Antigua and Barbuda, a dual-island Caribbean destination renowned for its vibrant art scene, boasts a wealth of talented artists and artisans. In this picturesque setting, inspiration flourishes in the midst of breathtaking scenery and abundant natural beauty, fostering an authentic aesthetic. Drawing upon a rich and complex heritage, the artists of Antigua and Barbuda are, in many ways, the keepers of their home’s important story. With a deep appreciation for local traditions, customs, and diverse cultural influences, art takes many forms in Antigua and Barbuda, as easily found in a St. John’s Gallery and an unassuming beach shanty.
A champion of the island's contemporary art scene, with work characterized by bold colours, dynamic forms, and thought-provoking emphases, we’d like to introduce you to Stephen Murphy. Upholding the belief that a single piece of art possesses an extraordinary capacity to convey a multitude of emotions, narratives, and ideas, each artwork produced by Murphy is exclusive to you and you alone. With an unwavering commitment to fostering creativity and embracing innovation, Murphy curates a collection that surpasses boundaries and limits.
Get ready to delve into the fascinating world of Stephen Murphy's work as we unveil a treasure trove of information about this exceptional artist and now-owner of Zemi Art Gallery.
Born on the island of Antigua in 1962, Stephen Murphy credits his embrace of all things artistic to the conditions of his early childhood: “Growing up in Antigua, the whole island was my playground. I did not have any toy shops on the island, so I had to use my imagination to find ways to entertain myself. So we use a lot of trash or discarded materials."
Murphy’s interest and natural talent for art would continue to blossom as he grew older - even to his own inconvenience. "I remember the moment when I thought being an artist would be a great thing. I would always sketch in my school textbooks, which got me into problems with the teachers. I must've been at least seven or eight at the time," Murphy recalls. Nonetheless, his passion continued to grow, eventually leading an older Murphy to attend Art School from 1994-1998 to build upon many of his self-taught techniques.
Having moved to Toronto at age 14 and remained there for 25 years, Murphy would return to Antigua in 2005, but not before leaving his mark on the Canadian art scene. Murphy has earned numerous accolades for his inventive and jaw-dropping work and has been featured in many galleries and exhibits in both countries.
Nestled in trendy Redcliffe Quay, St. John's, the Zemi Art Gallery is the culmination of Murphy’s journey as an artist. It stands as a vibrant and sophisticated space, showcasing an exceptional collection of Antiguan and Barbudan artwork with a captivating and innovative "twist." Taking a creative and unique approach to local art, Murphy captures the spirit of indigenous artistry and expression.
"We opened 17 years ago, and it's been a total success from its conception,” says Murphy. “Zemi is an indigenous word that means ‘God of good luck spirit’. At Zemi Art Gallery, we are known for using material that has been thrown out, better known as trash upcycle basically."
Created by Antiguan artists, this art gallery is a remarkable place to tour, supplying many exclusive pieces, including found objects, recycled and upcycled pieces found on the island. Visitors can purchase one-of-a-kind calabash bowls, exquisite wooden platters, gorgeous painted metal fish, and other handcrafted items like original-style Caribbean t-shirts for children and adults.
Capturing the essence of the islands' identity through vibrant illustrations and captivating sculptures, you will be mesmerized by the works Stephen Murphy has to offer. The art touches upon not only the history of the islands but their present concerns and future, grappling with the ever-present concern of pollution in a positive, hopeful way. With diverse artistry and expression, Antigua and Barbuda is a fusion of traditions weaving a rich tapestry of creativity—guiding each artwork with extraordinary colours and narratives celebrating the island's multifaceted heritage.
We’ll leave you with a concluding message from Murphy. On the character of his home and the importance of art to it, Murphy spoke eloquently: "People coming to Antigua and Barbuda need to understand it's not just about the beaches or the weather. They need to understand that we have a vibrant art scene and culture here in Antigua, and we have a lot of talented, two-dimensional and three-dimensional Artists on the island."
It may be time to rethink how you see Antigua and Barbuda: not only as an exceptional vacation destination but as a bastion of authentic artistic expression. After the success of the inaugural Art Week in April 2023, visitors can look forward to the return of the celebration - featuring spoken word, live music, art competitions, exhibits, and more - in October 2024. You can learn more about Antigua and Barbuda at https://www.visitantiguabarbuda.com/.