Antonius Roberts’ Sacred Space

The Unveiling of Bahamian Sculptural Monument, Sacred Space, by Artist Antonius Roberts at The NEW Cove Resort on Paradise Island, The Bahamas

I was very fortunate to experience one of Antonius Roberts’ “Sacred Space” art installations last spring off Clifton Cay (thanks to our dear friend Tony Bethell-Bennett) in Nassau, The Bahamas. As with many memorials, although the installation conveys a sense of triumph, hope and determination, it is also radiates sadness and loss, the sorrow that comes from the memory of slavery and all but forgotten ancestors. Read about Roberts’ three “Sacred Space” installations via the Nassau Guardian (excerpts below).

Sacred Space is an invitation to stop for a minute and immerse in the quiet; to step away from the clutter and the busyness of life; to look at where you are, and appreciate the blessings: the fact that you are free to be — and in an incredibly beautiful, wonderful country.

These are the ideas and thoughts behind artist/sculptor Antonius Roberts’ Sacred Space — permanent art installations, of which there are now officially three, at Clifton Pier, Blake Road and The Cove Beach at Atlantis, which debuted on November 3, 2017. But if you were to ask Pam Burnside, creative activist, she would say, it’s the fourth Sacred Space, as Roberts carved a woman’s figure out of a coconut tree during the Transforming Spaces art tour at Doongalik Studios. The sculpture was later damaged in a storm.

The most recent Sacred Space, at the tip of The Cove’s peninsula, is a sculpture series representing seven dancing women who each represent the intention of triumph, hope and determination, and a vision to help conserve Bahamian heritage over that which is discarded or destroyed in the name of progress. Each figure was sculpted using local trees and out of Roberts’ respect for the environment, sanctity and significance of the country’s trees and forests.

Roberts said the Sacred Space at Atlantis was created to be a specific, historical memorial to reflect and embody his personal philosophy about art and how it can be used interactively. The space embraces his interest in the conservation, preservation and transformation of the Bahamian environment.

But before there was the Sacred Space at The Cove Beach, there was a Sacred Space at Clifton Pier, the genesis of the Sacred Space. That project came about as a result of a community initiative led by Clint Kemp, founder of the New Providence Community Church (NPCC), who, along with a group of environmentalists, sought to protect the Clifton property because of its historical value. It’s at this location that the history of The Bahamas from the Lucayans through to slavery can be seen. It’s the site of the former Whylly Plantation from the days of slavery, the ruins of which remain to this day.

Kemp and a group of individuals cleaned up the area, which at the time was being used as a dumping ground. They invited Roberts and fellow artist Tyrone Ferguson to display their sculptures in the cleaned space in celebration of the reclamation and what they termed the rebirth of Clifton.

When Roberts visited the site in 2004, the first thing his artists’ eye took in were the 12 Casuarina trees that were still rooted on the cliff edge at Clifton Cay, but which had been impacted by a storm the previous year. His creative mind immediately gravitated toward carving those trees. He crafted 12 sculptures – figures of women – creating the first Sacred Space. The location was one of the first landing places for slaves brought to The Bahamas.

Ferguson hung bells in the trees to represent the call, the voices of the sculptures and the voices of ancestors crying out for people to listen, to pay attention. “There was nothing for me more meaningful than paying tribute to my ancestors, and particularly the women who actually would have stayed on the Whylly Plantation, and who would have done whatever they needed to do to protect their families,” said Roberts. They called that Sacred Space “Genesis” — it was the beginning. [. . .]

[. . .] In November 2017, the third Sacred Space at The Cove Beach at Atlantis was revealed. But at the same time, it brought to light the abandonment and neglect of the first two spaces at Clifton and Blake Road which Roberts said is all due to a lack of support.

[. . .] As he carves his sculptures, Roberts said he is guided by the respect and appreciation of nature. He said he simply tries to celebrate the organic shapes and form that exists within the trees. The sculptures at The Cove are made from mahogany trees that were impacted by Hurricane Matthew. “The wood is repurposed wood and madeira, which is very much a part of our history and our heritage, because it is a wood that is favored for boat-building and furniture building.”

The sculptures at The Cove are planted near the ocean in such a way that people can interact with them. “The reality is to provide people with an opportunity and a space — a quiet, safe space where they, too, can commune with nature and share their stories about who they are, and to also feel welcome,” said the artist. [. . .]

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