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2020 Bermuda Biennial

In Colour

Naimah Frith

The bright colours and bold stance of Whining Queen greet you with confidence as you enter the 2020 Bermuda Biennial. Taking up an entire wall of the Humann Gallery, Niamah Frith’s fabric and chalk pastel portrait, which the artist describes as “an examination and celebration of the black feminine body, a site of resistance, power and resilience” sets the tone for the exhibition which provides a crucial platform for Bermuda’s contemporary artists.

The artwork, which the recent graduate created as a final piece for her BA in Fine Art, marks her first time exhibiting in the Biennial and pays homage to both the crafts passed down by the women in her family and the sense of freedom she found in working with textiles. “This work takes apart and puts back together the politics of my culture, femininity and the things that have been handed down to me as truths” she explains.

We sat down with Naimah, who is currently teaching the Bermuda National Gallery Art + Tech Summer Camp programme alongside education officer Louisa Bermingham, to discuss the Biennial, breaking free of the constraints imposed by a traditional art education and why she has wanted to teach art since she was six years old.

2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Whining Queen by Naimah Frith, 2019.
Fabric and chalk pastel. 72 x 48 in.

BNG: Could you please tell us about the background to Whining Queen?

NF: I made the artwork last year in my studio class during my last semester at the Nova Scotia College of Fine Art (NSCAD). Before taking the studio class, I had been in other drawing classes where the focus was on traditional mediums such as charcoal, oil painting and acryclic. I had a really hard time connecting with the class. It simply wasn’t doing it for me. So I asked one of my teachers if I could do something else and call it drawing. That started out with wire and led to a sculpture piece using wool, which was where fabric came in for the first time.

BNG: What drew you to use more tactile mediums?

NF: I like working with my hands. I always have done. I guess that drawing is also a way of working with your hands but I enjoy seeing something come off of a page, to have the chance to mould it and shape it. To feel. The approach in the drawing class was incredibly precise and it felt too prescriptive. It gave me a good foundation to build on and go outside of but I found it very frustrating. My classmates were very good at taking such a figurative approach, which I admired, but I wasn’t interested in capturing things in the same way.

Being from Bermuda, I also had a different language in colour. I’ve always been drawn to bright and bold colours and I was a bit embarrassed about my colour sense at first. I felt like I wasn’t doing it correctly as the other works were very muted. I come from a very bright place where everything is colour! I had to figure that out how to translate that which took some time.

I continued to make things with other materials in drawing class and then I went on to studio classes which was where I first started experimenting with fabric. That was fun. I liked the challenge of it. I loved being able to take two very different textiles and transform them into something that made sense together. I enjoyed using materials that wouldn’t usually be appreciated and incorporating them into my artwork. I really enjoy (fellow Bermuda Biennial artist) Gherdai Hassell’s work for that same reason. Her artworks are so vibrant and I admire how she incorporates a lot of different ways of making art into a single piece.

Detail from Whining Queen by Naimah Frith.

BNG: Have you always sewn?

NF: Before I started sewing the fabric in the way I do now, I used to create sewn portraits. I would draw the face on a canvas which I would then sew, incorporating scraps of material to create the portrait. It was a very time intensive process and not conducive to art school as you move so quickly through projects!

I don’t think I’ll go back solely to that way of working but I do think that there is a place for it in my practice. Back then, the sewing was the main focus of the work; whereas now the fabric takes centre stage and the sewing compliments it. Both ways of working use the same materials and mediums but I’ve switched their importance.

BNG: Do you think of Whining Queen as being part of a larger body of work?

NF: It’s the beginning of a series, in the same way that each of the other pieces are part of a series that led me here. They are all women; usually mother figures, working women. This figure would be a younger, freer woman. I’m very drawn to and inspired by motherly women in my life and I tend to make art about them. My family also has a history of craft making, specifically women’s craft, which has been passed down to me. I’m currently working on more pieces as a response to Whining Queen. I never saw her as just one thing. Just one piece. She has a lot more women to accompany her on her journey.

Being back in Bermuda, I don’t currently have access to the same selection of fabrics that I did in Canada, which is difficult. It has made me change the way I work. I used to plan my piece by sketching it out, planning the colour scheme and earmarking specific fabrics which I would then source. Now, I have to start with the fabrics that are available and make it work from there. I have turned to collecting personal, used, fabrics since I can’t select exactly what I want at the moment. This adds another layer to the work. Each piece of fabric has its own life. Its own story.

Whining Queen fuses textiles and drawing with chalk pastel.

BNG: What was it like to be able to work on a bigger scale at college? Was it quite freeing?

NF: I was actually really scared. It was very nerve wracking. I felt like I should have been comfortable but I wasn’t. Up until that point someone else had always had full control of everything that I had been doing – the size, the subject, the material. When you are at school you are limited by the materials and the space available to you. You only have your desk to work with. Then you get to art college where have your own studio space. You can make all the mess you want. You can go as big as you want. Suddenly everything was up to me.

Even now, teaching the BNG Summer Camp programme, we’re telling the kids what materials to use and that constrains how big it can be. Which is needed. We need rules in life. But when that is gone the freedom can be quite overwhelming. That was definitely a challenge for me when I got to art school. But it was a good struggle to go through. I was able to figure it out and it made my work stronger. I had to find my own voice.

