Artists of the Bahamas

Back in January of 2009,The Grand Bahama Heritage Foundation in conjunction with the Freeport Film Society, premiered a documentary film called “Artists of the Bahamas”. It was a  Sunday afternoon and the Regency Theatre was filled with an enthusiastic audience. Thanks to the vision of the husband and wife filmmaking team,  Karen Arthur and Tom Newirth,the Bahamian public was able to view a collection of artwork by the country’s top artists.  Up to now, these works remained in private collections and were unavailable for public viewing.

Recommended by the country’s foremost art collector, the late Vincent D’Aguilar, the filmmakers traveled to Nassau from 2006-2008 to research, interview and film the artists and their work. As Karen commented, “This wasn’t Paris or London or New York, we were astounded by the skill, diversity and eloquence of these extraordinary Bahamian artists, and felt honored to preserve them and their art on film.”

The Grand Bahama Heritage Foundation, intent on celebrating Bahamian cultural heritage,  invited the artists and filmmakers to join us in a screening. Jackson Burnside, Antonius Roberts, Therese Taylor, wife of Maxwell Taylor attended.

“Artists of the Bahamas” covers the careers of 11 visual artists who were influential in creating the Bahamian Art movement. The film is introduced by our Bahamian icon, Sir Sydney Poitier, who discusses the importance and value of Art within our Bahamian heritage. These artists are Antonius Roberts and Jackson Burnside, Amos Ferguson, Kendal Hanna, Maxwell Taylor, Brent Malone, Dave Smith, Eddie Minnis, Stan Burnside, John Beadle and John Cox.

Following our screening, we had a lively and passionate discussion about the evolution of Bahamian art since 1973 when the country gained its independence.  As Jackson Burnside commented,”I was truly overwhelmed by the enthusiastic reaction to the quality of the film and to our work”. The reaction to the film by our Grand Bahama audience was one of pride, passion and hope for the future of Bahamian culture.

Fast forward to 2010: A group of collectors, Saskia D’Aguilar, Dawn Davies and Pam Burnside decide to plan a public art show based on the film. “The Bahamas has an enormously rich artistic heritage and it is important that collectors preserve these treasures for future generations. This film was a major undertaking and we also commend the filmmakers for their foresight in preserving this important part of the country’s fine art history.”…”The Bahamas is entering a very exciting phase in its artistic development. We can see definite progress in the Fine Arts with collaborations between the artists which allows a continual interchange of ideas and events to take place. When you witness the success of the annual Transforming Spaces Art Bus Tour, the theatre festival Shakespeare in Paradise, and the recent CariFringe events, for example, you can see the enormous potential for promoting the country as a destination for art, culture and heritage which will attract more visitors to our shores.”

In addition, The Heritage Foundation recently learned that the film has also come to the attention of the curators from the Waterloo Centre for the Arts in Iowa.  Karen Arthur told me that she was contacted about the possibility of mounting an exhibition and symposium based on the film for October – December 2011. The Waterloo Center for the Arts holds the largest collection of Haitian art in the United States as well as a significant collection of art from other Caribbean countries, including a large number of works by the late Amos Ferguson. Cammie Scully and Kent Shankle, Curators at The Waterloo Center for the Arts were quoted as saying, “The Artists of the Bahamas Exhibition and Symposium will expose the U.S. to the thriving culture of the Bahamas and their talented artists and plans are also in the making to arrange a tour of the exhibition throughout the USA. By exposing the country’s art to a global audience, interest in traveling to this country will most likely increase as will the visibility and profile of the artistic and cultural heritage of The Bahamas.”

The Grand Bahama Heritage Foundation salutes Karen and Tom’s vision and its influence in highlighting our cultural richness to the world beyond our shores.

About The Grand Bahama Heritage Foundation

The Grand Bahama Heritage Foundation was founded several years ago to tell the story of our island's heritage by intertwining Art and History together. Through our Artist in Residence Program, we develop fresh ways to collect the oral stories of our islanders, which are recorded through multi-media projects. Last year, A QUESTION OF FAITH: THE JOURNEY OF FREETOWN told the story of the first freed slave settlement on Grand Bahama. Our Artist in Residence, Lauren Austin, a fiber artist now living in China, led our group of multi-generational participants in monthly workshops designing memory quilts. As part of the project, articles of historical/personal interest were brought in to be discussed and documented. The project ended in a well received public exhibition, where the original artwork, historical photographs and Bahamian music were displayed. We are now beginning our next project, HATTITUDES: Hats and the Bahamian Ladies who wear them. A collaborative art circle will be used to interview and photograph modern day ladies with a love of hat fashion. We will try to uncover the link between Colonial and African heritage in today's hat fashions and the influence on them in Bahamian culture.
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6 Responses to Artists of the Bahamas

  1. Paula's Paradise says:

    Wonderful post, fabulous film, and so happy to know about Waterloo, Iowa’s interest in Caribbean art. (Dialogue from the old movie, “Field of Dreams” comes to mind: Ballplayer: “Is this Heaven?” Kevin Costner: “No, it’s Iowa.” 🙂

    I add my salute to Karen and Tom’s work in creating this film, and am wondering if it’s available yet on DVD.

  2. liz says:

    Would this minnis have done prints in 1975 for Princess Realty Limited?

  3. Stephen Gagne says:

    I am glad to have found your site today. I will admit however, it was in attempt to find information on artist that did a painting I picked up while visiting your beautiful island in August of 2005. That painting took quite a ride with me. It was purchased on August 21st. We rode out tropical storm Katrina with you, and embarked on quite an adventure that is something I’d like to share with the artist if I had the opportunity. The subject of the painting is one of the beautiful spots on your island – The Garden of the Groves. Unfortunately, the Gardens were closed that particular visit, which is why when I saw the painting I had to have it; as it so reminds me of being in that space. And I am so glad that I did purchase the painting because it has permitted me to take numerous unplanned jaunts to that little sanctuary from my couch here in New Jersey. Again, I have no idea who this artist is. I’m assuming it’s a local. The work is signed M. Austin (I’m wondering if there’s a relation).
    I would love to share with others how wonderful that space is, who this talented artist is, and really would like the artist to know how much joy it has brought me and how many times a few minutes alone with that painting has brought me respeite. I think that’s important for every artist who put so much effort into their work to know when it left their hands – that it still means something…and often times: as is the case here; it transforms and transports . Much more than a hanging on the wall. It affixes my emotions, and literally transcends me from my literal spot on my couch. I will be revisiting your site to check out every corner of it. Thank you all. Warm Regards; Stephen Gagne

    • Hi Stephen,
      Thanks so much for taking the time to inquire about your painting and the background to your purchase. I will do a little investigating to inquire into the artist. M Austin doesn’t immediately ring any bells but I’ll look into it and report back. Grand Bahama Island has become more and more a place to find original pieces of art inspired by the island’s natural beauty. If you could take a photograph of your painting and send, that might help me to locate the artist.
      Thanks so much for writing. Merry Christmas! Laurie Tuchel

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