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Casting a positive light over what’s often viewed as negative

Colour Negative, a photographic exhibit by Nhuri Bashir, opened yesterday at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art (Photograph supplied)

Nhuri Bashir’s Colour Negative, which opened at Masterworks, is a fascinating visual experience.

Like any good cricket captain, allow me to set the field of context by positioning a few considerations and definitions to guide commentary and opinion.

Photography as fine art is obligated to employ objective dictates which subjectively reflect the artist and renders possibilities mined from the infinite universe of creativity. Art photography transcends the literal representation of subject or scene with emotional expression and visionary concepts.

The inherent boundaries this may suggest, Bashir pushes even further with the incorporation of graphic and multimedia techniques to render a uniquely creative colloquialism.

He uses the camera with the same intent to create as the painter uses the brush. Bashir says of his creative deliberations: “The decision behind taking each frame is a very weighty decision and you find yourself choosing what not to shoot versus what to shoot.”

Bashir’s art show is a compelling journey far from the technical properties of colour negative film. He attaches a profound philosophical premise to the term “colour negative” by stating: “The ethos behind this show was to take things typically considered negative – my neighbourhood from back of town – capturing [those] images in such a way and then transforming those images so that they are seen in a positive light. The deeper message is to show the positive in what is originally looked at as a negative.”

This show presents more than the nuances of allegory and dancing visual juxtapositions. It indirectly highlights the intrinsic and empirical role photography plays in everyone’s life. The currency of photography is memories, locations, moments from the past and people. In most instances it documents origins and journeys. The power of photography is its ability to narrate stories and preserve our memories. The images in Colour Negative transcend the aesthetics of structure and form and the decorative schema of composition. It unwittingly invites us to experience the past.

And here is a confession, or perhaps an unwanted indulgence: I was not prepared for the emotional punch of Colour Negative. Psychologists tell us nostalgia is our personal version of history, usually pleasant reflections of bygone days with a sense of loss mixed in. I spent my boyhood in Middletown during the 1960s and the images of Colour Negative provoked long gone faces and memories from Deepdale to Angle Street; walking to Bishop Spencer School with my friends; “Snatcher” singing out names in the morning as he strolled through “the Curve”.

I would cautiously suggest for Bashir, the “back of town” representations on display in this show are also a confident and assured expression of the artist’s authentic self.

Bashir presents an arresting alchemy of design and execution which manifests in his artistic vision, elements of composition and use of resources – the camera, silk screening and graphics. There is a depth of intelligence to present something wondrous where the viewer applies a new coda of logic and reason to interpret many of the images.

The Cottage on the Hill, Series 1 to 4, possesses strong suggestive references with medium and palette but Bashir moves past these limits with the believability of stylised observation and is not merely parroting another voice. He is ostensibly rendering any explanation or perspective as wholly his own. Bashir successfully mitigates the inherent risk of reimagining “iconic” Bermuda.

With Gombeys (Series 1) Bashir drops the vibrancy of expected colour and instead of energetic movement there is a quiet stillness. Cliché is displaced with a reverent poignancy.

There is a heavy minimalist motif in Colour Negative and Bashir leverages pattern, sections of an image or a fragment of architectural design to narrate a recurring theme. Somerset Kaleidoscope is distinctive with its lateral symmetrical visual play. Bashir’s art transcends the ornamental and its geometric properties, because it is largely rooted in a narrative. Sometimes an inferred political, or even subversive, statement emerges and I would suggest, given the artist’s comments regarding his show, this is more than symbolic value. Case in point, the subtle dialectical tension in Untitled (Garrison) may not be obvious if the viewer misses the context. Spoiler: common “neighbourhood” vernacular and references are imposed on the sanitised signage.

Here is a phenomenon common to all people regardless of community or society – we have an appreciation for visual art. It is a reflection of experience, pulls at our emotions and triggers our thoughts when we are stimulated by visual ideas. When asked to share his thoughts about Colour Negative, Bashir responds: “I view the imagery as a looking forward and stripping away the connotations and showing things as they are. The architecture is art, culture is art. This is more Bermuda’s future than nostalgia.”

It’s easy to embrace this sentiment. This is a show for all of Bermuda – even a new Bermuda.

• Colour Negative opened yesterday at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art and will run until November 29. For more information: www.masterworksbermuda.org

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Published November 05, 2022 at 8:25 am (Updated November 05, 2022 at 8:25 am)

Casting a positive light over what’s often viewed as negative

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