Amateur Artists Get Their Night

By in News on January 14, 2012

Detail of Friday Morning by Deime Ubani. Courtesy Of The National Art Gallery Of The Bahamas

Twelve Bahamian amateur artists are finally getting their chance to shine: The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas is preparing to host their one-night- only spotlight honoring the creative visions of non- established or non-professional artists in society with their All-Star Amateur Artist Night at the gallery grounds this Friday, January 20.

The exhibition follows their call for entries late last year which would give such artists a big break with a chance to exhibit their work in a professional setting like the NAGB. The response from interested artists was enough to show Assistant Educational Officer at the NAGB Jordia Benjamin that such a venue is needed in a sometimes insular art world.

“There was a lot of exciting work from amateur artists for this opportunity to showcase their work, so it confirms our opinions and speculations that there is a hunger for this environment to be made to encourage our amateur artists,” she says.

Despite the amount of positive response, only sixteen pieces by twelve artists with a variety of backgrounds made the cut – including emerging artists just starting to experiment with visual art, College of The Bahamas students and even some high school students.

The final group of artists whose work can be seen this Friday are Felicity Carey, Astrid Adjuah Cleare, Francesca Curry, Tania Delmonte, Dion Farquharson, Jasmyn Glinton, Lauren Glinton, J. Hepburn, Kachelle Knowles, Steven Schmid, Giovanna Swaby and Deime Ubani.

“We would have loved to include everything but because of the association with the gallery it has to be a certain standard and caliber and had to have been a reflection of the show that is already up – the Kendal Hanna show,” explains Benjamin. “It had to be in that same feeling.”

Indeed, the All-Star Amateur Artist Night is an event keeping in the subject matter explored by the current Kendal Hanna retrospective, “Happy Birthday To Me”. Hanna carried the torch for abstract expressionism in early Bahamian art history, forging the way for the next generation of Bahamian artists to explore such a mode of expression and develop a critical understanding of the medium so that today, Bahamian art has been opened up to many new modes of expression, inclusive of the abstract.

To that end, the Curatorial Department at the NAGB looked for work from the entries by amateur artists that engaged with Hanna’s themes and techniques through abstract pieces and portraiture.

“We weren’t looking for a copycat,” explains curatorial trainee at the NAGB, Nastassia Pratt. “We wanted to find someone who came to the gallery, walked through the space and left with some impression that influenced their work.”

“I was rather impressed by the entries. People really took to heart that we were trying to model this show after Kendal as a tribute,” she continues. “I think that the pieces we’ve selected to show the public really speak to that – they’re pure, they’re really, really raw. Some pieces may take a moment or two for you to see for yourself what it’s all about, but pretty much what you see is what you get and they’re beautiful pieces.”

For one of the amateur artists chosen by the curatorial department, Deime Ubani, the call for submissions was a chance to honor Kendal Hanna’s technique and contribution to the Bahamian art world.

“Kendal Hanna’s work is very different from traditional Bahamian artwork and I like that,” says Ubani. “He stepped out on his own back then when people didn’t understand what he was doing. I went to see the exhibition before I knew about the call and I was interested in his work, so I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to study him.”

Her chosen piece, “Friday Morning” holds a conversation with Hanna’s work while keeping with her focus as an artist on exploring generation gaps.

“I focus on society in my work, mainly the comparison between what used to be and what now is, the hardship of things,” she explains about her piece. “It’s Friday, it’s the end of the week, it’s time to relax, but at the same time bills need to be paid and even though you get your paycheck you might not see any of it.”

Though she had studied art at the College of The Bahamas and exhibited in the Central Bank Annual Art Competition, it’s her first time exhibiting work in a major professional setting and the opportunity to network with established artists and exhibit alongside a master artist is exciting for her.

Not only is the exhibition an opportunity to bridge the gap between emerging and established artists, but also a move by the NAGB to bridge the divide between the insular art community and the wider public, explains Jordia Benjamin.

“It’s a big exciting evening because we’re bringing two worlds together – we’re exposing the gallery to people who would not usually think of coming into the gallery,” says Benjamin.

“Coming into this year we’re really going to be pushing the gallery logo, ‘The NAGB belongs to you’. It doesn’t belong to a certain sector and I think sometimes the public believes that because we are in a certain location and in a certain building that it makes them feel like it’s not theirs. But it is. It’s for all Bahamians.”

Giovanna Swaby, whose acrylic painting was also chosen to be a part of the special one-night-only exhibition, is thankful for the opportunity to find an entry into an often insular local art world.

“It seems difficult to break into the art world here so when you have an open opportunity like this, it’s a lot easier to feel like you can submit and you won’t be as intimidated by other people in the show,” says Swaby.

Though her work has been included in several smaller exhibitions, Swaby feels The All-Star Amateur Artist Night is her first foray into the professional art world – especially as her painting is a departure from the filmmaking medium she usually uses. Painting gives her a chance to pay tribute to a master Bahamian artist who has always inspired her.

“In my piece I tried to use a lot of the techniques Kendal Hanna uses in his work. It’s an abstract piece so I really tried to leave it open for interpretation to the audience so each of them can have a different interpretation,” says Swaby. “I hope audiences can take a minute to think about it and be inspired by it or get some sort of meaning from it that will help them in their own life.”

With support by The Caribbean Bottling Company CO., (Bahamas) Ltd., the evening promises to be a great success – not only visually but in the realm of performance as well, for the audience can view work against a background of music by the youth orchestra Virtuoso Strings from Grays Music Center under the direction of Mr. Gray.

Yet the night belongs to those amateur artists who often get overlooked but whose work can tackle the most pressing issues facing society today. Indeed audiences who attend the evening can view the comprehensive look into Kendal Hanna’s work, “Happy Birthday to Me” for the last time as well as the sixteen pieces in the All-Star Amateur Artist Night, giving them a chance to stand at the intersection of past, present and future in the Bahamian cultural landscape – one of many nights to come.

“I’m very excited to have future All-Star Amateur Artist Nights and to continue to give opportunities to amateur artists,” says Benjamin. “I had to turn away calls we received after our deadline but I gave them hope that we’re going to have it again in the future so they could submit their work again.”

Hopefully through this practice of holding annual calls from non-established locals artists the NAGB can become a safe haven and exciting melting pot of untapped talent, points out Pratt.

“I think that everyone needs a forum to show what they can produce,” she says. “For a lot of people, approaching galleries to show their work is intimidating, so to have a call like this it helps to build the confidence of artists of different levels, which is something that will be reflected in their work.”

“It’s a good way to say ‘It’s ok, you’re growing, and we’ll give you time to grow.’ It’s something all galleries should be doing. We want this to be a platform for folks to look forward to entering – we want to create that dialogue with those artists out there.”

The All-Star Amateur Artist Night along with the closing celebration for the Kendal Hanna retrospective, “Happy Birthday To Me” will commence this Friday, January 20 at 6:30 p.m. at The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. For more information, call 328-5800/1.

Sonia Farmer,
The Nassau Guardian
Published: Saturday, January 14, 2012

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