Visiting Antigua’s Fig Tree Studio, the Gallery in the Rainforest

ANTIGUA — Since 2017, the local-led gallery Fig Tree Studio housed in the rainforest on the island of Antigua has featured a mix of regional and international artists, showcasing work that snapshots the day-to-day Caribbean life of today and yesteryear. 

After living on the island for over two decades, British artist Sallie Harker transformed what was once her own studio into what would become a beloved exhibition space. Housed in a square cottage held up on concrete pillars, the gallery is situated on a compound amid acres of lush flora and fauna. Square windows are cut out from each of the walls and sunlight pours into the space, reflecting the tops of the large green fronds from the plants surrounding the gallery’s perimeter. Inside, visitors might find wood carvings, etchings on copper plates, and framed photographs of Antigua’s cliffs, harbors, and beaches taken in the 1960s.

Fig Tree Studio in Antigua is housed in a square cottage held up on concrete pillars.
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Nzimbu Browne creates artworks using fibers selected from banana trees.

Among the many artists whose work is on display are Caribbean-born-and-based Nzimbu Browne and Jacob Scott, who have worked with Fig Tree since its inception. 

Both artists are self-taught and employ found materials to portray scenes of Caribbean life. Browne uses foraged banana leaves to depict memories of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, such as a woman making her way home from the marketplace with a basket over her head and a dog on her heels. Another image shows a man with a machete in hand heading to harvest coconuts from a tree while a laborer passes in the foreground atop a donkey. 

“I started depicting the heritage, the history, the culture, the environment, and the tradition of the region,” Browne told Hyperallergic about the evolution of his work. “The difficulty is going out and selecting the best materials, because all the banana bushes are not the same. Even when I design something, I still had to go out and find the pieces to bring the design alive.”

Jacob Scott from the island of Bequia uses found objects from the shoreline, such as beach rope and fishing nets, to create detailed baskets depicting Caribbean images of familial themes, varying in size and color — no two baskets are ever alike, because the materials are unique to each project. Scott had a stroke last year and is no longer able to make the sculptural works, but has switched to painting with the help of the gallery. 

“I hope that art [in the Caribbean] can be appreciated more,” Browne said. “I can only speak for Saint Vincent and Grenadines, but the thing is because we’re so small, we only have a small, appreciative set of people.”

Fig Tree Studio is open to visitors six days a week, November through May on the island of Antigua. See more photos from the gallery below.

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Artist Vanessa Hall’s photogravures of Antigua
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Square windows are cut out from each of the walls and sunlight pours into the space.
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Landscape paintings by Tamara Hutchinson alongside pieces by Shari Erickson
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Watercolors by Gilly Gobinet

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