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Bahamian art: Presenting. Uniting. Educating.

Mixed Media Blog

Blank Canvas: June 20, 2018, Eddie Chambers

Katrina Cartwright

On tonight’s Blank Canvas, our host Amanda Coulson, NAGB Director, welcomes Dr. Eddie Chambers into the studio.

Eddie Chambers, the son of Jamaican immigrants, was born in Wolverhampton, England. He gained his PhD from Goldsmiths College, University of London in 1998, for his study of press and other responses to the work of a new generation of Black artists in Britain, which were active during the 1980s.

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Tilting Axis Curatorial Fellowship 2018: Bahamian, Natalie Willis, awarded!

Holly Bynoe

By Dr Ian Bethell Bennett

As people who view art from outside, we are usually blind to all the moving parts that make art and bring it to us.  We tend to think when we hear the term “public art”, for example, that this springs organically from the artist who is simply in his or her studio being creative.  As Bahamians and members of an incredibly conservative mindset, we see art as something that will always leave our children poor and disadvantaged, so we discourage them from becoming artists; we discourage them from becoming writers.  Yet, at the helm of much public art are leaders who make public art happen. They put things in place. Art does not usually simply spring up out of nothing and nowhere, though it can still be organic.

 Natalie Willis, 2018 Tilting Axis Curatorial Fellow. Image provided by Willis.

Natalie Willis, 2018 Tilting Axis Curatorial Fellow. Image provided by Willis.

We need people to facilitate the art, bring it to the public, frame it in productive ways, and produce spaces that allow art and artists to flourish.  Some of these people are curators.  Curators organise, manage, understand the nuances, intricacies, needs, challenges and possibilities of art and collections.  We do not usually see this side of art.

In the Caribbean, art has bloomed over decades, especially in countries like Jamaica, Cuba, and Puerto Rico as well as the Dominican Republic.  Haiti is famous for its art; yet we, as Bahamians tend to diminish Caribbean art and its value.  When curators gets a hold of a body of work or a group of ideas the job they do to birth an experience is amazing.  Especially when it comes to telling a story through and with the art.

Curating a space is as important as the art that goes in it.  Creating a narrative through spacing, organizing, timing, physically hanging works, colour scheme and mood, all accentuate how the art is allowed to speak and how the public sees the art or receives it.  The process is not passive. As a part of this science, artists or art enthusiasts study for many years to learn how to tell stories with art and how to manage art collections. 

The latter is an essential part of any business and does not come automatically.  Without good management, businesses and organizations collapse.  Further, they lack the vision necessary to transcend the mundane, which is what most people want, yet do not know how to achieve.  Good curatorial practice allows a show to succeed by highlighting the art’s and artist’s strengths, playing with light, and bringing up undertones that show another level of artistic expression along with previous hidden or underexposed stories. Tilting Axis the annual creative industries meeting is a forum and project dedicated to placing importance and resources to develop this nascent partition of the arts industry.

Tilting Axis is a roving meeting, pivoting on a Caribbean axis from which all other coordinates are viewed, understood and measured, facilitating more and more alliances. It was co-founded in 2014 by Annalee Davis and NAGB Chief Curator, Holly Bynoe. As the website notes, “Tilting Axis has grounded its concerns in the Caribbean as a part of a wider creative ecology, and the health, evolution and advancement, a primary objective of its annual meetings held inside and outside of the region.”

So, Caribbean art is highlighted, which is essential to how Caribbean art, as a genre constructed of other genres, brought together to create a multifaceted and complex Creole identity allows the local, regional, and international to speak out, to be curated through different eyes and experiences.  This year, Tilting Axis offered a curatorial fellowship, the second since its inception.

“As a direct outcome of the Tilting Axis meeting held at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands in May 2017, the University of Texas at Austin’s (UT) Art Galleries at Black Studies has come together with Tilting Axis to offer a Curatorial Fellowship to an emerging curator living and working in the Caribbean”.

University of Texas at Austin, is a mecca for art, Latin American Studies and many other programmes, and so, with mentorship provided Professor Eddie Chambers and Lise Ragbir, the winner benefits on so many levels.  Grand Bahamian artist and assistant curator at the NAGB, Natalie Willis, whose talents, obviously, speak loudly, won this opportunity, announced on Friday, June 1st during the meeting held at Centro León in Santiago, Dominican Republic.

The Fellow was selected on the basis of a letter of interest stating how this opportunity and access to collections and archives would inform and develop their curatorial practice, and why they think they would be a good candidate.  This is the second fellowship awarded by Tilting Axis, the first going to Jamaican curator, Nicole Smythe-Johnson, whose project afforded research and travel across the region and to Scotland in a process of documenting alternative curatorial forms.

