The following is a speech read by National Art Gallery of The Bahamas Chief Curator Holly Bynoe on the evening of October 16, 2015 as she announced the winners of the Central Bank of The Bahamas open category competitions.
Good evening everyone, many thanks to the Central Bank’s curator, Mr. Antonius Roberts; Head of Administration Mr. Ian Fernander and Governor of the Central Bank of The Bahamas Wendy Craigg and the board of governors, for the invitation to participate in the jury this year. Tonight I stand with words of encouragement and congratulations and in solidarity with my fellow judges, John Cox and Tessa Whitehead, who have shared their thoughts on the body of amassed works for the bank’s 32nd annual competition.
For those who might not have been formally introduced, I am Holly Bynoe, chief curator at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, a post that I have occupied for only a few months. Thus far, my time in Nassau has been a unique experience, as I continue to see the forging of a solid arts community with a strict focus on infrastructural and institutional support.
Tonight, I want to extend a special thank you the curatorial assistant Ms. Jodi Minnis for her professionalism, energies and openness as she guided me through the history of the Central Bank’s annual competitions, which have seen winners along the lines of Lavar Munroe, Jackson Petit, Jace McKinney, Jeffrey Meris and Bernard Petit. These are contemporary pioneers making waves nationally and internationally going all the way back to stalwarts like John Beadle and Antonius Roberts.
Here there is an unusual diffusion of hierarchies and emerging from it a group of creative activists who remain close to the ground working fervently to ensure that the current group of practicing visual artists has the means by which to have work supported. Providing opportunities for mentorship, residencies, exhibitions and the option to fund further projects and/or assist with scholarship funds, the Central Bank prize can become the moment of action and direction in many emerging artists’ lives.
As many of you know, there are very few moments that allow for this kind of synthesis and encouragement in our local communities. Tonight I won’t stray very far from the objectives of this competition, which include the identification, recognition and encouragement of all aspects of Bahamian visual culture. But I will point out that with the understanding that most higher education facilities catering to arts in the region are reaching an attrition rate upward of 90 percent, and with the inability to professionalize the visual arts industry as fast as we need it to operate, we find ourselves finding new and important value in platforms, prizes and exhibitions like the Central Bank competition.
Programs like this one function as an act of resistance against cultural ennui. It raises issues of collective futures by discussing the survival of artists and the sustainability of local creative communities. More importantly, it is providing the necessary support, which allows for integration and understanding to occur naturally through the arts.
We applaud the efforts of each and every one of you who have participated with generosity, paying acute attention to the criteria for the call for works and going above and beyond the call of duty to remark on your objectives, your political moments, your passions, wonder, inspirations and joys.
This evening is special. We have graciously asked the central bank’s board to take into consideration the wealth and level of this year’s submissions. We, the judges, all had a very difficult time choosing a winner, and we would like to start with the first of two honorable mentions.
First up and with congratulations, we would like to highlight the work of Drew Weech’s “Memento Mori”, a demure and unassuming painting of a still life. This still life is hard to see; it exposes the difficulty of working with such a tough figure. The piece showed a level of bravery with the medium that was very much unexpected. As you struggle to see the image, your mind can wander onto a plane that absorbs all light. This vanitas points at a time, and the transitory nature of life as you are left to contemplate and project segments of your life. The piece is at once sophisticated, surprising and aesthetically very pleasing to consume.
The second honorable mention, is awarded to Sonia Farmer’s “Elect Ya Tings”, a participatory project deploying the function of a polling station which, in effect, questions the role of power and equanimity within Bahamian culture and pays particular attention to the gender equality crisis and re-imagines the conduction of a new constitutional referendum, where we are invited to move into a safe space and really share our ideas on how women are valued in society.
The space created in Farmer’s ‘electoral booth’ pays attention at once to the public-private dilemma that we all face, not only women, but men too are navigating a more complex and altered sense of relation. There are many surprising elements connected to the visuals used in Farmer’s creation. Thank you, Sonia, for giving us a moment to contemplate on our bodies and our collective and individual agency. Throughout the evening, the audience is asked and reminded to vote, to share and to continue to instigate a developed discourse around this civil crisis.
And now for tonight’s greatest honor, we the jury collectively recognize and award the work “Black Gold, Black Skin” by Edrin “Chris” Symonette and would like to formally congratulate him on this , which showcases in a powerful way the poetic marriage of material, form and function. Using and continuing the theme of the ‘Lucayan revolution’ Symonette crafts and creates a moment for us to witness the beauty of a forlorn body, a body enslaved, but a body that is in its rest occupying a certain type of freedom.
It is a body with duality and a spirit with double consciousness. Here I am reminded of double consciousness, a concept penned by and expanded upon by W.E.B Dubois, where he states: “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
This body; this woman, her color – shining – warrior-like, yet her body is sunken a cavern. Can we project the past onto her, are her battles self-afflicted? Societal? Is she human? How do you see her? Maybe, perhaps, as the past does, as wild and animalistic? What kinds of histories does she conjure hanging on the wall? Why is her traumatized body still so full of presence? How is this black woman/mother/sister/friend a signifier of our now? Can she only be connected to a traumatic past?
“Black Gold, Black Skin” is haunting and a point of projection for various subjectivities, the embodiment of her flesh, at times decayed, at times separated from the imagined skeletal framework and yet her strength is undeniable. As a point of reflection, are we looking at an icon of a time gone by, are we rather, looking at a subject that is riddled with domestic violence or perhaps another kind of internal violence that is oftentimes even more subterranean and as violent and surreptitious?
With all of these questions, Symonette brings to the fore much needed discourse around our shared historical moments. He is engaging with key criteria signified by the Central Bank, creating timely and relevant visual connections and conversation that are easily reflected in our day-to-day living experiences.
Congratulations Chris, Sonia and Drew. We are all very much looking forward to see how you continue to deal with materials and ideas and how you each continue to grow, provoke, instigate and work to challenge the status quo and the comfort of things inside your practice and outside, in the world.
Thank you again for the opportunity to share and engage with you tonight.