There were sunsets, palm trees and brightly painted murder
scenes in Dave Smith’s most recent show at the D’Aguilar Art Foundation (DAF). Aptly
titled “Headlines”, Smith referenced the local dailies in the exhibition that
was on display at the DAF from November 2015 to January 2016.
Though he no longer lives in The Bahamas, the country is
often the focus of his work. For years he has painted the idyllic scenes found
in tourist-centric locales and middle and upper class neighborhoods. These are
presented alongside the familiar landscapes of Over-the-Hill neighborhoods.
Jolting combinations are not unusual for the artist; he has long been known and
admired for his confidence in depicting cultural disparities. Still, for some,
the contrasting medleys appeared with much rawness in Headlines.
For the past few years, on a regular basis, the media has
been tragically peppered with crime reports, relaying details of the most
recent violent crimes to an increasingly uncomfortable public. Most of the men
who make the reports do so because they are either the latest bodies removed by
mortuary personnel or the ones believed to be responsible for violent crimes. An
uneasy feeling has become normalized for much of the public, as has the
storyline of young, black and disenfranchised men being killed and sent to
In Headlines, two common scenarios were presented in Smith’s
works: the sun shines on bikini-clad women of leisure and grinning, black
poolside servers, while visuals of bloody bodies in a separate plane shocked
viewers into considering the illogic of the combination.
At the show, audiences could not escape contemplating the inconsistencies
of the current situation that exists beyond the boundaries of the DAF. The
Bahamas touts a reputation as an easily accessible paradise and prides itself
on its hospitality industry, which is arguably one of the most advanced and
lucrative in the Caribbean region. Large resorts provide entertainment and a
sterile beach environment for guests. Many of these hotels reserve executive
positions for expats and foreign workers; scores of undereducated Bahamians
take on positions of service, only to, at the end of the day, return to the
same communities plagued with gang warfare.
It is difficult coming to terms with the contrasting
realities. Only recently, the sexual assault of an American visitor by an
unlicensed Jet Ski operator off of Paradise Island raised protests and uproar
in the media. Yet, it would be a considerable feat to quantify the daily rate
of unreported and uninvestigated sexual assault on inner city girls and women.
For some collectors, it might also be a challenge looking at
a murder scene on a regular basis – even one that hangs on a wall. Others may
question the benefits – if any – of crime and violence of this nature becoming
normalized and accepting of the image of an anonymous, murdered black man.
Still, it could be argued that by inviting works like these into middle and upper
class homes, collectors could consider how out of place the visual is in their
homes and across the wider country as a whole.
Parallels could be drawn between this notion and the work
being progressed by Black Lives Matter, which has been protesting widespread
passive acceptance of the disproportionate force used by the American police
force on black men.
It is not Smith’s intention to poke fun or rile up audiences;
but to offer a critique and a counter image. Seeking only to present two
irreconcilable facets of the country, he leaves decision-making and judgment
calls to his works’ viewers.