Playing to the gallery

Playing to the gallery

Daniela Fifi talks Caribbean museums

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
Observer senior writer

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

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For the layman, working in or browsing museums is a boring way to pass the time. With the toppling of monuments and statues across the United States and Europe last summer, curators like Daniela Fifi are seen in a different light.

The Trinidadian is chief curator at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB), a post she has held since September. Next month, Fifi oversees the third and final instalment of PULSE, a virtual series highlighting murals and sculptures by Bahamian creatives.

Fifi, who is from Port of Spain, is a graduate of Teachers College at Columbia University. Operating in COVID-19 conditions has helped to make her latest assignment challenging.

“Although I am new to the museum, it's already been an exciting journey as I was placed in charge of overseeing NAGB's first virtual opening and virtual exhibitions for PULSE, which is a multi-tiered exhibition focused on Bahamian muralists and public art,” she told the Jamaica Observer recently. “The central themes of the exhibition asks us to re-engage community through art and surface the importance of art during times of crisis.”

Fifi secured the job in Nassau, the Bahamian capital, while in the final year of doctoral research in art and art education at Teachers College. Previously, she worked at the Whitney Museum, Noguchi Museum and Wallach Art Gallery in New York, and the National Museum and Art Gallery of Trinidad and Tobago.

Interestingly, Fifi's aunt, Clair Broadbridge, was director and chief curator at the National Museum and Art Gallery of Trinidad and Tobago, which prompted her interest in the arts. Though the Caribbean has a vibrant community, she says more needs to be done to build appreciation for the arts regionally.

“While I was working at the National Museum and Art Gallery of Trinidad and Tobago, the visitors enjoyed learning about our art collections and historical collections. Caribbean people do enjoy art, however, our museums must ensure that our galleries and museums are meeting the culture and temperament of our audiences,” she said.

Just before Fifi headed to The Bahamas, groups in the United States and Europe, protesting the controversial death of George Floyd, toppled monuments and statues of racially flawed figures, including Christopher Columbus, who was among the first European explorers to reach what became known as the West Indies.

Daniela Fifi believes some of these pieces should be in museums where “historical revisionism can be recontextualised”.

“I believe that statues are meant to honour and memorialise historical periods or heroes of our past. Notions of heroising history and heroic statutory, however, are complicated ones, especially those positioned during the Caribbean's colonial past,” she added. “History has imbued these statues with a colonial iconography that places significance, preferences, and defends notions of empire and European imperialism. In doing so, they ask their viewers that belong to the legacy of disenfranchised groups to accept the oppressive histories that they symbolise.”


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