After Lookout Cay, dive deeper into the art of The Bahamas

June 9, 2024, 8:21 AM · After visiting the new Disney Lookout Cay at Lighthouse Point this week, the Disney Magic called at Nassau, as many Disney Cruise Line ships will do on their Lookout Cay itineraries.

Nassau gets a bad rep among frequent cruise passengers. The U.S. Passenger Vessel Service Act's requirements that cruise ships not registered in the U.S. (which is pretty much all of them, due to multiple U.S. labor and tax laws) stop at a foreign port before returning to the U.S. means that ships departing Florida, Texas and other states on the east coast or Gulf must stop at some Caribbean nation during their trip. Nassau is close to the U.S., so it sees an enormous number of those ships, including ones from Disney. Heck, the Disney Wish rolled up next to us on the Magic during our Nassau stop yesterday.

Disney Wish and Disney Magic
Disney Wish, left, and Disney Magic

The daily flood of international tourists has transformed the area around the Nassau cruise port into a prime example of the "observer effect" I have been writing about in my coverage of Disney Lookout Key. If you've been to Tijuana, Matamoros, Gatlinburg, or Estes Park, you know the drill in Nassau.

But for all the complaints that cruise passengers have about their ships stopping in Nassau, I guarantee you that Bahamians have things to say about that, too. Which brings me to my recommendation for what to do in Nassau.

Many cruise fans will say, "just stay on the ship." Which you are free to do, but I believe that there are interesting things to discover almost everywhere one travels, with Nassau no exception. So allow me to describe my trip to the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas.

National Art Gallery of The Bahamas

Recommended to me by someone whose knowledge and wisdom I trust, the NAGB is located just about a 15-minute walk from the cruise port. It's easy enough to manage if you are mobile. If not, it's easy to find a taxi. Just head down the street to the SeƱor Frogs (see, above), make a left, then keep to the left at the fork. Head up the hill then turn right onto Hill Street. You'll find the museum a block down on the left. The entrance is around back, between the buildings. Admission is $10 per person on most days, and you can pay in the gift shop.

National Art Gallery of The Bahamas does not offer a wide-ranging collection of works from different eras and cultures around the world. That's what the colonizers' museums do - showing off their centuries of plunder. (The Disney Parks commentary on this is Harrison Hightower.) This is a collection from the colonized - art works by Bahamians, often about the experience of being Bahamian.

As such, it provides a thought-provoking complement for what Disney has tried to do with its design and collaborations on Disney Lookout Cay at Lighthouse Point. In fact, you will find some of the artists featured on Lookout Cay here in the National Gallery. Remember the Antonius Roberts sculpture near the tram stop? You will find more works from Roberts here, both in the museum and in the Art Park sculpture garden next to the main buildings, where I spent some time with this.

Where We Belong
Where We Belong. Madeira Wood by Antonius Roberts, 2020

Inside, Roberts' Once Upon a Time also caught my eye. (I respected the museum's posted prohibition of photography inside the galleries.) The title may be inspired by fairy tales, but this collage acrylic on canvas transposes an ideal image of crowned Bahamian women with the realities that make life much less privileged than fairy tales ending would suggest.

Art isn't just a celebration, or even a depiction, of sunny, happy themes. Much like its subset of theme park attractions, art revels in the moments when things go terribly wrong. Plenty of that has happened in The Bahamas. Colonialism. Slavery. Climate change. And yes, the excesses of tourism, too. As an exhibition note inside the gallery stated, from Columbus on, outsiders have depicted The Bahamas as a paradise ripe for picking - a place and a people to be exploited.

Art, in this context, becomes an act of defiance. Consider Kendal Hanna's Environmental Force that "uses oil paint to create a turbulent surface by the use of aggressive brushstrokes that evoke a sense of movement and chaos often associated with severe weather," according to an essay posted on the NAGB website.

In Blue Curry's alternative photography work, Nassau From Above, "Curry deliberately critiques the way in which we distribute power, and how we navigate around reality to portray a mislead sense of utopia," according to the NAGB.

Two more works, both by the late John Beadle, also struck me as worthy of bringing to you. The colorful "Enigmatick Funktification," a collaboration with Jackson Burnside and Stanley Burnside, visits the theme of Junkanoo that Disney leaned into so much on Lookout Cay.

Joy drives art, too, for the joy in life fuels resilience in the face of challenge. Take a moment with this work to discover all the people depicted in layers within it. Look for the emotion in their faces and bodies and the relationships they carry with those around them on the canvas.

The most emotionally powerful work in the gallery for me was Beadle's In Another Man's Yard. Located behind the verandah door on the second floor, this waterfall of cutlasses - some sheathed, others not - hanging by fishing line from the ceiling demands attention. Whether as weapons or tools of harvest, the cutlass defies being read as passive, even when hanging motionless from an art museum ceiling. What do this title and this imagery mean? Is it comment on slavery, on servitude, on power between the owner and worker, or the resident and the immigrant?

Ultimately, it's your call on what any of this art means for you. But by taking the time and investing the thought to consider what an artist means by their work, you help honor it. These were the works in the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas that I wanted to bring to you today, in the hope that you might consider my recommendation and visit this museum on your next trip that stops in Nassau, whenever that might be.

And if you never visit Nassau, I hope that the reach of this post will help extend the reach of these artists and their works, so that more readers might consider what the people in the places we visit might have to say.


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