“It’s the National Collection, not the Nassau Collection.” That was the sentiment, expressed by NAGB Assistant Curator Natalie Willis and triumphantly echoed in the National Art Gallery’s very first travelling exhibition. At its heart an outreach project, Abby Smith, the NAGB Community Outreach Officer led the way. What began as a visit to one island, evolved into a four island tour that included workshops, curator talks and school visits. However, none of it could transpire without the art and the story.
Smith joined forces with her colleague to Natalie Willis to develop the narrative that would be shared with thousands of their fellow citizens and visitors. Why Max Taylor and Amos Ferguson? If you ask Smith, her first reaction is, “Why not?” But then it quickly goes much deeper. Amos Ferguson, perhaps the most famous of any Bahamian artist, never formally trained, is intuitive in his approach to the work. “It appears simple, so much so that folks often believe they can mimic him. But when they try, they can’t do it. He developed his own unique technique while simultaneously preserving his work to stand the test of time.” Willis adds, “Yes. House paint is a really specific medium…and then there’s his use of vernacular. He speaks how we [Bahamians] speak. His work also appears generally more happy, reflecting the quaint and picturesque Bahamas that many expect. Max Taylor’s work, on the other hand, speaks to the underbelly, the struggle.”
Even the technique Taylor uses to produce these tales of sorrow and of difficulty, is labour intensive. Woodcuts are tedious. “They require you to work backwards in that most art adds shadow, whereas with woodcutting you have create your light.”, Willis says. Adding to why Taylor’s work is so important, Smith laments,”Max pays homage to women as pillars of the community.” The first Bahamian artist to address Blackness head on as central to identity, Taylor serves as the perfect visual juxtaposition to Ferguson’s colorful representations of Bahamian culture – truly a ‘Tale of Two Paradises’.