By Kevanté Cash
“As a Pan-Africanist, I paint what is most relatable to me. Representation is important and I have been studying the Moors for years now. It brought a sense of pride to learn about the accomplishments of ancient Africans. "BEY" is a Moorish title or family name and "bey” or “bui" is a Bahamian colloquial term. I wanted people to automatically connect with the show before they even saw it,” says Jalan Harris, one half of the ‘BEY’ exhibition dream team.
No stranger to the solo exhibition scene, Harris partnered with rising contemporary artist Justin Moultrie to put on an exhibition that not only sought to uplift its Black viewers but also educate them as well about their possible history.
Harris says this was intentional because she and Moultrie wanted to show a different representation of African descendants, citing, “We tend to either focus on the West Atlantic Slave Trade or African deities where our past as Afro-Caribbean people are concerned. It was really a game changer for me to learn about the Barbary Slave Trade. The Barbary Slave Trade refers to the slave markets that were lucrative and vast on the Barbary Coast of North Africa, which included the Ottoman provinces of Algeria, Tunisia and Tripolitania and the independent Sultanate of Morocco, between the 16th and middle of the 18th centuries. We wanted people to wonder why they never heard of the Moors up until that moment, to question information fed to them on a regular basis, and for people to feel inspired to conduct further research into the Moors, and gain a newfound sense of pride as we did.”
Though this was not his first time showcasing in an exhibit, it was Moultrie’s first time participating in a collaborative exhibition of this nature where the focus is primarily placed on two main artists. He says the experience to work along with Harris was great during preparation time as she is “very punctual and goal-oriented”, so it kept him on his toes. He adds, “Jalan was also really encouraging, which made me want to work even harder to produce great work.”
Harris expresses the opportunity to work with Moultrie as a unique one because he had the aesthetic she was looking for in a collaborative partner. She shares: “His work consists of beautiful melanated people with captivating backgrounds. I challenged him to step outside his comfort zone to do this project with me. He is younger but very promising. He paints like it's a bad habit and I was very inspired by his work ethic.”
Choosing a space to showcase this body of work did not present itself as much of a challenge for the pair. Moultrie says Harris knew right away which space would be suitable to bring the theme of the exhibition to life. With Antonius Roberts as head curator of Hillside House Studios and Art Gallery, the curatorial process was effortless since the works already “complemented each other well”, says Harris of her observation of Roberts’ contribution to the show.
From ‘BEY’, Moultrie hopes the art community, but more specifically, the Afro-Bahamian populace of the country, garner a stronger sense of pride as Black people from viewing the works and learning about the history of the Moorish people.
“As a predominantly African originated population, it is imperative to learn our ancestry and place in society, not how it was taught to us, from slavery to now but from the start of humankind to now,” he says.
From the overall experience, Harris has learned that “collaborations are important”.
“Justin and I fed off each other constantly. From sending references and images to each other during preparation to brainstorming and problem-solving. It would have been extra stressful tackling this very necessary subject on my own. We were encouraged by Roberts to continue working together. It was an awesome experience.”
The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) celebrates and congratulate Jalan Harris and Justin Moultrie on this grand achievement in their creative careers and look forward to more great works by them both, singularly and together.