Explore the Islands’ Cultural Heritage with Natalie Urquhart, Director and Chief Curator at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands.
The artistic landscape in the Cayman Islands is enjoying a wave of community engagement that has never been stronger. As the director and chief curator at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, Natalie Urquhart plays a central role in presenting the work of Cayman’s finest artists to a broad audience.
Just this year, Urquhart launched an ambitious new Biennial Exhibition, showcasing the Islands’ intriguing blend of contemporary art. And there are another three major exhibitions on the schedule, as well as several smaller solo exhibitions — not to mention, expanding exhibit space at the Little Cayman Museum and Cayman Brac Reef Resort on the Sister Islands and keeping track of some 50 workshops, classes and lectures at the gallery each month.
The driving factor of all of this activity is fulfilling the National Gallery’s underlying mission: making art accessible to everyone in the community. As the curator, Urquhart is always looking for new ideas for exhibition concepts and design, especially as it relates to the influence of traditional cultural heritage on contemporary art in the Cayman Islands and the wider Caribbean region. Her favourite place to research ideas is the Cayman Islands National Archive, which she calls a “treasure trove of information.”
Other places she hunts for ideas include books, cultural sites, museums, art fairs and international news stories.
Remembering Her Roots
Born and raised in Cayman, Urquhart remembers what it was like to see artists at the annual Visual Arts Society exhibition at the Old Holiday Inn hotel. But it was really her interest in history and how civilisations told their stories through sculpture, architecture, decorative arts and painting that put her on the path to a career in the cultural sector.
“It’s often the creative traces of a society that survive, and I found this fascinating.”
After earning her master’s degree in arts management at the University of London, Urquhart initially worked as an editor at Cayman Free Press, where she honed her skills in research, writing and cultural content, and later, helped create InsideOut magazine. That work would become a precursor to her role as a curator, because so much of it involves research, writing, art direction, editing and production in order to tell a holistic story, which is an essential part of an exhibition.
At the National Gallery, every day is different. It might start with an international conference call, continue with a lecture or tour, include a fundraising luncheon, and later in the afternoon changing light bulbs. Rarely, does she have a chance to sit and contemplate the artwork.
Outside of work, Urquhart and her husband share a love for travel and exploring new cultures, frequently visiting museums and galleries. And as an avid reader, she will often find herself hunting for vintage books with a Caribbean connection. Whenever she gets a chance, she goes on a getaway to Little Cayman with her husband. “There are few better places in the world than in a hammock in Little Cayman with a good book or a lazy afternoon at Point of Sand,” says Urquhart.
After 17 years of working in the arts and culture arena, what continues to inspire Urquhart is working one-on-one with artists and challenging them to create their very best work. In this way, Urquhart believes it plays an essential part of cultivating a visual culture and history of the country, and creating a lasting infrastructure for the arts.
Cayman Airways recognises the vibrant role the arts play in our culture and has a long history of supporting the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, Cayfest, Cayman National Cultural Foundation and the Cayman Arts Festival.
You can use Cayman Airways Cargo Services to take home a piece of Cayman art. We ship to/from Cayman Brac; Miami and Tampa, Florida; Kingston and Montego Bay, Jamaica; and La Ceiba, Honduras.
Author: Shurna DeCou
Photographer: David Wolfe