By Lindsey Turnbull
Multi-media artist Simon Tatum, an intern with the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, is currently showing an exhibition of his works at the Gallery, an exciting exploration into Caymanian culture that stretches the viewer to think beyond the normal artistic depiction of the islands.
In his artist statement detailing his exhibition, Looking Back and Thinking Ahead, which is showing in the Community Gallery, Mr. Tatum says that he believes that the Cayman Islands, being a small British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean, has a unique cultural identity, but that he wants to take that culture and propel it forward.
The 22-year-old Caymanian received his bachelors of art degree from the University of Missouri and was the 2014 recipient of the Cayman Islands’ Visual Arts and Design Scholarship from Deutsche Bank and the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands.
He is no stranger to exhibiting his artwork publicly, having shown in group exhibitions at the Gallery on three separate occasions, and having shown a solo exhibition at the University of Missouri. He has also participated in numerous group exhibitions abroad, in Los Angeles, California and the Caribbean Linked IV Exhibition in Oranjestad, Aruba.
Mr. Tatum was honoured in 2016 with an international artist grant from the Cayman National Cultural Foundation and an artist travel grant from National Gallery of the Cayman Islands.
As well as incorporating images of Cayman’s past via the use of archived photos intertwined with contemporary imagery, Mr. Tatum has included a series of sculptural works to challenge viewers as well.
“With my recent sculptural works, I have created mixed media installations that question the use of post-mortem mementoes within the Cayman Island,” he said.
Mr. Tatum went on to say that Cayman’s cultural identity had been constructed through the exposure of visual devices, such as Christian propaganda imagery, post-mortem mementoes, documentary photographs and tourist advertisements.
“With my work, I explore the lineages of these devices and try to reincorporate their function within the things I create,” he said. “Moreover, my work is purposed towards including Cayman culture into a broader historical dialogue.
“I am not fully concerned with exposing an ideal representation of Caymanian cultural identity; rather, I am more concerned with using the functions of visual devices to create new meaning for Caymanian culture to a global audience. My work goes beyond simply making representations of an existing Caymanian culture but actually contributes to extending Caymanian culture and projecting it outwards through the platform of the art museum.”
New Culture Minister, Dwayne Seymour, attended the opening night of Tatum’s exhibition on Thursday, June 9, along with Mr. Tatum’s family, which included his grandmother, Mary Lawrence, former Speaker of the House.
At the event, Mr. Seymour pledged his support for the arts in the Cayman Islands, and not just the visual arts but the entire spectrum, and said for too long the arts had been underfunded and as a result he would be looking to ensure that more funding was available to promote the arts in the future.
Natalie Urquhart, director of the National Gallery, said it was fantastic to see how Mr. Tatum’s artistic talent had developed over the years.
“It has been impressive to see how Simon has come through the various programmes that he has been involved with at the National Gallery. In particular, his extensive body of research makes him a first class practitioner of arts and culture in the Cayman Islands,” she said.
Looking Back and Thinking Ahead runs until June 16.