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Arts & Culture : National Art Gallery (NAGB) Last Updated: Feb 6, 2017 - 2:32:04 PM

Artwork defaced at National Art Gallery of The Bahamas
By Dionne Benjamin-Smith, BAC Editor & Publisher
Mar 29, 2013 - 1:06:38 AM

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Grand Bahama artist Susan Moir Mackay is a regular contributor to exhibitions at the NAGB

Nassau, Bahamas - Late last week, the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) issued an apology to to the public and to Grand Bahamian artist Susan Moir Mackay (seen here in photo) on the defacing of her multimedia piece entitled Conversation which hangs prominently in the NAGB's newest exhibition, SingleSex. SingleSex features imagery of women by Bahamian women artists and is a part of the Transforming Spaces 2013 Art Tour.

The piece Conversation depicts the female nude form with physical openings placed at the throat, the heart and the genitalia/reproductive areas of the body. On the left side of the form hangs a white stone tied to a piece of twine against a dark background and on the right side hangs a rope of chain link against a white background. The defacement consists, for the most part, of incoherent scrawls and some legible initials on the darkened side of the canvas.

In conversation with the artist, Mackay describes how she found out about the defacement. "On Saturday March 16th, I was on the early flight from Grand Bahama with artist Claudette Dean. We arrived at the National Art Gallery at about 9.30 am to see the Transforming Spaces Exhibition and we were excited to see the SingleSex Show. We spent time in one room admiring all the art work; it’s a really strong exhibition. When we went into the next room is when I saw that my piece “Conversation” had been defaced."

Mackay expressed her shock upon discovering the vandalism. "My brain could not compute! I was deeply stunned! It looked like "tall" children had scrawled all over it, but because the scrawls were in white; it also looked like a part of the piece."

Above shows Susan Moir Mackay's piece "Conversation" before and after it had been defaced.

As a part of the work, Mackay herself hand-wrote small statements in pencil which she included to emphasize the meaning of the piece. These statements were written in the same area the vandals' scrawls and scribbles appear. "In some ways, it was bizarrely harmonious. If you did not know it, you might think I had intended it", said Mackay.

The initial response by some Gallery patrons was that the very act of writing on a piece of artwork in a formal Gallery setting was a malicious act of vandalism, possibly in response to the provocative nature of the work. However, others feel that based on the almost innocent nature of the marks, the intent was not a vicious reaction but possibly a simple misunderstanding of a naive viewer who thought that the hanging stone was an invitation to mark on a space that had already been written upon.

On the Gallery's Facebook page, one post by Susan Farrington reads, "So unimpressed with people who have to destroy. If something makes you uncomfortable and affects your delicate, fragile sensibilities, move on. Defacing an inert piece of artwork is a cowardly act."

Another post by Penelope Nottage reads "I don't see it as vandalism...there was a piece of chalk or stone there and the persons may have thought that they could write on it. The writing does not seem to be attacking the work, per sé. From what I see, the persons mostly wrote their initials on it."

Royann Dean posts, "I'm appalled at this but it may be the result of a lack of regular interaction with art. And they may have found the piece offensive and not know how to react. It's a sensitive topic that may have touched a nerve. But I'm glad that (the) NAGB is opening up conversation and being transparent about this."

Side view of "disparity reality" by Susan Moir Mackay – For the NAGB's 4th National Exhibition – Suitcase filled with female paraphernalia. Inspired by artist's godson stating that she was not a real woman because her bedroom was so untidy.

Amanda Coulson, Director of the National Art Gallery, was deeply apologetic to the artist and to the public for this incident and stressed that circumstances surrounding the event are actively being investigated. She stated that the Gallery is equipped with security cameras whose recordings are currently being reviewed. "This unusual occurrence is being addressed and will be rectified to prevent such acts in the future. We would like to thank Susan Moir Mackay for her extraordinary understanding and assistance with this sensitive issue."

Mackay expressed her gratitude to the Gallery and how wonderful they have been in investigating the whole matter. She feels confident enough to allow the piece to remain as is until the exhibition comes down. "I have always been interested in allowing my work to ‘be’ whatever it is. I like the humanness of my work, that you can see it is not made by a machine; that there are inherent imperfections.

"To uphold that thought, I am curious to allow it to be as it is now. The irony that the piece is called “Conversation” is not lost on me! But there is also a deep impulse for me to cleanse it with infinite love and care, almost as a ritual."

On the whole experience, Mackay explains her current emotions as somewhat conflicted – upset at the liberties taken to a work of art, yet intrigued at the response that was elicited by the piece. "Shame is there. I felt shocked that anyone felt such liberty to mark it, without any apparent meaning. I think if it was a reaction to the work, as a statement against it, I would have understood more than what I perceive to have been a thoughtless act. The vandalism also raises issues of honoring one’s work, as an individual and as a community. However, I am always interested in creating pieces that the public could interact with, in some ways this was the idea come to fruition."


Both the artist and the Gallery encourage anyone who may have some information on this incident to come in and share what they know. There will be no repercussions taken; both parties just wish to converse to understand and hopefully use this experience as an educational moment.

Mackay remarked, "The Gallery space has always been the crucible for wider issues. In all acts of defacement, we need to as a community look beyond the obvious. We need to tease apart the greater complexities. I believe everything is connected, so how does this relate to other defacements happening in our community? Is a casual defacement of a portrait of a female nude a reflection of our lack of genuinely honoring the female? Is casual defacement endemic? How can we create an environment where everyone and everything, has a place and is respected? Definitely worth a 'Conversation'!"

Susan's Column on TheBahamasWeekly: HERE

CLICK HERE to learn more about the artist and her work at her blog.

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