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‘EVOLUTION OF THE ARC’: New exhibition at NAGB explores post-Dorian and pandemic environment

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — There was much written concerning the importance of art during a time of crisis. Art helps to process difficult emotions. It brings us joy and provides hope. Art presents a chance to voice our ideas and share them with others. It has the potential to bring us together.

In a new exhibition on the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB), titled “Evolution of the Arc”, art is getting used to explore the impact and vulnerabilities laid bare by the dual crises faced by this country over the past two years — Hurricane Dorian and the continuing pandemic.

“Evolution of the Arc” features work by 10 artists. The work emphasizes the challenges and possible solutions related to issues similar to sustainability, climate change, the necessity for economic diversity and food security in a post-Hurricane Dorian and post-pandemic environment.

The show’s curator, Deime Ubani, explained: “We see artists on this show contemplating how we come together as a nation after [Hurricane] Dorian and now within the midst of a pandemic, and the way we are able to move forward as a nation.”

The show was originally conceptualized with a specific deal with the impact of Hurricane Dorian and the issues it exposed. It was planned for 2020, after which the pandemic hit. Ubani said it seemed only natural that the continuing impact of the pandemic be incorporated. In any case, most of the vulnerabilities exposed within the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian have been exacerbated by COVID-19.

One other essential element of the exhibition for Ubani was to create a chance to bring together the broader artistic and inventive community.

Ubani knows something about creating opportunities for artists to return together. She is thought for her work with “The Salus Project”, which brings together local artists “focused on the combined values of art and wellness to boost awareness and produce about positive changes locally”.

It was within the spirt of partnership between “The Salus Project” and the NAGB that “Evolution of the Arc” was created, in accordance with NAGB curator Natalie Willis. The shared goal was to welcome the broader artistic community into the museum for “conversation and exchange”.

As an open-call exhibition, “Evolution of the Arc” succeeds in bringing together the broader artistic community. Of the ten artists chosen to be within the show, six are from the Family Islands and one is from the Caribbean region. Featured artists include Arielle Rahming; Caroline Anderson; Dorlan Curtis and Allan Jones; Elkino Dames; Errol Brewster; Dr Ian Bethell-Bennett; Leanne Russell; Shaquille Coleby; and Sofia Whitehead.

The chosen works range from the standard to the conceptual. They include mixed media on canvas and paper, digital and text projections, large-scale installations, paper on ink, photography and digital prints.

In some cases, the chosen works are exhibited alongside pieces from the gallery’s National Collection. For instance, the images of Whitehead are paired with works from renowned photographer the late Roland Rose. Coleby’s digital collages appear with photographs from American photographer JF Coonley, who worked in The Bahamas within the late 1800s.

While all the works chosen for the exhibition “seek to encourage, critique, uplift and offer space for contemplation and representation”, we talked to 4 creators from “Evolution of the Arc” whose works deal with solutions, awareness and hope for the long run.

“Cat Island Green Tomato” by Sofia Whitehead. (NAGB)

“Disposable Income” by Dorlan Curtis Jr and Allan Jones (Eleuthera)

Offering one possible solution to the perennial challenge of solid waste is “Disposable Income” by Eleuthera-based artists Allan Jones and Dorlan Curtis Jr.

The installation focuses on solid waste and economic stagnation. It asks the viewer to contemplate how raw packaging might be given one other life and the way that has the potential to profit the local economy.

Curtis and Jones upcycle cardboard to create perfectly functionable — and attractive — dinner plates. The piece also includes architectural paneling that serves a practical purpose as a divider within the gallery’s exhibition space, and a digital projection of burning piles of garbage.

The effect of the method used to repurpose the cardboard transforms the fabric from something that’s merely functional to something almost ornate. From a distance, the plates look rather a lot like traditional straw work. The artists wanted to spotlight how something as common — and abundant — as a cardboard box might be repurposed in each practical and inventive ways.

“‘Disposable Income’ combines material-driven design because the guideline to boost awareness of upcycling and carboard waste, not only as an input for our highest cultural expression, Junkanoo, but as a worthwhile and untapped resource to create sustainable food ware,” the artists explained.

