Catch “Happy Birthday To Me” Before It Closes

By in News on January 18, 2012

This Friday, January 20 is the last night to catch “Happy Birthday To Me”, the retrospective of master Bahamian abstract impressionist, Kendal Hanna. The show has been running since July 15, 2011.

Covering his 75 years of life and his artistic career with 143 paintings, “Happy Birthday To Me” reflects the complicated journey of a man before his time practicing a form of art that had not caught on in the landscape of the Bahamian art world, a form of art that is difficult to engage with and was not readily accepted by viewers to be “authentically Bahamian” art.

It was, admittedly, a hard path to take, but he believes it was the only way he could go. For Hanna, art has been both a fail-safe friend and a savior in a long life of psychological and personal struggle.

“It’s a lone backdrop – abstraction; it’s very unknown, and it’s unloved. And I think it’s just up my alley,” he said during an interview with The Nassau Guardian in July 2011.

“Abstract artists, abstract expressionists, if you get involved in this, you’ll find yourself at the same time.”

(Photo credit: The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas)

The struggle to connect with his past and to remember his present is reflected in the abundance of self- portraits making up the collection, each one an attempt to capture the self in present time to return to later.

The portraits are only one part of this show, however, that also features portraits he’s made of other people, his sketchbooks and journals, and abstract expressionist landscapes. Such outright honesty in his work, such emotional struggle laid bare, creates complex pieces that viewers may initially – and may still – find a challenge to deconstruct.

That’s because his work isn’t easy; it doesn’t present the viewer with something to easily recognize, and it doesn’t come from an easy place. It asks the viewer to feel, and it asks the viewer to think beyond what they know, and it asks the viewer, overall, to bear witness to his history and validate his presence.

The show is an accumulation of almost seven years of work by the previous director of the National Art Gallery, Erica M. James, who details the story of his life in the essay “Testimony”, which is included in the show’s extensive exhibition catalogue.

“I decided to tell his story. I believe that his story is incredibly important,” James said in a July 2011 interview with The Nassau Guardian.

“It’s about his life as an artist, his life bitter and sweet, and how they’ve come out on the canvas and how they’re still coming through. How he’s worked through these things is always through the work; even when he’s been displaced, it’s always been back to his work. That’s the thing that has centered his life and has been very consistent.”

To that end, Kendal 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.

For that reason, the closing night of “Happy Birthday to Me” will also coincide with a one-night-only exhibition of work by 12 emerging Bahamian artists in “The All-Star Amateur Artist Night”. The evening begins at 6:30 p.m. at The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas.

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

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