Willis is overjoyed, shocked, and intimidated by this opportunity and finds it simultaneously exhilarating and frightening.  She will be working with Chambers and Ragbir and as a part of the Black Studies Programme to expand her curatorial practice from “purely Caribbean and Caribbean Diaspora to the Black Experience in the wider context including the US”.  She will draw on the Christian Green collection, heavily focused on Haitian Art, with the general breadth of the Black Diaspora.  Willis will produce an exhibition at the Warfield Center in 2019 that demonstrates her curatorial skills that the Fellowship is designed to hone and widen.

Willis’ research will push her view beyond the discussion of nationalism as foundation of identity into a more complex, syncretic, polymorphous understanding that Joseph Roach examines in Cities of the Dead (1996) and Antonio Benítez-Rojo argues as the repeating island; though similar and repeating, the syncopation is also unique.  Willis will use these concepts to draw out the uniqueness and overlappings of art and in art of the Black Diaspora.

Willis offers:

 “Translating the multitude of voices at this crossroads into discernible chorus can most often only be done by acknowledging just that, the buried and sedimented layers of the sound of Blackness over time. Just what sound do we make, what is the sound of Black noise?”

This mouth and language, tool and production, will prove an interesting show for us who seek to understand experiences beyond the borders of the nation, (always artificial; always determined by someone else’s politic of power and identity).  While we inhabit the space of nation, we also inhabit the space of the transatlantic slave trade and exploitation economy that depopulated and repopulated an entire region, and altered the processes and experiences of colonial powers thought impervious to their dealings. Willis expects to begin her Fellowship in autumn 2018, and will be situated in Austin for a month. 


We look forward to catching up with her, seeing the tools and productions of her learning. Perhaps these are the kinds of opportunities that the University of The Bahamas, in collaboration with the NAGB, can build on as it takes its art programme and library to the next level in order to attract international and regional researchers and art enthusiasts.  Tilting Axis and UT Austin provide a marvelous model for benefiting Bahamian talent and developing serious and deepening national, regional and international linkages.

Are We One With Nature? G. Paul Dorfmuller's Nassau Corner

Holly Bynoe

By Letitia M. Pratt, The D’Aguilar Art Foundation

Recently, National Geographic published an article on their website acknowledging their racist coverage of colonised countries throughout the magazine’s history.  Their current editor-in-chief, Susan Goldberg (the first woman and first Jewish person to claim that title) resolved to devote the April issue of the magazine to the topic of race, excavating the magazine’s problematic history and coming to terms with their role in reinforcing the racist ideals of the coloniser. Their photographers were, as stated by the article, “fascinated by the native person” in the colonised space, and often pictured the natives as “exotic” or “famously and frequently unclothed…noble savages.”[1] The Bahamas was not untouched by this viewpoint; historically, artists have captured our islands in various mediums in an effort to memorialise the ‘exotic’ beauty of the island natives. In these works, we are claimed to be as beautiful (or at least as interesting) as our environment. As our land. Our seas. We are noble savages, and savages are one with nature.

 “ Nassau Corner ” (Nd.), G. Paul Dorfmuller, watercolor on paper, 11 ½  x 19 ½ . Image courtesy of the Dawn Davies Collection.

Nassau Corner” (Nd.), G. Paul Dorfmuller, watercolor on paper, 11 ½  x 19 ½ . Image courtesy of the Dawn Davies Collection.

This viewpoint that is being explored in The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas’ current show, Transversing the Picturesque: For Sentimental Value. The exhibition includes work from visiting artists and expatriates who resolved to capture the sentimentality within the landscape and then-colonised Bahamian people. Within many of the works in the exhibition, the native is perceived to be as serene as the beach that stretches behind him, or as bustling as the trees that blows at his back. These renditions – however noble they are – caused the colonised subject to be objectified and to appear as foreign and untamed as the landscape that they inhibit, and within the white gaze the Black body becomes merely a prop indistinguishable from the natural environment.

The most nefarious example of this type of this Black representation in art about The Bahamas are ones that tout the islands as a place ideal for travel and tourism. Modern renditions of this are the commercials (think…any commercial claiming it’s better in The Bahamas) that depict “natives”  serving or entertaining the traveler. In all of these images, the Black body is a visual confirmation that the white subject has experienced the tropical not unlike the icon of bustling trees or the wide expanse of the open sea. A painting that exemplifies this best is G. Paul Dorfmuller’s Nassau Corner: currently a part of the exhibition, this painting captures this idiosyncrasy of the colonial gaze.

