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The other side of the pentaprism

TERN gallery will present “The Other Side Of The Pentaprism: Six Photographers In Conversation” – a photographic exhibition presenting the work of female contemporary artists from the Caribbean.

The work of Tamika Galanis, Melissa Alcena, Jodi Minnis, Leanne Russell, Lynn Parotti and Tiffany Smith will be shown during the August 26 to October 30 exhibition.

A key tool in photography, the pentaprism is a five-faced reflective surface that refracts light at a 90-degree angle. This type of prism is used in a traditional single-lens reflex camera, reinverting the image in the viewfinder that is sent to the eye by the camera’s lens. Hence, the image that is received by the brain has been transformed in order to deliver the viewer a version of “reality”. A pentaprism corrects the inverted image caused by the cameras’ lens – without the pentaprism, the viewfinder would display an upside-down world.

While mirrors purport to display veracity, they are also capable of manipulation, through angles or flaws, yet still are credited with mediating the “unvarnished truth”. In photographs, subjects can be arranged “naturally” while specific lighting, makeup, or constructed and considered poses may mimic authenticity, creating a narrative sold as truth when it actually distorts.

In Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass”, Alice traverses the reflective plane to discover a topsy-turvy world where everything is reversed, including logic itself. But what if the “other side” were, in fact, the natural order? What if our side – the constructed world around us – is the “alternate reality” that has been fabricated to appear “normal”? What if the odd, inverted or strange is in fact the world we seek?

“The Other Side Of The Pentaprism” (re-)mirrors a vision of the Caribbean as it is, but seldom is seen. The artists in this show are the pentaprism, filtering their gaze through their creative vision. Revealing a different universe while questioning the “real” one people inhabit. The exhibit upsets the narratives and histories many people have been taught, showing that the norms and status quo are truly mad.

Leanne Russell’s “The Paper Crown.”

They ask the question: Is it not our accepted world that is illogical? A world where the homes of the enslavers are venerated while those of the enslaved are forgotten, where women are valued only for their ability to serve or bear children and where histories are unwritten.

The artists present rather a world where people exist as more than props within a fabricated backdrop.

As artists of the Caribbean and its diaspora, the women project their own value system, tackling common threads in their work, but in entirely unique ways.

Galanis and Alcena desire to reveal the humanity and personhood of each subject, escaping from the tendency of traditional historical, archival or anthropological images that dehumanize and make anonymous and unknowable; Galanis literally returns the names of her agents and actors while Alcena reframes Black manhood and womanhood in an entirely new light.

Minnis and Smith take on the tropes around Black – and specifically Caribbean – womanhood and confront them head on, exaggerating the inherent tendency to exoticize to reveal its superficiality.

Russell and Parotti use architecture to speak to the impracticable and unreasonable cycle of destruction and regeneration of worth and disregard, whereby we rebuild on ruins and expect tenable and robust results. And not only do we mean the literal, structural wreckage, but also the metaphorical wreckage of a people who must consistently display strength and resilience before they have been able to recover from historical and contemporary traumas.

Taking us through the glass and to the other side of the pentaprism, the artists are pulling back the curtain to a strange stage, where perhaps a healthier and more equitable conversation around the agency and value of Caribbean people might be found and held.

JodI Minnis’ “Salt, Lime, and Pepper.”

Galanis is a documentarian and multimedia visual artist. Her work examines the complexities of living in a place shrouded in tourism’s ideal during the age of climate concerns. Emphasizing the importance of Bahamian cultural identity for cultural preservation, she documents aspects of Bahamian life not curated for tourist consumption to intervene in the historical archive. Her work counters the widely held paradisiacal view of the Caribbean, the origins of which arose post-emancipation through a controlled, systematic visual framing and commodification of the tropics. Galanis’ photography-based practice includes traditional documentary work and new media abstractions of written, oral and archival histories.

Alcena is a portrait and documentary-based photographer. Her work often focuses on shifting the narrative around the Caribbean, and specifically The Bahamas, which is regularly portrayed as a country of shallow luxury, corruption or climate destruction. Known as a vacation site with landscapes populated by foreigners, Alcena flips the script by directly engaging with the people, putting them front and center, showing them and her country as complex, sophisticated and diverse. Her strong sense of color, of bright light and deep shadows, are purely homegrown, yet unexpected and nuanced. Reaching deeply into each of her subjects, she delves far beyond the surface to reveal the true nature of her sitter and the nation.

Minnis is a multidisciplinary artist who investigates the intersection of gender, race and culture. Through photography, painting, drawing, sculpture, video and performance, she scrutinizes the traditional representations and tropes around Black, specifically Bahamian, women. By investigating how imagery defines and relegates social status and investigating the personal and political aspects of those themes. Minnis uses her practice as a reclamation and/or call to ownership of the totality of Black Caribbean womanhood.

Smith is an interdisciplinary artist from the Caribbean diaspora (Jamaica/Guyana/Bahamas) working in photography, video, installation, and design. Using plant matter, design elements, patterning and costuming as cultural signifiers, Smith creates photographic portraits, site-responsive installations, user-engaged experiences and assemblages focused on identity, representation, cultural ambiguity, and displacement. Smith’s practice centers on what forms and defines communities of people of color, in particular, how they are identified and represented, and how they persist.

Russell is a multimedia artist who works in painting, sculpture and photography with digital manipulation. She colorizes and overlaps archival images of her home island, Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, with present-day images of the island to unpack and bring to light the untold histories of that space. The Bahamian experience, both historically and in the everyday is usually synonymous with Nassau, New Providence and Russell’s work de-centers Nassauvian history and expands ideas of what the Bahamain existence is.

Parotti is a multimedia artist who is preoccupied with the environment in all its multifaceted connotations. She has a consuming passion for the natural landscape of The Bahamas, but is equally concerned with the social geography of place; the human experience and relationship to these locations, the historical traces, the economic and environmental impact and consequences. Her sensuous revelling in the beauty of nature is increasingly counter-balanced by a politicized awareness of its imperilled state due to climate change and the attendant crises of rising sea levels, the depletion of natural resources, the consequences of coral bleaching, the availability of clean water. She also references the human toll through allusions to migration, coastal communities, substance fishing and poverty.

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