Bottles hung in the mango tree in the ‘yard’ of the house next to City Meat Market in Palmdale, the Rosetta Street branch to be exact (there used to be one on Madeira Street as well).  These bottles ate a part of Nettie’s installation, which gave pause because so much time has passed and so much water has passed under the Paradise Island Bridge that we have forgotten that so much of this spirituality was deeply linked to who we were. Why separate the two? 

In the good Book that so many people love to quote, there are moments, stories, tales, anecdotes, testaments, epics, and, of course, interventions of Spirit, especially by Jesus, the son of a carpenter, but the son of God, or man.  We manage, somehow, though, to continue to image/imagine Jesus as a leader dressed and looking the part.  As much as the Bible contradicts this image, we hold on to it.  Not sure if there were any stories more spiritual and mystical than his healing of the sick, especially when the man after descended from the roof by his friends, he was healed and was told to get up and go.

 1.    Nettie’s Cultural Centre in Cable Beach.                           

1.    Nettie’s Cultural Centre in Cable Beach.                           

Now, which of these is easier: to say, "Your sins are forgiven," or to say, "Get up and walk"? But to prove to you that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins,' -- then he said to the paralytic-get up, pick up your bed and go off home.” Luke 5:23

Today, we are so stuck in the blasphemous mud of self-praise and self-aggrandisement that we can no longer see the spirituality and mysticism present in the “Word of the Lord”.  We remain convinced that the colonial inquisitions that beat, burnt, hung, guillotined (as they did witches and zealots alike) the “demons” out of the inferior Africans were good and should be preserved.  We think little of casting dispersions on everyone around us for their shortcomings, yet we steal time at the drop of a hat. As the old saying goes, what goes around comes around…so always watch out for time. 

It has become interesting to see how peppered with anti-black, anti-woman, anti-foreign, anti-African and anti-poor our speech as becoming, yet we proclaim from the rooftops our Christianity as we flog others to and till the end of their days.  There is no love left in our preaching, and even less left in our lives.  It is not a coincidence that Haiti has been made black, much like Africa—The Dark Continent—creating stories of inferior beings to inspire fear, awe and loathing in us and of us.

What is fascinating about these works, is that they do not theorise the experience of living as Bahamians in The Bahamas, deeply colonised and syncretised, deeply spiritual and Christian, when it served, they also bring to light the massive energy used to disempower the story that was never registered through history.  Never underestimate the work of the power, as can be seen in these works from Ferguson and Symonette. 

“Nettie and Amos”, have done inspirational work, with no intention of becoming something, somebody, (as Bahamians love to throw up at people), they are already beings of value and worth…which is hardly what has been taught to so many of us. The symbolism, the reality, the lore, folklore, and regular parlance of the day, is alive in the art of these two extraordinary Bahamian creatives.  It may be hard to understand, for some, but that shows the extent to which the past, the story, has been wiped from many people’s minds.  Why should it be hard to get a new broom to sweep clean, but ol’ broom always knows the corners, or where the dirt is… as much as we claim ol’ head no make good, we need those old heads to remind us of what we are forgetting…

Some of the art exhibited in this show, may cause pause to some, because it is deeply felt, deeply lived, deeply drawn on, and deeply, oh so deeply, conjured, but it is as Bahamian as boil fish, (without the ed), and conch salad.  There has come a juncture where our sanitising the past erases all the struggle that went before.  This art, much like other works that are so deeply entrenched in Bahamian life, has been hard won. 

“Medium” does not ignore the Bahamian past of segregation, Women’s Suffrage, yet fewer rights, the fight of the General Strike, the pressure that sparked the Burma Road Riots, no land no vote, move ya house to the next lot, white power, Black nation, but it is also about the fusion of West, Africa and the Caribbean, along with a sprinkling of everything else and everyone else who inhabits this space. 

