Young Lions: Our Art Culture Looks Bright

By Jodi Minnis
Photographs courtesy of the artist

Landscape images of luscious Poinciana trees realistically rendered by Eddie Minnis and colorful, fringing crepe paper meticulously painted by the late R. Brent Malone arise whenever conversations about Bahamian art occur. However, as time progressed, the abstracted woodcuts of John Cox and multimedia prints of Kendra Frorup paved the way for future generations of artists to define their Bahamianness and their artistic expression on their own terms. While renderings of landscape paintings, scrapes and scribbles and Junkanoo portraits can still be seen, the “young lions” of today have stretched ideas of what we can produce, where we can be celebrated and how art is to be interacted with.

The presence of Bahamian artists on international platforms is growing, and amongst those artists sits Jeffrey Meris. Meris, b. 1991, centers his work on the dichotomy of being Haitian-Bahamian and tackles issues of migration, home and belonging. Meris started his academic journey at the College of The Bahamas, where he received an Associates of Arts, and has recently obtained his MFA in visual arts from Columbia University (2019). Meris uses familiar objects and life castings to construct kinetic sculptures and installation-based works. Natural objects like sponges are often juxtaposed to industrial materials such as concrete; and the presence of welding and metal work take prominence within his practice as well. He also recreates simple actions such as breathing through plastic bottles, tubes and a motor to command the audience’s attention to the quiet yet striking repetition.

His ingenious use of material to relay intimate and universal actions landed him a place at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine last summer, and most recently the NXTHVN Studio Fellowship in New Haven, Connecticut. Meris’ climb within the contemporary art scene in the United States is a testament to the growing recognition of Bahamian artists outside of the country.

Although Angelika Wallace-Whitfield is not moving through the U.S., her words of affirmation, “Hope is A Weapon”, are making their way throughout The Bahamas on T-shirts, hats and bags. What started as a proposal for the ninth National Exhibition for the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) has evolved into a movement, especially post-Hurricane Dorian. Wallace-Whitfield, b. 1993, studied at the College of The Bahamas and received her BA Honors Degree in the history and philosophy of art (2017).

In 2018, Wallace-Whitfield drove around the island of New Providence with “Hope is a Weapon” in a stencil and spray painted the tag on random areas on the street. The tags were photographed and shared on social media. This street art endeavor has catapulted—giving the same reverence to spray paint on concrete sidewalks that would be given to oil paintings on a gallery wall. The highlight of this movement was seeing the volunteers for Hurricane Dorian relief efforts adorn the shirts while greeting survivors, packaging food and distributing supplies. Furthermore, Wallace-Whitfield held several pop-up shops to raise money for Hurricane Dorian relief efforts and donated 100% of the proceeds to those efforts.

Referencing Hurricane Dorian, the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas opened “Refuge”, a group exhibition, to document and to commemorate the tragedy and resilience of that time. One of the participating artists, Cydne Coleby, used the opportunity to recreate family portraits through new media collages for the exhibition. Coleby, b. 1993, reintroduced herself to the visual arts community in the ninth National Exhibition at the NAGB with self portraits emphasizing the importance of self love. Her mixed media portraits caused a stir because of her boldness, but Coleby stands firm in her digital renderings and continues to create illustrative works of art. Coleby’s commitment to her new media practice shows the breath of our contemporary art scope.

She expressed, “Transitioning into new media was natural from years of exploring graphic design. While I still do have a love for traditional mediums, I typically approach those materials in layers as I would in any graphic design software. I’m thinking about the user’s experience and user interface and exploring the possibilities of this media as we are immersed in this digital age.”

Coleby also wants to explore animation and other digital varieties such as virtual reality. Also holding an Associates of Art from the College of The Bahamas, Coleby anticipates participating in an exhibition in Paris later this year.

Another participant in “Refuge”, Matthew Rahming is redefining our engagement with ceramics in The Bahamas. On the heels of the late Denis Knight and other well-known ceramicists like Jessica Colebrooke, Rahming, b. 1994, uses clay, limestone, charcoal and sponge to negotiate his existence as a “Pan-African Catholic black man with locs”. The vessels, bowls and cups made by Rahming contrast the history of ceramics as utility due to his treatment of the clay post-bisque firing. Bisque firing is used to harden the clay body in preparation for glazing, but Rahming considers this first step the final part of process. He often scratches into the surface with nails and covers the surfaces with sisal and copper. He returns to the land to cultivate limestone and incorporate the stone into clay. More often than not, he loses vessels to the firing process, but it does not discourage him. Rahming is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s of Fine Art at the Montserrat College of Art.

While some young Bahamians like Dyah Neilson, Samantha Treco and Nastassia Pratt are keeping the tradition of landscape painting alive in this contemporary time, young artists of The Bahamas are exploring nuances to Bahamian culture and rendering them in unconventional ways. The legacies of our forefathers and foremothers can be seen in the details of application and concept creating, but this new wave of artistic energy is fresh and of an international standard. It is roaring, bold, courageous and charged with intentions of defining and redefining how we view ourselves. The artists named are of a pack of lions of this generation pushing forth and keeping the arts and culture scene alive.

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