BNG: You have been working as a para-educator at Dellwood Middle School this past year. What’s next?

NF: I would like to be an art teacher. I’m going back to school in September to do my MA at Kean University in New Jersey. It’s a dual programme with a focus on both teaching and fine art. I get my teaching certificate and then go on to the masters where I get to deepen my artistic practice.

I have wanted to be an art teacher ever since I was 6 years old. I had a brilliant art teacher in primary school, Miss Friday at West Pembroke, who taught me in P2. Her classes were so fun! I have wanted to be an art teacher ever since. I remember being very struck by her and wanting to teach art, not just make art. The classes were so fun to go to and we would explore different materials. I enjoyed the freedom of the art class. There was no right or wrong answer. The answer was whatever you wanted it to be.

Students work with textiles to create their own artworks inspired by Whining Queen.

BNG: You’ve just finished teaching the first week of the BNG Art + Tech Summer Camp. What has that been like?

NF: Teaching the summer camp has been a learning experience for me. The students have an amazing sense of freedom that we often lose as we get older. They are very open to trying different things. They are not confined by the rules, which is very different to the way that I was taught in art college.

The students are teaching me to be a little more forgiving in my own art making process and I’m also teaching them the same thing. They can be hesitant about whether or not what they are making is good art. I don’t want them to have that mindset as it can really hold you back. They need to understand that there is no such thing as good art. That was a huge challenge that I had to face when I got to art college. I worried that I couldn’t draw like my classmates. That I couldn’t paint like them. Eventually, I came to the realisation that my classmates couldn’t make a piece the way I did either.

It’s been exciting to see the summer camp students grow in such a short span of time. At first, getting them to draw on a larger scale was a challenge. They were used to working in a small space whereas now they have the whole gallery to themselves. They have been looking at the works in the Biennial, many of which are large in size. We have been encouraging them to make a mess of things and bring it back together into something new – it may be beautiful, ugly, whatever it is. But it is their own.

Mixed media collage by Grace Flannery, age 14.
Mixed media collage by Ellianna Goonewardene, age 14.

Click here to learn more about the Bermuda National Gallery Art + Tech summer camp programme.

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2020 Bermuda Biennial

Christina Hutchings

Art And Architecture

An instinctive eye for colour and composition combine with a meticulous attention to detail in the work of Bermudian artist Christina Hutchings.

A distinct discipline informs her fine art practice, gained from many years spent working as an architect in New York for cutting edge designers Peter Marino and Henry Smith-Miller.

Christina, who now focuses solely on her artwork, takes a studied approach to conceptualising and developing an idea through drawing whilst allowing herself to be led by an intuitive sense of discovery and experimentation.

It is a dichotomy apparent in her work, which ranges from collage, painting and sculpture to installation, all many layered and marked by sleek materials and striking colour combinations.

We spoke to Christina about her 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork, the intersection of fine art and architecture and how, for her, one has always informed the other.

2012 Bermuda Biennial artwork After the Nolli Plan by Christina Hutchings, 2011. Painted string, coloured tape, kite stick fastener. 16.75 x 12.75 in.

BNG: You studied both fine art and architecture and went on to work as an architect in New York for many years, all the while maintaining a fine art practice. Why was it important for you to dedicate yourself to both disciplines concurrently?

CH: It was important to me to dedicate myself to both architecture and art because of my interest in the ways these two creative disciplines influence each other. When I was younger and making career choices, I was not confident that my artwork would provide a way to support myself. This was a disappointing realization. As a practical person with the goal of supporting myself, and because I had a natural interest in architecture due to having a relative in the field, I chose to study architecture at graduate school. In my mind, this would build upon and enrich my undergraduate fine arts education and equip me with a way to earn a living.

In addition to the practical aspect of this decision, there was a more important factor. I knew architecture and art are intertwined creative disciplines, and it was important to me that I work at excellent, highly creative architecture and design firms to gain comprehensive and creative work experience in the architectural realm. Throughout, it was the artistic side of myself that I brought to the projects I worked on, and which allowed me to expand my skills and understanding while gaining the discipline that informs my work habits to this day.

2010 Bermuda Biennial artwork Bermuda Map by Christina Hutchings, 2008.
Pencil, string on paper. 60 x 100 in.

BNG: Did your architectural projects inform your artistic practice and vice versa? In what ways?

CH: Yes. My artistic practice and architectural projects most certainly did influence each other, and have continued to do so in many ways. My working experience at firms of architects whose work I admired greatly, such as Henry Smith-Miller and Peter Marino Architects, gave me the formative experience of being part of a talented team. Our job was to take a concept and through drawing and building models, we would allow the concept to become a built space. We would draw and draw, making gorgeous sets of drawings: plans, elevations, sections, grids, details, selections of colours and materials to the extent that the idea of the project could become a built space. This process of drawing to develop and discover the idea is key to my art practice.

Further, while in Peter Marino’s office, when their art department was busy, I was delighted to be asked, on occasion, to paint gouache renderings of projects showing the finish materials, furniture with designated fabric, and renditions of the artwork the clients had purchased for the space.

However, as much as I enjoyed the creative, artistic side of working in architectural design, the advent of computer aided design and drawing in AutoCAD, and a declining reliance on hand drawing, began to make the architectural work less enjoyable. There was no longer a connection for me with the hand, intuition, and the sense of discovery through drawing. It was during this time of increasing change that I began to consider that I could take a chance to be an artist.

