Art and education at the NAGB

The gap between exhibitions was not enough to prevent a room from filling at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas this past Tuesday, when the inaugural talk of a series of discussions presented by some of the country’s foremost sociopolitical activists was held.

The series is the result of collaboration between the College of The Bahamas (COB) and the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB). It is one of several joint initiatives undertaken by the two institutions, which recently signed a memorandum of understanding to promote each other’s mission.

The brainchild of COB Dean Dr. Ian Bethell-Bennett, the series is a mandatory component of his Race, Gender and History in 19th and Early 20th Century Bahamas class. Bethell-Bennett hopes the talks will serve as both an introduction to the NAGB as an educational resource and national institution as well as a chance for his students to hear from some of the country’s most valued leaders.

Speakers were jointly selected by Bethell-Bennett and NAGB Director Amanda Coulson for their contributions to the country’s progressive social movements.

“I think that there are some people who are underutilized in the public, who have a lot of information and knowledge about history, and the students really don’t know anything about that, so it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement,” explained Bethell-Bennett.

The talks were originally conceived as a complementing program for the Seventh National Exhibition, which examined issues of race, class, identity and gender. Bethell-Bennett was a participating artist in that exhibition, which opened December 2014. His work examined the inherent segregation existing in the present-day relationship between developments from foreign direct investment and local Bahamians.

He is hoping that, through the lecture series, students develop an appreciation and understanding for the progression the country still needs to undertake.

“I’m hoping they take away the losses or the erosion that has happened in civil liberties, in The Bahamas. While women may have gotten the vote, they are worse off now than they were before; they’re underrepresented in Parliament,” he explained.

Cultural critic, academic and writer Patricia Glinton-Meicholas, presented the first talk titled “Boxed in: Reflections of Bahamian issues of race, gender, politics and old-time religion”. Glinton-Meicholas is known for her anthropological contributions, and has presented a series of satirical works on cultural observations. On Tuesday evening, she married a selection of personal anecdotes with decades-old formal and informal cultural traditions, including the racial and physical construction of neighborhoods and the polyamorous lifestyle in Bahamian society. She delved into the acceptance of domestic and gender-based violence, even in parliamentary halls, as recently demonstrated by one member of Parliament and his supporters.

She concluded her discussion with reference to images of ‘Bahamian art’, beginning with early 20th century artist Winslow Homer, whose works were some of the first to feature black people, but merely as incidental elements of the landscape. She went on to feature contemporary artists, like John Beadle, whose work references immigration and discrimination toward poorer blacks, and Dionne Benjamin-Smith, known for her work confronting taboos like gender-based violence and racial constructs of beauty. For many of the students, it was their first time understanding the links between fine art, history and culture.

The next talk in the series will be held on Thursday, October 15 and led by activist Alicia Wallace. The discussion begins at 6 p.m. at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas and all members of the public are invited to attend free of charge. For more information, call the NAGB at 328-5800.