An Unspeakable Land
by Susan Moir Mackay
The Bahamas, from European sensibilities, conjures 007 dreams of exotic beaches and cocktails. It appears to be the epitome of a tropical paradise, however the reality is more complex. The past; pirates, colonial times and slave trade, are elements implicit to contemporary Bahamian culture and they still resonate in the collective psyche. Look deeper and there is another raw and painful history.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus’ notorious and much celebrated discovery of the ‘New World’ seems like a wonderful celebration of human perseverance and ingenuity, but for the indigenous Indians it was a death knell, resulting in genocide. It could be called a successful genocide, as there are no descendants left to call out in outrage at the horror of the past. It is estimated that 40,000 people were wiped out in as little as 25 years. A culture whose customs and history were an oral legacy has been obliterated. It is hard to connect to this tragedy and the compounded losses it represents.
But this is a role of art: to talk about the unspeakable.
On 19th November 2015, established Bahamian artist Chantal Bethel, along with fellow Bahamian Arianne Etuk, will be exhibiting in Maroussia—a new art space in Brussels, Belgium.
Taking The Bahamas to Europe, Bethel and Etuk push beyond the glossy stereotype, and deliberately address the beautiful, the exotic, and the dark and the bloody. They narrate a story of The Bahamas beyond a facile imagery of an ex-colony in the middle of an azure ocean.
Chantal E.Y. Bethel
A Tear And
"A Tear And A Smile".
Written By: Lisa Codella
Just as one would never notice the light if we did not know what it was to have been in the dark, in her latest body of work, A Tear And A Smile
, Chantal Bethel uses the weight of her compelling talents as a visual artist to point out to us that in many respects, we can only fully appreciate joy when we enter it through the doorway of our most painful experiences.
“The show is about healing,” says Bethel. “It’s about that space where you have the pain and the tears and then there is a transformation where you’re going from negative to positive.”
A Tear And A Smile,
juxtaposes those two places on the map of our emotional well-being that at first glance appear to be polar opposites, but are in fact two ends of a line that curve and ultimately unite to form the circles of our most pivotal experiences.
“Along my journey I have found healing through creative expression, but I didn’t quite understand how it worked,” says Bethel. “While in Vancouver, a couple of years ago, I met Kathleen Horne MA, LMHC, REACE , who teaches “Art as a Healing practice” - a combination of guided meditation, visual art, writing and sharing - at Expressive Arts Florida Institute. I decided that "Art as a Healing Practice" was what I needed to learn. This process gave me the seed that started this show."(Read more....)
In the Spirit
February 8th, 2013
Hillside House Gallery,
"They dance, they love…With a delicate and graceful appearance, the colorful flamingo birds are flexible to the point of oddity. Their beauty can be compared to that of the human soul.
In that spirit I have created this mixed media body of work exploring the idea that Love, Wisdom, Strength and Beauty are the primary attributes of Spirit and the very substance of who we are."l(read more....)
Chantal E.Y. Bethel
January 12, 2012
D'Aguilar Art Foundation
Nassau , Bahamas
January 12th, 2010 is forever etched in my mind… As the earth shook, Haiti collapsed in chaos. In the Bahamas my heart ached... As I watched the photos on television and saw the Cathedral totally destroyed it was an emotional devastation, as if my whole childhood was being erased in front of me… I felt compelled to make art.
This installation is inspired by Vodou but is not a representation of a vodou temple. I have used my artistic license to create a sacred space out of the need to pray for the healing of Haiti. The word Poto-mitan is Creole and refers to the centre pole of a vodou temple or Peristyle. In this work it is the place where Heaven meets earth – a healing place.
Poto-mitan, the installation, is an invitation - regardless of your religion or lack thereof - to celebrate all spiritual paths as together we appreciate the differences between us human beings and focus on our similarities.(read more....)
Chantal E.Y. Bethel
Artists United(Juried Show)
2010 Washington D.C., USA
In April 2010, the Embassy of Haiti sent out a call for artistic contributions not only to celebrate the vivacity of Haiti's artistic creation, but also as a means to express solidarity among Haitians born artists. The Embassy aimed to honor the spirit of the Haitian people as being resourceful, hopeful, and determined especially after the January 2010 earthquake which devastated Haiti.
In this vein, artists of Haitian descent have been invited to submit works inspired and influenced by the theme, "Strength and Hope in Unity," to show the need for the people of Haiti to join hands in rebuilding that country. The Embassy received many beautiful submissions and expressions of support from Haitian artists from all over the world, particularly the Caribbean, Europe, Haiti and the United States. Those artists expressed commitment and solidarity with Haitians through their artwork donated to the Embassy.
A panel composed of Mr. Fabian Goncalves, from the Museum of the Americas; Mr. Fritz Racine, from the Haitian Art Society; Mr. Marcel Wah, from Kylti; and Mrs. Stéphane C. Rosenberg, from the Embassy of Haiti, reviewed the submissions. Five pieces received Award of excellence and were selected to be permanently exhibited at the Embassy; Requiem for Haiti by Chantal Bethel, Ti-sage by Léonel Jules, Rasanbleman by Eddy Tintin, Haïti de Demain Alexandra Amazan..