2014 Bermuda Biennial artwork Horizon Line Room (maquette) by Christina Hutchings, 2013. Painted wood. 8 ft x 15 ft x 9 ft.

I want to share two examples that I think convey how I connected art and architecture from my earliest days in architecture.

The first, a landscape design drawing assignment completed in 1980, is an example of art influencing architecture. A Braque paper collage is the compositional inspiration for this landscape design project drawing.

Top: Landscape design drawing by Christina Hutchings, 1980.
Above: The Braque artwork that inspired the design.

The second example is a 2012 collage, titled Henry’s Office, which is inspired by memories of my work experience in Henry Smith-Miller’s office. The shapes making up the collage are references to a pivoting red wall in his office, a pale yellow colour often used in his projects, a nod to the modernist aesthetic which Henry’s office practiced and a piece of yellow trace similar to what we always used for sketching in in the office.

Henry’s Office by Christina Hutchings, 2012. Mixed media.

BNG: You returned to Bermuda in 2008 to concentrate on your fine art practice. Does your background in architecture continue to be a big influence for you?

CH: My decision to commit fully to my fine arts practice took a long time to arrive at. The decision evolved and ultimately won out over the practicalities of making a living as an architectural designer. My decision to return to Bermuda to live coincided, happily, with that decision. My background in architecture has been, and will always be, a major influence in my work.

I have come to believe that one of the most significant influences of my architectural background is the realization that the concept and its development through drawing are the two most important commonalities between art and architecture. The concept determines the form, and drawings are the visual diagrams of the concept. For my art practice, the concept could be something like the title of the work, and drawing is how I develop the concept.

Another important way that my background in architecture has influenced my artwork is that I have recently started making large installations and collages. These installations require plans, elevations, detail and sectional drawings in order to figure out how they will be assembled. The starting point always begins with drawing grid lines, thinking about centre lines and systems of proportion. In all of my art projects, considerations of space, colour, materials, composition, and references to art and architectural history are part of my process.

Collages, and sometimes paintings, feature details made with hardware materials which are considered for their aesthetic value as much as their functional value.

2018 Bermuda Biennial artwork Out Of Air by Christina Hutchings. Polished aluminium, scuba tanks, plexiglass, fluorescent lights. 108 x 25 x 14 in.
Preparatory work for 2018 Bermuda Biennial artwork Out Of Air by Christina Hutchings.

BNG: Your work ranges from collage, painting and sculpture to installation. A single piece will often incorporate several of these elements. How do you decide which materials to work with and why when working on a specific project?

CH: I use different materials – either for structural reasons, if a project is large, or for metaphorical purposes – to help tell the story, or idea, behind the piece. For example:

In the Biennial 2016, with the theme being It’s About Now: Memories of The Present, I made a large piece called Double Take.

In this piece, I use the 12-ft fluorescent light, which is centred and situated vertically between the two almost identical anchors, to represent the instant that an object we look at (one anchor) becomes a memory of that anchor, (the second anchor).

2016 Bermuda Biennial artwork Double Take by Christina Hutchings, 2015.
Ropes, anchor and fluorescent light. 96 x 40 in.

BNG: Your pieces are very thoughtful and meticulously planned. How to you approach and then develop a concept? Taking your 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork as an example.

CH: The theme for the 2020 Biennial is Let Me Tell You Something. After considering the theme, I titled my piece FAST TALK. The concept for this is the speed of our words when we tell each other something using our digital devices. Our words travel at lightning fast speeds in the vast networks of digital submarine communication cables below, and by satellites above, as they carry our telephone and internet traffic to and from Bermuda, and between continents, as we communicate with the rest of the world.

In formal terms, FAST TALK is a drawing and collage combination made with ink lines, layers of Plexiglas, metal rods, an aluminium angle and wood. I use ink and metal lines and a selection of transparent overlapping materials to help tell the story. These rods and ink lines represent the undersea cables and the data traffic within. The disc and white rod connected to it represent the satellites above transmitting our conversations.

2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork FAST TALK by Christina Hutchings, 2019.
Ink on paper and plexiglass. 17 x 13 in.

BNG: You have exhibited extensively at the Bermuda National Gallery. How has your relationship with the BNG informed your artistic practice?

CH: The BNG in all aspects of its role as an art institution has been an important influence in my life, for which I am very grateful. The programming, the exhibitions and the art collection have had a life changing effect on me. I am honoured to have been a part of the gallery’s public programming and exhibitions, both as an audience member and as a participant.

2018 Bermuda Biennial artwork Shipping Box With Working Drawings, Materials And A Model for Exit by Christina Hutchings, 2017. Mixed medium. 2 x 27 x 17 in.

Tour Christina Hutchings’s studio here

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2020 Bermuda Biennial

Best Of Bermuda Awards

Winners On Display At BNG

The winners of The Bermudian‘s 30th annual Best of Bermuda Awards, which were voted for by the public, have been announced. Congratulations to 2020 Bermuda Biennial artists Jayde Gibbons who won Best Photographer and NOBODY for Best Visual Artist

See works from both of the artists in Let Me Tell You Something, the2020 Bermuda Biennial which is on display at the BNG until the end of this year. Jayde’s striking black and white photography montage All The Kings Men provides an intimate look at brotherhood in Bermuda while NOBODY’s     I-ANK-Forget is bold digital collage that calls for public art as a means of protest. 

