Nothing provokes the artistic sensibility like a catastrophe. The role visual artists and creative thinkers play in recognising the universal emotion is evident in the recent devastation of Hurricane Matthew. Not only is art critical in helping us to focus our understanding of events, but the power of art amid disaster recovery presents opportunities for new ideas, spaces, and conversations.
This week I interviewed four Bahamian artists who shared their thoughts on Hurricane Matthew and reasons for exploring artistic responses. Their works seek to find beauty and peace within human tragedy through moments of reflection and within the hopes of rebuilding the community spirit.
Photographer and visual artist Delton Barrett who lives in the South Beach community of New Providence endured much loss during the hurricane. “Our home experienced lots of flooding resulting in loss of cars, furniture and household appliances. We have been able to get through the worst without too much suffering”. Reflecting on this experience, Barrett feels our country’s recovery will be the beginning of something new for many. “In terms of people coming together and helping one another to build new foundations and relationships. We needed this life experience to prepare for the worst if it were to come in the future.” Barrett ‘s photography style borders on theatrics and surrealism. His creative process was disrupted as a result of power outages, and he was unable to capture valuable creative moments during the aftermath. With minimal resources, Barrett photographed the emotions and reality of what many people had endured after Hurricane Matthew. His on-going photographic series "some people take it differently" shows a myriad of emotional responses to the devastation.
Photographer and visual artist Nowé Harris-Smith who lives in the Yellow Elder community of New Providence survived the hurricane with her family who endured some emotional distress and property damage. Harris-Smith's recent work focuses on human culture, perception and found material. Although unable to explore the island due to accessibility and safety issues she decided to document her neighborhood experience though the photographic series “The Aftermath.” “I took these images to explore the after effects of a major storm. We all have suffered, but the rebuilding process offers new light. I want the works to stimulate reflection. These instances among other disasters stimulate unity, and that is the highest ideal of citizenship.”
Illustrator and animator Lamaro Smith lives and works in the Holmes Rock Settlement of Grand Bahama. Given the level of devastation experienced in Grand Bahama’s western communities that were ravished by the wind, rain and surges Smith and his family’s home were one of the few that escaped with minor structural damage. “Our home suffered some roof damage and major landscape devastation. Sadly, my garden didn’t make it.” Smith maintains that Grand Bahama received similar effects from Hurricane Frances and Jeanne in 2004. “Grand Bahama is in bad shape, but we have been through worse. The difference between the storms of 2004 and Matthew is that we were more prepared this time and restoration is happening a lot sooner. We will bounce back from this.” Smith’s role as an illustrator is similar to that of a storyteller where he gives life to characters and concepts. His recent observation of the universal experience of storm watching examines how we process information. ”Watching the progress of storms always brings on moments when our eyes become fixated to TV screens, we're listening intently to predictions while fear or speculation builds up. It's a universal feeling I wanted to depict.”
ALLAN P. WALLACE
Visual artist Allan P. Wallace who lives in the Cable Beach community of New Providence is thankful to God that his family suffered no distress during the hurricane. “This has definitely been an emotional, physical and financial blow for The Bahamas. Despite our country experiencing much loss of material possessions, it is a blessing that no lives were lost. To think Hurricane Matthew claimed the lives of over a thousand people in the US and Haiti, I am thankful to God we were spared.” In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew Wallace drove around his neighborhood observing destruction and was amazed by how many trees had fallen. “I realised in a way the trees had personalities because they were seen as community landmarks. There was this huge tree with a swing in my yard that had become a communal space for recreation and reflection. As I saw it laying on the ground, the name “Fallen” came to me. Realising that it would eventually be discarded, I decided to humanise its remains by giving it eyes and presenting it in a metaphorical way, a tree with a soul.”