Connecting the Caribbean
Holly Bynoe chooses her words carefully and deliberately. The soft-spoken co-founder of ARC Magazine doesn’t rush herself when she’s got something to say.
And, when the words do come to her, she has a knack for making the listener feel their significance, especially where art is concerned.
That’s why, when she agreed to meet with me during her last visit to Nassau, on the verandah of the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB), I knew I could learn something about the role art continues to play across the Caribbean and throughout the diaspora.
A native of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Bynoe moved to Trinidad at 17 to study biochemistry. Unsatisfied with her academic choice, she transferred to Adelphi University in New York, where she found her way to photography through a communications degree. Years later, in addition to her work with ARC, Bynoe has gained respect for her short films, mixed-media works and work as a curator.
“It took me a long time to think about how my life would be valued by myself, trying to figure out what type of experience I would want to have throughout life, and if arts was the best way – and if it could have been valuable, not only as a matter of expressing oneself, but thinking about security, thinking about a community. It could be quite an isolating experience. Thankfully that hasn’t been the case,” she said.
Editor-in-chief of ARC, Bynoe has managed to weave a large network of artists across the islands and North America via the internationally-distributed publication. Established only three years ago, in 2011, ARC now reaches as far as the U.K.; Bynoe’s hope is to get the word out about the region’s art and artists.
“I think that people have a certain type of understanding about Caribbean art, and it’s been stereotyped. And we have to debunk and remove these preconceived notions that did exist for a reason, and have existed, because we perpetuate it,” she said.
Referring to work that has been pigeonholed as ‘Caribbean’ – often reflecting picturesque landscapes – Bynoe’s hope is that ARC provides a space to showcase Caribbean peoples’ intellect, cultural understandings and artistic talent.
“In The Bahamas, it’s conch shells, sand, pretty paintings of the sun. It becomes really typical. But that’s not really what the creative arena here is like…People are thinking; people are being critical; people are being political; people are being unafraid. They’re trying to confront internalized issues, so having that platform to support that type of work gives the Caribbean a certain type of currency where we’re no longer laissez-faire people who are just drinking rum on the beach. We’re actually thinking critically about our experiences. For me, having the ability to move around the Caribbean and expose a public – who might be completely unaware – to the density of work is incredible.”
For the past few years, she and ARC co-founder Nadia Huggins have been hard at work doing just that. In her travels throughout the West Indies and North America, Bynoe has not overlooked The Bahamas. The editor has made herself well acquainted with the local visual arts scene, featuring the works of several Bahamian artists on ARC’s pages and dropping in at exhibitions and events.
Partnering with COB lecturer and artist Michael Edwards to curate this year’s National Exhibition (NE7) at the NAGB, Bynoe’s passion and sensitivity to art from the Caribbean diaspora will be channeled under the 2014 theme, which focuses on confronting and questioning modern notions of race, specifically blackness and whiteness.
The exhibition, expected to open November 6, will host works of Bahamian artists and artists of Bahamian descent. Bynoe, in her travels thus far, has been impressed with the size and unity of the local visual arts community.
“There’s not a lot of fracturing (in The Bahamas). There’s not a lot of decisiveness, not a lot of division. And you have people within the institution who want to work with these artists, so there’s an openness to the business to think about the larger way in which the art will appear globally, as well,” she said.
Citing a lack of alliance and support as one of the major challenges to artist communities in the region, Bynoe believes the key to changing the perception and awareness of Caribbean art throughout the world lies in collaboration.
“It’s like small pond, big fish syndrome, where you have a little bit and you just fight and you breakdown your community, and it becomes something that no longer is a benefit to you. With a neutral platform like ARC there’s a little bit of a diffusion with that. People are starting to see the bigger picture of the industry.”
Like many Caribbean artists, Bynoe’s ultimate goal is social change and progression throughout the nations, which she believes share similar challenges by virtue of a shared history. Fortunately, ARC’s strong networking pull has already begun promoting dialogue amongst artists throughout the Caribbean states. Bynoe’s hope is that the publication prompts the region’s societies to begin to consider and value the power of art as a catalyst for positive societal evolution.
“When you offer an open platform and an open forum to start these discussions, we become self aware; we become valued; we become centered as a community, and we become introspective. With these four things manifesting themselves, you can change your country. You can change your family dynamic. You can change your relationships to people around you. So, essentially, it acts as a tool to navigate through life.”
The Nassau Guardian
Published: Saturday, July 19, 2014