In “What’s in the Frame: Tourism, art, installation and rebuilding the old whore of a body,” Ian Bethell-Bennett writes about tourism, art, and the representation of the body in the context of colonialism and power. In this article, he examines work by Bahamian artists Blue Curry and Dionne Benjamin-Smith, whose work is on view in “Revisiting An Eye for the Tropics,” on view at the National Gallery of the Bahamas (NAGB) through February 18, 2018.
[. . .] We can also look at the photographic work examined in Dr Krista Thompson’s “An Eye for the Tropics” to see how the frame determines what is seen and what remains invisible or obscured.
The tropics is an interesting construct that relies on a historical power imbalance or racial bias built around Darwin’s and Hume’s theories and development asymmetries. These images that deploy messages are culturally specific and usually time specific, however, they can transcend both culture and time to become resistant or unruly. Catherine Cocks’s “Tropical Whites: The Rise of the Tourist South in the Americas” provides an interesting study on not just the history and links between colonialism and tourism, but also the power of the gaze to continue to frame what we see and how we see it. The focus of the camera and the painting is extremely important to the message held in the frame. Art serves to either build the formalism and the meaning deployed through the work or it can work to provide positive messaging.
In an installation piece in Paris in the shadow of Notre Dame, an artist collective has created a beached sperm whale to draw attention to the plight of whales and the reality of global climate change. The piece is shocking because no one expects to see a life-like whale, beached and bathed in water in the middle of Paris. [. . .]
Metaphor and metonym, whole or part, the art of the real and the art of the unreal, these are all aspects of unreality playing against reality. This week’s piece chooses to focus on the lack of awareness brought to the rapidly transforming yet interesting image and frame as imposed on life in the tropics, to use Krista Thompson’s and Cocks’s title. In work by some artists, we get to see differently, and this difference either empowers or disempowers. The beached whale empowers because it changes the focus of the frame, the gaze, or the eye from what is expected to be there, the Notre Dame and what is out of place, the whale. The jarring presence of the whale may cause pause and initial confusion, but the eye must translate the unexpected into meaning. This way of expressing art of creating thoughtful gaps between the self and the surrounding allows the mind to challenge what is the expected programme. Sadly, most times, we do not challenge the expected. It is expected, and we accept the image deployed. There is always a message. The Caribbean as a palm tree holds a message. The Caribbean as a tanned nubile, bathing beauty deploys another message. Both of these are extremely heteronormative, masculinist and colonial in their rendering and their affect. [. . .]
When we examine art as produced recently, there is always a challenge to the problems with the natives. Dionne Benjamin-Smith’s 2014 work ‘Beauty for Ashes’ showcased in the 7th National Exhibition, and Blue Curry’s “New Riviera” from Transforming Spaces of 2014 would speak to this shift. The Caribbean is imprisoned in the colonial subjects’ understanding of coloniality that continues to hold them and their Ministries in bondage to a frame and a gaze that is hostile to real human development.
Race, as a metaphor for inferiority, as is gender in The Bahamas that refuses to ‘see’ women as deserving of legal rights on an even playing field with their male counterparts is a massive handicap to development. As long as race and gender continue to be defining tropes in the tropical discourse of tourism, human subservience resounds. [. . .]
Black bodies are good enough to be (s)exploited, enjoyed, consumed, but are they good enough to be followed other than through desire? Ironically, tourism has crept so completely into the DNA of Bahamians that they cannot even see where they are being devoured. White supremacy, notwithstanding the racial slurs, sexist rants, bigoted politics and protectionist language, that posits The Bahamas as a mere protectorate of a big, stronger country, being tossed around in the geopolitical centres, has been undone by decolonization and Black power. [. . .]
[Image above: Dionne Benjamin-Smith. “Beauty for Ashes” on view in the Permanent Exhibition “Revisiting An Eye For the Tropics” at the NAGB through March 2018.]