Beacon of Hope Acrylic and Oil on wood 8′x16′ 2012
Artist Kishan Munroe considers himself a “global citizen,” a label which has manifested itself in his art. It is this global approach that Munroe takes that makes his work so moving and relatable. His goal as an artist is to transcend the boundaries of language and culture in order to create artwork that can be read and understood through purely visual means.
In his work, which consists of painting as well as multimedia elements, he seeks to capture the universal human experience through gestures, body language, and emotions that he has witnessed in various countries across the globe. Munroe, who was born and raised in The Bahamas, often travels to sites in the midst of conflicts and protests in order to capture the reactions of those involved. He then infuses his art with these experiences. Recently, Munroe traveled to witness the protests of Troy Davis’ execution and images that he captured here served as the inspiration for his most recent painting, a large mural entitled Beacon of Hope.
The piece, which was commissioned by a Bahamian politician, captures the essence of the numerous protests that Munroe has witnessed and translates it into a context that relates to the socio-political climate of The Bahamas. Munroe’s art is about capturing the spirit of humanity and he feels that the best place to do so is in the midst of conflicts, for it is a time in which people are the most vulnerable and exposed. He takes the gestures, emotions, and body language that he experiences in these places and relates them back to his home in The Bahamas because, as he says, “we are all human beings sharing the same experiences, just in different places.”
Beacon of Hope addresses many of the issues that Munroe feels The Bahamas is facing at this time. Through the piece, Munroe critically presents issues and seems to converse with the viewer about how to approach these problems constructively in order to make positive changes. The piece is set on a beach after a shipwreck, but Munroe says you don’t have to know the context to know that it is an inspiring, uplifting scene that heralds forward progression.
Indeed, all figures face forward, except for one man who only turns in order to beckon the rest, and nearly all of them extend their arms upward. Many hold items such as scrolls, rosaries, and tools. These all have meaning, but the most important items are the ones highlighted by the beam of the lighthouse, which are two scrolls and a wrench. Together these items signify that there can be no work toward a better future without planning. Munroe meticulously crafted every minute characteristic of the complex and dynamic scene and through the soaring central arc he highlights important details that call attention to issues facing The Bahamas, such as crimes against children and the poor economic situation. Every aspect of the painting is an important social commentary, which has been underrepresented in Bahamian Art.
Beacon of Hope is an ambitious piece, both physically and conceptually. Since his days as a graduate student at SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) , Munroe has been working with large proportions. Art has always been a part of Munroe’s life. As a child, he “grew up with paint in his hands” and as a young artist he was accepted into the prestigious Annual FinCo. Art Workshop. However, during his time as a student at SCAD, he moved past technical skills and learned how to think like an artist; i.e to think conceptually. It culminated with his thesis, a study of passport photographs, which were used as references, then painted and translated to enormous dimensions. The physical and mental challenge of working with this scale inspires Munroe because he feels it allows him to express more freely and speak to his viewer on a spiritual level as opposed to being limited by techniques and aspiring to a certain aesthetic through technical means.
Munroe continues to think conceptually, which is evident in his most recent project, an ongoing undertaking that he is calling the Universal Human Experience. Through this project, Munroe plans to use comparative analysis to show the universality that we all share as human beings. He will be traveling to sites that have historically been involved in conflict or are currently experiencing conflict in order to try to understand the cycles in place that repeatedly create these situations. Human history tends to repeat itself and that is because human feelings and reactions are universal and often cyclic. Munroe plans to capture these universalities in order to expose the very spirit of humanity in his art. The project is momentous and requires the use of various multimedia elements to record his extensive travels. The final product is sure to be astounding if the amount of time and energy Munroe has invested, and will continue to invest, is any indication.
Munroe in the midst of Occupy Wall Street
The level of dedication with which Munroe approaches his art is nothing short of inspiring. Never content with producing a piece that appeals solely to the eyes, he is always searching for ways to engage his viewers mentally. It is his goal as an artist to teach us something, whether it be about ourselves, about him or about our role on the planet. These expectations do not come cheap. Munroe completely devotes himself to everything that he undertakes, constantly putting himself in harms way to get the best shot that he can. During the recession when many lost their homes, he lived the life of a homeless man as he traveled through Mexico to understand the experience. He was not only present during the Occupy Wall Street and Troy Davis protests, but often crossed police lines to get footage. It seems that his only concern is creating art that rings true, no matter the cost. Munroe doesn’t just create his art-he lives it. As he says, “You can’t give something that you don’t have. You can’t teach something that you don’t know.” Whatever it is that Munroe decides to teach us next, we should all be eager students.
To see more of Munroe’s work visit: www.kishanmunroe.com/
By Julia Blaszczyk