Freeport Art Center
This body of work offers a deep and contemplative review of the diversity of nature. At times, nature can offer us moments to drop into a sense of "paradise", at others she can be the embodiment of anger, tearing up lives in the form of a hurricane. Bethel explores this range with sensitivity and honesty. Her work is as diverse as the moods of nature – exploring colours, textures and form to convey her ultimately positive view of life: A paradise that does exist on earth and within oneself. (read more...)
Essay by Susan Moir Mackay, B.A. (Hons) Edinburgh College of Art
NE4 - The Fourth National Exhibition (Juried Show)
2008 The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas
Featuring the finest work of thirty one professional Bahamian artists, the fourth National Exhibition represented a rich diversity of art and range from paintings, sculptures, installations, prints, and mixed media works to photographs and alternative media. (read more...)
Timeline: a Two Woman Art Exhibition
with artist Claudette Dean
2005 Freeport and Nassau, The Bahamas
essay by Dr. Erica M. James
CURATOR OF THE NATIONAL ART GALLERY OF THE BAHAMAS 2005
"She has traveled far to be here: Haiti, Belgium, The Bahamas. She says that as one travels,
many things known fall away. Besides items taken in suitcases, hands, trunks, and in
some cases, one's back, the only thing that remains true to the individual on such a journey
is their soul.
Chantal Bethel's journey has been shaped in large part by sudden transitions necessitated
by crises and forces beyond her control. But like all of us, each place and each experience
lived, has left a trace on her soul. It is these traces and their accompanying emotions that
spill onto her canvases.
Inspired by the historic Haitian School of Beauty, a movement that was led by artists such
as the late Bernard Sejourne and Emilcar Simil whose dreamy evocative paintings celebrated
women, Bethel's work has in recent years come into its own. Though the School
of Beauty's paintings were characteristically pretty to look at, they were driven by a social
imperative in that the artists who followed the school's philosophy sought to create beauty
in opposition to the increasing, harrowing realities of everyday life in Haiti. Like the school,
the composition, colour, and spirit of Bethel's work seem to, in a word, give the audience
a "pretty" picture. However, the content of the work coming from the School was found in
their objective beauty, whereas the content of Bethel's pretty things sometimes lie in the
disconcerting secrets of their narratives and signs. Like her native Haiti, where nothing is
as it appears and where one's ability to dissemble is often directly correlated to one's ability
to survive, the life of Bethel's work, its content, exists somewhere between what is imagined
and what is known. (read more...)
NE3 - Third National Exhibition (Juried Show)
2006 The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas
This year almost two hundred pieces were submitted for review. The team took on the difficult task of assessing the works and decided on thirty-five pieces representing the work of twenty-three artists for inclusion in the show. Unlike previous years, many socially provocative pieces were submitted and selected and a fair number of sculptural and or installations were also included. (read more...)
NE2 - The Second National Exhibition (Juried Show)
2004 The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas
This exhibition is the second in what is a bi-annual event. The National Exhibition is designed to feature the best of Bahamian art produced in the previous two years. The National Exhibition quite possibly offers the truest reflection of the contemporary art scene in the Bahamas. (read more...)
INE - Inaugural National Exhibition (Juried Show)
2003 The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas
In March 2003, a Call for Works was sent out inviting Bahamian artists, residing at home and abroad, to submit three pieces created in or after 1973 for a juried inaugural exhibition. More than 270 works were submitted from more than 130 artists. Seventy three works (73) were chosen for inclusion in the show by a seven-member panel of judges. As a result, the INE featured some of the most exciting art produced in The Bahamas over the past 30 years. (read more...)
Passage and Migration in Contemporary Bahamian Art
2003 The Central Bank of the Bahamas
Passage through the islands of shallow water: An essay by Krista Thompson PH D
Excerpt from the Anthology Marginal Migrations, the circulation of cultures within the Caribbean.
Warwick University – Caribbean Studies 2003
Chantal Bethel calls attention to the possible terrors involved in the flight across Bahamian waters. In the painting Exodus 1999, the artist provides a disturbing portrayal of boats in the midst of a night time journey by sea. In the work, visages of the dead haunt the surrounding waters. With mouths and eyes wide open, they call out from the ocean's depths. The sail of boats transform into a threatening host of sharks' fins. A hand grasping a machete,a gun, the hat of a Tonton Macoute, are all icons that point to the reign of terror from which migrants seek to escape. Bethel drew from her own vivid memories of the Tonton Macoutes from her childhood in Haiti and her own families' flight from Haiti to escape Papa Doc's regime. A departure from her usual subject-matter, Bethel describes the work as "something she had to do". The painting was a kind of personal exorcism, in which she purged her own childhood remembrances. The work again foregrounds the many potential hazards of migration, from being consumed by the sea's waves or sharks, while pointing to some of the reasons why people brave these journeys: "Never ending political unrest, oppression and cruel treatment by a secret police, discrimination, unbearable poverty, (and) lawlessness would cause them to go to any length to flee their homeland hoping for a better life".(read more...)