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WHAT’S APPROPRIATE?: Freeport official defends decision to remove “racist” mural; says artist refused to compromise

“I do know art is interpreted by the viewer [but] it appears barely racist and we’ve been getting some complaints about it”

NAGB associate calls debacle “ironic”, asserting “art just isn’t only for pretty”

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The removal of a “racist” mural by an area Bahamian artist got here after several complaints and after advising the artist, said Freeport City Chief Councilor Kendal Culmer.

The mural by Grand Bahama-based artist Benjamin Ferguson, entitled “Mismanaged Culture”, is an element of the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas’ (NAGB) onePULSE exhibition, which features artwork by Bahamian muralists because the central pulse of Bahamian society.

Benjamin Ferguson.

The murals were being featured on the gallery and have now moved into communities throughout The Bahamas.

In a video circulated on social media, Ferguson decried its removal and said all he wanted was to have a conversation with officials before it was taken down.

Nonetheless, in an interview with Eyewitness News, Culmer contended that the artist was warned before the piece was removed.

He explained that about three weeks ago, he was contacted by Ferguson to put a mural at Taino Beach to beautify the world and he agreed.

He admitted, nevertheless, that he didn’t view the piece before it went up.

“After the painting went up, I received a couple of calls stating that they consider the painting was somewhat bit racist and when the painting was actually sent to me, I called the artist and told them that after the painting, I do know art is interpreted by the viewer and I told him that my view on it’s it appears barely racist and we’ve been getting some complaints about it,” he said.

Kendal Culmer.

Culmer said he advised Ferguson to place his interpretation of what the painting is imagined to depict under the piece, but he refused and requested a gathering with the council and the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA).

“I told him I had no problem meeting but I feel the painting has to return down until we are able to come to some mutual ground and once more he denied,” Culmer said.

The chief councilor added: “We also suggested that he just remove the word ‘Caucasian’ and put something else there since it was offensive to some individuals who got here in. It was offensive to among the business owners on Taino Beach.

“If that was an art gallery, I see no problem with it. Nevertheless it was a public setting, open forum, and I just don’t think something of that nature must be on the market.”

Culmer said he continues to be willing to have a conversation with Ferguson on “either having that painting corrected or having one other painting put on the market”, adding that the piece has been secured on the local government’s office.

“It’s a public area and we’ve no problem assisting any artist who desires to display their artwork, nevertheless it have to be in a tasteful and respectful manner to all,” he said.



NAGB Exhibitions and Collections Care Associate Richardo Barrett told Eyewitness News that he’s aware of the matter, calling it “ironic”.

Richardo Barrett.

Barrett said through the early months of the pandemic, Ferguson was amongst several artists approached to be a part of an exhibition focused on murals and public art.

He explained that those artists got the liberty to deal with any topic they felt was necessary inside their communities and/or the Bahamian community generally.

Barrett said during initial discussions with Ferguson, the artist indicated he desired to concentrate on the “negative stereotypes and self-hate connected to being Black and Bahamian in The Bahamas” and would draw on inspiration from his own personal experiences “as a Black man being treated as less-than or inferior, especially in establishments that also catered to white tourists or foreigners”.

He said Ferguson also expressed how those were ideals which are “currently being passed all the way down to the following generation — the concept that white/Caucasian or foreign generally is best”.

“That is what leads him to color a really detailed piece illustrating a young Black girl drinking juice but as an alternative of the favored brand of juice everyone seems to be used to seeing on that individual juice box, it says Caucasian,” Barrett continued.

“…Just imagine how ironic it’s that a mural addressing a subject about how Black individuals are treated in their very own country gets forcefully removed after the powers that be received complaints in regards to the mural just hours after being installed.”

He asserted “art just isn’t only for pretty” but additionally meant to help in hard conversations.

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