(un)Settle

It’s been a while… A cringingly, embarrassingly long while. Just over a year, to be precise, and though it never seems it at the time, I’ve done a lot (though, really, I feel a lot has happened to me, passive type that I am and still unsure of my own agency in any and all things). I’ve finished a Master’s, moved back home to the Bahamas from my 4 years in the UK, moved to the capital (home and the capital are different islands for those shameful folks unaware of Bahamian geography), started a job – yes, an actual paid art job, just 3 months after finishing said degree, and to be frank, I don’t know which of Mahatma Ghandi’s cats I must have been in a past life, but I’ve been exceedingly lucky. My move to Nassau started as a bit of a baptism-by-fire, as I started my new job and had to exhibit work and move house all in the same month, but that was oddly easier than what I’m going through now (or rather, what I feel I’m coming to the end of). I’ve spent a year thinking about work (not quite managing to physically get to anything of course, because when you care for the work of others somehow that makes you less likely to care for your own practice) and I’ve come to one particularly important conclusion – one that has everything and nothing to do with my work because it is everything to do with my narcissistic self. I’ve spent a year trying to find my bearings again and to understand exactly where it is I stand. I just feel I really needed the time to adjust to a) moving countries again b)rediscovering my Bahamianness and Britishness in a Bahamian context again and c)figuring out my practice and what it means in this context to begin with. I’ve needed to readjust my roots again and spend some time understanding just what is going on here.

The first move was easy. Moving to the UK from home was easy because it was the start of the journey of being able to navigate my dual British-ness and Bahamian-ness in territory that was at once familiar and foreign: I’d spent summers in the UK, my mum is English, but actually living there after only living in The Bahamas all my life would prove to be another thing entirely. It was comfortable because, being from a place that makes up a hefty 0.01% of the world population, I could navigate my Bahamianness without question or contest, and where people were automatically interested because I was ‘other’, and we all know of the British history with exoticising people from Africa and the Caribbean.

Trying to re-situate myself in a new part of the country where the history (and the post-colonial history as well as the neo-colonial problems) is so much more felt is another entity entirely. I have had to un-settle my very different ideas of Bahamianness acquired in Grand Bahama. My home island (an ‘out-island’ or ‘family island’) is a place with a distinct lost-ness in terms of identity, though I certainly don’t view lost as loss or lack in this case. Grand Bahama seems to be at the apex of this triangle with our sense of Caribbean-ness and our sordid history as the base – there, but still far away enough from the top of the triangle that we don’t always have to deal with it directly, and on either side of the triangle there is our proximity to the US and what that means for our culture, and opposite that side is our precarious ties to modernity – as Stuart Hall describes, the way we are ‘conscripts of modernity’ and essentially the people who arrived at it though we didn’t play a great part in it. It’s a lot to grapple with, that’s certain, but such is the state of most of the Caribbean. That being said, in having to re-situate myself in Nassau, the capital, I’m now much more forced to contend with our rather weighty and heavy history day in and day out than I previously had to. The history is so much more palpable here in the capital, and the effects of our colonial trauma are seen much more plainly in our government, in our mindsets, even in the colloquialisms and speech used here (which does in fact differ from my home island).

On a larger scale, it would also appear I’ve moved back home at an opportune time. There is a growing connection to other regional artists in the Caribbean happening in the Bahamian art community, with support from the National Gallery of the Bahamas (NAGB) which is precisely what we need to unpack our precarious idea of Caribbean contemporary art identity. We previously had a tendency to cling to our national identities for dear life, fearful somehow that by engaging more with our fellow Caribbeans we will lose that thing we think ‘makes us special’ – not realising that it is only through interacting with each other that we can define just that. It is through working together and defining our own representations and narratives together that we can face everyone else – because who would we be if we allowed the rest of the world to define us? We already have our tourist images to contend with, and I’m personally glad that we are taking those steps in finally defining ourselves outside of it, together.

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