By Alexander Britell
Just off Nassau’s East Street North, in a place known more for tax than talent, a new generation of Bahamian artists is getting its chance to be seen.
The once-bare walls and open spaces of the Bahamas’ new, five-story Public Treasury building are now covered in paint, photography, batik and sculpture.
“The building had a lot of empty spaces that the Public Treasury felt could be utilized to promote original Bahamian artwork, and had been approached by several seasoned artists with proposals for a permanent collection,” said Keisha Oliver, the exhibition coordinator of what’s called the Public Treasury Art Programme, an initiative aimed at promoting Bahamian art. “But I feel this space deserves so much more than just having permanent artwork.”
“The proposal was to specifically develop a program that promoted and supported emerging artists, but could also give opportunities to the seasoned artists,” she said. “But they’ve had their opportunities, and they’re established – so they’re confident in their practice. But the emerging artists, they need that push.”
The PTAP, which kicked off last month with the five-month “Bahama Mama” exhibition, is “first and foremost about engendering an appreciation and commitment to art and art education in the Bahamas,” Oliver said. “We hope by hosting rotating exhibitions and organising educational programmes we are able to make a contribution the the development of art and culture in the Bahamas.”
The Bahamian landscape has been dominated by a few artistic giants in recent decades, notably Antonius Roberts, along with other heavyweights like Eddie Minnis, Sonia Isaacs and Stan Burnside. The late Amos Ferguson, who passed away in 2009, was called one of the fathers of Bahamian art.
But now a new generation is rising, from artists like Ashley Powell, Lyndah Wells and Dede Brown, all of whom are featured in the exhibition, to those like Allan Wallace, Omar Richardson, Jade McKinney and Lavar Munroe, who are pushing the envelope to change the culture of art in the country.
“We’re now into that global economy, and a lot of the artists have been exposed, being educated abroad often,” Oliver said. “They’ve been exposed to so much different art and influence, that everything influences what we do.”
Oliver pointed to several artists expanding the breadth of their work, from Allan Wallace to Kishan Munroe, Blue Curry to Holly Parotti.
Munroe has been expanding his work to photography, and is now doing a kind of world tour — highlighted by using his lens to capture the anti-death penalty rallies involving American Troy Davis last month.
The plan, Oliver said, is to expand the project and continue with more exhibitions, adding to what is becoming a thriving art culture in Nassau — including the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, the D’Aguilar Art Foundation and Doongalik Studios to Popup Studios, where noted Bahamian sculptor and painter Kendal Hanna is the artist in residence.