As we lose a generation of older Bahamian artists, this show is important because it uncovers so much that has been left unsaid of late.  As Sylvia Wynter wrote, ‘we must learn to sit down together and talk about a little culture.” Journal of West Indian Literature. A Transcultural Rethinking Modernity, 2001, pp. 12-38

The syncretism, mestizaje, creolité, are all part of Caribbean cultural history and expression.  The works exhibited in Medium go the distance in showing what we no longer see: the richness, the diversity and the depth of cultural practices and religious expression in the country that cannot be silenced by even an act of Parliament forbidding mourning, or forbidding Obeah.  When we pray for the repose of our soul, are we just being religious, devoid of Christianity, or is there a deeply rooted spirit in that soul that we cannot escape?  


The NAGB celebrates an unforgettable night: Spirituality fills the air with hope.

Holly Bynoe

By Malika Pryor Martin

If you were there, you saw history happening live and in colour. If you missed it, you missed the opening of the year - not because other openings weren’t beautiful and special but because “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality & Mysticism”, introduced so many new and amazing dynamics to the campus of this country’s National Art Gallery. Your NAGB. West St. was closed from Hospital Lane (more on why that matters, shortly), to West Hill St. Graycliff, one of the NAGB’s partners for the event, provided chocolates, and other confections, coupled with wine for the tasting.

 Unveiling of the Gates Commission by metalsmith Tyrone Ferguson. Images courtesy of the NAGB.

Unveiling of the Gates Commission by metalsmith Tyrone Ferguson. Images courtesy of the NAGB.

Soon, the hour was upon us to begin the ceremony: the unveiling and opening of The Gate Commission, by master metalsmith, Tyrone Ferguson, who set the tone for the wondrous occasion. At the moment the gates were opened, the powerful and soulful drumming of Rhythm’N’Youth filled the air, guiding guests towards the NAGB Amphitheatre, a project that will work to unite and engage the visual and performing arts. The stage and bowl were washed with shades of blue and red and an enthusiasm that was palpable to all in attendance.

One could feel that this night was significant. The Minister of Youth Sport and Culture, The Hon. Michael Pintard called on members of the arts community and the NAGB more specifically to be “activists”, questioning and challenging government to think creatively and strategically - to hear the voices of the masses whose best interests our public officials should be compelled to consider.

Feelings of pride, joy and satisfaction illuminated from the incredibly diverse audience: the father who brought his daughters for the first time; lifelong art collectors; public servicemen and women; young UB students attending to experience the ambiance of their first truly grown-up party. Nothing was more special than the work on the walls and nothing more beautiful than seeing what was tantamount to a family reunion of artists gathered in galleries and on verandahs, our creative diaspora - home for the holidays. Hugs, smiles, and laughter abound or in other moments, expressions of deep thought, the conjuring of some newly imagined creative venture between creative collaborators.

 Crowd enjoying the opening of “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism,”, which opened on Thursday night and will run through March 11, 2018.

Crowd enjoying the opening of “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism,”, which opened on Thursday night and will run through March 11, 2018.

Vocalists, both planned and spontaneous took the mic to the accompaniment of an amazing multigenerational band led by none other than Adrian D’Aguilar. Some singing a calypso classic, other a jazz or holiday standard, all filled with the spirit of the moment. Children skipped down red mulched paths, smiling for selfies and gazing at the installation, featuring the work of Nettie Symonette, in the NAGB Sculpture Garden. Exuma, the Obeah Man, rang through the halls of T2, the gallery housing most of the work of this incredibly powerful exhibition.

As Assistant Curator, Natalie Willis commented, “This is the first exhibition where the question of spirituality is taken on directly. We’ve seen it considered in an indirect way and of course in the works of artists, but never quite like this.”

 Crowd enjoying the opening of “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism,”, which opened on Thursday night and will run through March 11, 2018.

Crowd enjoying the opening of “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism,”, which opened on Thursday night and will run through March 11, 2018.

When asked how they were enjoying the show, one attendee remarked that “Medium” was long overdue and a much needed exhibition. “To see the unification of our many spiritual beliefs here in The Bahamas…it’s beautiful.”

“Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism,” which opened on the Thursday December 14th, is on view at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas until March 11th, 2018. If you are a current member of the NAGB, featured “Medium” artist, Jace McKinney will be conducting a “spirited” sip and paint at the Gallery on Monday, December 18th, at 6 pm. Contact or 328-5800 for more details.

Amos Ferguson’s “Jesus and the Good Semeriton” (nd): The Colour of God and Histories of Faith

Holly Bynoe

By Natalie Willis

Amos Ferguson is arguably one of our most widely known Bahamian artists in the international arena. By now quite a few of us know of his life’s story: coming from Exuma to Nassau, growing up under a very religious father (as one of many children), growing his deep love of the Bible and his father’s words as a preacher, the house painter by trade turned intuitive artist. With his foundation in art being so firmly rooted in visions and the divine (he was famously told to paint by a vision from God that his nephew had experienced), and in the hustle and bustle of the straw market, Ferguson’s work appears to be quaint but holds the conviction and confidence of a man who knows himself. This kind of confidence, it would seem, can only come from such a strong belief in oneself - and maybe this can only come from believing something bigger than you. This might be where the Bahamian brand of biggity behaviour comes from, our spirituality - whatever deity we might bow our heads to.

 “Jesus and the Good Semeriton” (nd), Amos Ferguson, housepaint on board, 30 x 36. Part of the Dawn Davies Collection.

“Jesus and the Good Semeriton” (nd), Amos Ferguson, housepaint on board, 30 x 36. Part of the Dawn Davies Collection.

“Jesus and the Good Semeriton” (nd) is in keeping with Ferguson’s practice in the now-iconic markers of his practice: flat expanses of colour in simplified shapes, a particularly plastic and fleshy pink to denote whiteness of skin, his beloved white Jesus, and hand-painted titles full of Bahamian vernacular. Yes, there are misspellings, but with Ferguson’s work it often feels as though this has more to do with the particularities of our speech and dialect than a careless disregard for proper spelling and grammar. His attention to titling is one of the few ways we have immortalised Bahamian dialect in a genuine, sincere, and meaningful way.

We see Jesus portrayed in the scene with the Samaritan woman at the well, asking for water to quench his thirst and telling her of the drink of life-forever that God gives that quenches all thirst for eternity. This theme of water and pools runs deep through Christian iconography through history, but also through other forms of spirituality and mysticism the world over. Our connection to bodies of water is part of the magic and light of the Caribbean, it is what keeps us connected and floating in our mother’s bellies, it is the majority of our physical bodies - but it is also tears, it is swimming in the sea when we need peace or feel achy bones, and it is baptisms. Though Ferguson’s work is simple at first, he effectively ties his work into all of these conversations through the intuitive and wholly-human process of his creativity, particularly in moments such as those seen in “Jesus and the Good Semeriton” (nd) dealing with the divine.

There is also a shrouded and clandestine nature to this work, with some of Ferguson’s usual flatness abandoned in favour of overgrown grass and bush, making the figures look not just alone, but distanced. There is this distancing for many people of the African diaspora and the Black Caribbean who adhere to Christianity when they look to depictions of Jesus as he is often white and western looking, despite allegedly coming out of a part of the world that is very much full of brown faces. Family bibles filled with Renaissance paintings of Christ and angels are many people’s first introductions to art, but they are not depictions many of us can see ourselves in, and neither are they accurate for the setting of the Good Book itself.

Ferguson’s deference to white-Jesus is as much testament to our complicated history with Christianity as a postcolonial nation as much as it is a testament to his deep love of religion. As we begin to see shifts in people trying to construct more positivity in moving forward from what is a very difficult past, we can begin to question our ties to religion in this space in a way that is critical but also sensitive. We had Christianity forced upon us during the colonial era, with many African practices being demonized or marginalised as a result, but so many more have been able to find a sense of hope and salvation. We can embrace Christianity while having a saviour with a brown face; we can have a love and appreciation for spiritual practices different to this that are rooted in our African ancestry without worrying about eternal damnation. All in all, the message that Ferguson, Jesus, Haile Selassie, Oshun, Yemaya and any other number of followers and leaders and figures in religion preach is the same: peace, love, and goodwill.


