The first of a series of three solo shows, “Metanoia” featuring the work of Navarro Newton, is the culmination of a year’s hard graft at Popopstudios ICVA. Newton is one of three recipients for the 2016-2017 period chosen to work under the support of the Popop Junior Residency Prize (PJRP), alongside his fellows Nowe Harris-Smith and Keith Thompson. The residency is offered as a way to help nurture and support our young emerging artists, and to quite literally offer them space to create.
For Newton, the title of the show represents just that. “Metanoia is the constant changing in one’s mind - and the inspiration comes from the whole experience of the PJRP. I was finally in a space where I could create. Having a space in the Popop studios and being surrounded by so many different artists, there are so many options, so much freedom. This show for me is what happens when you give someone space to create, when you give people that freedom, give them the support they need to grow.”
Metanoia, as it is defined in regards to psychology, can also signify the breakdown and subsequent rebuilding and reformation of the psyche - perhaps even of the self. It is in this vein that the repeated dot and line imagery of Newton’s work comes into particular significance. The pattern of dots and lines are an abstraction of the classic, haunting image of how slaves were packed onto ships during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and the idea of metanoia can become a way to see ourselves and our way forward as a postcolonial nation with this history.
“I was just going to use it as a background at first and put figurative elements over the top of it, but just through the application of it: using different brush sizes, different strokes, different colours, I was able to get imagery. It seemed like the images were almost dancing to me, so I just ran with it and kept overlaying. There’s a kind of distance between the imagery as it’s presented to you and their original source.”
The way he plays with the image, producing a pattern that is so seemingly removed from its origins - quite literally a move from a black and white drawing into bright and colourful paintings - is in many ways an act of trying to reckon with our cultural memory, with the way our history is felt in our everyday lives though we never personally endured these events.
“I can never fully identify with the slaves in the slave trade - the whitewashing, the books we studied, the lessons we learned were things like “Christopher Columbus saved our little country by ‘discovering’ us”. So from the beginning we’ve had this idea that a white man saved us when our reality is that we are descended from people who were enslaved and brought over against their will. But we don’t hear it like that, we don’t learn it in a way where it’s framed truthfully, it’s all skimmed over.”
This act of reckoning, of reconciliation, is even more evident in looking to his ‘puzzle’ works: pieced together from old works that were hacked apart and reformed. The process through which he creates his paintings holds just as much significance as the works themselves. They provide Newton with a way to think through this history and what it means not only to him personally but also what these things mean to Bahamians in general.
“It’s odd for me, because I’m actually of a mixed race background - my mother is biracial - and it’s weird because I feel like “what culture is it that I have? Are the roots of this something I even want to be attached to?” It’s hard to come to grips with.”
The fact of the matter is, whether it is through direct lineage as in Newton’s situation, or not, all of us as Bahamians have to grapple with the fact our culture is rooted in this duality and binary of Afro-Caribbean and British. This is what makes the culture in The Bahamas so particular and so uncomfortable to deal with, but this is a regional discomfort we deal with - being of a culture that is in part from the coloniser, in part from the colonised.
“I feel there’s a missing part of my existence, a part of my history I can never quite claim and that puts you in a strange space. There’s a gap, a distance I can never cross. I want these pieces to be a conversation about what they mean to the person viewing them and why, I want it to be something contemplative, something that inspires an internal dialogue to get people thinking about these things and what they mean to each of us individually.”
Just as we have our own history, so do many of the works. Painted on roofing plywood, Newton works around the knots and ‘imperfections’, using them as part of the work, letting them inform the way he moves forward with each piece. In many ways, this serves as a hopeful metaphor for how we can view ourselves and our history as Bahamians.
We have a particular grit and grain to us as a people, and rather than smoothing everything over and painting over it all to start afresh, we can recognize these knots, cut off the pieces that no longer serve us, and piece together something new and beautiful - with the truth of our past and the hope of our future fully on display and presented as a balanced whole.