The Bermuda Biennial, organised by the Bermuda National Gallery and  sponsored by Bacardi Limited, is a critical platform for Bermuda’s contemporary art community. The exhibition, which is now in its 14th iteration, continues to represent the excellence of local contemporary art and brings Bermudian artists the opportunity to engage in an internationally juried process.

Browse the 2020 Biennial exhibition catalogue HERE

All The Kings Men by Jayde Gibbons, 2019. Photography and mixed media. 72 x 96 in.
 I-ANK-Forget by NOBODY, 2019. Digital print. 48 x 48 in.
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2020 Bermuda Biennial

Interview: Michael Walsh

Ways Of Seeing

Michael Walsh is a contemporary artist whose engaging mixed media artworks, which often incorporate an element of performance, ask the visitor to respond and participate.

The artist, who lectures at the Bermuda College, has exhibited in the Bermuda Biennial a total of eight times – six alone and twice as a member of the Centipede Art Movement, a grassroots collaborative dedicated to creating contemporary artwork in Bermuda, which he describes as “a counteraction to self-imposed Bermudian censorship”.

We sat down with Michael to discuss the different ways in which we perceive the world, why not knowing the answer is the root of innovation and how he uses art as an attempt to be truly present.

BNG: You gave a lecture at the Bermuda National Gallery late last year in which you told a story about how your father had taken you to a cherry tree when you were a child and asked you to look at it in different ways. This has stuck with me as it was a very simple and very effective analogy for looking at the world through the eyes of an artist. Could you please re-tell the story?

MW: When I was very young, around 4 or 5, my father and I went for a walk. He stopped me by a cherry tree that used to grow in front of our house and told me to close my eyes. He asked, “What do you hear?” I told him. Then he asked, “What do you smell?” I answered. He asked, “What do you taste?” That one got me thinking, since we don’t often pay attention to taste when we’re not eating. Then he asked “What do you feel?” After I answered all his questions, before I opened my eyes, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Remember there is more than one way to perceive the world.”

BNG: How did this experience shape your curiosity and creativity, both as a child and as an artist?

MW: I credit this lesson as the foundation of my freedom. There’s a Buddhist quote about how our ideas of the external are as valuable as the world views of a chick still inside its egg. We are limited by what we believe is true, or; something is only true if you believe it.

“I don’t know” are the smartest three and a half words in the English language. Not knowing is the source of all learning, exploration, innovation, growth, and adventure! Knowing “I don’t know” gives me the courage and capacity to think outside my own box.

Founded In Nothing by Michael Walsh, 2014. 240 x 360 x 120 in. This mixed media artwork, in which 1,000 cardboard houses on stilts imitate the contour of land around a river, was exhibited at BNG in 2014 in Contemporary Conversation: Michael Walsh.

BNG: You have said that “the no-thing (the not described) has become the necessary focus of my work”. Could you please explain what you mean by this? In what ways does it drive your work?

MW: Reality exists outside your perception of it. Your brain has never seen, smelled, heard, touched or tasted anything. Your body lives in the world, but your mind imagines a reality misinterpreted from the electrochemical signals your body sends. Your reality is just an idea you believe.

The human condition is one of terrifying isolation. You are the center of your entire universe. You see everything. Nothing exists outside your awareness of it, but you are not the universe. The universe is everything else that isn’t you. The universe is everything except your consciousness. Even your body feels distant, different, like a thing outside the “you that is aware”. You are an isolated, disembodied, omniscient observer. You are an insignificant god.

So you reach out to connect with the world. You try to prove to yourself that the world exists and that you exist in it. Presence, being present, is the one true human need. It is the one true goal of all our endeavors. It is the one thing our consciousness really craves.

So you try to find what you have in common with the world, unfortunately you only understand in terms of contrast. Up is up because it is not down. Hot is hot because it is not cold. Black is only black because it is not white. Good would not exist without evil. You are you because you are not the universe.

So this is the problem; consciousness wants to feel real, it wants to believe it exists, but the only reality it has access to, is the reality it imagines, and because we can only comprehend in terms of contrast, any attempt to understand reality just proves it is different from us. Our understanding, our description of reality, separates us from it.

So to be present I have to find ‘The Truth’ outside of ‘My Truth’. The Nothing, the “no-thing-I-can-name”, is the visceral, deep, real, eternal soup we all come from. I am driven by the same thing that drives us all, to be present. I want to believe the one truth that every story is trying to tell us; “You are here.”

Holding Nothing by Michael Walsh, 2019. Ink and paper. 82 x 30 x 12 in.
2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork.

BNG: Your artwork often incorporates an element of performance. Even static works often ask the viewer to actively participate in more subtle ways. For example, those who look closely at your 2020 Bermuda Biennial work on paper will realize that it is not only two sided but that it also contains a hidden message on the reverse. Why is this active – rather than passive – viewing important to you?

MW: Do you know how to tell you are dreaming? You can’t read in a dream. The next time you think you’re dreaming try to read something; a sign, a book, something with more than one word on it. The words will move, slip, slide and change chaotically. I’m guessing this is because thought is always moving. It’s probably the same reason we ruminate on things, why we need to repeat thoughts and arguments over and over. If we only had a thought once it would be easy to see it’s just a thought and not a reality. We replay thoughts to make them feel real.

