Symbolic messages in Bajan art

Unlike New York where there are reportedly over 60,000 Barbadians, in Louisville, Kentucky there are only a few. Yet, one can still safely say ‘wherever you go, there one can find a remarkable story of Bajan effort or achievement.

Judy Layne-Banks works in the Louisville public school system comprising about 100,000 students and 173 schools. Layne-Banks was among the group of Caribbean teachers recruited around 2005. Today, Layne – Banks teaches Music, Art, Dance, and Theatre from Kindergarten to Fifth grade.

So why would Louisville, a city that reportedly has about six four-year universities and other institutions of higher learning reach out to Barbados for teachers?

“One of the major gifts of the Barbadian people is the inheritance of a sound and excellent foundation in education. It is one of the reasons Barbadians are known to succeed abroad. It is what allows us to be firm craftsmen of our fate,” explained Layne-Banks.

She further commended Barbadians. “Barbadians are enriched by a system where the people are its most important assets. The sound foundation in education offered, which included free education to university level, prepares our students to achieve excellence. These factors, combined with the inclusion of an “arts” education, further ensure that each Barbadian will not only succeed at home but in the global society.”

Layne-Banks is a batik artist whose textile works of art have been modeled at fashion shows in Barbados and across the Caribbean. In 1992 she won a scholarship to the Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, Massachusetts where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts (BFA) with Honours in Fibers and Art Education.

Recently, Layne-Banks, who is also a member of the Arts Council of Louisville, Inc – which serves as an Arts and Cultural Resource Centre for all arts and cultural disciplines and organizations – graduated with her Masters of Arts with a concentration in Civic Leadership, from the University of Louisville.

 For her research thesis, Layne-Banks’ theme was the symbolism on Barbadian textiles and it featured the work and views of stalwarts: Hartley Alleyne; Lillian Sten-Nicholson – Fibre artist, and former president the Barbados Arts Council; and Janice Whittle – the curator of Queens Park Gallery; and Joyce Daniel –  Fibre artist and painter.

 “My art form forte is surface design on fabric. My research unearthed some interesting facts about our culture. Indeed, studying a society through clothing turned out to be a remarkable way to understand a country’s history and how the society was developed. “said an excited Layne-Banks.

She gave insights of her interviews with artists and explained in part:

“Hartley Alleyne – was one of the artists to first discuss symbolism and posited that symbols in Barbadian art were found in architecture rather than fabric. This was also confirmed by Whittle. On the other hand, Lilian Nicholson noted that the early Barbadians were weavers of fabric but they were banned from using their designs because those designs were considered irreligious…”

She went on: “Real African prints are the Adina and indigo patterns stamped with symbols, which have a specific meaning about the African life. Nicholson also explained that the African slaves knew the meaning of the symbols so they used them as part of the design to send a message about the plantation owner’s home especially if he was a bad person.

“Additionally, head – scarves also symbolized the status of an individual, whether single or married. Janice Whittle stated that the symbols in Barbadian textiles have been lost over the years and in modern times they are used as visual motifs on fabric, rather than for symbolic meaning. Joyce Daniel explained that she used symbolism to clarify the meanings of the themes in her work. She combined symbolism with abstraction makes the audience aware of a deeper aspect of life. In one of her paintings, she used the Afro comb as a symbol of the return to African awareness. “

Source: (Walter Edey is a retired educator and author. Email:

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