As a young nation, the Bahamas, which became independent in 1973, has used art in vital and important ways to remember its history and find its voice and role in the world. Informed by numerous cultures and complex histories, the art scene provides visitors—as well as locals—a way to understand the life of the islands in a more intimate and deep way. It’s an aspect of the Bahamas’ cultural life that will be a focus of AFAR Experiences when it visits the country on June 15 and 16.
As an institutional presence, The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, housed in a beautiful colonial building, provides a considered exploration of the nation’s history and culture. Much of the permanent collection celebrates the islands’ tropical beauty, both of its people and the natural environment, in contemporary and historic works. The gallery also has several shows a year, installing provocative temporary exhibits featuring both local and visiting artists. These shows help continue the conversation about what it means to be Bahamian.
Several well-known local artists have committed to fostering and promoting the Bahamian arts scene. A native of Nassau, John Cox has exhibited at Art Basel Miami Beach and elsewhere, but he is also known as a key supporter of the local art scene. He has been a curator at the National Gallery, a cofounder of Transforming Spaces (a non-profit arts education organization), and created The Bahamian Project, a photographic essay about the people of the Bahamas. Cox also founded Popop Studios, a gallery on Dunmore Avenue in Nassau. Currently he serves as Baha Mar’s Creative Arts Director, assuring that visitors to the new resort will also learn about the islands’ contemporary arts scene through curated works on display throughout the property.
Sculptor and painter Antonius Roberts is also a key figure in Nassau’s art scene and another cofounder of Transforming Spaces. He has located his studio and gallery at Hillside House, a 19th-century building in downtown Nassau that Roberts meticulously restored. Visitors can drop in Tuesday to Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., or by appointment. Other galleries, such as the D’Aguilar Art Foundation, which has one of the largest private collections of Bahamian art, support the arts not only by exhibiting works created by local artists, but supporting arts education in the community.
Works of art in their own right, the crafts of the Bahamas also help tell the story of Bahamian culture and history. The Graycliff Heritage Village Artists’ Studios present paintings, crafts, photography, and other collectibles, all made in the Bahamas. Artists are frequently on-site to meet and discuss their work. On the other side of downtown Nassau, Doongalik Studios is a must-visit art gallery and crafts boutique run by Pam Burnside. Specializing in colorful and fantastic imagery and shapes, it offers opportunities place to learn about the islands’ vernacular art.
Another aspect of the Bahamas’ popular art is Junkanoo, a carnival of outlandish, fascinating costumes and energizing music. During Junakanoo, groups of performers compete to see who has the best costumes, dance moves, and music. Even if you aren’t visiting during the celebration—which occurs on the day after Christmas, on New Year’s Day, and Saturdays in July—there are sometimes opportunities to see special, smaller performances. It’s a reminder that the arts in the Bahamas are not limited to canvases, sculptures, and crafts, but extend to music, dance, and more.