Characterized by white sandy beaches and clear blue water, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is known to be a holiday playground for the rich and famous, attracting those interested in yachting, diving and its exceptional beaches. While tourism evidently makes up a significant part of the economy many Vincentians leave the country because of the high unemployment rate. For the people who do stay though, agriculture represents the largest part of the workforce, and in particular, 60% of that is devoted to banana production. Nzimbu Browne is someone who has made use of this industry. He creates all of his pieces out of banana leaves, the waste product of the plant that is the primary force of St. Vincent and Grenadines livelihood. Browne is self-taught, and his art is both an example of sustainable ecological production but also an embodiment of the way of life on the islands, making it an authentic form of cultural representation.
Banana art was first started on St. Vincent by ‘Ras Bandy’ Payne, a St. Vincentian artist who now resides in Ethiopia. Ras Bandy’s work was influenced by his natural life on a farm and his style reflects the importance of connecting to the natural elements of the earth. After seeing an exhibition by Ras Bandy, Browne was inspired and wanted to learn how to use banana waste products for his own work. Browne spent some time with Bandy, and learned some techniques and colour schemes specific to the banana art. From this experience Browne then developed his own techniques and started showing his work to the public. Because nature is the essence of this type of art, Browne can identify specific places to get the colours and textures he needs for his work. Even soil conditions and weather affect the colour and texture, so this has become an important part of the artistic process.
His work consists of collages depicting local scenes, and are all made up of multicolored shapes and figures cut out of the banana leaves. Browne states that he wants his work to also ‘express the festive patterns of life, stories of culture and of people struggling for self determination’. Every Friday, some of his pieces are displayed on one of the archways in the capital city, Kingstown. Nzimbu Browne’s art is predominantly bought by tourists, who make up a major part of the market on St. Vincent and Grenadines. Browne has also had exhibitions in Europe, Canada, the Caribbean and the USA. Besides being known for ‘creating masterpieces’ with banana leaves, Browne is also recognized as a musician, a drum maker and director of the drumming group Naked Roots. Within Naked Roots, Browne is a drum trainer and with his music on the side ‘his performances and recordings shift between contemporary social commentary, calypso and rapso styles’.
By Sarah Mitchell