Social indifferences in Bahamian culture was at the fore for the University of The Bahamas North Campus’ panel discussion on Thursday, June 17.
‘Mismanaging Culture: A Discussion Panel,’ was the theme for the virtual panel discussion.
The subject was the result of an art piece created by local visual artist Ben Ferguson Jr., which was removed shortly after it was erected on Taino Beach.
UB’s Alumni Affairs and Development Officer Keturah Babb stated that the discussion is an open dialogue on his piece and its connotations that some may perceive as inappropriate or not.
“The University of The Bahamas North is hosting the discussion panel, Mismanaging Culture, centered around the controversial artwork of Ben Ferguson Jr., alumni of the university. The university is proud to facilitate and engage in conversations surrounding the topics of artistic expression, race, racial identity and culture, as they exist in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
“The university remains committed to supporting and driving national development. National Development means more than training our workforce and stimulating economic growth. It also means furthering the social and cultural development of our people. A part of that is to encourage crucial conversations,” said Babb.
She added that UB North seeks to encourage freedom of expression, diversity of thought, respectful dialogue and debate about the pressing issues facing the nation.
“Our nation is becoming continually diversified and has been built out of a complex history. Therefore, we must make space to understand each other in order to encourage equal respect, social growth and unity.”
The event was held by Zoom and included artist Ferguson Jr., Keisha Oliver, Richardo Barrett and social psychologist Dr. Niambi Campbell-Dean.
Sharing how the mural came to life and its ultimate removal Ferguson Jr. recalled creating the ‘Mismanaged Culture’ mural, which was based on the exhibition that he was invited to be a part of, by the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB).
The exhibition was a mural exhibition entitled ‘One Pulse,’ and included a collection of artisans from various islands of The Bahamas.
“Two artists were from here and I was one of them. We were given the free reign to create artwork that deals with issues in our community. I chose to create a work called ‘Mismanaged Culture.’ From my perspective and that of some other Bahamians, it is a situation that we always go through, whether we talk about it or notice it right off the bat.
“It is clinging to the notion that foreign is better. It has passed down through generations, ideas, perspectives, beliefs and practices whether subtly or intentionally,” said the young artist.
“When I made the artwork and erected it, unfortunately, it was taken down in less than a week. It caused a lot of confusion and talk, but now we will have a formal talk about it through the University of The Bahamas. I am so glad to be part of the panel, because art and community should be together and that is what we will discuss.”
The work was removed because some residents considered Ferguson’s piece racist.
Questioned on his thoughts regarding persons finding his work offensive in that way, Ferguson answered as follows:
“This goes even further into my artwork where perspective is at hand. I think one of the words that was used on it, although there were not many words on it, but because of a particular word, some found it racist.
“It is a beautiful piece of artwork and there is nothing going on that suggests that it is racist. It all goes back to perspective. Anyone can interpret art in any way. However, when they see a word, they feel towards a word, a sound, a smell. That's how they feel. It is up to that person and what it is inside, whether they deem it as racist or not.”
Posting a Facebook video on his personal page April 16, Ferguson noted that he was not aware that his work had been removed from Taino Beach.
He has since had his work returned.
Ferguson noted that he was not certain who removed the piece of art.
“For me, the goal of the panel discussion is for Bahamians and residents of The Bahamas to treat one another with respect; to uplift our Bahamian people instead of tearing each other down. That is a serious thing in our country, where we have a culture of downing people; even the way in which we compliment. It is our culture. There are other forms where we are taken advantage of – in the workplace or as a customer. I just want to see this change so that we can have a better Bahamas and a better people moving forward,” said Ferguson.