Missouri residents have enjoyed the works of a young Caymanian artist as part of “Evoke,” an exhibition at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center in Columbia, Missouri, from Aug. 11 to Sept. 4.
The show is a joint project by artists Sumire Taniai, Kelsey Westhoff, and Caymanian Simon Tatum, who attends the University of Missouri, pursuing a bachelor’s degree with a major in fine arts and a minor in art history.
The artists presented works that relate to their cultural background and upbringing. Tatum has eight works on display, including “Animal study – Rooster” and “Banana Sucker.”
Tatum said “Animal study – Rooster,” a small pastel-and-ink drawing, was inspired by the importance of chickens to Cayman’s early settlers as primary sources of meat, along with turtles and goats. “Banana Sucker” is a plant study Tatum chose because of the important role that certain local and imported plants played in the diets of the early settlers.
Tatum works with various mediums, including pastel, charcoal and ink, and his studio degree focuses on drawings.
“My works contain a sense of strength, movement and color, which are evident within the works of influential past masters like Robert Henri, Edgar Degas, Lovis Corinth and Wu Guanzhong,” he said.
Most recently his work has contained a central theme of identifying his cultural background as a young Caymanian and sharing with others the hidden Caymanian experience.
Other artists have also influenced Tatum, including Hayao Miyazaki and Anselm Kiefer, who grew up in post-World War II Japan and Germany, respectively.
“Both of these men address the issue of the sociocultural changes they experienced in their home countries after the war, and how these changes have shaped their upbringing and the upbringing of later generations,” he said.
“I believe that I would like to expand my work to tackle similar issues within the changing cultural identity of the Cayman Islands.”
As a recipient of the Cayman Islands Government Overseas Scholarship, Tatum began work on his degree in 2013. The following year he was awarded the Deutsche Bank/National Gallery Visual Arts Scholarship.
The application process for the visual arts scholarship involved submission of transcripts and essays, as well as a portfolio showcasing his best studio works, many of which Tatum had completed during his first year of university and in his high school years. The process culminated with an interview with the scholarship board.
The scholarship was not the first contact Tatum had with the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands. He was an intern at the gallery in the summer of 2013 and benefited from advice of Eme Paschalides, one of the gallery’s former education coordinators. Tatum said he owes the start of his university career to the National Gallery.
“It was Eme who convinced me of all the options I had to explore with an art degree, and she helped me start an argument that I further constructed and used to obtain the Cayman Islands Government Overseas Scholarship.”
Paschalides also encouraged Tatum to apply for the gallery internship, which Tatum says has been his favorite job.
“I gained quite a bit of experience during my two months in the program, and that experience has traveled with me and helped me tremendously within my university studies.
“Furthermore, the Visual Arts scholarship, which is extremely valuable and helpful towards my degree, has become an addition to the academic foundation that the National Gallery has already helped put in place for me.”
Tatum recognizes firsthand the importance of scholarships due to the rising cost of university. “The funds offered by local Cayman scholarships have become a determining factor for Caymanian youths trying to transition into their professional careers,” he said.
He voiced his encouragement for organizations to continue supporting Caymanian youths in this manner, and said, “The future of our country will be determined by education that our young people acquire.”
In Cayman, Tatum’s work “Looking Glass,” depicting a turtle fisherman using a water glass to see below the surface of the water, will be featured in the Gallery’s exhibition “tIDal Shift: Explorations of identity in contemporary Cayman.”
The contemporary exhibition, which opens Wednesday, explores Cayman’s rapid social, cultural and economic transformation and its effect on the artists’ identity. Tatum will be the youngest artist featured among artists such as Wray Banker, Randy Chollette, Frank E. Flowers, Gordon Solomon and Nasaria Suckoo Chollette.
Tatum hopes to work in visual arts and education in Cayman after he completes his education.