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The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas:
by Ester Napoli

Celebrating Bahama Art
Founded in Villa Doyle, Nassau in the 1860’s, the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas was first and foremost the private residence of Chief Justice Sir William Doyle. The residence has been enhanced drastically since that time, the interior having been totally restored. Today, Villa Doyle is home to an art gallery that celebrates Bahamian culture by exhibiting works of native artists. It also features, on a smaller scale, artists from other countries. Visitors to the gallery will find a wide variety of Bahama art: paintings, photography, sculptures, ceramics, and textiles.

The Third National Exhibition
In 2006, The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas held an anniversary exhibition marked ‘The Third National Exhibition’ to commemorate the Bahamas, its people, and their way of life. This special exhibition, which takes place every two years, usually focuses on the various social Bahamian issues occurring at the time of the exhibition. It puts Bahama art in the limelight, and offers professional and amateur artists an opportunity to display not only their creative talent, but also their political views. However, not every artist’s work is accepted. Every piece is assessed by a jury panel that has the final say in the selection. For the third national exhibition, only 35 pieces from 23 artists were accepted, out of a total of 200 pieces submitted. The chances for successful entry in the exhibition are low, but nevertheless, the Bahama art community embraces the odds. Dr Krista Thompson, The Third National Exhibition’s curator said, “…the national exhibition moved the bar – it raised the standard of artistic excellence on the island and inspired artists to meet it.”

The Jury Process
When the last of the artwork had been submitted for The Third National Exhibition, a small jury of five people sat down together to discuss and evaluate the various pieces. In accordance with Dr. Thompson, four important elements were considered for the selection:

  • The process used by the artist
  • The artist’s success in using a particular material
  • The presentation of the artwork
  • The manner in which all factors worked together to convey the piece’s content.

Dr. Thompson firmly stated, “We chose what we thought was the best representative sample of contemporary Bahamian art.” Moreover, it was understood that the jurors were not looking for artwork that could be described as ‘pretty.’ They wanted pieces that projected meaningful significance, and well-represented the Bahamian society’s identity.

The Fourth National Exhibition
On July 9th of 2008, the gallery held its fourth National Exhibition, curated by Erica James, the Director of National Art Gallery of the Bahamas. This exhibition, like the gallery’s prior national exhibitions, only accepted a small number of works from professional and amateur Bahamian artists. Out of over 300 submissions, only 51 works by 31 Bahamian artists were chosen for the exhibition. Many of these artists had also participated in the third National Exhibition. The fourth National Exhibition featured a rich diversity of art, ranging from sculptures, paintings, photography, video, installations, prints and mixed media to alternative media creations. The exhibition’s success promoted the art gallery’s reputation, and stimulated the local artists to continue to participate.

The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas has become popular since its grand opening in July of 2003, and it will continue to promote its exhibitions for years to come. It has been able to help shape the development of diverse Bahama art forms in the community and has enhanced the careers of many Bahamian artists. Although a significant number of artist’s works do not get accepted into the national exhibitions, it does not reflect the worth or importance of their art, according to Dr. Thompson. Since the national exhibition is a reoccurring event, artists continue to strive to produce pieces that demonstrate their creative abilities, and their personal views.

 

About the author:
Ester Napoli: They say if you want to be happy, you have to do something you are passionate about. One of my passions is traveling and the one place I fell in love with was the Bahamas; the white sand, clear waters, friendly environment. It is paradise on earth. I enjoy all aspects of the Bahamas; the culture, the history, the countless sports and activities to keep you busy, and of course, the fabulous weather. Website: Glorious Bahamas Real Estate (www.gloriousbahamas.com).

 


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