It is not possible to be present in a thought, because they are fluid and unreal by their very nature. The closest a thought can come to being reality is being a description of reality. Art is necessary because it is impossible to be present in an idea. Art is an attempt to make conciseness, experience, and perspective so real we can feel present in it.

Performance art is the attempt to be real. The goal in performance art is to be completely present in the task. To be a participant in reality instead of an observer or dreamer. Marina Abramović’s work, particularly The Artist is Present, is a clear and accessible example of this premise.

Martial Arts are a direct way to be present in your own body and experience. They give you the opportunity to feel where you end and where the rest of realty begins. Muay Thai has allowed me real access to a lot of what I now realize was just art theory. I would argue that everything we call Art is a relic, or an echo, of someone being truly present.

Communion is the only antithesis to the isolation of the conscious human experience. Art is a collaboration between artist(s), subject, material and visitor. I prefer to use the term ‘visitor’ instead of ‘audience’ because a visitor can respond and participate.

BNG: Could you please talk us through Holding Nothing?

MW: Studying Muay Thai took me on a retreat to Jamaica that culminated with three Witches burying me in the Earth. I’m using the term ‘Witches’ here with the upmost of reverence and gratitude, and to evoke some sense of magic, my fear of the unknown, and my awe of The Nothing. The goal of the ritual was to “let the Earth take something you no longer wanted to carry.”

It was intense. After the ritual I was struck with the revelation that when I was born the Earth made me a promise. She promised to hold me in the void. To bear my weight and take whatever I gave her. If everything else in the retreat was intense this was something outside of language. Outside of description. Maybe it was a “real” experience? Something that reached me through the Matrix my mind lives in?

I gave the Earth my “need to punish”. Before therapy I was an extremely angry person. In fact, I went to therapy because anger was dictating all my thoughts and actions. A large part of my identity, the story I told myself to make myself believe I had value, was that I would punish the unjust. Vengeance sustained me. I reveled in my anger, it invigorated me, but hated myself for needing it.

I no longer personify my fear and anger. They aren’t demons to exorcise, they aren’t creatures I’m a victim of. My fear is the part of me that wants to be safe. My anger is the part of me that is willing to do what is necessary to keep me safe.

‘Holding Nothing’ is the artifact of a performance that affirmed my gratitude for the Earth “taking my need to punish”. In preparation I created a mold by cutting out the negative of a skeleton in a piece of plywood. It was modeled after a skeleton half exhumed from the earth in an archaeological dig. I laid the paper on my skeleton matrix and began the performance. I wrote a few words of introduction then I repeated “Take my need to punish”, over and over like doing lines on a blackboard. As I reached the bottom of the paper, when there was just enough room for it, I wrote “thank you”. The act of writing pushed the paper into the matrix, imbedding the skeleton, the echo of my conviction, my presence, and my gratitude into an ephemeral record. I installed it hanging vulnerably away from the wall to heighten its ephemerality and invite visitors to see behind the avatar. It shocks me how so few of those visitors look behind it.

Holding Nothing by Michael Walsh, 2019. Ink and paper. 82 x 30 x 12 in.
2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork.

BNG: Let Me Tell You Something marks your 6th Bermuda Biennial. How has your inclusion in so many different iterations impacted both your work and your career as an artist?

MW: I don’t think I would even count as an emerging artist anywhere else in the world. I don’t complete or exhibit enough work to “perform on a global stage”, so the Bermuda Biennial is a really important resource and opportunity for me. A lot of my work is very labour intensive and financially restrictive. The Bermuda Biennial gives me a framework to work around and a real incentive to get work done. We are very lucky to have such an accessible platform to show our work and access to enlightened contemporary jurors that facilitate us participating in the global art dialogue. 

BNG: As the Arts Lecturer at the Bermuda College what do you seek in to instill your students?

MW: You only need two things to be an artist. First you need the courage validate your perspective. You need to know that your unique experience has divine value. Your voice is worth hearing. You are not an insignificant observer. Secondly you need the empathy to validate the perspectives of others. No matter how terrifying or alien someone else’s perspective is they came by it honestly. Their perspective is their truth. So how do you communicate with an alien perspective? You have to learn where they are coming from so you can speak in a language they will understand. I like to say, “No one will hear you if you are not listening.”

These are not easy lessons. There’s a lot of tears, anger, cognitive dissonance, suffering and failure after failure after failure. Humanity is not for the weak of heart. You have to make an important choice. You can choose to be an artist, or you can choose to be a victim. You can choose to be someone with the empathy to see what’s really in front of you and the courage to create, or you can live disempowered, without responsibility, letting life happen to you.

I can’t instill anything in anyone. All we can do is show up, over and over and over, to give others the chance to see they are worth showing up for. I hope they notice I show up. I hope they see me stand when I fall. I hope they see my fear and my failures. I hope they choose courage, and then choose it again, and then choose it again, every time they need to.

Arriving at Nothing Together by Michael Walsh, 2018. Ink on paper. 42 x 80 in. 2018 Bermuda Biennial artwork.

BNG: You recently worked with the Bermuda National Gallery Youth Arts Council who have just completed a module on your Biennial artwork. What was the experience like for you?

