A Walk with Nettie: Communing with art, nature and culture

By Katrina Cartwright

At 10 am on the morning of Saturday, February 3rd, The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas hosted a special extended tour of the “Medium” exhibition which was then continued at Nettie’s Cultural Retreat on Cable Beach. This offer was an incredible treat for the almost 20 art enthusiasts who joined NAGB Chief Curator Holly Bynoe and Education Officer Katrina Cartwright for a morning of cultural immersion, engaging conversation, great food and good company.

Routes and Roots the guided tour of “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism” held at the NAGB on February 3rd, 2018.

“Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism” opened at the museum on December 14th, 2017 and presents a survey of contemporary works that define and interrogate the critical edge of the birth and development of The Bahamas as a monolithic conservative Christian country. There is a particular emphasis on intuitive art through the installation of the work of Netica (Nettie) Symonette in the ballroom, which gives viewers just a glimpse of the manic creativity that can be experienced at her art retreat on the Cable Beach strip. In an effort to give the public the opportunity to experience the quirky, intensely spiritual and somewhat overwhelming nature of the work and its maker, the Education and Curatorial team at the NAGB worked together to present a one-of-kind experience for the public.

The grounds with mother duck and ducklings on Nettie Cultural Retreat.

The day began with a tour of the “Medium” exhibition at the NAGB, led by Bynoe and Cartwright who provided background information on the show and facilitated discussions between participants. Particular attention was given to Nettie’s “room,” as an introduction to the artist through her work in preparation for the highlight of the event, a visit to Nettie’s place where the icon herself would lead the tour. Everyone was then transported to the art retreat and cultural village on Cable Beach and met by Nettie and her daughter Shirley. Nettie was in fine form and at once took on the persona of mother, teacher and priestess. As members of the group became enamoured with the myriad hanging painted bottles, paintings, sculptures and other objects that Nettie had procured to turn into artwork, and fell behind, she reminded them to keep up by saying “Ma chilrun, ma chilrun,” to which the automatic response was “Yes ma’am,” as everyone remembered this favourite ring play chant and took great joy in playing once again.

Portrait of Netica Symonette at her cultural retreat at Cable Beach. Images courtesy of the NAGB.

The three-acre property that had been transformed into a place that took snippets from the culture and traditions of almost every island in The Bahamas and created a sanctuary to helped us remember, was viewed and experienced with awe for most and a certain nostalgia for those who revisited fond memories of island life. Amongst the chickens, ducks, native trees and the expressive paintings that were on almost every surface, it was easy to listen to the wind and forget that this space was in a busy city where the majority of the population resides.

Appropriately, this morning of reflection and sharing ended with a selection of native bush tea and sweet breads. The coconut “jimmy” made by Nettie and her family was a huge hit and completed a truly “down home” experience that cemented the reality that we are much more than our sun, sand and sea. Nettie’s Place stands as a bastion of Bahamian traditions, history and practices in one of the most modernized and touristic areas in New Providence.