Bahamas Art On The Rise

By Jeryl Brunner  •    •  January 15, 2019

Bahamas Art On The Rise

By Jeryl Brunner  •  January 15, 2019


The island nation’s artists want visitors to know that there’s more to the Caribbean than palm trees and placid waters.

How does one define Bahamian art? For local mixed media artist John Cox, it celebrates the nation’s diversity and layered heritage. “If it was not so complex it would be easy for me to describe as one thing,” explains the former Chief Curator at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, now serving as Art Director of The Current Gallery & Art Center at the new Baha Mar Resort. “I would just say ‘It is  bright and colorful.’”

That sums up what foreign gallerists thought of the Caribbean nation’s cultural contributions two decades ago, when Cox graduated from art school. Having left the Bahamas to study at Rhode Island School of Design, he discovered his home country’s art was viewed only through the lens of tourism: a one-dimensional experience with idealized landscapes. “That was the perception from the outside,” says Cox.

At that time, you could almost count the number of significant practicing artists, including Stanley Burnside, Brent Malone and Maxwell Taylor. The three expressed Bahamian life and heritage through abstract and mixed-media works that reflected on the annual Junkanoo festival, the islands’ Lucayan Indian and Afro-Caribbean roots. “These artists really laid the template down for people to build upon,” says Cox.

Bahamian art is filled with humor, irony and a real mastery.

 

After graduating RISD, Cox returned to Nassau and founded Popopstudios, a local arts space dedicated to nurturing local artists. Not only did it provide physical workspace, it also served as a creative think tank to form a new mindset of what Bahamian art could be. At around the same time, the University of Bahamas created more established arts programming, providing even more opportunities for rising artists.

Today, says Cox, “Bahamian art is filled with humor, irony and a real mastery. It’s about the necessity of doing with what you have.”

Cox specifically highlights the illuminating works on display at the country’s National Art Gallery, now under the helm of director Amanda Coulson and chief curator Holly Bynoe. “They bring a global sensibility to the Bahamian art scene with thoughtful and relevant exhibitions which supports the creative community,” explains Cox, pointing to the annual National Exhibitions (NEs). This year—the program’s ninth—“The Fruit and the Seed” exhibition showcases works from 38 artists from around the world, touching on themes of societal shifts, demystifying stigma, and the processes and results of art-making in itself. Through programs like these, Coulson and Brynoe have “brought critical recognition” and “created a public dialog,” says Cox.

Meanwhile, a number of small, private studios have also become incubators for the country’s contemporary arts community. One of Cox’s favorites is Hillside House, in downtown Nassau. Sculptor Antonius Roberts restored and transformed a nineteenth-century annex building into his studio and gallery space, where he shows his own works—many made with reclaimed wood—alongside those of other artists.

Cox also points to Doongalik Studios, created by the late architect and artist Jackson Burnside III, and his wife Pam in the 1970s. Here, find paintings, crafts, and sculpture from more than 70 Bahamian artists on display in an historic house east of downtown. In his new role at The Current—part art gallery, part working studio—Cox once again has an opportunity to support and showcase Bahamian arts, both contemporary and historic. The Fairwind exhibit, for example, takes a cumulative look at the country’s art over the last 150 years.

“I love making a way for other artists to find their voice,” says Cox, whose eyes are on an emerging crop of young Bahamians making a big splash.

Artists to watch? Giovanna Swaby, Kachelle Knowles and June Collie. Female artists have long been drastically underrepresented in the Bahamian arts community. “The pendulum has swung,” says Cox. The artists’ work embodies a loyalty to female empowerment and reflects the complexities of contemporary society—Collie through bright, bold paintings; Knowles through paper and mixed-media pieces, and Swaby through textile collages.

“Their works are powerful and on the verge of having a really global impact,” says Cox. ”Each one possesses great skill and maturity with handling materials, combined with a wit that speaks to a modern, empowered woman.”

“These are all people who have really embraced their ‘Bahamianness,’” shares Cox. They managed to do this while simultaneously incorporating a global vernacular, and while spending time abroad, much like Cox.

“The diaspora community is not only national. It is also a collective consciousness of creatives,” explains Cox.  “They see the power of art.”

Details

Popopstudios: 26 Dunmore Avenue; +1 242-322-7834

National Art Gallery of the Bahamas: Villa Doyle, West and West Hill Streets; +1 242-328-5800

Hillside House: 13 Cumberland Street; +1 242-322-7678

Doongalik Studios: 18 Village Road; +1 242-394-1886

The Current: 1 Baha Mar Blvd; +1 242-788-8827

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  • by Birgitta Dee
    March 9, 2019

    What an interesting article giving an insight into Bahamian art today with all its versatility. Well done John.

Written By: Jeryl Brunner

1.15.19

Locations: The Bahamas

See more: Art & Culture

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