UBS Donates a National Treasure: The NAGB and the Bahamian people inherit a Malone masterpiece

By Malika Pryor-Martin

R. Brent Malone was lauded in his lifetime as “the Father of Bahamian Art” and was both an accomplished technician as well as a visionary artist. He took the uniquely Bahamian national celebration, Junkanoo, from its perception as a raucous street festival to what he saw and correctly knew it to be: a rich, nuanced and electric expression, an elevated and exquisite art form, which for too many had been woefully under-appreciated and even mocked.

Celebration: Spirit of Junkanoo, (1996), installed at UBS in New Providence.

Thanks to a recent act of incredible largesse by UBS, one of the world’s largest wealth managers, the NAGB was fortunate enough to add one of Brent Malone’s most famous artworks to its collection.  As Mary Rozell, Global Head of the UBS Art Collection, shared in a statement, “We are pleased to gift the Brent Malone mural, “Celebration: Spirit of Junkanoo”, originally commissioned for the lobby of the UBS office in Nassau, to the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas to make it available to the broader public in this region.” This massive canvas captures the movement, spirit and fiery intensity of the festival and the NAGB could not be more elated to announce this wonderful news.

R. Brent Malone, “Celebration: Spirit of Junkanoo,” (1996). Acrylic on canvas, 11’ x 18’ NAGB, National Collection. Gifted by UBS (2018). Image courtesy: The Malone Estate

Rozell went on, “With a rich collection of paintings, photographs, drawings, sculptures and video art by some of the world’s major artists from 1960 onward, the UBS Art Collection is recognized as being one of the most important corporate collections of contemporary art. The Collection is committed to supporting and encouraging the artistic communities in places where UBS does business and has acquired works by notable Bahamian artists such as Nicole Minnis, Amos Ferguson and Maxwell Taylor over the years.” The generous gift from UBS is just another example of how private entities can invest and engage for the public good.

The museum was pleased to display “Celebration: Spirit of Junkanoo” for several months during the Brent Malone retrospective, “Reincarnation,” curated by Dr. Erica James, and the work is now part of the “Fairwind Exhibition,” which covers 100 years of Bahamian art history, curated by the team at The Current at Baha Mar, and on show in the hotel complex’s Performing Arts and Convention Center.

Creative Art Director at Baha Mar, and former NAGB Chief Curator and artist, John Cox, noted, “We at The Current are so happy to have this iconic work from Brent Malone temporarily in our possession. His work speaks to all audiences of the sophistication, magnitude and elegance of the Junkanoo tradition in The Bahamas. By sharing this piece with all of our visitors, we are also sharing in the NAGB’s pursuit of taking Bahamian art—and the achievements of our national creative class—to the world.”

Junkanoo, simultaneously a celebration and a rebellion – a common set of interconnected themes in both Bahamian and Caribbean cultural expression – can be seen in its depth and vibrancy in “Celebration: Spirit of Junkanoo.” In his own words, Brent Malone stated, “It took me 13 years of painting to find an epic subject matter of personal meaning to me—and that subject is Junkanoo. Any free spirit who has experienced Junkanoo will understand my excitement, and hopefully, if my craft has matured over the last 13 years, will understand my new art as well.”

Celebration: Spirit of Junkanoo on view at the Baha Mar convention centre in the exhibition “Fair Wind”

Although Malone is well-known and respected the world over as a man and artist who moved through many techniques and genres, he is best known for his work with the national festival of his beloved home country. When asked about the significance of such a gift to the Collection on the part of UBS, NAGB Executive Director, Amanda Coulson imparted these passionate words, “The National Collection is without question the single most important, even if not the largest, collection of Bahamian art precisely because it belongs to the Bahamian people. Brent Malone is considered by many to be the father of Bahamian art, not only because of his incredible early work centering the humanity of the country but also because of his ardent support of other artists as an institution builder. He is unquestionably one of the most important artists in Bahamian history.

“Celebration: Spirit of Junkanoo” is one of the most expansive and comprehensive displays of his longest standing inspiration – Junkanoo. In many respects, his work and commitment to expressing the form changed the manner in which the festival was seen and understood. Shifting perceptions that ultimately alter reality is the single most powerful act of an artist. Malone did that and we are forever grateful and changed for it. We are extremely thankful to UBS and the UBS Art Collection for allowing this magnificent work to remain in The Bahamas where it will be forever enjoyed and cared for by the Bahamian people.”