7 Questions for Mestre Projects Founder Jose Mestre on Bringing the Bahamian Art Scene to the International Stage

Founded in 2017, contemporary art gallery Mestre Projects has developed a diverse and dynamic exhibition program that platforms Bahamian and Caribbean as well as international artists. Helmed by Jose Mestre, the gallery was formerly based in New York, but relocated to Nassau, the Bahamas, driven by Mestre’s vision. Unique to the gallery, Mestre Projects maintains a commitment to fostering and promoting individual artists in their practice and career, resulting in shows and events that are produced on a basis of collaboration, and lend themselves to greater cross-cultural dialogues.

We spoke with Mestre to learn more about the gallery’s trajectory and why the Bahamas should be on the international art world’s radar.

Installation view of “Matthew David Rahming: Wings of a Dove” (2024). Courtesy of Mestre Projects, Nassau.

What led you to establish Mestre Projects in New Providence, the Bahamas?

The ocean has been a major part of my life since I was young. I have always been actively involved in marine life conservation, I am a diving instructor, tech diver, cave diver, and lastly, a free diver, which is what ultimately brought me to the Bahamas. As you can see, the ocean means everything to me, and what better place to call home than the Bahamas, such a prolific country that is historically significant and surrounded of water.

How would you describe the guiding principles or ethos of Mestre Projects? How is this reflected in the gallery’s programming?

Mestre Projects is about, hard work, strategy, confidence, and to make my team and artists part of my vision; we are a team, and we have a common goal, to give the best of us to create something special.

Stan Burnside, You Are Not Alone (2022). Courtesy of Mestre Projects, Nassau.

What is one thing you think people should know about the art scene in the Bahamas?

The art scene in the Bahamas is thriving both locally and internationally. There is an abundance of Bahamian talent who are globally recognized artists such as Tavares Strachan, Jeffrey Meris, Stan Burnside, and Kendal Hanna, among others. Hanna, for example, will be part of an upcoming documentary already selected for the Sundance Film Festival. The country has a strong community of collectors and supporters who appreciate and collect artwork by their fellow artists. Bahamians take great pride in their artistic community.

Previously located in New York, what are some of the biggest differences you’ve noticed or while helming the gallery?

Both New York and the Bahamas have active art scenes in different ways. You can get caught up in the frenzy of all the New York dinners, galas, cocktail parties, charity events, and auction nights, whereas living in the Bahamas, the rhythm is a slower pace with sophistication, and this gives, let’s say, this extra time to put all my ideas to work. Mestre Projects is at the heart of the Albany community in Nassau which brings a huge international crowd, so that gives me the perfect balance between both worlds.

Artist Jorge R. Pombo. Courtesy of Mestre Projects, Nassau.

Can you tell us about the forthcoming show opening at the gallery on May 25?

Jorge R. Pombo is an artist from Barcelona who currently lives and works in Italy. We have known each other for many years, and I have always admired his work. Finally, after 15 years, I am excited to be showcasing his next show. Jorge was one of the artists chosen for the 59th Biennale for the National Pavilion Republic of Cameroon in 2022. He recently completed a monumental project at Villa da Porto Barbaran in Montorso Vicentino, Italy; a 180-square-meter painting reinterpretation of Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel. On May 25, we will exhibit eight abstract oil-on-canvas sketches of this reinterpretation. The day of the exhibition, we will host an artist talk for anyone who wants to participate in engaging with Jorge about his work.

What is your favorite part about working directly with artists from the gallery’s roster?

I love to spend time with artists, listening, learning, and understanding them. Our artists become family, it’s all about building relationships. We work with international artists like Jorge R. Pombo or Kassou Seydou and focus on Bahamian and Caribbean artists like Stan Burnside, Matthew David Rahming, Keith Thompson, Amaani Hepburn, and José Gabriel Capaz. Every artist is unique, and it’s important to me to listen, understand, and learn from each one. Through this, I can advise them and help them better develop their potential.

Installation view of “Invisible Returns: Kendal Hanna, Keith Thompson, Matthew David Rahming” (2023). Courtesy of Mestre Projects, Nassau.

Looking to the future, how do you see Mestre Projects’ mission or programming expanding or evolving?

The future of Mestre Projects will be to continue finding talented artists around the Bahamas, Caribbean, and internationally, and to prove that no matter the challenges we face being on an island, with commitment, knowledge, and a strong program, we can put Mestre Projects on the international map while attracting the attention of global collectors and institutions and build a strong reputation within the art world. My goal is to see Mestre Projects as a key player in global cultural exchange.

There is currently a new project under construction that, as we speak, will be part of the Bahamian community and will bring more excitement and create more buzz locally and internationally, but let’s leave this surprise for next time.

Learn more about Mestre Projects here.

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