Dorfmuller’s rendition of a bustling street has very few organic indicators of the tropical: other than the single icon of the palm leaf on the upper left corner of the composition, the viewer sees a space filled with jubilant laughter of  happy white tourists (symbolized by the cameras within many of their hands) in a place that could be anywhere. It is the Black people surrounding the tourists that solidifies the Caribbean-ness of this scene.  Their figures are just as symbolically essential as the embroidered “Nassau” straw bag, or the “goombay club” sign; they are as natural and unmoving as the tree sticking out of a sidewalk. Their positions within the composition –  three of them with their back to the viewer – dehumanises them,  reinforcing their role as a prop of the environment, and immediately one gets the sense that this space is not for them. 

Not much is known about G. Paul Dorfmuller. What is known is that he is American and that he practiced painting in the late 20th century, eventually visiting Nassau to complete this painting of the famous Bay Street scene. It can be approximated that this was between the late ‘50s through ‘60s because of the way the figures are dressed and the historic boom of the tourist industry at that time : this often attracted visiting artists like Dorfmuller who was interested in capturing the commercially picturesque scenes of Nassau tourism.  This intention was not unlike the late 19th century photographers that resolved to promote scenic views of The Bahamas and tout it as a place worthy of the white traveler. It is a long-standing advertising ritual which asserts a few things: 1) it is better in The Bahamas, 2) our people, like our landscape, are exotic (and …interesting) and 3) this is a place of law. Of order. A child of the colony.

The colonial gaze longs to find order in a tropical space. In Nassau Corner, it is the people within the work that are ordered: the faceless black figures are delegated to symbols of the environment, while the affluent white visitors (indicated by their shopping activity) simply enjoy the space that seems to be intended for their consumption. At the heart of all this, placed in the center of the painting, there is the ultimate figure of colonial law: The Policeman. 

The policeman is the only Black figure whose face we are allowed to see. His stern demeanor then becomes even more significant. Do the expressions of the other Black figures mirror his seriousness? Not at all likely – his symbolism sets him apart from the faceless natives, and his presence is meant to assure the viewer considering a vacation in The Bahamas that law will be kept. That the colonial order of things will be upheld.  The Black figures will continue to be just that: figures –  exotic people meant to entertain visitors and assure them that they are, indeed, in a tropical space.

No matter how noble it intended to be, Nassau Corner’s colonial view separates the visitors from the natives because of this dehumanisation. Perhaps Dorfmuller himself felt separate from the native people of the island and thought to capture this feeling.  Perhaps he wanted to capture the disparity between native peoples and the affluent visitors. Whatever the case, this painting reinforces ideals of the colonial – represented by the centered, stern, icon of the policeman – by equating Bahamian people to the natural. By making them faceless trees sprouting out of concrete. By having them become one with nature.

“Trasversing the Picturesque: For Sentimental Value” will be on view at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas through July 29th, 2018. 

The NAGB welcomes Eddie Chambers: Cultural critic and writer presents public lecture at the NAGB

Holly Bynoe

By Katrina Cartwright

The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) is excited to host cultural critic, writer and professor Dr. Eddie Chambers during the week of June 19th to 22nd, during which time he will work with the curatorial and educational teams at the NAGB and give a public lecture on “Caribbean Artists Visualising Slavery” on Thursday, June 21st, 2018 starting at 7pm. 

 Portrait of Dr. Eddie Chambers. Image courtesy of Dr. Chambers.

Portrait of Dr. Eddie Chambers. Image courtesy of Dr. Chambers.

Chambers was one of the writers engaged to contribute a text to the exhibition catalogue for the exhibition “We Suffer to Remain,” which is currently on display at the museum. The exhibition is a collaboration between the British Council and the NAGB and features the evocative video installation "The Slave's Lament" by Scottish artist, Graham Fagen in tandem with visual responses by Bahamian artists Sonia Farmer, Anina Major and John Beadle. This dialogue explores the topics of Scotland’s participation in the transatlantic slave trade,  TheBahamas’ traumatic history, which is mired in enslavement and colonialism; and the question of which voices are most appropriate to tell these stories. Chambers adds his voice to the conversation as a British writer who has roots in the Caribbean, and posits that with so much of the New World being built on enslavement, it’s not surprising that slavery’s legacies should continue to exercise so many artists, not only of the Caribbean region, but also those of what we might call the Caribbean diaspora.

