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Art Through the Eye of the Storm: National Gallery of Cayman Opens New Photographic Series

Gretchen Allen's Genesis one of the pieces transformed by Hurricane Ivan

In the wake of a hurricane most of our attention, and rightly so, goes to the trail of devastation, broken buildings, upended trees and often death that follows. Storms often take with them not only the things that can be easily replaced, but also the intangible. Yet, there is also a beauty that can follow. The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands recently opened the exhibition Through Ivan’s Eye featuring a collection of images by Gretchen Allen which were damaged and remarkably transformed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. 

Through Ivan’s Eye opened last Friday, January 19, 2018, and will continue through to Thursday, March 1, 2018. 

Gretchen Allen, a photographer, radio and television broadcaster and a correspondent with the Associated Press, had been documenting her travels and had amassed thousands of images. However, when her home fell beneath the destructive winds of Hurricane Ivan in 2004, it left her treasured photographs in what she described as a “miasma of muck, mud and mire”. 

While Allen initially attempted to salvage the photographs and slides, the process of watching her life’s work literally slide down the drain was too much. Unable to simply toss them out either, she placed them in a container and put them away. 

Over a decade later, in 2017 Allen reopened the container, and discovered, not destruction, but transformation.

“What I found was both startling and surprising; explosive colors poured forth, as though someone had upended God’s paint box.” Allen said in a release supplied by the gallery. “Here, unexpectedly, were intriguing abstractions, French impressionistic pieces, and cosmic cloudscapes. These images, capturing what once my eye had witnessed of the world, are here transformed, transmogrified. They no longer get their meaning from the story they once told, but rather from the story ‘painted’ by the storm. They now are Ivan’s works, no longer mine,” said the artist. 

Allen contacted the NGCI just before the start of the devastating trail of hurricanes hit the Caribbean in 2017. The timing seemed serendipitous. 

“It was incredibly timely to discover Gretchen’s unique series,” says NGCI Director Natalie Urqhuart. “The devastating trail of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 served as a sobering reminder of our own experiences with Ivan and we felt it was important to acknowledge this. These “Ivanized” photographs symbolize both the damage that nature can inflict, as well as the hope and transformation that emerges out of our darkest moments such as the rallying of our Caribbean community in support of those effected.”

Through Ivan’s Eye is the first in a series of photography exhibition “shorts” which will run at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands through April 2018.