One Family’s Tribute to Jackson Burnside

By in News on January 28, 2012

As We Knew Him

Nearly a year has gone since master Bahamian artist, architect and Junkanooer Jackson Burnside has passed away, yet his legacy lives on. In the world of Junkanoo, Jackson received his due in a dazzling tribute on Boxing Day morning last year by One Family – the group he was pivotal in starting and directing.

A Junkanoo piece from One Family, on display at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. KYLE SMITH / TNG

Though One Family didn’t take home the prize that evening, their costumes which provided such a comprehensive look at Jackson’s persona will instead garner a major first for the Junkanoo community – a place in the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) during the exhibition “As We Knew Him”, a tribute to the late Jackson Burnside which opens this Friday night.

The exhibition, says Curator John Cox, will finally give the national institution a chance to explore the intersection between the often separated categories of fine art and folk art through a figure who had such a major impact on both worlds.

“This show is going to be about Jackson and about the high art Junkanoo is and can be,” explains Cox.

“It’s going to be about a moment of the parade on Boxing Day in 2011 and it’s going to be about people’s response to the whole thing.”

Indeed, Jackson had such a major impact on both worlds because he believed unconditionally in the power of Bahamian culture in all of its manifestations, evident by his great work in almost every medium of art, from the theoretical to the applied.

This exhibition, however, is not a retrospective of the artist – instead, it focuses largely on his love of Junkanoo as a fitting tribute and reflection of this larger-than-life cultural figure as the arts and culture community approach the one-year anniversary of his death.

Taking up the entire two-floor space of the gallery, “As We Knew Him” will explore through film clips, photos, personal memorabilia and interviews, Jackson’s invaluable contribution to Junkanoo.

But at the core of the exhibition are sixteen off-the-shoulder pieces from the 2011 Boxing Day tribute that Cox and his team recovered from visits to Junkanoo shacks.

“We’re going to do our best to recreate the energy of the parade in the gallery,” says Cox. “We’re going to show them in their raw state, post-rush. So they’re a little banged up but they’re special in that way. They become more sentimentalized.”

In addition, new works of art inspired by the Junkanoo pieces by College of The Bahamas students will be on display – Cox partnered with COB to invite a drawing class into the shacks and create new work in the spirit of exchange between fine and folk art.

“It’s a usual academic art exercise, to go and draw after master artists. We thought it was an interesting opportunity to recreate that kind of activity,” Cox explains. “I wanted it to inspire a new kind of art which I know would make Jackson smile because that was his thing – he encouraged young artists especially to think outside the box.”

Such a comprehensive display, says Cox, not only serves to educate the Bahamian public about Junkanoo and invites a new crowd into the space of the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, but also fittingly pays thanks to One Family for their innovative and heartfelt tribute that touched the lives of those who knew Jackson.

To One Family, who will perform a rush-out during the opening night of the exhibition on February 3, their 2011 Boxing Day salute to Jackson Burnside was an arduous undertaking but one which they believe paid off.

“We wanted to celebrate his life in his death,” says Chairman Magnus of One Family, Darren Bastian. “We found one of the most powerful tributes that we could give to him as an organization was to celebrate his life through Junkanoo and to tell his story as we knew him through Junkanoo and in the realm of Junkanoo.”

“We told his story from his birth to his call to glory,” he continues. “Every aspect of his life was touched so we are very happy we were able to pull off such a spectacular presentation, and it is the first a theme like that has ever been done on Bay Street – but that’s One Family, we’re not scared, we’ll always try something new.”

Such an attitude has indeed paid off for the group, and now the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas pays tribute back. For Bastian, being a part of the six-week exhibition that in a historical first moves Junkanoo from the street to the formal gallery space is an honor.

“I think so far too long people have viewed Junkanoo as simply that – junk not worthy to be placed in such a place of prestige,” he says. “But honestly, if you ever step into or sit in a shack you understand just how creative our process is.”

“So for One Family to have the opportunity to place our pieces in the National Art Gallery is an honor because junkanoo is a creative art form and I think it’s about time it gets the recognition that is due. It is not a pastime – it is a way of living that speaks to who we are, what we do and how we express ourselves.”

Indeed, to Jackson Burnside, the true spirit of Junkanoo was just that – Junkanoo was not about winning a competition but rather about uplifting and developing individuals and community, points out his widow Pam Burnside.

“I say to One Family that they may not have won on Bay Street but like Jackson used to tell them, winning on Bay Street was not the important thing – you had to win in the community,” she says. “That’s what One Family did – I call them the ‘People’s Choice’ and that’s exactly what they are.”

Having their tribute in the NAGB, she says, will help to see one of Burnside’s dreams for The Bahamas come true – furthering the admiration and celebration of Bahamian culture in all of its manifestations.

“Jackson and I over the years have been trying to close the divide between fine art and folk art and his death made it happen with his tribute on Bay Street that is now going into the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas,” she says.

“Because Jackson was able to straddle all of these components of arts in the country, he was able to make this happen. It’s because of him and his involvement in all of these different aspects of art that this is happening.”

“As We Knew Him: One Family’s Tribute to Jackson Burnside Boxing Day Parade 2011” opens at The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas on Friday, February 3 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and continues for six weeks. A Junkanoo rush-out in honor of Jackson will also be held. For more information, call 328-5800.

Sonia Farmer,
The Nassau Guardian
Arts & Culture
Published: Saturday, January 28, 2012

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