My Two Cents on A Day of Absence

We Bahamians have cultivated the habit of supporting certain cultural endeavours simply because they are produced by Bahamians, regardless of quality. We have suppressed our critical faculties. We have come to expect sub-standard work from Bahamians, so much so that the very adjective “Bahamian” stands for mediocrity.

While this sad case of affairs is undeniable, it is also true that there is an abundance of individuals and organizations that, in spite of the culture of the “Emperor and his court”, produce diverse expressions of the highest standards.

This is a blow that Nico strikes on the defensive in her “Second Response” to Ward’s stinging critique. She asks two questions, how good are we? And, how do we get better? She also argues that most of us choose to present the culture of mediocrity to make the argument that we are not that good. She turns that argument on itself and begs us to focus on the positive. There is no argument from any of us that for a country of our size we have produced an enormous volume of excellent Artwork of all kinds.

Ward argues, however, that when we think of “the world of Art”, we are thinking mostly of artist generally from outside our borders. This is a very important issue, in his mind, because he says,

The reality is that most, if not all of the images and products that filter our way from great foreign cultural creators, such as the United States, have been produced by professionals who have already been paid. To ask the right question therefore, is to ask, what would the Bahamas be without Bahamian Art?

I agree with Ward that the metaphor of absence must be questioned. Ward says. “We do not need any more absence. We need to make our presence felt”. We particularly need to make our presence felt to ourselves, so that we, Bahamians, would not automatically conclude that to get quality creative production or design, we need to look outside of ourselves.

Clearly, Nicolette agrees with Ward also when she says, “The Day of Absence is not about withdrawal, about begging, about making money or getting jobs: it is about respect”. Ward questions, “Are all Bahamian Artists worthy of respect?, and says, “The simple answer is no”. He asks, “Are we (the artists) really trying to reach the people, or have we been aiming at something else?” I believe this searching interrogation underscores the need for more dialogue and institutions in our nation to place Art and Culture in the centre of the public discussion and the national social and economic debate.

If “culture” is everything that we do, can you imagine “a day where the undesirable and underdeveloped aspects of our culture are absent? Can you imagine “a day without tiefin, a day without schemin’, a day without liein’, A day without killin’”?  The “Emperor and his Ministers”, as well as the people in the public square seem satisfied with this status quo. Less than a generation ago, we declared, in our ignorance, that we have no culture. Then, we began to say that regatta, or junkanoo, or the Dundas, or the orchestra was our “culture”. We were confused then and continue to be confused now, about what culture is, what Art is, or who Artists are. We hate to admit our ignorance, or say “we do not know”. But it is this very confession of ignorance that is the essence and the beginning of learning. Admitting our ignorance is at the foundation of the institutions that ask the questions that lead to new solutions and give our nation guidance to go forward.

Can you imagine a Bahamian environment where quality of life is paramount? Imagine if you will that everywhere you turned in The Bahamas there was proof that Fashion, and Film, Fine Art and Craft, Monuments and Museums, Music and Dance, Literature and Theatre, Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Homecomings and Festivals, Public Transportation and Open Space were all of the highest quality. Imagine if there was evidence of Bahamian Art and Cultural excellence all around you and the quality of the design environment was given the highest priority in our nation.

In her Curator’s Note of Volume 6 of the NAGB Newsletter, Dr. Erica James states:

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