Curtis and Jones strongly imagine that The Bahamas’ significant dependence on imported goods — and the massive amounts of waste it generates — is usually a catalyst for the local green economy and a move toward economic resilience.

Curtis said: “Here you have got waste as an issue and a resource.”

“Imperfect Growth” tryptic by Andros-based artist Elkino Dames. (NAGB)

“Abaco Abacus: A Recounting of Our Sins” by Leanne Russell (Abaco)

For Abaco artist Leanne Russell, “Evolution of the Arc” presented a chance to show the “sociological traumas” laid bare by Hurricane Dorian.

Russell and her entire family lost their homes on Green Turtle Cay when the Category 5 Hurricane Dorian touched down within the Abacos on September 1, 2019, destroying virtually all the pieces in its path.

While she acknowledged that Green Turtle Cay is among the many first Abaco communities on its method to a full recovery, many residents on the mainland are finding it difficult to bounce back.

Russell uses an abacus, a calculating tool, to spotlight what she described because the discrepancy in aid and assistance distributed to storm-ravaged communities following Hurricane Dorian. She argued that while “tourist playgrounds” received nearly all of aid immediately following the storm, many locals are still “struggling to rebuild and afford the elevated cost of living”.

The installation unfolds in two locations — a small passage within the Abacos and on the second floor of NAGB on New Windfall.

A big-scale abacus is installed on “Don’t Rock Passage”, and is constructed from reclaimed Abaco pine beams salvaged from historic homes that needed to be demolished following Hurricane Dorian.

The Passage is a nautical landmark for boats traveling between the ultra-luxurious Bakers Bay community and the communities of northern Abaco which can be still rebuilding from 2019’s Hurricane Dorian.

“Multimillion-dollar boats pass Treasure Cay and ‘The Farm’ on this route each day, oblivious to the living conditions,” said Russell.

A time-lapse video records the movements of passersby, and for anyone who’s curious, a QR code strategically placed on a mock “on the market” sign provides an evidence of the life-sized abacus, which stands over seven feet tall and has fully functional counting beads.

For the second component of the installation, the time-lapse video is projected within the second-floor stairway of the NAGB, where smaller replicas of the abacus are displayed in nearby alcoves. The video also incorporates spoken word performances by artists with ties to Abaco.

Russell said that the general objective of the piece is to bring a level of awareness to the realities for a lot of residents on Abaco.

“In Abaco, we live a unique reality than what’s occurring in Nassau,” she said.

Digital collages “Common-well-th” and “Junkanoo Aesthetic” (center) by Shaquille Coleby. (NAGB)

“Common-well-th” & “Junkanoo Aesthetic” by Shaquille Coleby (New Windfall)

If Russell is looking for to offer viewers a reality check, artist Shaquille Coleby is inviting them to flee from reality to a surreal world that represents his high hopes and dreams for The Bahamas.

Coleby’s hyper-realistic digital collages reveal a fantasy world stuffed with mermaids, coral reefs, Chickcharneys, lush plants, succulent fruit and high ideals.

“It’s my version of The Bahamas, where we now have unlimited possibilities of what a small island nation might be,” Coleby explained.

“It has all of the needs that we hope for [in] our country.”

“Junkanoo Aesthetic” is inspired by a Junkanoo headpiece and is used to precise Coleby’s cultural aspirations for The Bahamas. He uses the photographs of indigenous shells, fruit and leaves to emphasise that we have already got what we’d like to “stand out on the world stage”.

In his piece “Common-well-th”, wealthy images of indigenous natural world, pollinating honeybees and towering trees heavy with ripe fruit surround what Coleby refers to as a “conch well”.

The literal well represents the people of The Bahamas, all of whom are invited to “approach and partake” on this magical world, said Coleby.

Ultimately, Ubani hopes that viewers will walk away from the exhibition inspired to take motion to tackle the myriad challenges faced by the country in their very own way.

“I would like the audience to appreciate that there’s a need to vary the way in which we approach these challenges,” said Ubani.

“I would like them to be moved to take into consideration the several avenues we are able to take to provide you with the solutions we require.”

“Evolution of the Arc” runs from November 2, 2021, through January 23, 2022, on the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, West Hill Street. For more information, visit nagb.org.bs.

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