Feature from the Exhibition: The Middle Passage

Jeffrey Meris, The Middle Passage, (2012). Cotton on Wood Installation Piece. 200″ x 180″. Currently on display at the NAGB till Thursday, April 26th, 2012.

By Ashley Knowles

Appropriately entitled The Middle Passage, Jeffrey Meris’ large and imposing piece for Transforming Spaces: Fibre 2012 is a call to memory, history and healing. Located in the Project Space (PS) Room in the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB), Meris was inspired by conceptual mixed media artists such as Bahamian native, Blue Curry, to create a piece that visitors can interact with. Indeed, the entire piece is physical, tactile and emotional experience. Upon entering the wide mouth of The Middle Passage, visitors enter a soundless, warm place. Cotton brushes their sides and indeed it surrounds them. They are compelled to further their journey, each step takes them into further, tighter and claustrophobic terrain till they are squeezed, packed and expelled through its much smaller exit point.

Meris’ choice in this natural fibre is an important one. “I wanted to do something with power. When I was looking at cotton, not the cosmetic stuff you buy in the store, but cotton in its rawest and natural state. I was looking at something with power, that had memories attached to it, some good and some bad,” he states. Indeed, the word “cotton” is a loaded one, a physical thing that is loaded with horrors and cultural memories. The cotton industry in18th century Bahamas helped to both, build and yet simultaneously deplete the nation. The cultivation of this fluffy, white substance brought people, money and industry to the land. The people, however, were not all free and the money it brought only lined certain pockets. This cash crop eventually turned against the nation it helped to build by depleting the naturally thin Bahamian soil of its nutrients. The plant was not safe in The Bahamas where the harsh sun, sporadic rains and insects brought this industry to a firm standstill.

A closer look at Meris’ work, “The Middle Passage” (2012).

This historical and cultural memory is not lost on visitors. One woman broke down half way through her journey through The Middle Passage and had to be encouraged to complete it. Meris, upon being told of this woman’s reaction, found her reaction empowering and encouraging, ”All I can say is wow. History definitely played a huge part in this piece, and I think the past is the past but remember it.”

The beauty of this piece lies in its ability to transform its meaning and power in each visitor differently. Children adore its textural qualities. Some adults are taken aback by the numbing silence as they enter, some experience fear at the narrowing light and some enter the passage forcefully, determined to conquer it. Regardless of any individual reaction or experience, everyone leaves the piece thinking, wanting a bit more. For Meris, this is the true power of The Middle Passage.

A different angle of “The Middle Passage” (2012) by Jeffrey Meris.

More pictures of The Middle Passage can be seen at the NAGB’s website. Click here to view them all.

The Middle Passage is on view till Thursday, April 26th 2012. The NAGB is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10:00 to 4:00pm, Sunday 12:00 to 4:00 pm. The 3rd Sunday of every month is free for Bahamians, the next one is April 14th, 2012.