Op-Ed

As Time Goes On — Stan Burnside’s New York art exhibition

“It’s the whole thing of seeing something beautiful from the distance, and as you get closer and closer, the experience just gets more and more intense, and more and more clear.” — Stan Burnside

Almost two weeks ago, my wife, Tonya, our daughter, Zoe, the Burnside and McWeeney families, and close friends were privileged to attend the opening of an exceptionally excellent art exhibition by Stan Burnside in New York City.

The show was held on November 3, 2022 at the world-famous Perrotin Art Gallery at 130 Orchard Street in downtown Manhattan and the exhibition runs through December 23, 2022.

Stan’s exhibition, entitled “As Time Goes On”, was curated by another accomplished Bahamian artist, Tavares Strachan, who also attended the opening.

Several dozen Bahamians who live in New York City also participated in the exhibition, including Leroy Major, the Bahamian consul general in New York, and Chrystal Bethell of the New York City’s office of the Ministry of Tourism.

This week, we will consider this … what observations can be made about Stan Burnside’s art exhibition that opened at the Perrotin Art Gallery in Manhattan?

As Time Goes On

A book with the same name as the exhibition was published for the occasion. In that publication, a literary masterpiece in its own right, Burnside observed that “the body of work is really about the triumph of the human spirit, and just a way of paying tribute and remembering those who have suffered in the struggle”.

“It’s not to ask for anybody’s sympathy or anything, but it’s like, you would remember a relative, you know, and you wouldn’t want them to be just forgotten. Especially when they die horrific deaths, or they live short lives because of the stress that was placed on them as a result of the color of their skin.

“I wanted to express my love for those people and my need to send the world a message that I remember my people who the world was not kind to. That’s what As Time Goes On is, and at the same time, it’s a triumph, because in spite of everything, we are still here, and we are thriving.”

Based on the overwhelming response at the opening to the body of work that Stan created for this exhibition, he has unquestionably achieved his objective.

Strachan wrote the Foreword to the book in which he noted, “Human dignity drives civilization to preserve what is most valuable for generations to come. However heavy, such a weight is made instantly lighter on the shoulders of Stan Burnside.”

Strachan recalls, “Before we met, I knew of Stan as a Junkanoo legend. When we finally met in 1999, I was an eager 17-year-old studying painting at The College of The Bahamas, before it became a university.

“I was enamored by Stan’s welcoming presence and generosity, but more importantly, I was inspired by how his paintings told powerful stories of the island and beyond. What I took away from our conversation was how he managed to convey both compassion and unapologetic honesty.

“This exhibition, As Time Goes On, is a new body of paintings that were made during [the] COVID-19 pandemic-era lockdown. The title refers to the life of simple wonders of a people who sometimes escape the pen of history.

“With compelling grace, Stan paints the people closest to him with egos totally altered, revealing them as both common folks and deities.

“As painter, sculptor, and community mystic, Stan blurs the boundaries between respect and rebellion while keeping us alighted with the story of our people. He defines what it means to be from the future while honoring the community’s distinguishable past.”


A world-class exhibition

The exhibition is comprised of 15 original pieces. Drawing extensively on his immediate family, Stan has captured the essence of those closest to him while capturing the common humanity of all of us.

Approximately half of the book produced for the exhibition featured images from the collection. Each piece tells a uniquely different story that is both deeply personal and profoundly universal simultaneously.

This body of work enables the observer to pierce the veil and peer into the soul of one of The Bahamas’ most prolific and stridently relevant visual artists of all time.

Anyone who experiences this body of work will agree that Stan has transcended the highest heights to which he has previously soared.

My favorite piece of the entirely impressive exhibition was the work entitled Bad Ass MF.

Stan explained the piece in the following words: “I use, in particular, my children in a lot of my paintings, just as subjects. Once they get on my canvases, they are no longer the same as they are in real life.

“You know … they become props to tell a story—the story of the Black man who is like all young men, interested in expressing his manhood. And how important that is, for young men to express their manhood and the hurdles that young Black men have in expressing that manhood.

“And the fact that they face those hurdles with the same uncompromising ferocity of all young men in the world, but they just have a lot more pushing against that. So when I say BadAssMF, what else could you call him, for him to live in this society and to just be a man?

“Because being a man at that age is to express your masculinity in a way that makes people uncomfortable. You know, everybody else does it. In any society, young men, they get to an age where they have to shout out to the world. So Bad Ass MF is a salute to the fact that they never back down. They were never broken.”


The indomitable warrior spirit and the importance of human dignity

The book’s second half included a conversation between Stan and Tavares. That conversation allows the reader to peer deeply into Stan’s soul and mind.

The recurring theme that reverberates throughout the discussion is Stan’s importance to the dignity of our humanity and the indomitable warrior spirit that has endured and has overcome all manner of adversities because of that warrior spirit embedded in our DNA.

Throughout the conversation with Tavares, Stan draws deeply from the unfathomable fount of his Junkanoo roots.

Stan observed, “Junkanoo was always something that I saw from a spiritual perspective.

“I saw it as an earmark of the psyche of the Bahamian people. By that I mean when you look at a Junkanoo cowbeller ringing his bells you see a ferocity and a warrior spirit. And you see Junkanoo as telling the story of our people and how the image of our people broken was never an accurate image of the true spirit of our people.

“There’s no way that our people could exist without the Junkanoo spirit. You can feel it when you experience it, that it’s something that didn’t just happen in this part of the world.

“You know, we brought that with us. And because we didn’t lose it, it means that we died before we submitted or gave up our manhood, you know?

“And so, that Junkanoo spirit is an expression of the invincible spirit of the African people. And the fact that we never bowed down. We experienced being kidnapped, tortured, murdered, and held hostage.

“That’s why they took away our names and tried to take away our traditions, because they wanted us to have no foundation. But Junkanoo gives us that foundation. And Junkanoo is proof that we never lost that foundation.”

As has always been his custom, Stan honors his ancestors, elders, and family with incomparable reverence and recognizes wisdom far exceeding their years with us.

For example, in the book Stan recalls, “When my father was offered one of the highest British honors, he refused it because he said that he didn’t want to do anything to nullify his appreciation for the dignity and power and sovereignty of the Bahamian spirit.

“And those Bahamians, even though they are barefoot and uneducated, and without all of the sophisticated mannerisms of the so-called world, they walked proud, man.

“With the dignity of free men. And he didn’t want to submit to anybody else giving him an honor, other than those people. And so, that is how we were raised. We were raised to think of ourselves as equal to everyone else in the world. And never, ever inferior.”


Conclusion

As Time Goes On recognizes the stellar achievement of one of our most distinguished artistic sons of the soil. Bahamians seldom get to exhibit their body of work in the Big Apple at such a prominent art gallery.

At 75 years of age, some might believe that this is the crowning achievement of Stan’s artistic sojourn.

Those who know better recognize that Stan has not yet completed his creative journey and that there is still more to come from him as time goes on.

• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Bahamas, Advisors and Chartered Accountants. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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