This wasn't my first art show. This was however, my first art show in a long, long time and honestly, I was nervous. I am by no means an expert but had done all that I knew how to do to do prior to this night and yet I still felt the breeze from the butterflies that fluttered within me. My only desire for the opening night besides selling a few pieces was to do a good job in executing my vision in the Doongalik art gallery studio space.
I was prepared for the cultural time lag we have come to expect when planning an event in The Bahamas but I was pleasantly surprised with the number of people that came well before the starting time. I was touched with the sacrifice made to jeopardize their own punctuality for their jobs or the detour they chose before that long haul to the airport just to see the exhibition and show their support.
This show was three years in the making.
The first piece completed in this series. "Political Platform".
I had a few beautiful drawings like"Political Platform" prior to adding any words. They were just like looking at a beautiful mannequin. They were picturesque and anatomically correct but they had no voice. They were beautiful but what are they sayin'? Sometimes in order to hear something properly you have to turn the volume all the way down and slowly turn it up to get the right sound level. For a visual artist, turning it down would look like me turning my pieces around and away from view for a while and just living in the idea of the work instead of looking at it. And when I'm ready to adjust it, I turn it around and see it with fresh eyes. In the wait time of that turnaround, I was conversing about politics and was getting annoyed at how the system uses the poor and poor women specifically to base their promises on. I was like "they treatin' us like a platform for their promises, man". I came home and looked at that piece with my fresh eyes and boiling blood from that exchange and I felt compelled to put words on my piece. Still not knowing which words but knowing I wanted to brand the work , I went to the google images to research brands and stamp lettering. Once I saw the look that resonated with me, I started to draw the words "Political Platform" on the piece as a hand drawn stamp.... And then I started listening to the other pieces to see what they wanted to say. After that, I was on a roll. Every artwork from that point onward was brought by the muse who came at me in flashes of light during a point in a conversation or news article and showed me the whole thing....picture and word. I remember one time I was in Lickety Split and I was reading the paper with my son over some ice cream when I had one of those art-flashes. Man, I had to get one napkin to scribble that onto because it was so blindingly bright in my mind.
I used to think that I was taking too long with this art series but two art mentor voices always went on repeat in my mind when I went there. The late Mr. Wilson, my colleague from C.R. Walker High, always said..."Campbell-girl", in his Guyanese drawl, "Ya don't rush the brush". The second voice was that of Mr. Maxwell Taylor who advised me many moons before the show was even formed to, "Just work...and then one day you'll have a body of work...just work". I think that's why I was so awed when another Bahamian art icon in the person of Stan Burnside had so much insightful things to say during opening night. I mean, I've only really seen Burnside in that Bahamian art masters DVD that I often play for my art students and here he was getting so detailed with what he liked about my art and he really got it. I know in the video clip below I look so cool and collected but I was like a bit fan-struck.
Bahamian art icon, Stan Burnside speaking about my show.
One of the most challenging things about opening night is deciding how to display the work in a way that keeps the integrity of what you envisioned and to not come off looking cheap or not thoughtful with your intention. And in this country, art is one of those expensive commodities. So I was grateful to God for opening the way to allow me to be selected for the Charitable Arts Foundation Grant. Trust me, I was jumping out my skin when I got that confirmation because I had already invested in the art production supplies and produced a book of my art installation proposal. Marketing is key. Getting excellent photography and documentation of the artwork is crucial for any social media presence or advertisement. Initially I wanted to hire someone to execute my master to-do list but I guess it was too exhaustive because I rarely got any follow-up calls or emails. But as everything has a purpose even when its not easily understood, I was advised that its better to do everything for your business yourself anyway because at least you are ensured that it'll get done the way you want it and you would learn the how-tos along the way.... its one of those Stephen Covey's Win-Win moments. One of the best decisions I made was booking the gallery space at least 6 months in advance. I had the pick of the litter with dates because I chose early and believe me those spaces get filled up really fast. The opening night of my show was exactly one year and one day after the 2017 General Elections.
Upon entering the gallery space you would see protest placards. They were enlarged copies of my work with printed text and hand colored stamps which were then suspended from the ceiling by a fishing line so that even when no one is holding them, the placards still dangle and move in protest. My performance artists were a few drama students who already had such great experience doing well at the E.Clement Bethel National Performing Arts competitions and in school plays. There is so much talent in young people. Not even the majority of them are stereotypically rude and bad but its just that those who are that way get the most free advertisement. So as a teacher, I made a point to include them as an integral part of the show. Afterall, what good is all this debate about the state of the country if we don't leave it in a better way than we found it and for the sake of the youth? Those Performance Artists recreated a protest vibe that was patterned after the 2015 Independence Day silent protest organized by activist-politician Terneille Burrows.
The road to opening night was lined with to do lists strung up on a makeshift clothesline in my room that I checked off periodically of each little step. It was paved with email communication and whats app groups to keep my personal team of family and friends motivated and on the same page with my vision. Networking pulled me along the road and landed me on a national radio talk show slot with Nahajah Black, a spread in the Tribune by Jeffarah Gibson and wine donations from Bristol Wines. The Doongalik gallery curator, Pamela Burnside took me in and advised me like a daughter. The comradery and genuine care for the art was embodied in The Place For Art where they patiently allowed me to change my mind like the four seasons with framing options. As cliche as it sounds, no one is an island.
The last piece in the series presented was entitled " #Hope 242" and shows the hope of the country as a young man attending a protest march. I cant stress enough how important it is to showcase positive images of youth. So to end the night, there was more.
A dance selection from the Exclusive dance group twisted their bodies in rhythmic delight and took the art exhibition opening night into the realm of entertainment and represented the joy and hope that youth can bring.
Was my art exhibition successful? I think so. I executed my vision the way I saw it in my mind and there was a full house. I even sold a few art pieces and did a happy dance in the corner. The art series was finally birthed.