On Thursday, June 22nd starting at 6 p.m., the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas will introduce emerging Bahamian artist and acclaimed RISD student Gabrielle Banks’ body of work ‘The Mark of a Woman’ in the Project Space Room through the end of July.
The opening preview reception of Gabrielle Banks’ “The Mark of a Woman’ will take place on Thursday, June 22nd, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Light refreshments and hors d'oeuvres will be served at the event. Come out and celebrate one of The Bahamas’ most exciting emerging artists.
Over the past two years, Banks has explored the various ways the representation of the black subject, and in particular, the black woman has been appropriated in an attempt to shed light on the way that she remains invisible, neglected and removed from the canon of Western Art. Even though this is changing slowly within the contemporary visual art world with the rise of artists like Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, Chris Ofili and Toyin Odutola among others, the black woman continues to be fetishized, commodified and her image misappropriated and reduced to an icon of strength, hypersexualisation, and entertainment. Banks’ images combat and add to the growing bodies of work that attack these tropes. Her subjects are mainly appropriated from the work of white artists and alterations are made to the figures’ gender and features to bring a fairer representation to the fore of the black body and its significance in the emerging canon of contemporary art.
Banks’ canvas, which reaches into the annals of art history, uses classic compositions from the Western Canon and the contemporary environment, utilising Greek sculpture, contemporary photography and classical and contemporary painters the likes of Tchistovsky, Wiley, Fechin, and Rego to reassess the perception of the woman. In her nudes, the availability of her subject and self, contest the representation of the woman, redefining her power, availability, and surrender. With several self-portraits, we can see power returned to the gaze, to how the body is rendered in the landscape and how her subjects hold strong in their personas, wisdom, heritage, and history. Colour and form remove associations of blackness, rendering black skin a colour field laced with ambiguity, which is directly related to Banks’ mixed race heritage.
In the only black and white piece in the budding collection, Untitled (Odd Nerdrum), the classic reclining nudes are replaced with portraits of the artist who covers her breasts with palms and stares coldly into space while her body is being submerged into a frenzied Afrocentric pattern. This symbolism of the artist sinking into black and white speaks to the tension when faced with the duality of being a biracial subject, where she at once owns blackness but attempts to bring light to the complexity and ambiguities present in a society where belonging and identification are not so easy or so black and white.
Colourism is a fundamental conversation in this body of work, where Banks strips the subject of blackness, replacing it with psychedelic and wild colours - a royal purple and blue, or speckled orange and burnt red. These caustic and loud colours lend to the noise that completes how Blackness is formed and read, blurring the lines and associations located in shadeism and the paper bag complex. Who is Black, and what kind of Black does one have to be to be Black? The question of what then constitutes Blackness is one that continues to be examined in our societies as we pay testament to our African and European heritage, and the way that miscegenation and creolization have shaped our societies and cultural identity.
Gabrielle Banks is currently acquiring a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting with a concentration in Art History at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. Banks graduated from Miss Porter's School, Farmington Connecticut in 2015 and mainly specializes in portraiture, but has recently been exploring textiles and patterns within her growing body of work.The Bahamas has undoubtedly influenced the technique and subject matter of her work, ranging from distinct color palettes and compositions inspired by the landscapes and ceremonial traditions of the nation and cultural vibrancy of the island.
Banks actively comments and interrogates being a marginalized body and this functions as the continuous theme and conversation within her paintings. Many of the colors used in her palette express a nature of blackness that cannot be directly defined or restricted by societal standards and stereotypes. As a person of colour, she explores a complicated yet beautiful minefield which is provocative, rich and complex.
"The Mark of a Woman" is Gabrielle Banks’ first solo show in The Bahamas.