Blank Canvas: December 13th, Jace McKinney and Steven Schmid

Katrina Cartwright

Today on Blank Canvas, NAGB Communications and Development Officer Malika Pryor-Martin fills in for our regular host Amanda Coulson. She is joined by artists Jace McKinney and Steven Schmid, who are two of 33 artists whose work is showcased in the upcoming exhibition “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism,” which is opening on Thursday, December 14th at 6pm.

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A Glitch in Time: Who’s in for the Saving?

Holly Bynoe

By Dr Ian Bethell-Bennett


Colour, movement, connection, difference and texture are all words that join to make meaning.  Though Jackson Burnside’s “Omnipotence” is huge without imposing itself, it approaches the familiar and reflects what we do not talk about.  In reflection, as the theory goes, there should be distortion but here the reflection captures the being of spiritual materialism in Bahamian culture and psyche.  There is hardly distortion, except to underscore the distorted view we have of ourselves and our endeavours.  

Rasta, not accepted; flowers, ignored. One day at about 7:30 a.m., frustrated by traffic as usual, in a holding pattern, while driving across Boyd Road, there was a little boy in his school uniform, watering crocuses that lined the base of a cement wall that partially enclosed the house he must have inhabited.  For many, they would have missed him, his unpretentious unannounced act of watering flowers would simply go unseen because we are not looking for that. 

 Jackson Burnside. “Omnipotence”. Mixed Media on Paper. 75.5 x 48, 2008. This work will be on view in “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism” on view at the NAGB from December 14th, 2017. Image courtesy of the Dawn Davies Collection

Jackson Burnside. “Omnipotence”. Mixed Media on Paper. 75.5 x 48, 2008. This work will be on view in “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism” on view at the NAGB from December 14th, 2017. Image courtesy of the Dawn Davies Collection

We are in the heart of what has been ghettoised.  It is no longer a cool place to reside, no longer middle class for ‘black’ dwellings, no longer under the hard and heavy hand of colonial segregation and policies of international development.  That young boy held so much of the resilience that we deny to so many aspects of African spirituality; including the tenacity of Blacks to survive the intentioned and pragmatic sanitising of their beings. Through the many different approaches that were used to deny the worth of Africa and any African derived artefacts and souls.  Howard Johnson articulates this in his work on Bahamian history and identity.

The colour and the dance of Burnside’s piece butts up against the intentioned yet static space of the written word. My Bahamas caught up in the movement of life, losing itself to whatever international landowning and capital projects have in store for the bodies that inhabit this place. Dreadlocks are terrific as they hold wisdom in words woven into their textured–yet unaccepted—“no hats, no plaits, no entrance” Bahamian policy of dealing with Blackness.  The tribes of Rastafarianism all equated with one. Blackness despised by a white-aspiring, holy group of double-conscious, northern focused eyes, gazing up at high-ceilinged buildings where the public may pass through, but are not truly welcomed. 

Green spaces beyond the Southern Recreation Grounds are not for these souls.  The space of spiritual rejuvenation for no one other than Anglicans, in a pinch, Catholics and—much later and more begrudgingly—Baptists who were always too zealous.

The Mama Inez, Shango Baptist, Caribbean Mama figure omitted from popular images of Blackness through the American South's mammy, yet an essential figure in Black identity because of her matriarchal position in the family and the community.  This is where one went to discuss all problems of every nature.  In a Puerto Rican context, the Mama Ines figure has become tightly associated with the Yaucono brand of coffee, totally co-opting her other identity.  Significantly, Black women have held large sway in the Caribbean and the images of mothers, grandmothers, spiritual leaders, and resisters of oppression–Nanny of the Maroons in Jamaica–whose legacies remain national, but whose identities have ironically been flattened out by a deeply duplicitous nationalist project that is at once liberating and controlling, patriarchal and claiming matrilineality Africanness. The movements of Negrismo, Black power, "Negrista" poetry–specifically in Puerto Rico, Afro-espiritismo in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, though deeply divided by dictatorship and torture, under Trujillo, who saw fit to sanitise the DR of ‘Blackness’ pays further testament to this erasure. 

