Arrivants: Conversations in/with the Cunard Gallery

 

The Arrivants exhibition, as a whole, intervenes into the historically charged environment of the 19th century military prison in which the Barbados Museum and Historical Society is located and the broader environs of the historic Garrison Savannah area. The parts of the exhibition that are mounted in and around what is known as the Cunard Gallery in the Museum intervene more actively, and politically, within the particular context and significance of that gallery.

The Cunard Gallery is named after Sir Edward Cunard, Bt., a member of the Cunard shipping line dynasty and a donor to the Barbados Museum and Historical Society. He was one of several wealthy individuals who built villas on the Barbados West Coast in the mid twentieth century. Encouraged by the Museum’s Director, lawyer and art enthusiast Neville Connell, Sir Edward started collecting colonial Caribbean prints, which would have been deemed appropriate to the environment of such plantation-style luxury dwellings. Upon his death in 1962, he bequeathed the Museum a significant collection of 65 West Indian prints, by the likes of Agostino Brunias, Isaac Mendes Belisario and Lieutenant J.M. Carter, which are the core of the collection that is now on view in the Cunard Gallery. While these prints, and other historical paintings and artefacts that are also displayed in the Cunard Gallery, represent the Caribbean seen through the eyes and the world view of the planter and colonial administration classes, they are an important and multi-layered visual archive of life in the Caribbean during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Most of the artists who are represented in that collection were themselves migrants who travelled between Europe and the Caribbean, often under the patronage of high-ranking colonial officials, and Belisario is the only one who appears to have been born in the Caribbean, so they add another layer to the Arrivants narratives.

The interventions we have made in the Cunard Gallery, using the work of the modern and contemporary artists Ewan Atkinson, Karl Broodhagen, Ras Ishi Butcher, Paul Dash, Francis Griffith, Hew Locke, Lynn Parotti, Keith Piper, Sheena Rose, and Golde White, talk back to, and argue with, a selection of what is normally on view in this gallery. Most of these works are pre-existing, and were selected because of their relevance to the Arrivants exhibition and the specific themes that arise in the Cunard Gallery, but Ewan Atkinson’s work was specially commissioned, as a response to the historical maps that are normally on view in the Gallery. The interventions and juxtapositions question and subvert the colonial perspectives represented in the historical works, while commenting on the social and cultural contradictions of postcolonial Caribbean life. Some interventions are subtle and, in Ewan Atkinson’s board game, even use a visual language that mimics and spoofs the colonial representations, but other juxtapositions are more pointed, such as the “across-the-room argument” between Ras Ishi’s 400 Years (1994), which lambasts the legacies of colonialism and slavery, and the anonymous panoramic painting from the mid eighteenth century, The Governor Going to Church, which celebrates those very same things.

On the outer wall of the Cunard Gallery, Leasho Johnson’s mural, Land of Wood and Water (2018), the third incarnation of what started as a guerrilla street intervention, provides an even more provocative response to the genteel, sanitized imagery that prevails in colonial Caribbean art, with its floating bodies/islands and raucous sexualization of the male and female figures. The work speaks to the histories of the Caribbean as well as to contemporary issues of objectification and agency in tourism and dance hall culture. Cosmo Whyte’s installation In the Belly of the Whale (2018), in the adjoining prison cell, evokes similar issues in a more veiled and poetic manner, and invites visitors quite literally to “take a peek” at the histories and contemporary realities of the Caribbean through the prison cell door hatch.

[Note: other installation shots will be added when these become available]

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Arrivants: Paul Dash

Paul Dash - Self Portrait

Self-Portrait (1979) 
Oil on canvas
35.5 x 28 cm
Collection: the Artist

Paul Dash was born in Fairfield Cross Road, St. Michael, Barbados, in 1946, and is based in London, UK.  He emigrated to Oxford England in 1957 with his family at the age of 11.  After completing the Foundation course at Oxford Polytechnic, now Brooke University (1964-1965), he completed a BA at Chelsea School of Art in1968 and an MA at the Institute of Education University of London (Distinction) in 1990.  In 2009 Dash was awarded a PhD from Goldsmiths University of London, writing a dissertation on African Caribbean pupils in Art Education.

Dash was an active member of Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM) during 1969-1972 and exhibited with the group at various venues in London and Kent. He participated in the Whitechapel Open Exhibition in the 1980s, and Caribbean Connection 2: Island Pulse, at Islington Arts Factory in 1996 which was curated by Denzil Forrester.  Other exhibitions include Revellers Gather for Mas’ at The Royal Academy (1998) and No Colour Bar at Guildhall Art Gallery, London (2015-16).  His recent work has focused on the boat refugee crisis. In 2019, Paul Dash will present his first solo exhibition at 198 Gallery Brixton.

Artist’s Statement

The portrait was painted at a time of some frustration for me at not having access to a studio or area dedicated for making work. This lack of space and time for working, resulted in unsatisfactory, “experimental” pieces appropriate to my domestic arrangements and circumstances. Self-confidence was rapidly diminishing. I decided that a challenge was needed to showcase my skills and give meaning to making encounters above and beyond a few ill-conceived collages and crudely worked still-life set-ups. The choice of subject had the advantage of a permanent, largely unchanging presence and it engaged those aspects of making in art I most enjoyed: drawing and painting in oils.

At that time I had not painted a full-on portrait of a black sitter and hadn’t seen many portraits of black people in the flesh; paintings in which there was a black presence yes, but few portraits in which artists struggled to say something specific about such sitters. Rembrandt, Pieter Paul Rubens, Marie Benoist, Augustus John and others had made wonderful paintings of black subjects but I hadn’t yet seen them in a gallery setting or had the opportunity to study such works in depth.

The one artist, however, who made the black body his specialism was Gauguin. As a result, I had taken an interest in his art from my mid-teens. Whilst at Oxford School of Art, I had a very good older friend who loved Gauguin, both his lifestyle and his art. He introduced me to the work of the French artist. On visits to the National Gallery, Courtauld Institute and later the Louvre in Paris, Gauguin’s technique for modelling and representing black body hues was inspirational – his use of umbers, ochres, reds and other colours on the palette caressed and celebrated the black body. Works by many other great artists would one day inspire me as well but Gauguin filled my imagination with new possibilities. This self-portrait, while not borrowing heavily from his technique, was inspired by Gauguin’s confidence in finding colour specific to representing the exquisite browns, purples and other hues intrinsic to the colouring of the black body. Most of all Gauguin taught me to look and peel away extraneous material not implicit to an understanding of the subject under scrutiny.

I made the painting in the bedroom I shared with Jean, which was situated on the northern side of our first-floor apartment in a block surrounded by other high buildings. Although the room was dark, its position should have been an advantage by offering consistency of light throughout the day. Over time, however, I became disillusioned with the poor quality of light. To counteract this, I introduced the pale yellow hat, which was a mere roll of paper. It, however, added balance to the work and sparked new life in what was a truly difficult but stimulating challenge.