Alberta Whittle - Pandora:FiatLux Series
Threshold. Images of our past. Visions of our future.

A threshold refers to a gate or doorway, a point of transition between one space or state and another, a marker that one thing ceases and something new takes its place. The current moment, as Barbados transitions from a parliamentary constitutional monarchy to its new status as a Republic is an opportunity for reflection on the shared common wealth of experiences that describe and define this nation.

The Barbados National Art Gallery, when it finally opens to the public in its new home in the Garrison area, will have an important role to play in articulating the complex and multi-dimensional narratives of our evolving national identity or identities. Through the growing collection of paintings, drawings, prints, photography, sculptures, works in mixed media and new media we witness how artists have been able to distill and articulate those spaces and events and experiences that speak knowingly of a shared culture.

For this exhibition, the board members of the Barbados National Art Gallery were asked to choose one work from the collection which for them spoke to this current moment. Although we speak of the national as a collective, it is composed of individuals who experience and interpret this nation, its history and its present in diverse ways. The work of art often has the ability to capture and distill these moments and present them to us to reflect on. We may recognize familiar experiences, respond to shared memories, notice things that might often have been overlooked, and perhaps reflect on expanded interpretations and understanding of this space we inhabit. The result here is a small body of works which nevertheless impresses with the diversity of approaches, the sensitivity and power of renderings, and the independence of their vision.

While the majority of works presented here are drawn from the BNAG collection, (those by Mary Armstrong, Arthur Atkinson, Sonia Boyce, Hubert Brathwaite, Stanley Greaves, Francis Griffith and Alberta Whittle,), two of the works – Ras Akyem Ramsay’s House of King David and Briggs Clarke’s Road to Wildey – come from the collection of the Barbados Gallery of Art. This distinct collection began as the Art Collection Foundation, a private initiative established in the mid 1980s to collect the best of contemporary Barbadian art through their annual exhibitions and competitions, as well as preserve the works of the early pioneers of Barbadian art. The selection and inclusion of these works acknowledges the important role the ACF / BGA has played in preserving the visual heritage of Barbados and advancing the public call for the establishment of a permanent home.

Ras Akyem-I Ramsay - House of King David
Ras Akyem-I Ramsay<br/>House of King David (1984)
Ras Akyem-I Ramsay
House of King David (1984)

Dreamskings and self actualization are some of the thoughts that this work provokes for me.
There is an intensity at the center of this piece that highlights the central figure’s determination to achieve something or get somewhere. The distorted perspective, colours and pipe make this moment dreamlike,  and both the title of the work and crowned image on the wall lead one to imagine that somehow contemplation of sovereignty is a part of this moment. Despite the humble setting, I like the references to learning ( the open book), enlightenment ( the lamp ) , music ( drums ),  art ( paint brushes and palette) and fruits of the land, and the inference that these elements are a part of fulfillment.
A Barbados National Art Gallery , like becoming a republic, is a long held dream of many. House of King David  won the Art Collection Foundation’s Purchase Award in 1984 and is now part of the collection of the Barbados Gallery of Art .This is an opportune time to honor the craftsmen of our fate as we make it possible for every child born in Barbados to become a king of their own destiny or a President of our country.

Dr Clyde T. Cave
Board Member, Barbados National Art Gallery
Trustee, Barbados Gallery of Art

Arthur Atkinson - Time Capsule
Arthur Atkinson<br/>Time Capsule (2005)
Arthur Atkinson
Time Capsule (2005)

It seems to me that the last 19 months, and doubtless the next 12 months to come, can be appropriately captured in a time capsule, so unique are the events which have occurred.  A time capsule is the perfect vehicle with which to encapsulate these events and to keep the memories, the losses, the loneliness, the doubts and fears, the tragedies and losses of lives and livelihoods, the sparks of hope, the miracles and blessings of recovery and revival, the inexplicable and the obvious, the roles of faith and fancy, the coming together of people all over the world in a fight against a common enemy (or not!). Who would have thought it?

The pandemic, if (when) ever it comes to an ‘end’, will forever be remembered by this generation and the next, as an unprecedented “moment” in world history, when our lives were without doubt significantly affected, but against which, despite the enormity of what has occurred and is occurring, we are kept grounded by the planned and ordered progression of mundane events that we did anticipate but could not predict, that we did expect and could foresee.

The enormity of the pandemic cannot stop the march of time, but it permits us to place this period in a capsule, for us to study and reflect upon”.

Gillian Clarke
Board Member, Barbados National Art Gallery
Trustee, Barbados Gallery of Art

Hubert Brathwaite - A Political Meeting
Hubert Brathwaite<br/>A Political Meeting (2008)
Hubert Brathwaite
A Political Meeting (2008)

As we move towards the island officially becoming a Republic, we are reminded that this is the culmination of a political process which began decades ago with the move from being a British colony to an independent nation.  The right to vote was a relatively new concept for the masses but political meetings held within communities were not only essential in educating the masses but also for garnering personal political votes.

This piece by Hubert Brathwaite seems simplistic at first glance, but I like the way how Brathwaite captures the attentiveness of the crowd, seemingly entranced in the charismatic speech being given.  The orator uses a manuscript, brandishing “facts” which no one in the crowd can really see or examine to determine its authenticity.

