June 12, 2021

Things that matter: Caribbean Wax Museum, ‘the land’ and other fine art treasures

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The Caribbean Wax Museum, the brain child of sculptors Art Edwards and partner Frances Ross, has just been relocated from Maxwell to the centre of Bridgetown, in the Norman Centre on Broad Street. As the website says, “The idea was to capture life-size popular Caribbean personalities in wax for posterity”. And they’ve done that with uncanny success.

Everyone walking up Broad Street MUST be captivated by the dazzling figure of Allison Hinds, smiling from the Norman Centre show window. When this happens, throw discretion to the winds, even if you’re racing to your next appointment, and dash upstairs to the Wax Museum. Because you’ll never regret meeting a lifetime of heroes and heroines of the Caribbean and beyond in your brief visit.

It’s an impressive list of the best of the best: sportsmen, politicians, performers and icons from every sphere. You’ll meet National Heroes the Right Excellent Errol Barrow, Clement Payne and Sir Garfield Sobers, as well as Prime Minister Tom Adams and Jamaica’s National Hero Marcus Garvey. You’ll come face to face with Usain Bolt and our own Obadele Thompson; with the great singers Harry Belafonte, the Mighty Gabby and Emile Straker of the Merrymen, and our own fabulous composer Irving Burgie; actor Syndey Poitier and actress Jennifer Lopez; freedom fighters Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, Simon Bolivar and Toussaint L’Ouverture; abolitionist William Wilberforce and famous former slave and author Olaudah Equiano; and my favourite of all – Governor General Dame Nita Barrow: her eyes appear to follow you as you walk around the room!

The Wax Museum is a must visit for everyone. But of course so is the Barbados Museum, the Arlington House Museum, the Springvale Eco-Heritage Museum, the Mallalieu Motor Museum and all of the 18 other museums of Barbados, rarely featured in our tourism marketing but all worth visiting.

But Norman Centre has much more – it’s now the de facto Art Centre of Bridgetown, and I congratulate the owners for their enthusiasm about patronising the arts, when so few commercial enterprises will. Reggie Medford’s Medford Craft World has opened a new outlet on the ground floor, so you can select from his amazing mahogany sculptures and craft pieces either at his workshop at Whitehall Main Road or at this convenient new city shop. His beautiful creations show just one aspect of what the prized Barbados mahogany can be used for – it’s one of our greatest treasures, undervalued. And Reggie uses both the wood from branches and trunk and the roots.

There are also two fine art exhibitions currently on at Norman Centre. I was impressed by the work of Dwayne “Kon Artist” Mayers, who has curated an impressive collection of the work from the young artists of the Barbados Community Development Programme, where he has been teaching for ten years. There was some really good work here, including the wide range of work of Dwayne, who is truly versatile – from splendid portraits and landscape to abstract work and vivid, imaginary space and time paintings. He also provides on site painting and caricature sketching.

Oneka Small, now famous for her well-orchestrated “pop up” exhibitions, has another show in the adjoining space. Unfortunately, it was temporarily closed when I visited.
Up the road at the refurbished Queen’s Park House is a truly magnificent exhibition: “Alison Chapman-Andrews – The Land”, featuring The Mark Hunte Bequest. It includes new and old work of Alison’s from her own personal collection and loaned by Mervyn Awon, BIDC, The Barbados Museum, Nel Bretney, Cidel Bank, Anne Dodson, the Gallery of Art Trust and others. Central to the show is the Mark Hunte Bequest to the Art Collection Foundation, of many of her early works, which have not been seen since an exhibition at the Museum in 1990. And they’re spectacular – illustrating what we’re missing without the National Art Gallery promised more than 40 years ago.

Alison’s expressionist landscapes are dramatic, joyful explorations of nature, the like of which have never been seen in Barbados, where our artists have been generally conservative and landscapes more realistic than expressionist. In a short note in the beautiful catalogue Alison writes: “The magic and majesty of the land was coupled with an obsession with pattern in the natural world and mathematical composition in painting. Barbados through my eyes.”

In his catalogue essay “Interconnections” artist and tutor Nick Whittle writes: “It is her landscapes which have become synonymous with Barbados. They are not the man-made landscapes of sugar cane fields which we see every day but a Barbadian hinterland: the hidden crevices and gullies scattered across this island which escaped sugar cultivation. It is these almost primordial spaces which inspire Chapman-Andrews to create her mystical landscapes.” And he goes on: “… her best paintings convey the same emotive power we experience standing before a wondrous vista: time stands still, we feel different, we are in a state of joy.” And the apparently intuitive, powerful and evocative compositions suggest an impossible outpouring of emotion in paint, but they are in fact careful constructions, working from many sketches, to create that spontaneity. As with many writers, there is both great skill and creativity needed to produce that spontaneous result!

I was asked which was my favourite in the show. It’s like being asked what you love best about your wife. I quote the poet Elizabeth Barret Browning’s Sonnet: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach …”

But if pushed I would choose three paintings – Below Codrington – Sealy Hall Gully, which expresses my feelings and my memories of the “Below the cliff” landscape of beautiful St. John; From Mount Hillaby, for its sheer power and bold composition, and the triad of Palms – Palm Climber, Long Palm and Surprise Tree. The cabbage palm is Alison’s signature; as John Wickham wrote, it’s the signature of the Barbadian landscape, and she gives us vivid images that sing of the beauty of Ichirouganaim our island Barbados.

Don’t miss this marvellous show, which is up until February 24th, Tuesdays to Saturdays, and secure a copy of the superb catalague. It moves us to cry, once again: “When, oh when will we have our National Art Gallery in Block A, the Garrison?”

Professor Fraser is Past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology. Website: profhenryfraser.com

For more on this story go to: https://www.barbadosadvocate.com/columns/things-matter-caribbean-wax-museum-%E2%80%98-land%E2%80%99-and-other-fine-art-treasures

IMAGE: Sir Henry Fraser

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