Conceptual Art and Breaking Caribbean Stereotypes

Updated: Jun 1, 2019

Tessa Whitehead - you can call it your arc and John Cox - how much do you love me. Photo courtesy of the artists.

I recently worked with Popopstudios, a gallery and studio space based in Nassau, Bahamas, during its fourth year showing at Volta NY, a major contemporary art fair that took place in New York City from March 2 – 6. This post is an excerpt of an article that I wrote for ARC Magazine about the experience. 

Popopstudios was the first gallery from the Caribbean to participate in Volta NY. Each year, the gallery’s featured artists have pushed the boundaries of conceptual art. Each year, the art was met with audience surprise that it was firstly Caribbean and secondly, Bahamian.

“Popopstudios is driven by artists and consistent support from the creative community. Its value is that it provides an experimental space for artists to think critically and negotiate unique perspectives in complex conversations,” said John Cox, Founder, CEO and creative director of Popopstudios. "We think that it is critical to facilitate the education and promotion of new and challenging developments in contemporary Bahamian art.”

Can there be Critical Thinking? Isn't it all "tourist or native" art?

In a past interview Blouin Art Info, Amanda Coulson, Director of the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas and artistic director of Volta, remarked on the assumptions of the global art world about caribbean art:  “The misconception is: can there be critical thinking? Conceptual art? Isn’t it all “tourist” or “native/naive” art? This rather condescending assumption is, however, something we are largely responsible for perpetuating ourselves due to what is close to idolatry of our massive tourism industry, which leads to our own self-stereotyping.”

Volta NY is a rigorously curated boutique event, showcasing the best in contemporary art from emerging international artists. It is renown for consistently identifying talent from cutting-edge trendsetters and next year’s rising stars. 

Popopstudio’s featured artist at this edition of Volta NY, Tessa Whitehead, adds a beautifully crafted and dynamic chapter to the story. Not only was her groundbreaking solo show at a major international art fair a first for Bahamian female artists, but also the mixed media work on display offered a fresh perspective on contemporary art. 

Chipping away at "self-stereotyping"

Whitehead is known for explorations of objects that examine the connection between journey, landscape, love and loss. Trained a painter, her practice has expanded to include sculptures and installations using raw materials like cement, wood and stainless steel. Her Volta NY work included a 15-foot high sculpture entitled Rainbow of Stars which is comprised of 354-individually cut wooden stars that are strung up like a necklace, then haphazardly cajoled into the shape of a rainbow. 

Importantly, the increasing global visibility and commercial success of conceptual exhibitions from Popopstudios and similar spaces can chip away at the “self-stereotyping” to which Coulson refers. It is imperative that emerging regional contemporary artists, especially those living and working in the Caribbean, boldly express valid and interesting points of view rather ones muted by the parochial lens of those who drive stereotypes. Popopstudio’s presence at Volta NY and the consistent showing of strong contemporary work from Bahamian artists is certainly a giant leap forward for art and artists from The Caribbean.

Take a look at these artists who are (re)defining the conversation about art from The Caribbean. Read the full article on ARC Magazine's website.

Photo credits: Tessa Whitehead, Popopstudios, Volta NY and Royann Dean

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I'm a strategic marketing communication consultant who works with premium brands to tell compelling brand stories, guide perception, drive engagement and build loyalty to win hearts and wallets. Find out more about me at, follow me on Twitter @royanndean and Linkedin.

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