Mentioning the Bahamas to most people conjures up images of turquoise seas and golden beaches. The more cynical among us might instead think of the jet-setting crowd’s predilection for making their financial arrangements there.
In reality, the islands are just as diverse as anywhere else, and have so much more offer than either offshoring taxes or the beach life in a pristine setting (although that certainly doesn’t detract from the experience).
Explore just a little further and the nation reveal its own, rich culture – full of colourful expressions, traditions and a unique modo di essere.
The legacy of colonialism has left a truly international footprint on the islands – from Europe (including a Greek community from the sponging industry in the 1880s), both Americas, and more – and the Bahamian people have shaped their own, proud identity.
Today, the Bahamas has come to represent a melting pot of cultures, and each island has its own character and sub-culture.
Out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Contemporary Art Bahamas (CAB) was created as a platform to connect the nascent Bahamas art scene to the rest of the world.
In 2020, founder Natascha Vazquez was at a loose end. Current Gallery, located in the BahaMar complex, had just furloughed all of its employees, unsure as to when it would re-open.
Vazquez used her newly free time as an opportunity to work directly with the artists. She already had a personal relationship with them, and knew that she could promote their talents to the rest of the world.
Thus, CAB was born – first as a window front ‘shopping’ experience on Instagram, and now a fully-fledged digital portal.
CAB’s success is due both to the demand for local, contemporary art – and timing. The trend of individuals flocking to the Bahamas, in an attempt to escape confinement elsewhere, provided a ready audience for the islands’ artists. Like all great entrepreneurs, Vazquez’s platform rides a growing wave of desirability.
Adopting post-pandemic technologies, CAB created visual simulations of how their artworks could be displayed in new properties. Demand continues to be strong, propelling CAB and their artists to international recognition. Through a partnership with Arte Caribe, CAB’s first international exhibition, in Madrid, is to be held in late 2021.
The next step for CAB is the development of a physical space which will allow collectors to experience the art in person and personally meet with artists. Even with new communication technologies, a human connection remains important – both for promoting artists, and for adventurous collectors.
A physical space would also enable some of Vazquez’s other plans, such as a studio with ceramic and painting classes, as well as curated farm to table dinners with local artists as the guests of honour.
For now, international and Bahamian investors may have to settle for a digital experience. Contemporary Bahamian art might be new territory for many – so, what exactly does the scene look like?
Lynn Parotti (b. 1968, Nassau, The Bahamas) is a London-based Bahamian painter. Her work demonstrates a consuming passion for the natural landscape of her birth, particularly the intoxicating ocean depths. Yet she is equally concerned with the social geography of place: the human experience and relationship to these locations; the historical traces; and the economic, environmental consequences of modernisation.
Cardo Knowles (b. 1962, San Salvador, The Bahamas) is an impressionist painter whose works invite nostalgic reflections on island-life. In 1996, he started a decade-long independent study across Europe, expanding his creative practice in Southern France and at the Royal Society of Art in London. Knowles interprets the islands’ sceneries with a European sensibility, his recognisable style influenced by the great Impressionists.
Thierry Lamare (b. 1957, Paris, France) is a French immigrant who is known for his intimate portraits that reveal the intricacies of Bahamian life. Through his work, he highlights simple moments in island-living: a fisherman catching dinner, a farmer picking potatoes, a church perched near the sea. Lamare is fascinated by the saturated colours and light of the Bahamas, its people and its architecture.
Max Taylor (b. 1939, Nassau, The Bahamas) is one of the Bahamas’ most well-known and celebrated artists. His work is informed by the Black Power Movement, and tackles the islands’ struggle for emancipation and socio-economic equity. An important theme across his work is the traditional home life: families, hard working men, and powerful women. He is a versatile artist and works in printmaking, painting, sculpture, and ceramics.