The Fruit and the Seed – Part One: A conversation with the NAGB’s chief curator, Holly Bynoe, on the upcoming 9th National Exhibition.

The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) holds a national exhibition every two years where all Bahamian artists and artists who reside here–irrespective of how their practice is defined–are invited to submit their work for selection. The 2018 National Exhibition will be the 9th edition (shortened to NE9) of this exercise which acts as a barometer of sorts on what is affecting and inspiring, being thought about and worked upon, developed and defined by individual creators in the Bahamian art community.

This year’s national exhibition, entitled “The Fruit and the Seed”,is an invitation to all artists within the community to think about what risk-taking, truth-telling and innovation can do in a space that is still becoming.

Holly Bynoe, The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas’ Chief Curator. Image by Jackson Petit-Homme.

Bahamian Art & CultureeMagazine had an opportunity to ask the NE9’s curator,Holly Bynoe,a few questions on her hopes, reflections, and curatorial plans for this year’s national exhibition.

BAHAMIAN ART & CULTURE: What kind of work are you and the jurors hoping to see for the NAGB’s 9th National Exhibition exercise? What conversations are you hoping to discover?

HOLLY BYNOE: It is clear from the intention of the Call for Works that we are moving into a moment where we want to acknowledge the social aspect of art practices and how truth-telling can be an essential part of how we come to understand artistic practice and ourselves. Whether that be through inquiry, media exploration, narrative building or other devices to provoke and evolve the traditions that we are comfortable with.

It is specific to note the call and response built into the theme is seen as a way to open up a conversation, rather than a way to prescribe artists–or fix thoughts and actions to a specific area. The questions and points of consideration are broad to help prompt expansion, excitement for the times that we are living in and rework how we are engaging with our surroundings and dreams. At once there is an inward and outward looking, in the language of the call, so there is hope that this double consciousness will permeate the submitted proposals or works.

Holly takes in a piece created by Bahamian artist Anina Major from the exhibition “We Suffer to Remain.”

Selfishly–and I cannot speak towards the jurors’ sentiments as we are still waiting to identify key participants–what is unique about this is that it allows for an organic expansion of ideas to also emerge during this jury process. Other points of view can come to the fore and contextualise practices in significant ways. I can say that we were looking at curators who are actively working to shape and shift their cultural and social spaces since that agitation is so necessary and not only in a global context, but locally as well.

As post-colonial thinkers, makers and tinkerers we have to figure out new ways of sustaining ourselves and the circulation of minds that can add to our already dynamic cultural expressions could provide critical feedback and momentum for artists who are ready for that push.

“Remember” (2016) by Bahamas resident artist Sue Katz-Lightbourn for the 8th National Exhibition.

As ever, we hope for the National Exhibition to set professional standards for what visual art and its supporting elements can be and what they can achieve. We hope to see media and narrative development expanded, tropes attacked and or debated in the emergence of work for the NE9, and this can work in tandem with a motion towards countering complacency, shallowness and comfort.

How this would manifest in physical form is hard to say, however, we are excited by the emergence of photography, moving image, spoken word and performance art to expand how the younger generations are coming to know expression, language and their voices. In many ways, they are a lot more fearless, and it is critical for the institution to support works that don’t feel safe. Works that feel tenuous, charged and biting.

They inherently offer a challenge to representation and the status quo. Seeing that there is a strong tradition of painting in The Bahamas, we would like to see more innovative works using technology and alternative public spaces with a performative element considered. With the birth and arrival of Fiona’s Theatre, we have the means to stretch our bones a little more and take the work off of walls and develop experiences so that our public has a new understanding of exchange and the museum.

The NAGB has always used the National Exhibition (NE) as a platform for more in-depth conversations and debate – it is our litmus test if you will, and this call is no different. With that, we hope that artists feel challenged to advance their practices especially with works outside of the museum walls. It is always challenging to figure out what a good fit would be or what would be most useful or possible given the lack of potential partner spaces. However, that being said, I believe as Bahamians we have a kind of resourcefulness, tenacity and “biggityness” which means that we can almost always get away with transgression, misbehaving a bit and asking for more than we are comfortable with.

Bynoe moderating an Artists’ Talk at the NAGB for the exhibition “Medium: Practices and Routes of Spirituality and Mysticism”.

Artists–emerging and seasoned–are aching for moments of exchange and even though at times it feels as though most actions happen in an “art vacuum,” the NAGB is growing and becoming an institution that values risk-taking and being courageous.

It is hard not to think that the jurors would want to see authentic and poignant work that articulates a particular understanding of the present and speculation about the future. The kind of cadence that would resonate depends on the stories being told and the devices chosen. Whether personal or political—although at times it is hard to think that both can ever be separate—it is an ongoing debate in some camps. There are ways for work to retain a beauty, craftsmanship and eloquence. For the works to have agency yet be alluring is the balance I would like to strike for this year’s NE.

Come back next week for a continuation of BAC’s conversation with Holly.