The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands on May 25 opens a new contemporary art exhibition, “Looking Back and Thinking Ahead,” featuring artist Simon Tatum.
Tatum will graduate from the University of Missouri this summer with a degree in visual art, and his showcase draws from his final thesis project as well as from his experience in the Caribbean Linked residency last August in Aruba.
“Thanks to the support from NGCI, I was able to travel and work in Aruba with Caribbean artists, curators and residency staff all influencing the works in this showcase,” says Tatum.
The body of work examines Caymanian cultural identity through two-dimensional print installations displayed in the NGCI Community Gallery, as well as 14 three-dimensional “memory tanks” displayed in the NGCI Sculpture Gardens.
“I believe that the Cayman Islands – being a small British Overseas territory in the Caribbean – has a unique cultural identity. I am not fully concerned with exposing an ideal representation of Caymanian cultural identity; rather, I am more concerned with using the functions of visual devices to create new meaning for Caymanian culture,” Tatum says.
The ambitious series of work explores cultural identity through a variety of visual imagery, including Christian symbolism, documentary photography and tourism advertisements.
Tatum’s Memory Tank Series consists of 14 sculptures, resembling traditional Caymanian house graves. The tanks, filled with water, contain individually sculpted ceramic busts surrounded by arrangements of artificial flower bouquets.
“Each tank – although unique in its assemblage – functions with the same purpose to memorialize the development of the Caymanian people though colonial influences and encourages the discussion of Caymanian ideals through its post-mortem mementoes,” explains Tatum.
In addition to the tanks, Tatum presents a series of screen prints made from acrylic ink and graphite powder on newsprint paper. The photographs are sourced from the Cayman Islands National Archive, private collections and advertisement imagery used in various tourism pamphlets and magazines.
“By reclaiming these photographs, Tatum’s critical evaluation of these images brings awareness to the effects of photographs that document Cayman culture and creates a platform that extends memory forward to the next generation,” said the gallery’s assistant curator, Kerri-Anne Chisholm.
About the artist
Tatum was born in 1995 in George Town, and currently lives and studies in Columbia, Missouri. He was the 2014 recipient of the Cayman Islands’ Visual Arts and Design Scholarship from Deutsche Bank and the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands. He has shown a solo exhibition at the University of Missouri titled “Discover and Rediscover,” and has also been a part of numerous group exhibitions that include “Open Air Prisons: Las Antillias Para Los Antillianos” at the LACE Gallery in Los Angeles, California, and the “Caribbean Linked IV Exhibition” in Oranjestad, Aruba.
Tatum was honored in 2016 with an international artist grant from the Cayman National Cultural Foundation and with the Richard M Henessy Scholarship Award. He also has works in permanent collections throughout the U.S. and Caribbean region that include the “Atelier 89” Gallery and the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands.
The exhibition opens to the public on May 25 and runs until June 15. Admission is free. For a series of special lectures and events, visit www.nationalgallery.org.ky.