Big Yard, Big Heart, Big Art: The NAGB Inter-Island Traveling Exhibition in North and Central Andros!

By Natalie Willis

Oh my Andros! Da Big Yard, the wild and wonderful island full of love vine, graceful-yet-sinister buzzards, and full to the brim with people showing spirit as big as they come and then some. This October, the NAGB extended itself into the open arms of this vast island (by our standards anyway!). The Inter-Island Travelling Exhibition (ITE) is a cause near and dear to our hearts here at the NAGB, and for one very simple reason: the “N” in the NAGB stands for National, not Nassau. And with this in mind, the National Collection should follow this same line of thinking.

Most recently, the current iteration of the ITE, “TRANS: A Migration of Identity”, made its way to the most gracious and welcoming of hosts in Central Andros at Brigadiers Restaurant in Davis Creek. Workshops, the construction of a mural, exhibition installation, and personal visits to schools all took place over a hectic fortnight, but as always the work we do to bring art to you is the most important.  

Who needs sleep right?  

Richardo Barrett, our Assistant Curator at the NAGB (and co-curator of the exhibition alongside Abby Smith, Community Outreach Officer), dutifully came in to build walls for the show, install them, and hang the works after picking up the crates from the dock. Yes folks, walls had to be built. This is not because Andros has a shortage of walls of course, but because artwork is a rather finicky baby that needs quite a lot of care. This has been a large part of the difficulty of moving the exhibition from island to island: there are specific requirements of the space so that the artwork can live there safely and happily for the duration of the exhibition. If it was a matter of finding a space, we’d have no problem! But of course things are never quite so simple.

Abby Smith, community outreach office, alongside students of Staniard Creek Primary School.

Art, born of what we often think of as rather organic processes itself, needs space, needs to breath, and needs protection like a living thing in many ways. It can’t be in direct sunlight, or in the line of salt spray, it needs wall space and floor space to be hung or exhibited, it needs air quality control (usually in the form of constantly running A/C), and it needs nobody to touch it – human or animal alike.  Infrastructure for art is very particular, and when so many of our family islands are lacking the basic infrastructure they have been crying out for for decades, it makes the job that much harder. This difficulty signifies wider problems of margins competing for crumbs from the center, and happens the world over – and it is something we desperately need to fix.

Politically, Andros is considered one island, but this way that we speak of our space as connected, when it quite clearly is not, is a problem we devoutly refuse to face. One must fly or go by boat to get from North & Central Andros to their South Andros sister, as many of us know, but many other still are unaware, and this makes the most basic movements of items and people unnecessarily difficult.  

Our geography is one of the things we largely love to throw out any time we speak to why we love this country, and yes, the landscape is beautiful, but it is also one of our more difficult things to overcome. Being a chain of 30 inhabited islands with lacking inter-island transport, on top of our difficulties with boosting local economies, makes art take a backseat in many places. Oftentimes, we may think, rightfully so. People need to eat, people need to make a living, of course it all makes sense. But we forget that art is not only hobby, that it is not frivolous, but rather our visual culture is something we must not only protect – as is a large part of our mission at the NAGB – but it is something we must also help to proliferate if we want to keep our culture thriving and healthy. And, frankly, if we want to know what it is in the first place!

Androsian students in the NAGB “Paint Like Amos” Workshop for schools held at Huntley Christie High School.

Grand Bahama, Abaco, Exuma, and twice to Eleuthera, the NAGB has made great strides over the last three and a half years to ensure that our family islanders get access to the work that helps us see who we are. The National Collection is a National treasure, and as such, that should be accessible to all within this country – but, again, we know that is easier said than done. Difficulties with transport, communication, and even trust were apparent from the first couple of exhibitions held outside the capital, and this is also no surprise.

Smith knows this first hand from her experiences, and with good reason. “What’s special for me is visiting the schools and seeing kids, teachers, and principals alike appreciating the fact we make the journey to their school. Many don’t see the environment that the kids are learning in on family islands, or that teachers are working in. It’s very easy here in Nassau to take what we have for granted. What might be “horrible” for us is sometimes all that some schools on the family islands can get their hands on, or even a luxury for some of them. It gives me a greater sense of appreciation for what I have and what we have here, and what we should have on other islands. It should be equal. One island shouldn’t get more over another, everyone should get an equal opportunity to experience what we can offer as a country.”

Family islands hear often that things will be better, or that this initiative or that investment will come and change the island for the better. The reality is that we often end up with failed utopian ruins of buildings and businesses that mother nature kindly decides to swallow up, lest we should have to remember the unfulfilled or short-lived promises. One look at the roads in Andros will show you that they have little reason to have faith in the capital coming through on anything. One can hold out hope that maybe this seems to be shifting slowly of late, but one could also be cynical and wonder if it is merely a bone being reluctantly thrown their way. While there are new roads being paved – Hallelujah! – there are still lesser served areas in dire need of this most basic infrastructure to function.

Why do we know so much about the roads? We went from the base of Central Andros at Behring Point all the way to the northernmost tip at Red Bays. Smith, along with Natalie Willis, Assistant Curator, made the drive from top to bottom, and it was a trek. The teachers at the Bertram A Newton Primary School in Red Bays (the only school there), sheepishly told us upon arrival that they omitted the very select truth about the state of the road there for fear that we would not come to them. It is worth mentioning that none of the teachers at the Red Bays primary live in the historically significant settlement, and make the quite honestly treacherous journey regularly, along the 45 minute road full of potholes that would set your teeth on edge. These devoted and delightful examples of human determination and care make their way in and out of Red Bays, twice a day, five days a week. That’s 10x a week at least that these men and women risk ruining their vehicles beyond repair to give up their knowledge and heart to these incredibly spirited and deserving children.  

It is always, entirely, utterly worth every drop of time we can squeeze out to put into these projects. For Smith, “I like the fact that when I go to each island there’s always that one student that is changed or inspired by that visit. Usually it’s because they didn’t think art could be a viable career, then they see something like the ITE and say “oh! There are options? There’s more than one thing to do in this field?”. It opens up their ideas on what art and art careers can be by giving that pathway for a child to see it firsthand. In the “Big Yard” that is Andros, seeing you can change just one kid’s view makes all the difference. All it takes is one person being inspired to be our next big cultural star.”

 “TRANS: A Migration of Identity” was graciously hosted by the Brigadier’s Restaurant in Davis Creek, allowing us to bring the National Collection to Andros for the first time. The workshop and community-produced mural were supported by Elkino Dames and the teachers and students of Huntley Christie High School in North Andros, along with local government actively involving themselves in the creative communing that the NAGB facilitated. The show ran through October 15th – November 29th, with the team making school visits in North and Central Andros to donate catalogues and books on Bahamian Art to every single school. Rain, shine, pothole, nor chiccharney could keep us away, and we will keep going! Our next stop? Grand Bahama gets revisited with this new iteration of the ITE in March! Mark your calendars folks!