‘Fibre’ Theme Elicits Innovative Response

By in News on March 19, 2012

For almost a decade, the Transforming Spaces art tour has acted as a gauge for what’s what in contemporary Bahamian art – each year, art galleries, artist studios and even outdoor spaces pulled out all the stops to curate art shows that elevated Bahamian art in the local community.

Now in its eighth year, the tour is ready to do something radically different in order to turn the eyes of the globe to the flourishing Bahamian art scene: for the first time ever, the committee introduced the theme of “Fibre”, calling for artists to use indigenous material – local fibers like straw, coconut, cotton, and sisal, to name only a sampling – in innovative ways.

Bahamian Sunflower by Claudette Dean displayed at Antonius Roberts Hillside House Studio and Gallery. Photo by Ana-Lisa Wells

The decision, said committee member Pam Burnside, came out of the drive by another artist-formed committee – Creative Nassau – to designate Nassau in the global cultural world as a City of Folk Art in the UNESCO designated Creative Cities Network.

“We’ve been discussing the importance of the straw industry, as well as Junkanoo, so as part of our committee activities we decided we would transfer the thought of using the straw into Transforming Spaces this year,” said Burnside.

“That’s been one of our goals in the committee, to make sure this tour gets out to the world so people actually come here. It’s a fabulous opportunity for us to have people come to The Bahamas for its art and culture as opposed to coming for just sun, sand and sea.”

Indeed, though the number of art spaces and participating artists has changed each year, the desire to bring artists together in a large tour to expose Bahamian art has been a driving factor since the tour’s inception eight years ago by a core committee of dedicated participants.

Though each year the tour has been gaining ground internationally – they point out that they have international patrons who return each year solely for their event – as committee member John Cox points out, the tour also has significant local support as Bahamians turn out to see what their creative community members can do.

“It’s about dialogue and exposure and I think the exciting thing is we bring exposure to us as well as to them – we have more local people who are as excited about this as foreigners and that’s rare,” said Cox.

“We tend to be a culture of exciting outsiders, leaving the insiders out, but this is one of the few things that happens annually where the buzz is 90 percent local. That local excitement keeps us going.”

Now that the dynamic of the tour has shifted significantly with its new theme-driven structure, however, local patrons looking forward to the event will be challenged as they view some of the most contemporary work they may have seen on the tour yet.

They will begin their journey in familiar territory at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas where they will examine a display of native straw pieces. Such a move will serve to construct a more conventional base from which pieces at the following gallery spaces – Doongalik Studios, New Providence Art & Antiques, Popopstudios, The Hub, The Antonius Roberts Studio and Gallery at Hillside House, The Pink’Un Cottage and The Pro Gallery at the Harry C. Moore Information Center at The College of The Bahamas – will create a singular fascinating narrative that pays homage to and takes innovative departures from traditional native materials and practices.

From installations large enough to walk through, to creative presentations of traditionally utilized materials, to paintings cleverly handling the mandatory theme, to even creative spins on what constitutes fibre (such as human hair), local artists have stretched the possibilities further than even the committee members expected, setting up an exciting dynamic that will spark vital conversations about the state of Bahamian contemporary art and its function in our cultural landscape.

“When you think we have eight galleries taking part and over 60 artists, you may think, how are they all going to be using this one theme?” said Burnside. “And it’s amazing, what they’ve come up with. They all have different ideas and have used materials in totally different ways. We asked people to consider the possibilities when we sent out the call and we were amazed with what we got back.”

Driving the strong contemporary theme, said the committee, is the fact that a large number of participating artists are made up of younger emerging Bahamian artists, many of them in or just graduated from The College of The Bahamas art program.

Though three years ago, Transforming Spaces invited the Pro Gallery – the art gallery at COB – to take part, this year without the galleries curating their own spaces, many young and experimental artists have taken up the challenge of the theme, meaning that many unfamiliar names will be seen on the tour – an exciting development.

“Recently there has been an incredible blossoming of this young talent in the country,” says Cox. “Based on our pretour walkabouts, some of the strongest work we’re seeing is really from these artists in their 20s, and that’s really exciting. I think this year the majority of the names will be unfamiliar, but to us that’s a great thing because we need to keep the conversation of art going, not just satisfy old notions.”

“I think this year is going to be one of the strongest editions of the tour, but it certainly is going to be different,” he continued. “So we want all the people to come out and experience it themselves, to have an open mind, because I think new Brent Malones and Amos Fergusons are going to be in some of these 20-year-olds in the tour right now.”

Yet also exciting and generated by the committee’s new move to plan the tour thematically is the amount of international exposure this year’s tour will attract. Already a portion of the participating artists actually live and practice abroad – a few of them not even having Bahamian ties – from such regional neighbors as Cuba and Jamaica to international places as the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.

Adding to that the partnership Transforming Spaces will form with the newly formed yet far-reaching and influential art publication Arc Magazine – whose editor-in-chief Holly Bynoe will be taking part in and giving exposure to the tour – this year is set to be the most defining yet.

In that spirit the committee will also for the first time offer a catalogue – beautifully designed by committee member Neko Meicholas of Guanima Press and The Pink ‘Un Gallery – featuring the participating artists as well as a special essay by Patricia Glinton-Meicholas examining the significance of indigenous fiber pieces in Bahamian history, society, business and culture.

Though all patrons who take part in the tour will get a copy for free, the catalogue will also be available for download on the Transforming Spaces website during that tour weekend.

With these developments, this year’s Transforming Spaces tour under the theme of Fibre will prove to be a timely maturation of this event, elevating it from a local happening to a regional one, as Caribbean artistic communities look to our capital for fascinating insights into visual arts practices.

“I think that such a strong international presence will go really well with our group of artists here,” said Burnside. “We have such a strong art community as it is, but you can image what will happen now. We’re ready to go to the world for sure.”

The tours take place on Saturday March 24 and Sunday March 25, beginning promptly at 10 a.m. at The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. Spaces are limited however, so purchasing tickets is recommended. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased from either The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas downtown (328-5800) or Doongalik Studios on Village Road (394 1886). For more information, visit the Transforming Spaces website at www.transformingspacesbahamas.com.

Sonia Farmer
The Nassau Guardian
Saturday, March 17, 2012

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