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Front Porch | Person of the Year: The Imaginarium of John Cox

“An imaginarium refers to a place devoted to the imagination. There are various types of imaginaria, centers largely devoted to stimulating and cultivating the imagination, towards scientific, artistic, commercial, recreational, or spiritual ends.” – Wikipedia

The Imaginarium of John Cox, who was born the year of independence, is a kaleidoscope of ideas resident mostly on mixed-media paintings and assemblages, and in the fecund imagination of an artist, curator, educator and mentor, whose artistry and cultural activism continue to dynamize the arts in The Bahamas.

Cox’s consortium of imaginaria includes physical spaces like his personal art studio, and other spaces like the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB), The Current Gallery and Art Center and the Fairwind Exhibition at Baha Mar, and Popopstudios International Center for the Visual Arts.

His biography notes: “In 1999 Cox founded Popopstudios International Center for the Visual Arts, a dynamic, evolving hub for the Bahamian community with artist studio spaces, a gallery, international, local and student residencies, and education and programming.”

As artists like Edmund Moxey, Pat Rahming, Jackson Burnside and others imagined: John Cox and others of his generation are developing a creative economy in which the cultural riches of The Bahamas are celebrated, and recognized as commercially and economically valuable and viable.

Like Rahming and former tourism minister Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace never tire of insisting: The Bahamas has only begun to tap the possibilities of tourism, including in the realms of heritage, culture and the arts.

Artistic treasures

Cox’s life and work parallel the development of a post-independent sovereign country, which has gained tremendous confidence in its cultural and artistic treasures, happily expressing these on a global stage.

At just 45 years of age, his already impressive contribution to the arts will only grow in depth and breadth. In significant ways, this artist who has demonstrated a tremendous capacity for growth, is just getting started.

A father of two young children, Cox has many degrees of teaching and learning ahead, of which his mentees and the country will greatly benefit.

Among the more striking elements of Cox’s character are his humility, his willingness to share credit, his delight in the gifts of others and his ardent commitment to collaboration and teamwork, especially evident in numerous exhibitions and his work as creative arts director at Baha Mar.

There is something wonderfully fitting about the fact that Cox designed the mural of the late Edmund Moxey displayed at the former Big Pond Youth Center, now named in honor of Moxey, whose vision for Bahamian culture is abundantly manifest in new generations of Bahamians, including Cox, and The University of the Bahamas art students who painted the mural.

John Cox is an iconoclast. A penetrating skeptic of political, religious, commercial and other malarkey – a euphemism – he is not a cynic, which likely has its artistic advantages and disadvantages.

He does not succumb to the all too easy negativity and intellectual conceit of some artists and critics, who often reside in their ivory and other shaded towers, simplistically deriding those who lend their energies and gifts to the hard and complex work of politics, government and other vocations of national development.

Cox aims for a Buddhist-like sensibility in life and in artistic perspective. Like British-born artist David Hockney, Cox appreciates that: “We all see color a bit differently.” This energizes his commitment to diversity and sense of tolerance and deep respect for others.

Artistic traditions

Cox adroitly destroys certain clichés and often mindless tropes. Like a chef combining unexpected seasonings and greetings, he often juxtaposes ideas and images from home and abroad in a variety of media.

A cosmopolitan spirit, he liberally borrows from a treasury of artistic traditions and cultures, easily combining, for example, Asian and Bahamian accents in his works. Moreover, there is a playful imagination at work that readily places polka dots on a kimono.

Cox has exhibited in galleries and spaces around the world, including “in exchanges in France, Italy, Germany, Hong Kong, the United States and the Caribbean. He has also been a part of many international exhibitions including Art Basel”.

His work is part of the permanent exhibit at the NAGB, and is in the two largest private art collections in the country, including, respectively those of Dawn Davies and the D’Aguilar Art Foundation.

Cox notes the contributions of Erica James, Amanda Coulson and others, with whom he was pleased to work with at the national art gallery, which plays a central role in the promotion and preservation of the visual arts.

His cosmopolitan and global spirit are as vibrant as his fierce patriotism, though he eschews provincialism, nativism and the poisonous brews of noxious phobias.

Cox uses colors and various found objects and material like poet and author Patricia Glinton-Meicholas combines and mesmerizes with words and images to both celebrate and interrogate their subject matter.

Cox is driven by the depth of curiosity, technical excellence and meticulousness of his father, the late George Cox, a noted civil and structural engineer who passed away earlier this year.

He is the only child of George Cox and Setella Cox (née Dillet), an exuberant spirit, who passed away in 2016, and who was exceedingly proud of John’s artistry, as was his father and his family, including his parents’ siblings.

Redefine art

Through the “use [of] familiar and ordinary objects to reference distant places and ideas, Cox has helped to… redefine art in The Bahamas”.

A graduate of the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Cox earned a BFA in illustration in 1995 and a master’s in art education in 1996.

After returning home Cox began teaching at the now University of The Bahamas in 1997, and later served as education officer during his first stint at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas.

His biography notes: “In 2012, Cox became the chief curator at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas… Cox’s large format paintings, found object assemblages, collages and experimental prints were featured in the groundbreaking 2008 Artists of The Bahamas documentary and global traveling exhibition, formally cementing him as an important practicing artist in Bahamian art history.”

While at UB, he helped to reorient the arts curriculum. He also became a mentor of a palette of younger artists, including extraordinarily talented individuals like Tavares Strachan, Lavar Munroe and others.

His mentoring mirrored his mentorship by Bahamian masters like the late Brent Malone, Max Taylor, Antonius Roberts, Stan Burnside and others. He notes the role that Roberts has played in creating various platforms for artistic expression.

John Beadle and Heino Schmid are contemporaries Cox praises for their intellectual honesty and artistic rigor and integrity.

The late Jackson Burnside has a special place in Cox’s heart. It was Burnside who impressed upon Cox the role that culture and the arts would play in the ongoing economic and national development of the country.

Jackson’s vision is unfolding in various ways, including at Baha Mar, where Cox is helping to showcase the arts through a tapestry of domestic and international platforms.

This includes: “The Fairwind exhibition [which] encompasses a survey of 100-years of Bahamian art, beginning in the late 1800s up to the contemporary practices of today.

“The exhibition communicates both a visual and auditory narrative to viewers, exhibiting paintings, photography, sculpture, artifacts and multimedia.”

The exhibit showcases the talent of generations of artists who employed their gifts to express the struggle and transcendence of the Bahamian people through slavery and colonialism and in nation building as a sovereign country.

At The Current, Cox and his associates are promoting an array of arts, including the visual arts, along with many elements of the creative economy, including recently, the artistry of straw vendors.

At the opening of two of the hotels at Baha Mar, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis lauded Cox and his team for their work in promoting Bahamian artists.

Graeme Davis, president of Baha Mar, also praised Cox and the artistic team, and contributing artists featured in the Fairwind exhibition.

Cox is aware of the perennial tensions and challenges inherent in maintaining a certain artistic integrity amidst commercial demands. It is a tension and challenge artists have struggled with in many ages and in many cultures.

Given his temperament and his vision, as well as his cosmopolitan and patriotic spirit, John Cox is suited to ensuring that this tension is ever vibrant and visible, like a current constantly running through the imaginarium and spaces in which the fruits and expressions of one’s imagination are made visible.

For his extraordinary contributions to the preservation and celebration of Bahamian culture and the arts, through his own works of art and the generous and gracious promotion of others, John Cox is this column’s Person of the Year.

frontporchguardian@gmail.com.

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