Painting the Future of Bahamian Art

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Ashley Powell is part of a growing movement of young Bahamian artists, the first of whom, photographer Lyndah Wells, CJ talked to last month. Powell, who is currently furthering her art studies at the Art Institute of Atlanta, is working to bridge traditional Bahamian painting with a modern, fresh outlook. Powell is also one of a group of female Bahamian artists whose work is currently on display in the Bahamas’ Public Treasury Art Programme’s exhibition, “Bahama Mama.” Caribbean Journal talked to Powell about her inspirations, the nature of painting in the Bahamas, and the future of Bahamian art.

How did you become an artist?

Well, I used to draw since I was a little girl, and I realized that I had an actual talent. My sister, who’s older than me, always used to be drawing, and then I kind of picked it up, and realized I had a knack for it. I decided to pursue art at the College of the Bahamas in 2009, and I also really enjoyed it, and started to display my paintings in different art shows in the Bahamas. Then I went off to school, to the Art Institute of Atlanta, where I am at present, studying graphic design.

What are your inspirations?

I know that most of my pieces always come from a very feminine place, and I always enjoy incorporating women into my pieces, and women who are natural and real and genuine. I am also a Christian, so I look to put in spirituality to my pieces – so that’s where my most of my inspiration comes from.

Above, from left: “Elation” and “Boredom”

How does working in the Bahamas influence your art?

I think the Bahamas definitely influences my color, my understanding of color. I’ve noticed that when I moved to Atlanta, the work that I produced is different as it relates to color, because in the Bahamas, I think it’s because everything is always lit up with sunlight and is never muted. Nothing is ever muted, and it’s always this very harsh yellow light. I noticed that the light in Atlanta tends to be more white as opposed to yellow, and that definitely influences my painting, because I understand bright color better than I do tones and muted color.

How would you describe Bahamian art?

Well in the Bahamas, I’ve always seen very historical forms of art – where it’s always fishermen on the boat in the water, at the sea, or it’s a Bahama Mama-looking person with big long skirts, heavy chest, with her hair tied up. So it’s always sort of looking back in everybody’s art work. So it was always very culturally based. When I went to the College of the Bahamas, being taught by Sue Bennett-Williams, who isn’t Bahamian but has lived in the Bahamas for a long time. She really inspired us to get away from that, but still hone that and keep that – that we are Bahamian, and that is who we are. But our artwork does not have to be like every Bahamian artist who’s out there – we can be our own artists and still be comprised of all the history and understanding. So I would say the Bahamas has influenced me, because of my understanding of the culture, and how to separate myself from that – but to also embrace that. The color, I think that is what makes my work Bahamian – but the subject matter and the way that I express certain issues in my work, is just me.

Above: “Hibiscus”

What are you working on right now?

I’m on the graphic design side now, so I’m working on more expressive, graphic work. I’m also trying to build my website, and that’s what I’m doing right now. I also have one painting that I started to work on, a relief, so I have some glass and wire going through a canvas that is already painted on.

How would you describe Bahamian art’s interaction with the rest of the Caribbean?

I’ve seen work from a lot of different places – I’ve seen works from Trinidad, and different artists from the Caribbean – from Haiti and other places. I think every island tends to interpret things differently, but you can always see the genuine thread of the Caribbean, the sort of African Diaspora thing that’s going on in everybody’s pieces.

–CJ