The Weight We Bear: Heino Schmid’s monumental drawings for the NE9

By Natalie Willis

This year’s National Exhibition (NE), “NE9: The Fruit and The Seed”, took time to cultivate, to bear fruit, and much care was taken in tending to the roots of art in The Bahamas. The NE serves as a thermometer or litmus test, a finger on the pulse of what is happening in our creative culture here. Of the 38 artists showing work, one particular “fruit” was very, very big indeed.

Heino Schmid’s contribution to the 9th National Exhibition “NE9: The Fruit and the Seed” is, in short, meta. Allow me to explain. His three monumental drawings (measuring in at 9  feet tall by 5 feet wide), housed in heavy, monumental frames, are a gestural portrayal of one human being carrying another on their back. These drawings were then assembled in their heavy frames on the ground floor level of the NAGB, with the heavy glass to protect them slotted in, and then these heavy drawings in their heavy frames were strapped and hoisted to have the 300lb+ weight lifted by the strong backs of several of the NAGB “ninjas”, (along with some very dear friends). In this way, the work is meta, though perhaps self-referential or self-reflexive better serves the description. It’s a sort of divine irony, that works depicting the act of labour of carrying another human being are enacted in the process of displaying the work itself.

“What We Carry” (2018), Heino Schmid, charcoal, graphite, pastel and acrylic on paper, 108 x 60 in. Collection of the artist.

In some ways, it provides a conceptual loop that gives the art its own sort of ecology – the concept feeds the work, which feeds the process, which then feeds the concept again in turn. Symbiotic and simple in some ways, it gives us a moment to pause and consider the significance of those things we don’t give much thought or consciousness to in our everyday lives. This exploration of the significance of the insignificant everyday movements and tasks is central to Schmid’s work over the years, and gives us more opportunities to consider our social environment in this country. It is an environment which is so manicured, processed, and tailored to the tourist market, that we often fail to consider how much of the “default” in our lives has meaning beneath the veneer. These simple moments can hold their own political weight, and we would do right to take pause to think more mindfully about the fabric of living here, even as it pertains to motion as Schmid shows us.

Work in progress for “What We Carry” (2018) series as seen in artist’s studio.

The “What We Carry” (2018) series feels like a call as much as a question. It is not just the matter of “What do you carry with you?” physically and emotionally, but also “what weight bears down on you?” “whose burdens do you lift?”. The androgynous figures – perhaps men, but also perhaps not – look grounded despite the fact they are suspended in space, with no horizon line to show us that they might indeed exist on the same plane as we smaller humanoids. The scale with the heavy-yet-ghostlike giants also renders us to the dimensions of our childhood, peering up at the “big people”, how looming adults and adulthood seemed at that time. The work, though it does not give any indication to a particular period of time, does well to remind us of this time in our own lives.

Whether the figures appear to be wrestling and writhing in a fighting match, or buckling under the gravity of carrying another (an elder? A child even?), we are too reminded of our responsibility as people and particularly as people belonging to communities of others who lift our weight as we lift up others. Responsibility, rather than the uselessness and energy-taxing feeling of guilt, are what we are called to remember with strength as much as softness and sincerity. There is a care to these works behind the visuals of violence that Schmid so often employs, they are gentler than others, and “carry on” nicely after his “Wait, I saw something” (2018) exhibition of work at the D’Aguilar Art Foundation last year depicting the care and community of sitting together at the table.

Work in progress for “What We Carry” (2018) series as seen in artist’s studio.

In a space that so often feels like a stage in which we perform a filtered, coated version of Bahamianness for consumption, it is refreshing to be reminded of our reality. Schmid reminds us of our fleshiness, our weight (and not in a vapid, inconsequential way) as human beings on this planet and as people in the Bahamian landscape.

Schmid’s work is open to view at the NAGB in “NE9: The Fruit and the Seed” until March 31st.