MW: Incredible. Flattering and humbling. I was flattered to be asked to participate, and humbled by the presence of the students participating. Even through Zoom their courage was evident. They asked some powerful, poignant, relevant and courageous questions. I was impressed by their bravery and so grateful for their genuine participation. I can’t wait to see what they make!

BNG: How can the BNG engage with emerging artists?

MW: The challenge the Bermuda National Gallery faces in engaging with anyone, artist, visitor or donor, is that BNG is an institution. It’s the contrast problem again, even at its very best inclusion creates exclusion. If I say “I love red” what you hear is “I don’t love the colours that aren’t red.” As I’ve said, the answer must be “to listen” to whoever you want to engage with. Give them time and empathy to really hear them. I don’t know how an institution can commune with people, but I would be happy to help figure it out.

One thing I do see in my dreams for Bermudian Art is direct pipelines to international shows. Maybe the next Bermuda Biennial is in Jamaica, or Germany, while Japan has a Biennial here?

One Fathom by Michael Walsh, 2000. Stones and tide. Site specific installation. Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada. 108 x 48 x 18.

BNG: You are also exhibiting a second piece in the Biennial this year as part of the Centipede Art Movement, which is a grassroots collaborative dedicated to creating contemporary artwork in Bermuda. Could you please tell us more about the movement?

Bermuda has historically had a very traditional approach to art making. Do you think this is changing? Why/why not? In what ways?

MW: I’ll have to answer these last two questions together.

Bermuda has a very strong “don’t rock the boat” policy. This is a predictable dogma, symptomatic of our colonial and capitalist history. People avoid their shame, even if they are unconscious of it. The empathy necessary for communication is VERY difficult to access when the shame white people feel, having benefited and participated in a power structure that literally created racism to validate and perpetuate inequality, is coupled with the shame black people are expected to feel based on not qualifying for power in a system designed to disempower them. We cannot empathize when we feel threatened. We cannot challenge what we cannot face.

Capitalism persists because it is founded on our very real programing to “kill or be killed.” Our psyches respond to “not having” as “not having enough to survive” which makes sense in regards to food and shelter, but unfortunately it persists into our understanding of wealth and accolades. Any threat to what we “have” is perceived as an attack on our lives.

So we maintain the status quo because we are afraid of losing what we have. In larger countries there are more artists with “nothing left to loose”, coupled with a higher capacity for anonymity to fan their courage. You only need to consider how we hid our monument of Sally Bassett to see how terrified Bermuda is to share our communal reality and explore the differences in our individual perspectives.

The Centipede Art Movement is a counteraction to the self-imposed Bermudian censorship. It doesn’t exist in the traditional sense. There’s no organised meetings, or an agenda, or a budget, or even members really. No one is, or is not, a Centipede. However, every now and then, some Bermudian artist, usually someone young and taking art classes at Bermuda College, has a perspective way outside the status quo that they believe in so much they inspire other people to help them get their voice heard. I am grateful for their courage and look forward to seeing more Centipedes.


BNG Youth Arts Council artwork by Tcherari Nu Kamara, age 15
“This piece, which is inspired by Michael Walsh’s Holding Nothing, is an exploration of emptiness. The shells are made of paper painted with watercolour which is then cut and layered. It is meant to encourage the viewer to think about what is left when we are gone. The inhabitants of these shells left them behind as a gift to the earth. What legacy will we leave behind?”
BNG Youth Arts Council artwork by Nae’ Zori Weeks, age 14
“This piece was inspired by Michael Walsh’s piece Holding Nothing. It is made entirely out of white paper and depicts the life span of a tree. We start off small, grow older and then die. After which we become part of the earth. It’s a cycle.”
BNG Youth Arts Council artwork by Kenya Smith-Woodley, age 14
“My art piece is of two corpses, inspired by Michael Walsh’s work Holding Nothing. I imprinted them with a doll and then made one out of brown paper and one out of aluminium foil which I then spray painted. They relate to death and recall a funeral.”

The BNG Youth Arts Council, aimed at students aged 13 -17, produces art activities relevant to the teens of today. Registrations is free. For further information contact education@bng.bm.

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2020 Bermuda Biennial

The Art Affects

In conversation with Gherdai Hassell

The Art Affects is a new podcast by 2020 Bermuda Biennial artist Gherdai Hassell which aims to amplify the artwork and voices of artists of the African diaspora. 

For her first interview, Gherdai caught up with fellow Bermuda Biennial artist NOBODY. The artist, who has been creating artwork under the pseudonym since 2018 in order to express himself freely, creates protest art. 

He discusses his 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork I-ANK-Forget, why activist art fuels the morale and how, in his view, There is nothing more impactful, inspiring, and galvanising than art that communicates and expresses the pain, mood, feelings and energy of the people.”

Tune in to the episode, which launches today, to hear the artists in conversation as they discuss growing up in Bermuda, how the past experiences of loved ones can be used to understand contemporary issues and the ways in which the experiences of people throughout the African diaspora are interconnected. 

Click HERE to listen to The Art Affects. 

2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork: I-ANK-Forget by NOBODY, 2019. Digital print. 48 x 48 inches.

Artist’s Statement:

 “We need to bring our understanding of art into the 21st century. It is not merely decoration, it also can be social, political and racial commentary; and that too is acceptable, relevant and necessary. Those in positions of power need to stop censoring and muzzling the creative expression of the people. Public art should represent the public. The era of flora & fauna, pink cottages and longtails is over.” – April Branco, Bernews, 17 September, 2018.

