‘Catch Ya Sef ’
Published: May 18, 2013
How will you know where you're going if you don't know where you've been? It's an age-old question posed often in the perennial discussion of Bahamian national identity.
With the 40th anniversary of Bahamian independence upon us, artist Matthew Wildgoose joins the conversation with an upcoming portrait exhibition years in the making.
"The exhibition is my first solo exhibition," says Wildgoose. "I've taken part in a number of exhibitions before, but this is my first solo one. I started to plan it from about 2008, when I exited COB (The College of the Bahamas), the art program, and I always wanted to do a show on Bahamian icons, Bahamian entertainers, who more or less didn't get the recognition that they deserved. So you have people like Maureen Duvalier, Ronnie Butler, KB, all those guys. I wanted to put focus on those guys, and I always liked portraits.
"Despite being encouraged to paint landscapes or seascapes, I was never interested in that. I think it's boring because there's so much you can get out of a portrait."
Wildgoose, who also has a background in theater and television acting, maintains a passion for portraiture in his fine art.
"I like to look at someone and find out the history behind who the person is," he told Guardian Arts&Culture. "And then it's challenging because when you do a portrait, you have to get that person looking like who the person is. The worst thing for me is when you do a portrait and someone says, 'Who dat is? That ain't look like you.' That time, I'm trying to do a self portrait. That ain't look like me? Man I need to give up. I need to find another job... This ain't gonna work," he jokes.
"So that's the challenging aspect of it. But the challenge is good because I want to get better. I want to get better because if [the self portrait] doesn't look like me, then I need to make it look like me. So whatever I need to do, if I need to put more hours into it, put more time, put more money, effort. I need to do it cause that's my gift. That's why I'm trying to develop that gift."
The three-day exhibition will feature 18 to 20 portraits of Bahamian musical icons and is meant to help Bahamians "catch themselves".
"The name of it – 'Catch Ya Sef' – I came up with that
because when I was growing up, your mom, your daddy or whoever, your guardian would always tell you, 'Catch ya self' before they beat your behind," Wildgoose said. "So that's a phrase I always heard 'cause I was never catching myself. But it was to remind you of what [they] taught you or what you learnt before you get in real trouble. So the show is for Bahamians to catch ourselves, to be reminded of where we came from, of who we are, so we can have some idea of where we are to go in the future.
"Entertainers, I feel like they're leaders. They're heroes in a way because of the words in their songs. They speak about the Bahamian life, the Bahamian culture, and they sort of make it timeless. You know, music can travel throughout the world. People in Europe would be listening to Bahamian music, and they'll get to know a little bit about Bahamians from listening to the music. So I think that musicians, they're good people to paint because they put us on the map.
"We've become, or we're becoming very much Americanized in the things we do – the way we live, how we speak, the kind of music we listen to, it's all American. And there's a lot of complaining going on now especially with the 40th anniversary coming up. And no one person can point a finger at the other and say, 'Yall need to stop this or yall need to stop listening to...' cause we can't avoid it. Our number one source of income is tourism; most of those guys come from the [United] States. You wake up in the morning, the TV is on, [and] you're seeing the U.S.,” he says.
"So we can't avoid that. We can't avoid trying to speak like them; we can't avoid trying to dress like them. So as a result we don't have much of an identity; we don't know who we are. So this show is my way to sort of bridge that gap and remind people of who and where they come from. 'Cause you have people like Joseph Spence. European bands who went worldwide, they were influenced by Joseph Spence [and] Tony McKay. Nina Simone wrote three songs for Tony McKay. These guys were right there from Cat Island and Andros. Bahamians don't know that.
"Joseph Spence was rapping before all these fellas came around. I tell you not a word of lie..."
Wildgoose points all of this out because he feels Bahamians need to appreciate what they have to offer and what it means to be uniquely Bahamian.
"We need to know that we are gifted in a lot of ways," he says. "We need to know that we are artists. We are dancers. We are music makers. We are writers. We are the fine artists, and we need to be reminded of it, so that we can get back to our own thing, instead of trying to get it from somebody else. And then it not being authentic. It's never authentic.
"We try so much times to do American music. We're never going to be on the same level as a Jay-Z or a Beyonce. We can't because our thing is goombay, Junkanoo [and] rake and scrape. We need to try and embrace that. Make it our own."
Wildgoose is especially excited to hold this exhibition at the Balmoral Club, a unique venue with a laid back atmosphere. Though he's never been to an exhibition there, the minute he set foot in the club, he knew he wanted his first solo exhibition to be held there.
• Join Wildgoose at the Balmoral Club for the opening reception of "Catch Ya Sef" on Thursday, May 23 from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. under the patronage of Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell. Ed Moxey and the Boys are expected to perform at the opening.