NAGB presents the April Artwork of the Month
As its title suggests, the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas’ (NAGB) newest permanent exhibition, From Columbus to Junkanoo, tells the story of the country’s historical and social evolution from Columbus’ landfall in “the New World” to modern-day manifestations of culture and identity.
The exhibition is curated by Jodi Minnis and Averia Wright. Among its themes are old industries like sponging, wrecking and lumber, slavery and freed African settlements, island communities, religion and Junkanoo. The home and family life is also a central theme.
With so many homes in The Bahamas led by single parents – usually the mother – the maternal figure stands out in several works. One of the most prominent is Homer Williams’ “Bahamian Conception of the Black Madonna and Child”, on long-term loan to the NAGB from the Munnings family.
The Madonna and child has been a popular theme in fine art for centuries – particularly during periods remembered for their religiosity, like the Crusades and Renaissance eras. Madonna and child works usually depict a representation of the Virgin Mary and her child, Jesus.
From the 1500s onward, Christianity was a major component of colonization. Enslaved Africans abandoned their traditional religions to follow Christ at the behest of their masters. Over many years, the church and Christianity eventually became a cornerstone of black communities.
In the lead-up to and during the Civil Rights Movement, the concept of black pride and power was developed. Blacks who were fed up with racial discrimination were also searching for a connection to their ancestry. They questioned the whitewashing of history and the representation of Christ and other biblical figures as white. Artists began to respond by recreating holy figures as black or other non-white subjects in their work.
Homer Williams has done just that, in a nod to the importance of the maternal figure in Bahamian society. But he has also taken it a step further by situating the Madonna and child in The Bahamas. The background, a local landscape, features coconut trees, almond trees and a hibiscus plant – elements of the Bahamian environment that we recognize well. Through the presence of The Bible, Williams reflects the prominence of the church and Christian religion in The Bahamas. The result is an amalgamation of European and African influence and heritage that still resonates in The Bahamas and other countries in the region today. “Bahamian Conception of the Black Madonna and Child” was created in 1973, the year of Bahamian independence. It appears that Williams, along with many others in the country, was exploring and helping to define a Bahamian identity.
“Bahamian Conception of the Black Madonna and Child” and other historical and contemporary works can be viewed in the new permanent exhibition, From Columbus to Junkanoo, at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas which will be on view through October 2, 2016. For more information on this and other works, contact the NAGB at 328-5800.