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2020 Bermuda Biennial

Brotherhood

Jayde Gibbons

Jayde Gibbons is a self-taught photographer. Her 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork All The Kings Men is part of an ongoing series My Negus For Real (MNFR) that showcases black Bermudian men.

She says of her work ‘The goal for MNFR is to instill a sense of pride and purpose using photography by showcasing the everyday beauty of my people.’  

In the exhibition, the photographs are presented on the wall of the gallery as one would see them in someone’s home, intended to serve as a symbol of family and unity

We caught up with Jayde to discuss the importance of togetherness and brotherhood within our communities.

‘All The Kings Men’ , from the series ‘My Negus For Real’ (MNFR) by Jayde Gibbons, 2019. Photography and mixed media. 72 x 96 in.

BNG: When did you first get into photography and how did you develop your practice?

JG: My first memories of being interested in photography are from childhood. I asked for my first camera in primary school. When I got into middle school, I used to buy disposal cameras from the local supermarket when I was packing groceries. I’d take pictures of my friends and stuff like that.

BNG: Your aunt Tiffani Paynter is an artist and has also exhibited in the Bermuda Biennial. How has she influenced you?

JG: My aunt Tiff is arguably my biggest artistic influence. Bring she’s only 6 years older than me and we were more like sisters growing up, as opposed to niece and aunty. I felt a little different from people in my family, so I’m glad I had her there to understand and to hone my creative abilities from such a young age. She taught me how to draw, introduced me to painting, poetry and alternative music genres. If I didn’t have that foundation coming up, I probably wouldn’t be as comfortable with myself and my art, so I’m incredibly grateful.

BNG: This is your first Bermuda Biennial. What does it meant to you to be included in the exhibition?

JG: I feel honoured! To have my work displayed alongside some of Bermuda’s most prestigious artists is an honour, especially Gherdai Hassell. When people think of photographers in Bermuda, it’s usually just services photography for hire, it’s not really looked at as a form of creative expression.

BNG: As a photojournalist you have a very powerful voice. How do you choose to use it and why?

JG: I’ve never been good at expressing myself verbally so I let my art do that for me. I understand how important visuals are and the impact they have on people and society. When I look at the imagery out there of Bermuda, and then I look at the state my people are in, both mentally and physically, I feel that it’s my job to do something about it. My main goal is to instill a sense of pride in my people, by showing Bermuda the way we see it, minus the pink sands. 

BNG: The photographs in All The Kings Men are part of the ongoing series My Negus For Real (MNFR) that showcases black Bermudian men. Can you tell us about the series?

JG: It’s no secret that black men are judged based on appearance. And I believe that if you look good, you feel good and will do good things. We barely see images of black Bermudians, especially males, in a positive light, and that’s a problem to me. The imagery put out to the masses has a huge impact on society and the way people think. If black boys see no positive images of other black men, then how are they to view themselves in a positive light?

BNG: In your artist’s statement for the 2020 Bermuda Biennial you say that your piece intends to ‘highlight the importance of togetherness and brotherhood within our communities’. This has never been more important – both within the black community and the black and white communities coming together – as protests take place across the globe. How can we move forward?

JG: I believe that the first step is to look in the mirror and have that honest conversation with ourselves. What have we or haven’t we done to help the underlying issues? Do we support our peers? We should listen. Listen to understand as opposed to listening to respond. White people who don’t understand why black people are frustrated should listen and understand that we don’t share the same experiences they do. Black communities need to stop pointing fingers and causing harm amongst each other and support and uplift eachother more. 

BNG: You once said in an interview, when asked for advice to up and coming photographers: “Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone, if it’s uncomfortable you’re probably on the right track.” Is this something that you apply to your own practice?

JG: One hundred percent. How are we to grow, especially as artists, if we don’t try new things? Anything in life that you’re not used to will make you uncomfortable. I’m not saying it isn’t scary taking risks, but eventually you reap the reward. Good things don’t come to those who wait, they come to those who make sacrifices and work their tails off.

Follow Jayde at @queendomheights

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2020 Bermuda Biennial

Jigsaw Challenge

BNG Puzzles

As more and more of us discover the joys of completing a jigsaw, we have produced two more online puzzles featuring artworks from the 2020 Bermuda Biennial.

Click HERE to complete Dr Edwin M.E Smith’s Transience.

Those of you who like a challenge, click HERE to complete Wild Randomness by Arié Haziza.

100 piece jigsaw featuring 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Wild Randomness by Arie Haziza.
100 piece jigsaw featuring 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Transience by Dr Edwin M.E. Smith.

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2020 Bermuda Biennial

Interview: Dr Edwin Smith

Transience

Transience, by artist and educator Dr Edwin M.E. Smith, is a striking installation produced for the 2020 Bermuda Biennial. The artwork, which is large in scale (144 x 96 inches) was created by applying duct tape directly onto the wall of the Young Gallery. The painstaking installation process took over 24 hours to complete. Yet the work, by its very nature, will be destroyed when the exhibition closes.

We caught up with Dr Edwin M.E. Smith to discuss the intricate technique behind his work, the importance of fleeting moments and his pride at seeing former students included alongside him in the exhibition.

BNG: Transience marks a change in direction for you, having predominantly worked with acrylic, charcoal and chalk prior to this. What is it about duct tape that attracted you as a medium?

