Throughout the course of art history, the introduction of new machinery and technology influenced how art was made. From trains to the camera, the advancement of said technology continuously shaped how art is created, how it is viewed and how it is consumed. In the 1980s, the term “new media” was given to art created by and distributed through digital technology. New media encompasses, but is not isolated to, graphic design, animation, computer robots, interactive art and internet art.
On Friday, January 24, 2020, a new media exhibition, “Identity”, featuring artworks by Nowé Harris-Smith and Spurgeonique Morley opened at Doongalik Studios. Although they are both junior high art teachers, Harris-Smith and Morley displayed over 10 digital art prints within the historic Doongalik gallery space. Keeping true to the name, all of the artworks were self-portraits of the artists. The exhibition is on view until February 29, 2020.
Harris-Smith (b. 1993 Nassau, The Bahamas) entered the visual arts community as a painter, creating abstract portraits of figures. Staying within the two-dimensional realm, she is widely known for her street photography and portraits of masked figures whose faces she finger paints. Hence, this move to digital art did not come at a surprise. Harris-Smith gives her audience an entryway into another layer of Bahamian society that does not typically align with the “sun, sand and sea” aesthetic. Within these portraits, she utilizes simple shapes and blues and pinks as background colors; the figures in the foreground are simplistic realistic renderings of herself. “Androgynous 1”, “Androgynous 2” and “Andryogynous 3” are self-portraits of Harris Smith standing in front of bougainvillea flowers, hibiscus and sunflowers with one blue and one pink circle juxtaposed in the background. The skin and clothes are rendered with the same brown shade, however, the words “him/her” are prominently placed on the chest area of the figure. When asked to elaborate on the significance of this triptych, Harris-Smith shared, “The show was inspired by our experiences and growth as women. Along my journey, I came to understand my differences and what I’m comfortable with. In terms of attire, I never felt I should have to conform to how society says my gender should dress. Along with this, I’ve received more backlash than praise for not adhering to traditional gender norms. Oftentimes, I am mistaken for a ‘he’ or sometimes ridiculed for ‘pretending to be a he’. The reason the shirt has those labels on it is simply that. Clothes aren’t gendered and whomever/whatever you identify with, you should have the ability to express yourself. Whether non-binary or not. The flowers also act as a contrast to the perceived masculine clothing. Feminine and masculine energy can coincide.”
Throughout Harris-Smith’s work, this contrast prevails. It exists subtly through expressions in one piece and the expressions in another. In “Her Past” (2019), Harris-Smith captured herself at a three-quarter view position with a silk bonnet on – a cap used by black women to protect their hair while sleeping – with tears streaming down her cheeks. The eyes avert the viewer’s gaze, suggesting a dismissal or discomfort. The tears suggest unhappiness. However, “I Am Me” (2019) exudes confidence. The subject’s eyes meet the viewer’s gaze and the chin is slightly elevated to give a sense of certainty.
A similar confidence and exaggerated sense of self can be seen in Morley’s portraits. Morley’s (b. 1991, Nassau, The Bahamas) work combines geometric patterns, repetitious shapes and a dual representation of herself. These works are neoteric and contradistinct given Morley’s former practice as a figurative ceramicist. For Morley, the portraits exist as “a place of self-exploration, self-acceptance, self-love and pride in my sexuality and the beauty standards that I set for myself”. The activeness of her work balances the simplicity of Harris-Smith’s portraits, creating a synchronicity throughout the exhibition. As viewers enter the exhibition, they are greeted by Morley’s mirrored portraits. “Queen of Her Tribe” (2019) features this element of illusion while highlighting movement and space. Both figures are wearing head wraps similar to traditional ones from West Africa, with white circles around the eyes and down the middle of the mouth to the bottom of the chin. In regards to the body paint, Morley expressed,
“In looking into what I deem as freely loving all things connected to my personal take on my beauty, I came upon the Karo tribe. Now, the Karo tribe is an Ethiopian tribe predominantly known for their intricate face and body paintings. In their culture, these paintings are used to heighten their beauty and sexual appeal to the opposite sex. Despite how these paintings look to people outside of their tribe, the meaning in their culture is not devalued.”
Morley reinforces the beauty of blackness, especially beauty within the varied cultures found on the African continent. Furthermore, the ownership of sexuality for women is still a radical concept and Morley subtly presents hers to the viewer with confidence.
This exhibition is a proclamation of Harris-Smith and Morley’s ownership of themselves in their totality. They are proclaiming that they are comfortable in their skin; it is important for women, especially black women, to have the space to do so. Moreover, they leave a gentle space for viewers to be introspective. Utilizing selfies as references and digital doodles as footprints for the work, “Identity” shows that we are indeed within the contemporary age of Bahamian art. Moreover, “Identity” provides space for a sector of Bahamians not widely represented in the media and affirms their existence through the artists’ acceptance of themselves. For more information on this show, contact Doongalik Studios.