Chambers finds that artists of the Caribbean diaspora visualise slavery in an astonishingly broad range of ways, and a particularly fascinating aspect of this visualisation is the ways in which visual articulations of enslavement act as a means of animating decidedly contemporary challenges. Indeed, Caribbean artists are extraordinarily adept at making innovative, challenging, aesthetically cogent work, and a notable strand of this is output turns its attention to the formidable and ongoing task of visualizing slavery and its multiple legacies.

The son of Jamaican immigrants, Chambers was born in Wolverhampton, England. He gained his PhD from Goldsmiths College, University of London in 1998, for his study of press and other responses to the work of a new generation of Black artists in Britain, active during the 1980s. He was on a number of occasions between 2003 and 2009, a Visiting Professor at Emory University, Atlanta. He joined the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas at Austin in January 2010 where he is currently a Professor.

EddieChambers_Lecture3.jpg

In 2012 Rodopi Editions, Amsterdam and New York, published his book Things Done Change: The Cultural Politics of Recent Black Artists in Britain. He is also the author of Black Artists in British Art: A History Since the 1950s, published by I. B. Tauris, London and New York, 2014, reissued 2015, and Roots & Culture: Cultural Politics in the Making of Black Britain, published 2017.

As he looks at the artists’ contributions to “We Suffer To Remain” Chambers observes that “multiple frictions abound, as well they should. Each artist’s work asks questions about agency, or the ways in which actions, creations or interventions by artists from a range of backgrounds, can enact or evoke particular responses, when associations with enslavement are very much to the fore.”

In this regard, “We Suffer to Remain” is very much a textured, layered, multi-faceted manifestation of artists grappling with slavery and its legacies. The public lecture, which is free and open to the public, will present and discuss various examples of the ways in which artists of the Caribbean and its diasporas have responded to the challenges of visualizing slavery. Among the artists whose work is to be included in the talk are Charles  Campbell (Jamaica/Canada) whose work was supported previously at the NAGB during the 2015 Double Dutch series with John Cox, Terry Boddie (St. Kitts and Nevis/USA), and Tam Joseph (Dominica/UK).

The Moving Image: The First Turn of the Revolution

Holly Bynoe

The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas and LUX Scotland partnered with the British Council to produce a series of short and experimental films that coincides with the exhibition “We Suffer to Remain”.  The series highlights a history of moving image expression of hard to have conversations about race, indigeneity and belonging. 

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Indigenous art takes the lead at the Mixed Media Art Summer Camp

Holly Bynoe

With just three weeks left to prepare for this year’s Mixed Media Art Summer Camp (MMASC), the NAGB team is kicking into high gear to get everything ready for the 100 campers who will be engaging in six weeks of fun creativity between June 25th and August 3rd. The NAGB Mixed Media Art Summer Camp, revamped in 2015, serves as an access point for all kids, ages 5 to 17, to art and its history.

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Tall Order: An interview with Nicole Yip of LUX Scotland on meaningful exchange and working to decolonize the archive

Holly Bynoe

The NAGB, in collaboration with LUX Scotland, has put together some really incredible content for our series of film screenings as part of the programming for our current exhibition in partnership with the British Council,  “We Suffer To Remain”. Moving image has impacted us so greatly as a region in terms of shaping our narratives, and in how we decolonise and re-shape those narratives for ourselves. The first programme in the series of screenings, titled “One Turn of the Revolution”, featured artwork by the lauded Black Audio Film Collective and Barbadian-born, Glasgow-based Alberta Whittle, dealing with issues around migration and the post-colonial in Britain and in former colonies. Programme II, “Poetics of the Undercommons” will be on view at the NAGB on June 14th.

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Troubling Narratives: This is how we suffer to remain

Holly Bynoe

“We Suffer to Remain” is a collaborative exhibition whose seed was sprouted in November 2015, when I was invited to be a part of a curatorial cohort that visited Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland, as a part of the British Council expanding and investing in the emerging and burgeoning visual art ecology in the Caribbean. This meeting set an idea in motion about how institutions in the Caribbean can start thinking in new ways about partnerships and collaborations that, 20 years ago, might not have been possible. The Caribbean as a creative space continues to flourish in its liminality, continues to grow and inspire globally as a cornerstone of excellence but, unfortunately, also continues to be a perpetual site of extraction, exhaustion and removal. Perhaps one needs to be alone with these words to understand the gravitas and the generational weight of our inheritance.

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Blank Canvas: June 6, 2018, Comm-Ed

Katrina Cartwright

On tonight’s Blank Canvas, guest host Malika Pryor-Martin, Communications and Development Officer for the NAGB is joined by Katrina Cartwright, NAGB Education Officer, to discuss the amazing new theme for the museum’s Mixed Media Art Summer Camp, “Back to da Island.” Academic arts practices and techniques will be blended with and inspired by creative experiences and expressions that are uniquely Bahamian. They’ll include strawcraft, shellcraft, storytelling and even incorporate indigenous performing arts like Rake n' Scrape and Junkanoo.

