Tuesday, September 1, will mark one year since Hurricane Dorian hit our shores. Up until then, this weather event was simply unimaginable and while comparisons were made to the Great Abaco Hurricane of 1932, wind measurements going back to 1851 confirm that Dorian is the strongest hurricane ever to strike The Bahamas in recorded history. As an institution, we take this day to remember the lost, send strength to the survivors and pray for the families and communities who are still struggling to rebuild.
We had previously planned another exhibition for December of 2019, but the need was immediately felt to give our artists and writers a space for reflection and expression and to give our community a space for healing. As such, we crafted a multi-tiered approach to addressing this tragedy through both art and community support, including the “Refuge” exhibition; supporting the Jodi Minnis’ “Alleviate” art auction and Angelika Wallace-Whitfield’s pop-up shop for her “Hope is a Weapon” Dorian relief T-shirts; the WeGatchu campaign, which was run together with mental health professionals to assist first responders and survivors; “Art as Therapy” workshops for survivors and training for teachers; a partnership with Equality Bahamas and Lend-A-Hand Bahamas which allowed the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) to be a site for supply donations and food assistance; and a cultural salvage trip with the Smithsonian Institute to assess the condition of artworks to cultural artefacts in the Abacos and Grand Bahama.
Indeed, the NAGB campus has always been a site of community restoration in all of its meanings, a restorative area for the body and mind and a space to preserve and maintain history. Spiritual rehabilitation can be effected through the beauty of art, through the giving of space to unheard voices, through education into our history and culture, or through the telling of our history from a local, internal standpoint rather than from one imposed on us from the outside.
We have continued this work over the last few years through the NAGB’s expanded park, full of native species (in partnership with the BNT’s Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve); Fiona’s Theatre, a space for community gatherings, which also restored a heritage limestone building that was connected to the first African Hospital; and the Gates Commission, a stunning artwork by Tyrone Ferguson, celebrating our nation and our natural flora and fauna.
The “Refuge” exhibition was a continuation of this ongoing work and was a beautiful and thoughtful show with a diverse array of artworks and writings, reflecting both our fragility and resilience. “Refuge” closed early, unfortunately, due to the latest calamity; the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning many did not get a chance to commune with the work in person.
The NAGB has therefore released a free online catalogue of the exhibition, which you can also visit through an exceptional virtual tour, which we hope will act as a fitting memorial to the devastating national event that shall forever remain imprinted in our collective psyches.
As we emerge from this latest disaster, the NAGB has — just as after Hurricane Dorian — waived all entrance fees for locals and residents, as we remain a space for Bahamian individuals and families, residents and visitors to be a place of nourishment and refuge.
We do hope to see you back again soon.
– Amanda Coulson,
director, National Art Gallery of The Bahamas