The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands (NGCI) opens a new exhibition titled “Native Sons – Twenty Years On” this Friday. The exhibition, sponsored in part by Cayman National Bank, showcases a variety of media and subjects by a celebrated Caymanian artists’ collective.
The Native Sons are among the most respected and prolific artists in the Cayman Islands. With origins dating back to 1996, when Wray Banker, Al Ebanks and Miguel Powery first exhibited together at Government House, the group formalized in 2001 and grew to include Nasaria Suckoo Chollette, Gordon Solomon, Randy Chollette, Chris Christian, Nickola McCoy Snell and Horacio Esteban. In the years since, members have continued to exhibit both collectively and through a series of solo exhibitions on the island and abroad.
While stylistically individual, the Native Sons’ combining principle is the promotion of a uniquely Caymanian aesthetic inspired by their heritage and sociocultural experiences. The artwork selected for this exhibition illustrates a survey of work by the group, 20 years since their inauguration. It is a diverse body of work, executed through a wide variety of genres – from realism and impressionism to abstract and conceptual art – signifying that while these artists share a collective ideal, their artistic vision remains truly unique.
“Contemplating the monumental achievement of being in the same line of work for the past 20 years is just dawning on me,” said McCoy-Snell. “Doing something I love to do, something that is to me what air is to others and calling it my field of work is sometimes surreal.
“Celebrating 20 years of being in Native Sons is also an achievement because time seems to have gone by so fast. From the days of sitting around in a John Gray classroom – painting together and sharing ideas – to spending Sundays camping out on the beach with each other, it all seems like yesterday and at the same time, a lifetime ago.
“We have laughed together, failed together, worked apart, failed apart and forged a bond, binding us together forever with the common thread of creativity. We are a group and yet we are individuals who have never lost sight of who we are. I am one of many and yet I am one!”
Q&A with curator
What is the significance of this exhibition?
The founding and current members of the Native Sons have been central in the development of the arts in the Cayman Islands and this exhibition serves to celebrate their achievements individually and collectively.
The Native Sons have been exhibiting for 20 years now, can you pinpoint some significant accomplishments of the collective?
Members’ pieces were notably a significant part of the Cayman Islands’ 2003 Quincentennial display. They have featured in various group and solo exhibitions abroad in Cuba, the U.S., Italy, and the U.K. Further, their works are in the collections of private and public collections of Cayman Islands National Museum, the National Gallery and the like.
Have the Native Sons exhibited at the National Gallery before?
In the collective’s formative years and establishment. A notable exhibition was the group’s fifth group exhibition at NGCI in 2005.
Can you describe some of the themes and styles presented in the exhibition?
Each artist addresses different themes through their work, ranging from social and political commentary, celebration of maritime heritage, addressing Caymanian identity and cultural heritage.
What has surprised you the most about the work by the Native Sons?
As artists, the members of the Native Sons are committed to the development of their practice. This has meant that from the formation of the collective, each artist’s style has changed in varying degrees, working with an ever-expanding range of materials, giving viewers a broad range of color palettes, textures and techniques to feast on.
Biographies of exhibiting artists
An intuitive, self-taught artist, Chollette’s vibrant work is often distinguishable by its signature black outlined mosaic configuration. Chollette received public recognition very early on in his career when he was awarded Best in Show (2002) from Kensington Lott Fine Arts and the People’s Choice Award at the 2003 McCoy Prize. He moves confidently between realism and abstraction and his Rastafarian beliefs are woven into the style and subject of his paintings. His work forms part of many private collections and the public collections of National Gallery, Cayman National Cultural Foundation and the Cayman Islands National Museum.
Founder of Cayman Traditional Arts, Christian has not only placed himself at the center of Cayman’s cultural scene but has also matured a style heavily influenced by Cayman’s traditions. He received a Cayman National Cultural Foundation lifetime achievement award recognizing his accomplishments in fine art. In addition to creating art, Christian promotes teaching heritage crafts to students across the Cayman Islands and curates the exhibition schedule of The Gallery at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. His work can be found in public collections of National Gallery and the National Museum.
Ebanks is a founding member of the Native Sons art collective, and has exhibited individually and collaboratively since its inauguration. Several of his series of paintings are inspired by the music, dance and flow of colors of various carnival troupes. Although best known for his large-format acrylics, Ebanks has trained under renowned Barbadian artist Karl Broodhagen and in Tuscany and is an accomplished sculptor of stone and ceramics. His work has featured in several international exhibitions and can be found in public and private collections.
Caymanian artist McCoy-Snell has dealt with an array of moral, political and social themes. Her paintings often evoke imagery and iconography of street art, to criticize and highlight our dependence on authority, tradition and dogma. Having studied art at University College of the Cayman Islands, McCoy-Snell rose to prominence in 2002 as the recipient of the first McCoy Prize for Excellence in Caymanian Art. Her artwork can be found in permanent collections of National Gallery, Cayman Islands National Archive and many private collections.
Powery is a skilled jewelry maker, working in precious metals and shipwrecked coins, but finds fulfilment in the application of paint to canvas. Focusing predominantly on depicting the rich heritage of the Cayman Islands, Powery utilizes painting as a means of preserving history and celebrating the islands’ rich maritime history. He has featured in group exhibitions locally and internationally, with his solo exhibition at the National Gallery in 1999 marking one of many memorable shows. Powery’s work features in private and public collections in Cayman and abroad.
Painter and musician Solomon studied fine art at the University of Superior Art, Cuba. Working in various media such as lithography, acrylic and oil, he has received many accolades for his artwork and contribution to the arts in Cayman. Solomon has been commissioned for several public murals in the Cayman Islands and is represented by several galleries both in Cayman and the U.S. He has exhibited widely and has work in the collections of National Gallery, the National Museum and the National Archive.
Nasaria Suckoo Chollette
Receiving a BA in theater and an MA in educational theater from New York University, Suckoo Chollette is an accomplished artist, poet and performer. In addition to her stage career, she is an active fine artist exhibiting individually and collectively with the Native Sons. Working primarily in a unique combination of acrylic with appliqué and traditional textile techniques, her work is an introspective and social critique of the contemporary Caymanian experience, feminism and race, and is part of permanent collections of National Gallery, National Museum and many private collectors.
Throughout the exhibition, running from April 8 to June 25, the National Gallery will host special workshops with the artists, lectures, panel discussions, family events and more. “Native Sons – Twenty Years On” was made possible by part sponsorship from Cayman National Bank.
For a complete program of events and for more details about the exhibition, email [email protected] or call 945-8111.