The apparent distaste was for Haitians coming in and taking jobs, though they had been sought after sources of cheap labour since the ‘50s, mostly included those who didn’t perish under these violent and dictatorial massacres.  With the exception of few ‘newer’, ‘younger’ women writers who would have come of age in the 1990s such as Edwidge Danticat and Julia Alvarez, without whose voices, much like Burnside’s images, stories would have been silenced.

The political uprising in Haiti was directly influenced by the deeply spiritual reasons why Blacks did not want to remain enslaved and refused to be subjugated.  Though, we must underscore that most of the movement—as was also the case in The Bahamas—was not ‘owned’ exclusively by good Christian, Church-going dark-skinned Blacks, as history would have us believe.  They were times of strife and struggle, and the details have mostly been forgotten.

The movement in Burnside’s work, the statically printed word, collaged in the centre while being denied primacy though perhaps taking it, speaks to the deeply spiritual and mystical time.  Why do we divorce Christianity from spirituality and mysticism?  When did this confluence become unholy? Burnside’s piece reminds me of that young boy, only doing what he does to be here and to see beauty in his neighbourhood, in his home.  The colours in the work are not matters of happenstance; they are focused and meaningful as well as meaningfully placed around the price and crisis that undermine freedom.  The browns, the greens, the reds are all deeply spiritual and rooted.  Problematized by the chains binding the Hero–cast as villain–crowned with thorns as the mother, matriarch, reminiscent of Winston Saunders’ play You can Lead a Horse to Water (1998), the Christ-like figure gives his life for others. Orlando Patterson’s text Children of Sisyphus (1982), Roger Mais’s Brother Man (1954), are similar to the caricatures of the Black woman misunderstood and maligned by a deeply needed but flawed deliverance from colonialism and suffering.

When the Middle Passage occurred, it marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new reality.  With its disavowal, we allow the remembering to be disjointed and by killing off the dreams that led to overthrowing oppression. It could be said that Burnside’s “Omnipotence” speaks to a vibrant overstanding of the ‘absence of ruins’ that nationalism has left for us to mourn in the wake of erasing memories. Burnside’s piece moves through so much of the promise and the loss we have lived, but the hope we always have, as we must water our flowers to see beauty. 

Once the soul, the spirit, the creativity and the being is ghettoised, this is little hope that can rise from the dungheap of history. The Ford assembly line of labour remains very much alive; only we cannot see it as it hides in plain sight.  Art survives and transcends these historical glitches that allow the past to re-enslave the present.            

Angelic Remembrance: Antonius Roberts’ memorialises women of faith

Holly Bynoe

By Keisha Oliver

For Antonius Roberts, his creative practice meets an interesting balance between ritual and survival. He is highly regarded as a Bahamian master artist whose work is deeply rooted in themes of spirituality, humanity, and nature. He is also equally respected as a successful arts facilitator, entrepreneur, and educator who has crafted opportunities for many emerging and practising creatives.

Boasting almost forty years of service in cultural development Roberts’ art practice remains his humble solace, a personal ritual that he returns to, to create, preserve and meditate. Often marrying his love for the environment and conservation to channel his ancestral roots he revisits his maternal lineage in his wooden sculptures “Nine Angels” (2008-9).

  Antonius Roberts with the “Nine Angels” installed at the NAGB. Images courtesy of the NAGB

Antonius Roberts with the “Nine Angels” installed at the NAGB. Images courtesy of the NAGB

Presently a part of The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) permanent collection “Nine Angels” will be featured in the upcoming exhibition “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism,” opening on Thursday, December 14th.  Formerly hung overlooking the gallery’s stairwell the work’s presence seems less of a work of art and more of a religious symbol likened to the cross of Christianity. Out of reach, placed in a quiet corner, it evokes a peaceful sanctity. This ideal of transformative experiences and sacred spaces has been the direction of much of Roberts’ sculptural work over the past 12 years.

