‘Migrant’ – an art work of the month

In seeing so many large, bright, and significant works in Bahamian Domestic, it might seem peculiar to pick a piece that appears so much smaller and more subtle in comparison. However, it’s equally essential to find the importance in the things that become marginalized by bigger entities – the significance in the small. For Natalie Willis, National Art Gallery Curatorial Trainee, Lavar Munroe’s “Migrant” seemed appropriate to discuss and share as April’s Art Work of the Month.

It is especially apt to look at Munroe’s work when considering the fact that he will be exhibiting next month in the upcoming Venice Biennale. A young Bahamian artist who grew up in Grant’s Town, Munroe will soon be represented at one of the biggest and oldest international art expos in the world.

Munroe’s body of work encompasses a vast and varied range of modes of display – with everything from wall-based works that unsettle our ideas of the sculpture-painting binary, to projects that incorporate sculpture and social activism. At the heart of his work remain a few recurring themes: mythology, cultural identity and that which is auto-ethnographic – that is, examining a culture subjectively, through one’s own experiences in it. His works themselves seem to migrate between boundaries.

Initially “Migrant” appears to be quite simple – a shabby house being carried along by many legs, amongst other shabby houses. But in its Bahamian context, it unveils many of our contemporary issues on identity, belonging and, as the title suggests, migration.

Created in the midst of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, the work speaks volumes for our situation – in both senses of the word – in The Bahamas. We are a nation of migrants – of people from elsewhere – according to late Jamaican cultural theorist Stuart Hall. Given the country’s current debates over Haitian migration and illegal immigrants in the country, some like Willis believe it seems fitting to look to this work and Hall’s ideas on the Caribbean.

“Not unlike the cart-wheels in ‘Migrant’, we are all spokes in a wheel of some kind,” said Willis. “We are subject to outer influences and in a perpetual cycle of being on-top, then back on the bottom, then back on top again. It is like the ongoing struggle for dominance.”

The iconic “government pink” on the buildings only adds to this and makes us consider what roles we play as a nation and as individual agents in this ongoing discussion of migration and displacement within our Caribbean.

Lavar Munroe, “Migrant”, ca 2007-8.

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