Saturday, June 03, 2006

As time goes by – Art in the Turks and Caicos Islands 1990-2003 (2003)

Summer 1990. A small business named Bamboo Gallery has just been open for a few months, when in walks an eighteen year old painter from Middle Caicos with a small painting painted on plywood depicting the Light tower in Grand Turk. Against the background of the Light tower in a distance, the viewer is immediately drawn to a rock in the center of the painting against which a wave crashes majestically. All it took was one look, to realize this was painted by someone with enormous artistic potential. The artist, Dwight A.Outten, nickname “Chucky”.

Today Dwight Outten can easily be identified as one of the founders of the new Turks and Caicos art scene, a scene that started in the early 1990’s with artists such as Phillip Outten, Ianthe Williams, Jean Taylor, Alex Higgs, Israel Forbes and Ryker Wood. As early as 1992, four Turks and Caicos artists were selected for a UNESCO sponsored group showing of Caribbean Art in Curacao, which put the Turks and Caicos artistically on the map for the very first time. An intensive art lecture program started by the Bamboo Gallery in 1991 in the schools finally started paying some dividend and by 2002 new local talent appeared on the scene, such as Irad Selver, Tuere Been ,Kendra Lightbourne and Fay Astwood. It therefore did not come as a great surprise to the careful observer of the Turks and Caicos art scene, that in November of 2001 four local artists were chosen to represent the country in the prestigious Santa Domingo “Biennale”. Arguably one of the finest exhibitions of modern Caribbean art in the region, this small archipelagoes participation in this world-class event was yet another breakthrough for the local artist’s community, and indeed a source of pride for the entire country.

When one reflects on the humble beginnings of our art scene, its subsequent transformation is indeed mind-boggling. In the words of Dwight Outten, ” when I first started painting, I was happy when someone took one of my pictures as a gift. It wasn’t that they didn’t like what I did, they just didn’t know what to do with it ” Today, a Dwight Outten painting remains an average one week in the Bamboo Gallery before finding a happy owner and there is a six month waiting list for his commissioned work. And as for the small plywood picture of the Grand Turk light tower from summer 1990? Well, it was never sold. Instead it has become a part of my collection, to be donated one day to the National Gallery of the Turks and Caicos Islands. “Dream on Titus”, I can now hear some of my readers say, to which my reply is: Don’t worry, I will, just as I did when I was mad enough to open the county’s first gallery fourteen years ago.

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