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On the edge of time

A land of sand, sunshine and quaint villages, the Bahamas epitomize the Caribbean tourist destination. Tourism drives the country’s economy and 
many other aspects of everyday life, including cultural expression. In fact, for many, Bahamian art is synonymous with the kind of paintings tourists buy when they disembark from their cruise ships.

In 1991, a group of Bahamian artists got together to change this misperception. Calling themselves the Bahamian Creative Artists United for Serious Expression (B-CAUSE), they set out to show the world that the art of their country transcends the picture postcard genre.

The movement was spearheaded by a group of artists who had been educated abroad during the period immediately following the country’s independence, and who believed that the Bahamas’ new political identity needed a genuine artistic identity as well.

The work of many of these artists was represented in the exhibit “On the Edge of Time: Contemporary Art from the Bahamas” at the IDB’s Cultural Center in the Bank’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.

They faced major obstacles, not the least of which was the Bahamas’ small size, which can result in invisibility and insularity as well as a small audience and limited support. For example, in the Bahamas there were no art museums and institutional programs to promote art appreciation. There was no concentration of commercial galleries, and practically no competitions or prizes to encourage artists.

B-CAUSE achieved many of its original objectives, participating in exhibits in Washington, D.C., Brazil, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and Japan, and in so doing it helped to set a course for the country’s artistic renewal. But at the same time, the members began to find themselves constrained by the strictures of participating in a group initiative, and soon found they had more differences than things in common, and the group disbanded.

But despite their differences, the artists represented in the IDB exhibition ask similar questions, according to IDB Curator Félix Angel: “Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going?” With few exceptions, says Angel, artists in the Bahamas vehemently resist globalization. “In fact,” he says, “their agenda for the arts seems to be intensely nationalistic.”

The artistic scene in the Bahamas today is one of great vitality, says Angel. Hopefully, the arts community will receive the incentives it needs to continue its vibrant and pluralistic course, not only arts education, but also support from the economic elite and the realization that great economic and social benefits can derive from creative activity and a thriving community of artists.

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