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  • Dr. Erica M. James


Published: Aug 10, 2013

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Dr. Erica M. James answers this week’s 20 Questions from Guardian Arts&Culture. Erica is the founding director and chief curator of the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. She is currently an Assistant Professor, History of Art and African American Studies at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.


1. What’s been your most inspirational moment in the last five years?

I tend to have one of these moments every five minutes! I can find inspiration in a rock.


2. What’s your least favorite piece of artwork?

I don’t have a least favorite but I do remember being very critical of video work a few years back. It seemed as if too many artists thought it was the medium for them to use in order to be considered au courant I guess. A lot of it was just really bad and painful to watch. A lot of it still is.


3. What’s your favorite period of art history?

I don’t have one.


4. What are your top 5 movies of all time?

Impossible to answer. I am a huge film fan. Some special ones from the past year include Middle of Nowhere, Pariah, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty and just last week Fruitvale Station. I also really liked Argo and Skyfall.


5. Coffee or tea?

Ethiopian coffee is simply the best.


6. What book are you reading now?

The Black Jacobins by CLR James and the poetry of Frank Marshall Davis.


7. What project are you working on now?

The lovely part of my job is that I am always working on multiple things at once but today I am focusing on an essay for an upcoming exhibition of contemporary art from an amazing private collection here in the United States.


8. What’s the last show that surprised you?

The show that continues to astonish me is the Melancholia Exhibition I saw in Berlin in 2006. By comparison to be surprised seems almost tame but in some ways I was surprised by the quality of the Basquiat show at Gagosian earlier this year.


9. Saxons, One Family, Valley Boys or Roots?

One Family. I think they tend to be more innovative with design and performance and God knows Junkanoo needs it.


10. If you had to be stranded on one Family Island which one would it be?

Without question, Long Island. Love the place, Love the people.


11. What’s the most memorable artwork you’ve ever seen?

Jan Van Eyck’s Man in a Red Turban (1433) at the National Gallery in London mainly because I was so used to seeing it as a huge projected image in art history classes that when I finally saw it in situ, I was kind of shocked to realize that it was the size of a sheet of copy paper.


12. Which artist do you have a secret crush on?

If I can be polyamorous in crushland, Dawoud Bey, Martin Puryear and Hervé Télémaque


13. If you could have lunch with anyone who would it be?

Forget lunch. I want to score an invite to Oprah’s 60th birthday party! Now that is going to be a fete.


14. Who do you think is the most important person Bahamian in the country’s history?

We are all important. People make history.


15. Who is your favorite living artist?

These questions have made me realize that I don’t have many ‘favorites’! As far as young Bahamian artists go I really like Jace McKinney’s recent work. He seems to be reaching for something and to me that is always a good thing.


16. Sunrise or Sunset?



17. What role does the artist have in society?

Artists are society’s engines. If a society isn’t growing and changing, it is dying. Artists are supposed to be innovators, mirrors, transformers, boundary pushers, critics, visionaries. Few people who call themselves artists really are. Most people just make pictures.


18. What’s your most embarrassing moment?

I am sure I have had lots and will have many more but I really don’t remember them. In my family embarrassing moments magically become funny moments. We tend to laugh at ourselves a lot.


19. What wouldn’t you do without?

Love, family and faith


20. What’s your definition of beauty?

Not sure if I can define it, but I know it can be seen and experienced and that each time this happens it touches my soul.


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