Crafting nine women figures out of Madeira beams salvaged from his family home goes beyond material conversation. Originally built by his grandmother (Marion Sears), Roberts honours her memory and craftsmanship of the historic property where his mother (Zelma Bowe Roberts) was born. With such a rich matriarchal heritage, there is no surprise Roberts’ work has placed Black women in such high regard concerning themes of beauty, sexuality, femininity and social morality.

Similar to the style of his sculptural series “Sacred Space” that pays homage to his Afro Caribbean heritage the angelic nine appear as towering figures whose minimal detail and slender construct embody a distinguished elegance. Often seen re-imagining groups of women Roberts’ practice continues to highlight his appreciation for the community through an ideal of sacredness. Unlike intimidating public monuments that commemorate the accomplishments of national and international figureheads, he prefers to tell the authentic stories of everyday people that transcend the importance of cultural values within public spaces.

  “Nine Angels” by Antonius Roberts, reclaimed Madeira wood. 2008-9

“Nine Angels” by Antonius Roberts, reclaimed Madeira wood. 2008-9

It is evident that Roberts considers historical locations, the reclaiming of the natural into the monumental and the benevolent clusters of solidarity to offer and to invite as much as they are inspiring experiences. Spaces that narrate a sincere account of our past and share the spirit of our women, as a sisterhood of caregivers, community builders and faith walkers.

““Nine Angels” celebrates the lives of my grandmother and my mother, both natives of Moss Town, Exuma. Choir members of the Transfiguration Baptist Church located on Market Street, they believed in the power of prayer. Each sculpture represents The Nine Choirs of Angels, believed to be the true messengers of God.” according to Roberts.

His thematic decision draws reference to Christian angelology, an angelic hierarchy that distinguishes the nine spheres of angels that Christians believe are assigned specific tasks by God. In representing his maternal figures and their chorale as angels he uses art to bridge the mortal with the supernatural. Women reimagined as spiritual beings that ‘invisibly’ carry out the tasks of God exceeds their role in ministry, but gives voice to a broader conversation on representation.

Roberts grew up in the 60s, a difficult time for Black women around the world who endured racism and sexism. A generation that sought refuge and support in the church as a haven and gathering place. But Roberts is not alone in his visual recollection of these women. Other Bahamian masters of that time like Maxwell Taylor, Jackson and Stanley Burnside are often seen chronicling the role of Bahamian women in a patriarchal society. Almost fifty years later and we also see similar narratives gaining attention in mass media in awarding winning films like ‘The Help’ and ‘The Hidden Figures’ that share the untold stories of Black women in America in the early 60s. Equally as important is our national gem Marion Bethel’s documentary “Womanish Ways: Freedom, Human Rights and Democracy – the Women’s Suffrage Movement in The Bahamas, 1948-1962”.

“Nine Angels” unveils these women as heroines. It honours the uncelebrated women figures and the special place they hold in our histories that often oversimplifies and misinterprets their contributions. Roberts challenges a society that struggles with gender democracy to give name and face to the stories of women, particularly those of colour, that have shaped our society, so our ancestral voices are never lost.

For the exhibition, “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism,” the curatorial decision was made to bring the angels down so that the viewers can inspect the figures and have a deeper understanding of the nuance, engagement and love poured into these figures. The exhibition runs through March 11th, 2018; the general public is invited to the opening this coming Thursday evening at 6 pm.  

Interview with “Medium” artist Jace McKinney: McKinney shares insights into his practice

Holly Bynoe

By Katrina Cartwright

One of 33 artists participating in the upcoming exhibition, “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism,” which opens at The National Gallery of The Bahamas on Thursday, December 14th, 2017, Jace McKinney will be leading a special members only workshop at the Gallery on Monday, December 18th. “Methods in Ethereal Beauty” will take participants on a journey through McKinney’s artistic process, then guide them through the creation of a unique painting that explores individual ideas of beauty and spirituality. Designed just for NAGB members, this event will begin with a tour of the exhibition led by the artist, who will share insights on his work, then segue into a relaxing sip and paint.

