Tavares Strachan

March 2021

Tavares Strachan is a multimedia artist who works in New York and in his hometown of Nassau in the Bahamas. His art explores subjects such as aeronautics, astronomy, deep-sea exploration, and extreme climatology, and has been featured in the Biennale de Lyon (2013), the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh (2018), and the Venice Biennale (2013 and 2019). He is represented by Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, where he will have a solo show in May 2022.

While I was growing up in the Bahamas, one of my earliest memories was of my mother waking me up at midnight on Christmas to go to Junkanoo, a Bahamian street parade with African roots. It combines live music and dance with elaborate handmade costumes and occurs every year on Boxing Day and on New Year’s Day. This event is living history; many believe it originated several centuries ago, when African slaves on Bahamian plantations were permitted to take part in their own celebrations on Bay Street in downtown Nassau during Christmas. I fell in love with Junkanoo at age five and have participated in every festival since.

“This woman never trouble no one / I’m a lady, I’m not a man / MC is my ambition / I come fi nice up Jamaica.” This lyric is from Sister Nancy’s song “Bam Bam,” which I first listened to when I was eight years old. The 1982 track is genius, and of course it went on to become a classic. Honestly, I initially thought the singer was a man. But it wasn’t that she sounded like a dude—I had simply never heard a woman on a dancehall track before. Her swagger is legendary. 

This film series follows five distinctive stories about the lives of West Indian immigrants in London during the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. When I heard Letitia Wright—the Guyanese-born actress who plays the British Black Panther Altheia Jones-LeCointe in Mangrove, Small Axe’s opening feature—belt out her lines in Jones-LeCointe’s Trinidadian accent, I got goose bumps. It was the first time in my life I had seen a main character speak in patwa.

I first heard Marcus Garvey’s name mentioned on the hit track “Don’t Dis the Trinity,” released in 1995 and performed bythe reggae legend Capleton. When I was young, Garvey was never talked about in the classroom or any other formal setting. Reggae music was the only way most of us learned about Black history, which even now is still omitted from Caribbean school curricula. Garvey, a Jamaican-born activist and political hero, was a great influence on several American civil rights icons, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Earl Little. In many ways, Garvey’s work in the United States paved the way for the modern civil rights movement.

Burnside, a painter and visionary, is a pioneer in the world of Afrofuturism. His work embodies the ethos according to which artistic production is a by-product of one’s harsh lived reality combined with the vastness of one’s own imagination. Burnside is a folk hero in the Bahamas, and his work brings to life the limitations and possibilities of the Afro-Caribbean experience.

I discovered this text as an undergraduate at the Rhode Island School of Design. We all have a few books that shaped us as young adults, and this one definitely left its mark on me. I found its premise to be at once approachable and complex. The author writes in the introduction, “There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.” The question is, What kind of player are you?

My love of games helps me to process the world. Russell, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, won eleven NBA championships over his thirteen-year career. In the late 1960s, he was both playing and coaching for the Boston Celtics when racial tensions were high. After conquering the finite game on the court, Russell turned his attention to the infinite game of civil rights and paved the way for the current generation of athlete-activists.

My mother was a huge fan of Yellowman, a Jamaican reggae and dancehall DJ. I was eight years old when I heard his song “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” blasting through the speakers of our family’s 1984 Nissan Datsun, and the memory still brings a massive smile to my face. Reggae music, specifically dub music, inspired hip-hop culture and most of the electronic music we know and love today. This Yellowman anthem was also an early lesson in how to deal with the police. 

INGREDIENTS: 1/4 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped; 1/4 white onion, chopped; 2 red tomatoes, ripe but still firm, seeded and chopped; 1 green tomato, seeded and chopped; 1/2 lb. fresh conch, cut into 1/4-inch pieces; 1 Scotch bonnet pepper, finely chopped; 1/4 cup lime juice; 1/4 cup orange juice.STEP 1: Place bell pepper, onion, tomatoes, and conch on a large cutting board; add Scotch bonnet pepper as desired. Mix salad together using your hands.STEP 2: Divide salad evenly between two plates and drizzle with lime and orange juice. Serve immediately.

I discovered Kaphar’s work while in grad school, and the first painting of his I encountered, Shifting the Gaze, 2017—which is based on a seventeenth-century canvas by Frans Hals—depicts a Black servant boy in formal garb. He’s surrounded by several (presumably) Dutch-colonialist figures, who have been wiped out with large swaths of white oil paint. The Black child is unmistakably present, the primary focus of our attention. Kaphar’s work always shines a light on Western art’s various occlusions. In this instance, he turns the notion of “whitewashing” into a powerful gesture of recuperation and protest.