An Exhibition in the Bahamas Crosses Boundaries and Borders

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Seph Rodney (Hyperallergic) reviews the 9th National Exhibition, The Fruit and the Seed,” which— curated by Holly Bynoe—continues at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas (Villa Doyle, West and West Hill Streets, Nassau, New Providence, The Bahamas) through April 7. The author says that in this exhibition, “artists play with the theme of fruits and seeds in staggeringly varied and complicated ways.” Here are excerpts; I highly recommend reading the full review at Hyperallergic.

[. . .] During my time in Nassau I visit the National Gallery, foundations and art projects (including a lovely artist space called Hillside House, which was started by a remarkably generous artist, Antonius Roberts), studios, and the homes of art patrons. [. . .]

[. . .] The exhibition includes Bahamian citizens, residents, and members of the Bahamas diasporic community. How this panoply of artistic practices plays out with regard to the theme of fruits and seeds is staggeringly varied and complicated. Eventually, I find that one way to navigate the NE9 is to think about how fruits carry the seeds of their own origination inside them and cross boundaries and borders to and from this place (and within it), and that in the act of crossing, identities are formed.

Take for example Saskia D’Aguilar’s wall mobile, “Invasive Species Amulet” (2018), which consists of curtains hung from three pieces of weathered driftwood placed high on a wall. Each long tendril holds poinciana pods and their seeds, painted wooden beads, sea glass, and (according to D’Aguilar) copper mined in Africa. The piece feels reverential in its quiet quest to ward off evil. She divulges what this evil is in her artist’s statement, in which she talks about her private resentment of the labeling of this graceful tree as “invasive” in the context of human laws, regulations, and policies that stand in stark contrast to the fancies of the natural world. Through the mechanics of tides, winds, and water, a tree from the jungles of Madagascar can sail (in the form of a seed) via the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic to arrive at the Bahamas. When I find out that D’Aguilar is originally Dutch and emigrated to the Bahamas through an arduous legal process to be with her native husband, I can’t help but read her sentiments as at least partly informed by the state essentially considering her “invasive.” Since 2008, D’Aguilar has directed her family’s art foundation, which supports Bahamian artists — particularly with travel grants — and promotes Bahamian art to outside communities.

Letitia Marie Pratt, who works at the D’Aguilar foundation as a writer (and was born and bred in the Bahamas), also has an installation in the NE9, A Garden, a series of what might be described as portraits in poetry of legendary women: Eve, Mary, Delilah, Bathsheba. Each poem is presented with dried flowers, leaves, bones, seeds, and feathers in a dark wood frame. The language is at turns erotic and martial, but always self-possessed. [. . .]

The language of poetry turns into elegy in the work of Shivanee Ramlochan and Sonia Farmer, who co-created the piece “The Red Thread Cycle” (2018), using Ramlochan’s poetry and Bahamian book artist Farmer’s visual design. The seven poems included in this cycle are an integral part of Ramlochan’s very well received first poetry collection, Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting. The poems detail a story of sexual assault and its aftershocks and makes for difficult reading. The installation also includes headphones with Ramlochan’s voice reading out the poems on a loop. Here again, the language is wrenching but riveting: “I am in mud and glitter so far steeped that going back is not an option.” [. . .]

April Bey explores this territory in her Power Girl series, which simultaneously considers the ramifications of colonization, particularly economic colonization, as it is occurring now in certain African states which she regards as being exploited by Chinese capitalists. Her two pieces “Power Girl (Incarcerated Queen)” and “Power Girl (Asante Queen)” (both 2018), are, she writes, made up of “Chinese knock-off ‘African’ wax fabric hand-sewn into scrolls with made-in-China needles and thread. The fabric was purchased from women selling the fabric in Ghana, West Africa.” Bey looks seriously at the idea that cultural goods might be regarded as a kind of “invasive species” that replaces traditional, intricate work with ersatz, cheaper versions. The works, which are among the most visually arresting in the show, are rooted in her development of the idea of “a historical battle that took place between various forms of colonialisation from different, yet similar, forces on a futuristic planet occupied by AfroAliens.” [. . .]

Tiffany Smith reconsiders the ways in which she and other ethnic women have been historically visually represented, especially through the mechanism of 19th-century ethnographic portraiture. There is an evangelical quality to Smith’s practice: spreading the gospel of self-representation as a way to shape an ethnic identity which is not primarily conditioned by consumerist craving or the gaze of the colonizer. [. . .]

The NE9’s curator, Holly Bynoe (and the National Gallery’s chief curator, who hails originally from St Vincent and the Grenadines) writes in her catalog essay, “Sowing Seeds,” about her vision for the gallery “as a safe space and haven and site for the contesting of rooted and burdened histories/ideologies and speculations about our futures.” That’s the truth of the tree: that it is rooted, which is good, but it can be burdened by its fixedness — that is, until it bears fruit and lets them go upon the waters.

[Image above: April Bey, from the Power Girl series: “Power Girl (Incarcerated Queen)” (2018).]

For full review, see https://hyperallergic.com/491718/an-exhibition-in-the-bahamas-crosses-boundaries-and-borders/?

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