by Alicia Wallace
The Bahamas is best known for its sun, sand, sea, and proximity to the United States. The reason our shores attract hundreds of thousands of people, coming by air and sea, is no mystery. These islands are jewels in the Caribbean, easily accessed from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. In January 2019, over 600,000 people landed here and enjoyed our hospitality. Everyone will tell you to spend as much time as you can on our beaches, eat conch, and see the popular attractions, but we’ve got another hot tip for you: Visit our art galleries.
Art galleries are windows into the soul of a place. See The Bahamas beyond the image of an ideal destination. This is a real place, unlike any other, but connected to the rest of the world in many ways. Artists are often inspired by current events, social issues, political battles, and personal experiences. Their work can give insight into time periods, conditions, ways of thinking, and imagination. Not only do galleries display beautiful works of art, but they provide an education on history, culture, and day-to-day life.
Beyond the insight and education, let a gallery trip spark creativity for you. Catch contagious inspiration. Practice mindfulness. Do something affordable, and enjoy the air conditioned break from our subtropical weather. We are fortunate to have several galleries you can visit, many of them within walking distance of Bay Street.
At some point during your time in Nassau, you will end up downtown. You’ll see the colonial buildings, look around dozens of souvenir shops, work your way through the Straw Market, and feast your eyes on Junkanoo Beach. Little do many visitors know, there are galleries within walking distance with highly trained curators waiting to introduce you to Bahamian art. Let’s start our tour, shall we?
D’Aguilar Art Foundation (DAF)
The D’Aguilar Art Foundation was launched in 2008 with the goal of preserving and promoting not only Bahamian art, but art education and appreciation in The Bahamas. It is tucked away from the busyness of Bay Street, just behind it on Virginia Street. A great landmark to guide you there is the large, beautifully manicured lawn opposite the end of the Junkanoo Beach strip nearest to the Hilton. The DAF art collection is held in a sweet little blue and yellow building that looks like a grandmother’s home where bread is baked with love every week. When you walk through the front door, instead of comfortable chairs and a view of a working kitchen, you are greeted by fine art. The small space creates an intimacy between the work and the viewer, and a curator — likely a visual artist as well — is always happy to tell stories of the artists, their work, and the commentary they make on personal lives, nationality realities, or regional culture.
DAF is open to the public on Tuesday and Thursday from 10am to 4pm. You can also make an appointment by calling (242) 322-2323.
National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB)
A five-minute walk away from DAF is the beloved NAGB on West and West Hill Streets. (Note that it is conveniently across the street from the St. Francis Xavier Cathedral which is also a must-see.) It is housed in the Villa Doyle — an 1860s mansion restored in the 1990s and completely accessible — in Charles Towne which connects downtown Nassau to the Over-the-Hill community where many nation-builders were born and raised.
There are four gallery spaces within the NAGB including the permanent exhibition spaces where you can see art — which is regularly rotated — from the National Collection. This month, you can explore interpretations of Bahamian voice and dissent through Hard Mouth: From the Tongue of the Ocean. The title is a play on words, using the name of the oceanic trench between New Providence and Andros to refer to the Bahamian oral tradition. The exhibition is comprised of the work of 30 artists including Joann Behagg, Margot Bethel, June Collie, Tamika Galanis, Jackson Burnside, Jodi Minnis, Holly Parotti, and Maxwell Taylor and will be up until June 2, 2019.
The NAGB is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm and on Sundays from noon to 5pm. For information on current exhibitions, visit their always-up-to-date website — nagb.org.bs. Check out their calendar. You may even be able to catch an artist talk or workshop!
On your way back to Bay Street from the NAGB, you’ll come to Hillside House — renowned artist Antonius Roberts’ studio and gallery at #25 Cumberland Street. Roberts is a master of reclamation, restoration, and preservation, bringing new life to what others may think destroyed beyond use. If you have been to Clifton Heritage Park, you have already seen his work — Sacred Space.
At Hillside House, you can find contemporary Bahamian art on the inside, and a relaxing space to sit, breathe, and think in the garden. Similar to DAF, Hillside House has the feel of a little house. It is particularly enjoyable to be able to connect with art in a smaller space, feeling no need to rush in an aim to see more. You won’t be overwhelmed here. You can take it all in at your leisure between Tuesday and Friday from 10am to 4pm, or make an appointment by calling 322-7678.
It is difficult to explain the peace of the garden, on a busy street leading to the hustle and bustle of downtown Nassau, but you will know it when you feel it. On Wednesday morning, the gallery invites you to share a coffee break. This is a great time to get to know Roberts, gallery staff, any artist in residence that might be there, and fellow art enthusiasts. There are benches throughout the space, so you can feel free to take a load off, sip, and plan your next move. You’re only one minute away from Bay Street.
If you have more time and interest in seeing Bahamian art, be sure to check out other galleries including Popop Studios in Chippingham (in the area of Fish Fry), Doongalik Studios on Village Road, and the Central Bank Art Gallery on Market Street. Be sure to chat with whoever you meet at these galleries as they will be able to point you to other great spaces and make introductions to people you may want to meet.
While you’re making your way around town, be sure to pay attention to your surroundings because there are amazing murals in the downtown area. Don’t miss the photo opportunities! You’ll want to remember every splash of color you come across on your walks, and look up the artists to admire more of their work. Some of it is inspire by the sun, sand, and sea that probably brought you here, but like the Bahamian people, a lot of it goes beyond that, and you can too!