The three circles of light could be seen as being symbolic of this enlightening process.  However, the black background could suggest that the listening public aren’t necessarily getting the whole picture…that there are facts relating to the process that are hidden, keeping them “in the dark” so to speak.

Significant to me, is the backdrop which features an idiom of Barbadian architecture, the chattel house, which has survived the various eras of Barbadian life: from colony to independent nation and now to this current era of Republicanism.

Ian A. Best
Board Member, Barbados National Art Gallery

Alberta Whittle - Pandora: Fiat Lux Series
Alberta Whittle<br>Pandora: Fiat Lux Series (2005)
Alberta Whittle
Pandora: Fiat Lux Series (2005)

How can Caribbean feminisms in visual art be at the center of discussions of nationhood and self-determination? This is the question that comes to mind with Pandora in the context of Barbados becoming a Republic. In this work, Whittle channels the Greek myth of Pandora, the first woman created by Hephaestus and who is associated with unleashing “evils of humanity” from a jar, often known as Pandora’s box. She presents a series of symbols released into the landscape of Barbadian national identity: two female figures on a hill, one with the head of a lion and one with the head of a monkey, hold hands, but seem to be heading in opposite directions, the stark presence of a pole bearing the Barbados flag between them. In the background, a flock of blackbirds ominously cover a dark sky, heading towards an abyss. The motifs of a lion and a monkey could be read as representations of empire and independence, the lion being the national animal of the UK, and the green monkey being a popular emblem of Barbados. And yet at the same time, the two female figures clutching onto each other defiantly, but potentially being separated by a bold symbol of nationhood also brings to mind the continued inequities and polarization within our island, in particular highlighting the vulnerability of those in same sex relationships or the disparity of experiences and access based on race.

Pandora, then, for me, becomes a reminder that as we celebrate this momentous occasion of becoming a Republic, and the positive steps towards self-determination that are associated with this shift, that we shouldn’t lose sight of key issues of citizenship that we still want to resolve in contemporary Barbadian national identities, such as issues of racial equity and LGBTQ rights, and that the lens of Caribbean feminisms in visual art can facilitate these discussions in new ways.

Natalie McGuire-Batson
Board Member, Barbados National Art Gallery

Briggs Clarke - Road to Wildey 
Briggs Clarke<br/>Road to Wildey (1986)
Briggs Clarke
Road to Wildey (1986)

When asked to select a piece for the Barbados National Art Gallery exhibition celebrating the Republic my heart instinctively went to the Road to Wildey by Briggs Clarke.  It evokes feeling of peace, rest and contentment. The need to pause and ponder on a journey. Wildey was a pretty popular area and remains so today. This lone man under a tree saw the need to stop. As we become a Republic in a very busy world, we Bajans  should to stop to reflect on our road.

A tree, apart from providing shade is a  also a powerful symbol of the passage and regeneration of time. Many trees in  Barbados have seen generations of Barbadians come and go. They stand as a powerful symbol about the continuity of time and the resilience of life.

As we make decisions in the present we must also think about how they impact on our future.  At this critical stage in our history let us learn a lesson from this painting about defining who we are as Barbadians, maybe the need to return to the simplicity, but surely the need to pause and reflect.

Oneka Small
Board Member, Barbados National Art Gallery

Francis Griffith - Text Painting
Francis Griffith<br>Text Painting (1963)
Francis Griffith
Text Painting (1963)

As a seaman travelling throughout the world, first with the British Merchant Marines and later aboard commercial cargo ships, Francis Griffith increasingly recorded his insights into the dynamics of human behavior, without judgement and outside the bounds of authorized history. His visits to Egypt and Ethiopia influenced him most profoundly and Text Painting of 1963 is a narrative/ vision, vision/narrative in which Griffith graphically presents his fascination with the Middle East and East Africa as communities embedded in the ancient world of the Bible yet emerging as new world powers, in a space and time when ‘post slavery’ Europe and the USA sought to maintain control over the world’s energy resources and trade.

The artist painted the complexities of the new world order in an ongoing cycle of post war Britain from the 1950s with its troubled royal family in stark counterpoint to the new wealth of emergent oil rich Arab states. As a self-taught artist Griffith was not confined to the cultural norms which associated excellence with whiteness and the traditions of a Graeco-Roman heritage. Rather as he returned in 1966 to his island home, then preparing for independence, Griffith shared his vision of human history in an evolving narrative, unfolding across time, punctuating his canvas with names and dates as different events appeared in the news, in what might be described as a ‘visual’ stream of consciousness.

It is almost certain that Griffith returned to this canvas repeatedly over decades, adding layers of knowledge as he added layers of paint. In Text Painting Griffith in fact exemplified the special role of memory in the process of the circulation/reception of knowledge, and traced the cultural levels of society through the orality of the written word. In this work he demonstrated the ineluctable link between the present and the past with his portrayal of the upheavals of the modern world in resolutely biblical terms, transfixed as he was by the power struggles which were occurring in every region of the world, in an unequal battle between the dark and the light.

