Celebrating Nature, Conserving Nature
The smattering of people coming in and out of the Central Bank yesterday, may not have realized that they were getting an early glimpse of Antonius Roberts' latest show of new works.
Indoor/ outdoor wood sculptures stood guard in the center of the Bank's Art Gallery lobby, setting the stage for the native wood consoles, benches and coffee tables swirled in their natural browns, tans and blacks that surrounded the second floor balcony. Hewn cocoa and ebony faces supplanted throughout the exhibition paid the well-known artist's usual homage to Bahamian heritage. The exhibition, simply titled "New Works by Antonius Roberts," set to open on Thursday, January 29, awaited one final touch - the greenery to complete the celebration of the natural. The plants, Roberts assured, were on their way.
"The whole world is moving towards simplicity, a simple way of life, the concept of recycling, the whole concept of 'green,'" he said while standing among his pieces at the gallery. "And what is so interesting is the fact that we're a throwaway peapIe. We tend to randomly cut down trees for no reason other than to put down a piece of building, without realizing that the tree that you are cutting serves a purpose
"You really need to figure out and appreciate the value of that tree: Hardwood trees, horse flesh, lignum vitae, wild tamarind, .madeira, mahogany, coconut trees as well, these are all the sort of greenery that's a part of our heritage that we're losing."
And so Roberts continues with a project - a theme - that he has embraced since the late 80s. The artist began to infuse his works with themes of preservation and honoring indigenous materials some 20 years ago when he noticed the number of trees that were being cut down and discarded for increased construction.
"It was just a whole question of what are we doing to ourselves," he said. And then we actually think about that in relation to our concept of foreign is better. The foreign investor coming in to build the hotel hence contributing toward our tourist industry, but I don't know if they're contributing as much as they're destroying. They're destroying the natural environment that pulls people here in the first place."
Roberts' own cycle of questions and his research led to the inspiration for new work wooden sculptures carved from discarded wood and driftwood. For the artist who began as a painter, the evolution to wood sculpture was a natural progression from what had become his textured paintings. Roberts features such paintings, works rich in texture and color, in the show alongside his sculptures.
His most prized piece perhaps, is the 20 foot tall totem pole to Bahamian heritage that reaches for the clouds in the Bank's eastern garden. Roberts carved faces with bodies adorned in burnished found copper into the piece he calls "Driftwood." Both the figures and their copper garb reference a Bahamian way of life that Roberts notes, now includes diversity like never before.
"There's no such thing as 100 percent Bahamian anymore," he said, calling to mind one of the exhibition's mixed wood coffee tables with the phrase "98 percent Bahamian" etched into its surface.
We are "all connected," said Roberts. "We have to celebrate the best of each of us."
The artist got the massive hunk of washed up wood that eventually became "Driftwood" from Baha Mar. "I took the log and pieces of driftwood - we don't know exactly where it came from - and I just fashioned it into a sort of a totem pole which actually reflects a bit of what I believe we are."
One of the questions Roberts gets a lot when viewers see his wooden sculptures is 'where did you get this wood?' It's a question that saddens him a bit because all of the wood chopped and discarded wood that he finds and fashions into objects of beauty - comes from the trees that cover the islands.
In many ways the entire show casts a reflection of how Roberts sees his country - what it was and what it can still be if its future includes an emphasis on conservation and preservation.
The Nassau Guardian
Saturday, January 24, 2009