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Introducing Tilting Axis 2018 Curatorial Fellow, Natalie Willis

Holly Bynoe

For the second year, Tilting Axis has facilitated, administered and designed an open call for our Curatorial Fellowship. In a strong partnership with the University of Texas at Austin Art Galleries at Black Studies we issued an open call to find and seek out a curator living and working in the Caribbean who would rise to the occasion to use the resources, collections and moment at hand to advance their practice in a nuanced and sensitive way. 

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Blank Canvas: May 30, 2018, Jalan Harris and Furniture Plus

Katrina Cartwright

There is plenty of powerful female energy in the Blank Canvas studio tonight and children and creativity are the evening's focus. Joining host Amanda Coulson are artist Jalan Harris (left); Krystynia Lee D’Arville, VP of Sales Marketing and Organisational Development at Furniture Plus (second from right) and Nicky Saddleton, Brand Strategist and Consultant (far right).

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Jalan Harris "Sankofa: The Madonna Diaries" opens at Doongalik

Holly Bynoe

Jalan Harris’ Inaugural Exhibition entitled “Sankofa: The Madonna Diaries” will open at Doongalik Studios on Thursday, May 31 from 6-9pm.

'SANKOFA' is a word in the Twi language from the Akan tribe in Ghana which means, 'to go back and get it'. A bird most commonly represents Sankofa with its head turned backwards, carrying a previous egg in its mouth dropping it onto its back. Sankofa is often associated with the proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi," which translates as: "It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten." The other representation of 'Sankofa' is a stylized heart.

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Partnerships Present Opportunities for NAGB: NAGB is reaching beyond New Providence to Support Family Island Schools

Holly Bynoe

By Katrina Cartwright. For the second year, the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas has partnered with the Department of Culture to adjudicate Arts and Crafts entries for the E. Clement Bethel National Arts Festival. Between February and May 2018 Katrina Cartwright, NAGB Education Officer, and Abby Smith, NAGB Community Outreach Officer traveled with the organizing committee of the National Arts Festival to schools in the north, south and central Bahamas, where the best of Bahamian talent was showcased by talented hopefuls, seeking to win in their respective categories.

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From the Collection: “Crawfish Lady” (c2000) by Wellington Bridgewater

Holly Bynoe

By Natalie Willis

What does Bahamian fantasy and myth look like? What magic or horror happens when the divides between animal and human seem to dissolve? What then must Wellington Bridgewater have been thinking when he made the “Crawfish Woman” (c2000) who lies on the Southern steps of the NAGB’s Villa Doyle. Was he thinking that this lobster-lady was like the nefarious lusca, sucking water in and out of blue holes to capture unlucky divers and boats with the power of the oceans. Or was she more like the chickcharney, a generally benign beast who, once wronged, would cause you harm.

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Sorry for What: I am not the sugar in your cup of tea

Holly Bynoe

Dr Ian Bethell Bennett

Sorry, Not Sorry a short experimental film by Alberta Whittle juxtaposes tourism and post-enslavement-dispossession in the British Caribbean.  An intriguing mise-en-scène combined with sharp overlaying and interweaving text, image, audio and nuance that brings all sorts of feelings to the fore, from contradictions to harmonies.  The harmony in the background, though clashes with the discordant foreground that allows the moving image the salience it has to document, to articulate, to illustrate the unbecoming side of colonialism and independence. Again, the irony of postcolonial independence is that there is no real sovereignty as governments are only held in power by foreign direct investors who own the economy, by owning resorts where the Bacardi-sipping-frolicking-lithe bodies stay during their fantasy time in paradise.

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Blank Canvas: May 16, 2018, Netica Symonette and Angelika Wallace-Whitfield

Katrina Cartwright

Amanda Coulson, NAGB Director, welcomes Bahamian legend Netica Symonette into the Blank Canvas studio, along with artist and curator Angelika Wallace-Whitfield. Angelika has recently taken up the post of Curator at Central Bank of The Bahamas and her first exhibition is a solo show with “Miss Nettie.” Miss Nettie, better know for her career as a hotelier and author, is an intuitive artist whose practice travels off the canvas and onto the walls, bedspreads, garbage cans and other household items at her Cable Beach hotel. The site itself is a “Gesamtkunstwerk,” a piece of loving sculpture that evolves every day.

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