Alissandra Cummins
Chair, Barbados National Art Gallery Board

Mary Armstrong - Tip Toeing In
Mary Armstrong<br/>Tip Toeing In (2002)
Mary Armstrong
Tip Toeing In (2002)

Why did I choose this piece?… Let’s start with the title…
Growing up you were never allowed to be late for Sunday school. Once you were late, your only option was to sneak in and pray that an adult didn’t see you or else your grandmother would hear the story of you being late (in my case it was my god-mother who raised me, and she was handy with the strap).. .so please tip toe in and hope for the best.

As it relates to today’s circumstances, we still remain a very Christian society, so Christian that even our leaders want to please everyone, a position that is virtually impossible. We have a crisis with Covid 19 that is wreaking havoc on our economy and taking lives. Yet there is no clear position on whether to mandate the vaccine or not to mandate. So what do we do? We tip toe in and start with “safe zones”… when reality is it’s a form of mandate.

We are about to move our country to a republic; a referendum was held years ago and there was consensus to move forward. No government since 2008 dare act, because we still did not want to ruffle any feathers… but we do it now…but wait a minute…it’s not a wholesale change of constitution…we will tip toe into the process and change the constitution eventually.

So that is Barbados… we tip toe in!!!

Terencia Coward
Barbados National Art Gallery Collection

Stanley Graves - There is a Meeting Here Tonight
Stanley Graves<br/>Ballot Boxes (1997)
Stanley Graves
Ballot Boxes (1997)
Stanley Graves<br/>Political Hero (2000)
Stanley Graves
Political Hero (2000)

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I have long attributed this saying to my grandmother whom I am sure had no idea that in 1849, French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote  “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose “ – the more things change, the more they stay the same. This saying has even more clarity when I explored There is a Meeting Here Tonight by Stanley Greaves and reluctantly had to make a selection of two works within this series.

What I find most intriguing in this series is the juxtaposition of unexpected things and the presentation of objects to represent something that is not immediately obvious. The painting is one thing on its surface but the thoughts behind what is being represented are not immediately obvious. When you realize this is a statement about politicians and people then you start to question who is the politician here and who is the public. Stanley Greaves has mastered a conversation here that is not immediately obvious and I like that you have to delve into it to discern what is happening.

In Ballot Boxes, I am reminded of those ghetto spaces where things are thrown over the power lines, but these are not things that are thrown away but rather are precisely tied into their spaces to ensure some real representation as opposed to an object that has been discarded and thrown away.

Political Hero, I find to be very tongue-in-cheek. It is interesting how relevant it is now especially with the recent removal of the statue of Lord Nelson. What will be the next statue in that place that will represent us? Do we really need to have something to replace it?

These paintings remain relevant now. 20+ years have gone by but a lot of the political rhetoric has remained the same. When you go back and do some digging, you realize that much of the current debate is only a rehashing of things from the past. Maybe that is the way it has to be so that generations can learn from the past. We have to keep saying the same things… maybe just in a different way sometimes.

Adrian Burnett
Board Member, Barbados National Art Gallery

Sonia Boyce - Crop Over
Sonia Boyce<br/>Crop Over - Film (2007)
Sonia Boyce
Crop Over - Film (2007)

When the book, Art in Barbados: What kind of mirror image was published in 1999, one reviewer wrote that the authors -of which I am one – needed to consider artists of Bajan descent from the wider diaspora; artists such as Sonia Boyce. Sonia’s mother was born in Barbados and migrated to Britain as part of the Windrush Generation where she met her Guyanese-born husband and raised her family. I first interviewed Sonia Boyce in 2003 and in the following years she made several visits to Barbados, working with artists and students at the Barbados Community College, and eventually producing Crop Over in 2007. The video was made in collaboration with the Barbados Museum, the National Art Gallery Committee and Harewood House in Leeds, as part of the events marking two hundred years since the abolition of the British Slave Trade.

Crop Over is distinct from pre-lenten carnivals in the region in that it is a harvest festival and as such has direct ties to the history of plantation slave labour. Boyce’s work focuses on the transgressive performances of traditional folk characters such as Mother Sally and Donkey Man, accompanied by commentary by local cultural historians. It is particularly powerful to reflect back on this work at the present moment with the curtailing of Crop Over events and the cancellation of Kadooment over the past two years as a result of the global pandemic. In addition, the Black Lives Matter protests across the globe have reminded us of the forces of revolution, resilience and community that lie at the core of carnival. It is the subversive underbelly of carnival that Crop Over hints at, amidst contemporary efforts to make this national festival more palatable to a tourist market.

In the fourteen years since this video was made, Crop Over has been included in major exhibitions internationally including the New Orleans Triennial Prospect 4 (2017), Boyce’s retrospective exhibition at Manchester Gallery of Art (2018) and the upcoming Life Between Islands: Caribbean British Art 1950s to Now at Tate Britain (December 2021).

Here as in the original installation in the Barbados Museums’ Cunard Gallery in 2008, the video is accompanied by photographs made in collaboration with William Cummins.

Allison Thompson
Deputy Chair, Barbados National Art Gallery Board