• Antonius Roberts: Art, Ecology, and Sacred Space
    Antonius Roberts
    Krista Thompson
    National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, Nassau
    Feb 02, 2023 to Jun 11, 2023
    Krista Thompson

Antonius Roberts, “Sacred Space,” 2006. Casuarinas rooted, various dimensions. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Roland Rose

In 2005, Antonius Roberts, OBE (b. 1958) carved figures out of hurricane-battered casuarina trees on a former plantation site and indigenous Arawak settlement known as Clifton Cay. They were located on cliffs overlooking the ocean on the southwestern end of New Providence in the Bahamas. The art work titled Genesis and known locally as Sacred Space, became a place of reflection on the history of the site as well as a gathering place, for poetry, music, art, and protest against plans largely to destroy the architectural and material remains of the Whylly plantation on the grounds. This exhibition examines how Roberts, over decades, has used the island’s environmental, ecological, and architectural remnants to call attention to underrecognized Black and Indigenous building, spatial, and aesthetic practices, while simultaneously creating decolonial spaces for artists in the postcolonial Bahamas. The show offers insight too into the environmental and ecological challenges brought on by climate change that Caribbean communities currently face and creatively respond to, which protend the futures of much of the world. The exhibition catalogue includes contributions by Theaster Gates (preface), Marielle Barrow, Giulia Smith, Krista Thompson, and a conversation with Antonius Roberts and Grace Turner.

Antonius Roberts’ current work, Project I.C.E. (Incubator for Collaborative Expression), is the culmination of a journey embarked upon seventeen years ago with his installation called Sacred Space at the Clifton Heritage site. He continued to create other Sacred Spaces in various locations which ultimately became the inspired foundation for a different and broader interpretation of that vision. Thus began his move towards becoming an Open Space Designer and Conservationist on a journey of restoration. Starting with Centreville House, reclaiming seven acres of neglected land and recreating some of the indigenous Lucayan history and replanting native trees and shrubs. The restoration of Hillside House, built in the 1700’s, now celebrating its 10th anniversary is a flourishing art gallery and open space venue. I.C.E. has been transformed from a derelict warehouse, repurposed to function as an incubator, but is an installation in and of itself.

Krista Thompson is the Mary Jane Crowe Professor of Art History at Northwestern University, where she teaches modern and contemporary art and visual culture of the Africa Diaspora and the Caribbean. Her publications have included An Eye for the Tropics (Duke University Press, 2006); En Mas': Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean, edited with Claire Tancons (DAP, 2015); and Shine: The Visual Economy of Light in African Diasporic Aesthetic Practice (Duke University Press, 2015), recipient of the Charles Rufus Morey Award for distinguished book in the history of art from the College Art Association (2016). These books and her curatorial projects examine the creative uses of space and performative and/or lens-based practices in colonial and postcolonial Caribbean and African diasporic societies. Thompson has received fellowships from the Andy Warhol Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the David C. Driskell Prize from the High Museum.