A different kind of art gallery
Published: Jun 01, 2013
Tucked away in an arcade, not too far from the Harley Davidson store and Bambu nightclub, is an interesting take on the traditional art gallery.
The Toni Gallery, founded by young Bahamian artist Alexia Roach, whose first name is Toni, had its grand opening last month and features books, t-shirts and souvenirs, as well as Bahamian fine art.
"I've always loved art and for the last three to five years I've been anticipating opening an art gallery," said the 25-year-old proprietor. "But I noticed that downtown specifically, there wasn't an art gallery that showcased local art work."
"It's so different because it's one of the few places downtown that exposes our Bahamian culture to tourists. So they finally get the opportunity to see how talented Bahamians are creatively, and they can read about it because we have books here."
"I wanted to give artists the opportunity to showcase their artwork and have another platform to stand on."
The gallery currently features artists such as Roach, gallery curator Bernard Petit, Del Foxton, Anthony ‘Big Mo’ Morely, Chris Symonette, Mardia Powell, Ashley Powell and ceramicist Jade Ferguson.
"All of the artists are Bahamian or are residing in The Bahamas, and there's different types of art for everyone," Roach told Guardian Arts&Culture. "We're bringing in some photography, and we also have a book about Bahamian photography."
"All our books are about Bahamian art. Everything we sell, all the souvenirs, are about Bahamian art. Books on master artists of The Bahamas; Maxwell Taylor; Amos Ferguson; books based on private collections [like] the D'Aguilar collection book [and] the first Dawn Davies collection book (Past, Present and Personal). And they're affordable. I'm really happy when tourists purchase the books because I can understand, we just opened, so they're not anticipating buying these huge canvases and then having to take them back... And they're not prepared to spend so much money on a painting, but we do have a lot of art enthusiasts that come in that are not local that buy the books. And I'm happy about that because I know for sure that our culture is going to be read internationally."
Enthusiastic about art from an early age, Roach attained her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Some of her pieces have been purchased for a private collection, and her primary media are oil on canvas and charcoal on paper, though she admits she loves to experiment. Roach has also completed summer internships at Popopstudios International Center for the Visual Arts and Harl Taylor BAG, giving her a background in both art and retail. Most recently, she has also been accepted to further her education at The Art Institute of Chicago, but she says she may have to put off furthering her studies for the good of the gallery.
"I've been exhibiting since I was in school – I think since 2007," said Roach. "I had two solo exhibitions and then I had my senior exhibition, which was a joint exhibition."
"Before I came home I got a job offer at an advertising firm in Michigan, but I turned it down because it wasn't exactly what I wanted. I've always been very independent, and I never wanted to be stuck behind a desk per se. I always wanted to go and be doing things.
"I kind of dropped everything and I decided that [opening the gallery] was what I want to do. I don't want to wait; I want to do it now and I want people to be able to say, 'No one has to dictate to me what I can do and when I can do it.' I think that's part of the problem in our society. We are too hesistant because we're afraid of what we're doing wrong and what we're doing right. But for me it was like, 'Well why can't I?'"
"I had to research [the business aspect of opening the gallery] on my own... to make sure that I was being fair and that I was being professional and that nobody could blame any mistakes that I make on my youth.
"A lot of it has to do with my realizing that... I did not want this gallery to be like any other gallery," she explained. "I didn’t want us to retail or sell on consignment anything that other art galleries were selling.”
Roach also has high hopes for what The Toni Gallery can offer in the future.
"I'm hoping to eventually, in a couple years, open studios for young arists from all over The Bahamas who would want to come and work," she said. "And also maybe open an art supply store, but I'd like for The Toni Gallery to become a recognizable brand for Bahamian authenticity and culture... We've had some people buy our t-shirts.... and I'd like the tourists to be able to come and say, 'Oh this is The Toni Gallery; this is where I can find authentic Bahamian souvenirs’."
During May, which was Cancer Awareness Month, The Toni Gallery made a special donation. For every wall painting sold, they donated $50 to $100 to the Cancer Society of The Bahamas. Roach is also looking forward to hosting a summer art workshop for students in the coming months.
• For more information, call 428-3760, email email@example.com or visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheToniGallery. The gallery in the Prince George Plaza is open Sunday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.