Having captured the first place prize in the 32nd annual Central Bank Open Category Competition with his piece “Black Gold, Black Skin”, Edrin Symonette now looks forward to popping up at PopopStudios this week in a two-day exhibition.
The winning piece, a sculpture of a person of mixed African and indigenous heritage, is part of Symonette’s “Lucayan Evolution” series, which explores racial blending between Amerindian and African groups. Its name acknowledges the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the use of Africans as commodities, as well as other traded materials, like coffee and oil. Symonette hoped that the sculpted figure of “Black Gold, Black Skin”, which he cast in polyurethane, cold caste brass and gold leaf, would underscore the value and cultural significance of black women in the region.
His newest show – a pop-up exhibition in the annex at PopopStudios – is titled Lucayan Evolution Redux, and carries forward Symonette’s artistic explorations and academic studies of indigenous tribes in The Bahamas. His research on the Lucayans and Tainos began in 2014, as a proposed work for the Seventh National Exhibition, Antillean: an Ecology (NE7). That exhibition, which opened in December 2014, addressed themes of identity, gender, race, class and colonization in current day Bahamas. Its title encouraged Symonette to investigate the meaning of the word “Antillean”.
“I started looking at images associated with the word ‘Antillean’,” he explained, “and decided to narrow my scope to looking at the indigenous Indian tribes that once existed in The Bahamas, the Lucayans.”
Around the same time, Symonette was taking a College of The Bahamas class on Bahamian and Afro-Caribbean identity. His studies and research developed into an interest in the Caribbean’s shared history of creolization and racial mixing. His research took him to the national archives and interviews with historian Dr. Gail Saunders and anthropologist Dr. Christopher Curry. Upon realizing that Long Island, Bahamas, was once a settlement of the Lucayans, Symonette developed personal ties to the project. “The idea of Long Island being a prehistoric Lucayan metropolis intrigued me, as my grandparents are from there, and my grandmother especially has indigenous features. This was enough for me to consider the idea of Lucayans surviving the historic genocide,” Symonette explained.
Lucayan Evolution Redux
In an attempt to imagine the Lucayan people’s survival in a modern-day Bahamas, the exhibition will feature plaster masks that have been cast from locals’ faces and painted in a style reminiscent of African and indigenous tribal culture. For Symonette, the show’s narrative is one of identity in a postcolonial Bahamas, giving a representative voice to a culture and people long forgotten in this country.
He believes visitors may get a “sensory experience” from the exhibition, and hopes the show will spur constructive conversations around crealization in the Bahamian context. Symonette anticipates developing the themes from “Black Gold, Black Skin” and Lucayan Evolution Redux further, potentially venturing into a comprehensive body of work about Bahamian identity.
The two-day show “Lucayan Evolution Redux” opens in the annex at PopopStudios at 6 p.m. on Friday, November 20 and will also be on view from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday, November 21.