A Junkanoo delight
Arms outstretched in reverie, Nicole Sweeting’s Junkanoo dancers stand in frozen rush at the Lynden Pindling International Airport. The artist has chosen for the dance a man and a woman, each bedecked in layers of costumes that surprise viewers with color. After all, the figures, both 8 and 9ft. tall, are cast in bronze.
“The pieces you see in the airport are actually my sister and brother,”said Sweeting, whose own memories of Junkanoo range from mixing flour paste for her father, a veteran Junkanooer, to watching the parade while perched on the shoulders of one relative or another as a child on Shirley Street.
Now Sweeting’s memories greet the world. The dancers face each other, gripping cowbells and whistles, in spellbinding interplay at the summit of a flight of escalators in the U.S. departure terminal. The colossal bronze figures dance with the promise of passengers taking Junkanoo with them whether they rush or saunter through the terminal.
The pieces were unveiled on February 25 at the opening ceremony for Stage One of the new airport. The first stage also includes large-scale pieces by artists John Beadle, John Cox and Sue Katz Lightbourn. A rotating exhibit curated by the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas features work by more local artists.
While the public saw the dancers for the first time at the opening, Sweeting recalled with emotion the first time she saw the pieces together after they had been installed.
“It was overwhelming…I cried actually,”she said of seeing the pieces in place at the airport.
The dancers represented seven months of work, most of which the artist did while pregnant. A wife and now mother of three, Sweeting had her baby in September 2010, one month before she completed the fine-tuning of her sculpture, which was cast in bronze
at a foundry in the U.S.
The airport commission in 2010 would usher in several firsts for the artist. A retired English Language and Art teacher, Sweeting left the Ministry of Education in 2007 after 11 years to pursue art full-time. She participated in her first exhibition two years later. The show, a group exhibition hosted by Jessica Colebrooke at Popopstudios called the All Ceramics exhibition, included three of Sweeting’s female busts.
Sweeting’s work for the airport gave her the challenge of the entire body.
“One must first believe one can before one sees the results, that’s very powerful, that’s how God works,”said the artist of confronting the construction of the largest pieces she has created to date.”If you believe it after you see it, then that’s not faith.”
Then it was all about the calculations, said Sweeting whose final sculpture started as a less than 3ft. maquette.”You have to know your anatomy, and it’s being able to create the calculations to take you from 2.5 ft. tall.”
Sweeting’s re-introduction to art occurred through a series of events the artist sees as no coincidence.
“As a Christian I know that there’s nothing that’s by coincidence, but in 2005 I had this great passion to paint,”she remembered.
Sweeting had shown interest in art as a child and teenager, but went to Benedict College in South Carolina on an academic scholarship before becoming a teacher. Even while at college she made pencil portraits for people whenever she could. In 2005, while teaching English at C. I. Gibson Senior High, Sweeting began attending art classes at the National Art and Craft Enrichment Program on Wulff Road. Renowned Bahamian artist Max Taylor, the founding instructor, was there at the time.
“I was sent there to him so he could help me to paint,”she said.”But while he was there he also had some of his sculptures.”
Sweeting fell in love with the medium. Taylor gave her a sculptor’s magazine featuring instruction by master sculptor Philippe Faurat. She studied the magazine closely and bought other materials while working in her kitchen. She eventually took a three-day workshop with Faurat in West Palm Beach. But mostly, Sweeting worked and worked with the medium she had chosen. And in 2009 she answered the Nassau Airport Development company’s Call for Works.
With her first major project behind her, Sweeting reflected,”I feel like someone who went from primary school to graduate school in one week.
“The transition was rough,”she said.”But the thing that kept me centered was God.”