 1.     Portrait of artist, Jace McKinney.

1.     Portrait of artist, Jace McKinney.

A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, McKinney majored in sculpture with an emphasis on illustration. His Christian faith is integral to his practice and in 2013, McKinney began a new chapter in his career, enrolling in seminary at Andrews University, Michigan. Recently we were able to interview the artist who answered questions about his practice, interests and advent into the arts.

What inspired you to become an artist?  

In hindsight, I think I always wanted to be an artist. As a child, I enjoyed comics and would create comic book stories. I thought it would be fantastic for me to create art for a living. After learning about Bahamian artists like Stan Burnside, Jackson Burnside and Eddie Minnis, then meeting John Cox during my first year of high school, I was confident that this dream could be realized.

How did interfacing with art and/or culture in The Bahamas affect your desire to become an artist or inform the idea that it was possible?

Sue Bennett-Williams was one of the first artists I met. I attended her afterschool art classes; it was here that she encouraged me to become an artist. One of the projects assigned during these classes had a huge impact on me and required that we seek inspiration from and reproduce the work of a practicing artist. I was drawn to a piece by Stan Burnside entitled “Dr. Jekyll Can’t Hide.” Mr. Burnside’s wife really liked my take on hthis painting  and decided to purchase it from me - it was the first piece I have ever sold. While delivering the work to the Burnside’s home, I was invited into Mr. Burnside’s studio and immediately decided that I wanted to create a similar space for myself. His work helped me to see that Bahamian art has strong narratives and history.     

Why is connecting with the public important to you?  

Artists bring awareness to issues by creating a visual narrative that should be well informed and conscious of its audience. This power is important as it can inspire the public to action and move leaders in a positive direction. Bahamian artists are great at identifying problems in our society, but we have only begun to recognize our power and potential to use art to present solutions.

How does your spiritual practice impact the way you work or the works themselves?

My spiritual practice is the foundation that the content of my work is built on. A friend and I were recently having a conversation about how artists have the ability to hold various realities in their hands. We are able to see the harmonious elements in two worlds that at times seem to oppose each other and make something beautiful.

 1.     Jace McKinney. “Benediction.” Acrylic, coloured pencil & marker on paper, 48 x 48, 2010. This work will be on view in “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism” on view at the NAGB from December 14th, 2017. Image courtesy of the Dawn Davies Collection.

1.     Jace McKinney. “Benediction.” Acrylic, coloured pencil & marker on paper, 48 x 48, 2010. This work will be on view in “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism” on view at the NAGB from December 14th, 2017. Image courtesy of the Dawn Davies Collection.

Do you think of yourself as a medium for a [particular] message or in the context of creating your work? If so, what does being a “medium” mean to you?

I don’t see myself as a medium. Mediums, in the traditional sense, were those who consorted with spirits and the dead. I see myself as a messenger of God. Before beginning a new work, I often ask God for guidance. Of course, I am only human and therefore make mistakes but my intention is to let God speak through my art. 

How excited are you about returning to Nassau? What do you enjoy most about being home?

I’m always excited to return home! It’s wonderful to see friends and enjoy the beautiful weather and natural environment. There are some social and political issues that are a concern, but I try not to let them overshadow my opinion of my country and people.

Who is your favorite Bahamian artist, practicing or not, today? Why?

I like what younger artists and my peers are doing. Kishan Munroe in particular is a favourite. He did an awesome job documenting and narrating a pivotal event in Bahamian history, the sinking of the HMS Flamingo through his exhibition “Swan Song of The Flamingo.” I have always believed that documenting our history is important especially when I saw how passionately Americans and artists in America documented the inauguration of the first Black president. This is one of the major challenges we have as a young nation - documenting our history and important events – and one that artists can participate in changing.

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

 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

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.