The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas is extremely pleased to unveil the first chapter of The Bahamian Project, with a series of black-and white photographs by Duke Wells that themselves will form a group entitled “The Bahamian Collection.” This collection will be gifted to the NAGB, as a forward to a longer narrative in which The Bahamian Project becomes far more than a single show, a single artist, or a single set of works. While this phase was initiated and executed by Wells and his wife Lisa, who coordinated and assisted in the project’s management, this wonderful suite of works is only the beginning of something we hope will become a much larger body that will, one day, perhaps instigate the formation of a National Portrait Gallery and include paintings, busts and other art forms.
On this the 40th anniversary of our country’s formation, identity is an important issue. Often our distinctiveness as Bahamians is tied to our landscape—the white beaches, the crystal waters, the blazing sun—but the true identity of any nation lies not in its natural resources but in its people. Meanwhile, the art of formal portraiture—whether photographic, sculptural or painted—is fading as snapshots or Instagrams take over our visual consciousness. As we slowly lose those that are important to us, personally or publically, we realize that there is no serious visual testament left to record their presence.
Wells’ desire was not only to record the myriad faces of our nation in an iconic, formal, and suitable manner appropriate to many of his subjects’ prominent or esteemed positions, but to reinvigorate this lost art, hosting workshops at schools and at the Gallery. The images are large-scale, posed, some with props and some without, but all capturing the essence of the subject in an immutable and timeless fashion. Similarly in the 1920s a German photographer, August Sander, travelled through the country capturing, “a catalogue of contemporary society through a series of portraits.” His opus, The Face of Our Time, became world-renowned and encapsulated what it meant to be German at this critical inter-War period. In a similar manner, “The Bahamian Collection,” at this significant juncture in our history, begins to answer the question, “What does it mean to be Bahamian?” or “What is the Bahamian spirit?”
In developing the project, it was found that the answer did not lie with a single generation, a single gender, or a single race, but reflected the multifaceted nature of our country and heritage. Some rules were instituted, such as no sitting politicians, but of crucial importance in developing the project was that we captured not only our elders who have made significant contributions already to society, as well as the more established mature, who are currently changing, forming or (importantly) preserving our legacy, but also included the young and emerging and identified the “diamonds in the rough.” The desire was to recognise not only conventional role models but also to distinguish the regular faces of seemingly ordinary or typical people whose everyday acts of kindness, friendliness or resoluteness, whose enthusiasm for their job, their life or their passion, seems to summarize a certain indomitable spirit that we recognise as Bahamian.
As stated at the outset, this is only the launch and is by no means an exhaustive or final array of people or of participating photographers and artists. The project aims to grow, as more artists join in, as more characters are captured. We are a young nation and this is only the beginning.
See more images here: