Beasts and Burdens Visit

Written by Harriet Monzon-Aguirre | December, 2021

Adonna Kahre, Grizzly Bear and Baby, carbon pencil drawing on paper, Beasts and Burdens exhibit, DFAC.

Growing up in Barbados, I do not remember having the same access to gallery exhibitions as my children do here . Yes there were galleries that sold artists' work, and yes the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) held their annual expositions of award-winning pieces, but I do not recall being small and seeing galleries with curated exhibitions showcasing the talents of contemporary local artists, artists from other Caribbean islands, or the rest of the world. Now Barbados' art scene is burgeoning, and I often follow Barbadians who are gaining international recognition - Sheena Rose, Annalee Davis, Alberta Whittle and Melanie Colin-Walker to name a few.

Considering the island is on the precipice of becoming a Constitutional Republic, the National Cultural Foundation has curated "QUINTessence", a virtual exhibition showcasing 55 works from the national art collections, and the Barbados National Art Gallery has launched an exhibition “Threshold" at The Exchange Interactive Centre. Hopefully once it is safer to do so, a brick and mortar space to house the collections and allow in person visits from locals and visitors will open.

Having the collections of artwork in a place accessible for all ages is super important. From what I've read, ages 0-3 are the most important and critical stages of development for children because over a million neural connections or synapses occur each second. By age 3, 80% of the brain is developed; 90% by age 5. Exposing children to a plethora of positive interactions and activities helps foster connections that last a lifetime. That's why I make an effort to take my children to art galleries and museums. I won't lie, it can be somewhat stressful. Little people or as my friend says "needy humans with underdeveloped prefrontal cortices" sometimes do not use their indoor voices, or get so excited they forget to walk, or find it really hard to resist their innate desire for tactile stimulation, but I still give them the opportunity to appreciate and respect displays of creative work.

My troupe actually help me "see" art in a different way too. They have a knack for unfiltered honesty. It was a cold and overcast day when I took my three kids to the "Beasts and Burdens" exhibit at the Dunedin Fine Art Center. William, age 6 1/2 (don't forget the half) looked at one of Adonna Khare's large carbon pencil drawings of beasts; predators and prey locked in scenes beyond reality and said "that's a big piece of paper." I was so consumed by the layering and mark-making and by the content and technical mastery that I completely forgot to consider the surface material and size.

Madeline, age 4 3/4 (3/4 equally important as 1/2) was more annoyed about wearing a mask two sizes too big to even consider the giant animals looming over her. Who knows what Thomas at 15 months was thinking but he recognized bears because it's one of the words in his vocabulary.

We looked at the drawings, then we viewed the Sacred Vessels by Christian Zvonik from a distance. "Use your eyes. Look but DO NOT touch...please" was uttered more than once while viewing these glass sculptures.

From the description of the exhibition, we as humans have culturally integrated animals into our belief systems as a way to symbolize human experiences and maintain a connection to the natural world. Examples given are "The Chinese Zodiac, The Hindu pantheon and vahanas, animals in Christianity (the lion, serpent, and sheep), and the symbols on the sacred Totems of the Haida. Life is full of celebrations both large and small. Life also has its share of burdens and the curator asks us to consider this - "as human interactions with Nature change in response to environment, what animals will serve as symbols for our needs, desires, fears and joys? The statement that resonated with me was "When we die, we live on as stories, and our stories tie past, present, and future together. Our story might be captured in image, word or song...But, perhaps both our greatest joy and burden is what we do with ourselves until the inevitable? Who will we serve? What is your purpose? What is our purpose? Will we run out of time?"

P. A. Kushner, The Gift, stoneware with crackle, airbrush and found object

Although not part of the Beasts and Burdens exhibition but in a way related to the theme, was The Gift in the P. A. Kushner Now. And Then exhibit . Art is the most subjective subject, and we respond to pieces based on our own experiences. According to the title this piece was created for the healing of those who have experienced extreme loss...to show how in time we reflect and protect memories of a life shared with appreciation, love, and joy. This sculpture drew me in but my immediate reaction was to invert the piece and have the wood and stone be the burdens for the figure to carry. I suppose it is because I am not quite ready to receive "The Gift" just yet.

P. A. Kushner is having a virtual meeting on December 10th about her work and registration is open. I also encourage you to take some time to visit the Dunedin Fine Art Center and explore these two exhibitions and the others. Bring your kids. It really is worth it.