ES: The decision to use tape for this installation is not as new or even as dramatic as it may initially appear. I have used duct tape in my work Culture of Entitlement 2 (2014) to reference Bermuda Day traditions and the usage also resembles the linear approach used in previous instances of my work such as Paper Boats (2009).

Culture of Entitlement 2 by Dr Edwin M.E. Smith (2014)

Last year I created a tape installation I Shall Only (2019) in a gallery in the John Macintosh Hall in Gibraltar during an art residency. This recent use with limited materials and time made me consider the medium for more developed possibilities and was quite timely as I turned my attention the 2020 Bermuda Biennial.

Duct tape easily replicates the forms, lines and monochromatic values that are characteristic of my image making. However, along with the aesthetic consideration, duct tape, as a non-permanent medium excellently contributed to Transience as this is an installation that is also intended to be non-permanent.

Paper Boats by Dr Edwin M.E. Smith (2009)

BNG: What were the challenges of working with this medium?

ES: Compositional manipulation in my effort to highlight focal points, create balance and say what I want to say are the most challenging aspects of my work. This remained the case even as now used duct tape as the primary medium. I am a planner and try to anticipate every possibility. Having said that, duct tape definitely has unique considerations!

I searched for appropriate colour, widths, lengths, textural surfaces and tack characteristics. I also needed to have a surface that I could draw on. Importantly, I had to ensure that the tape remained on the wall for the duration of the Biennial, although I knew that the work would be in a climate controlled environment. I even produced a maquette to assist with my experimentation and to visualise the plan for the jurors.

I was happy with my calculation choices and the installation was completed without much excess. My son, and fellow artist, Micrae Smith assisted with the installation which took approximately 25 hours, not much longer than originally anticipated.

There were happy discoveries in addition to these considerations. I did not anticipate that the underlying masonry and the gallery lighting would cause the grey tape to have a stainless steel or metallic finish. I believe the result positively contributes to the work.

Installation begins on Transience.

BNG: Could you please talk us through the installation process?

ES: I digitally separated my composition into two parts – an underlying grey layer and a top black layer. In turn, these were projected onto the gallery wall and sized to meet my desired dimensions.

Starting with the grey layer, I applied the tape to the positive areas of the projected image. I chose to do this with horizontal strips to maintain a textural consistency. I outlined the image onto the tape with a white acrylic marker and even made additional drawing adjustment to assist with the intricate cuts I had to make.

Finally, I trimmed the excess tape and went over the whole installation with a brayer and my palms, pressing to ensure adhesion.

The work was created using contrasting layers of grey and black duct tape.

BNG: Transience is an ephemeral work. When the exhibition comes down the piece will effectively be destroyed. How does this add to the work?

ES: The fact that the work will cease to exist at the end of the exhibition is extremely important and reinforces my concept of individuals participating in a fleeting moment. I want my viewers to grasp and take away the concept – which is, the importance of the moment.

On another note, the fact that this work only exists for now increased my enjoyment of the design and creation process. In the process I was totally freed from the concern or interest in producing art that would eventually sell.

The artwork begins to take shape.

BNG: This is your 7th Bermuda Biennial. How has your inclusion in the exhibition over such a long period of time shaped your practice?

ES: I feel fortunate to have been selected for inclusion as often as I have and I continue to enjoy my participation in Bermuda’s visual culture and in the exhibition. Inclusion in the Biennial may have had some influence on what I do, but I believe that time and my total life experiences are really the shaper of my practice.

I am the first to recognise that I am not the same person that I was yesterday and, without a doubt, the times are not the same as before either. I believe change should be reflected in my work as well. I enjoy my explorations and, as an art educator, I emphasise that sameness may reflect limited creativity. Without a doubt, the Biennial has served an excellent avenue to document the journey.

The finished piece measures 144 x 96 inches.

BNG: As the Senior Lecturer of Art and Design at the Bermuda College you have seen a number of your former students exhibit in the Biennial. What does it feel like to see former students, such as Naimah Frith who is showing for the first time this year, included in such an exhibition?

ES: I am happy to see my former students getting involved and taking advantage of opportunities. It should be , and remains, a natural expectation for me that my students will want to be part of the art world that supported their artistic development. Hopefully, their participation signals that they regard their perspectives as valid and an important contribution to be shared and added to local discourse. I am glad to remain connected with them even though increasingly I am simply one of the old guys!

Inclusion in major exhibitions such as the Biennial provides recognition and assists in personal growth but also provides relevant documentation through inclusion in prestigious catalogues and possibly, at some point, inclusion in the canon of Bermudian art history. Their work becomes part of the tapestry that will in time provide a future audience a glimpse into the realities, conversation and values held within this island home.

BNG: Sarai Hines, one of your former students, is leading a digital programme for the BNG Youth Arts Council this term. How does it feel to cross paths with some many of your former students as they establish successful careers of their own?

ES: Miss Sarai Hines and others are creatives who are making their career choices work for them. This is never easy as they are often times when significant others encourage the pursuit of other paths. I want to see them succeed!

I often reflect on when they were in the classroom and I remember their enthusiasm and approach not only to their own art making but also their critique of the art world they were entering. I am excited to see their maturity but I am more excited to see that their passion and work ethic has not wavered. I am proud of them and will continue to support them in any way that I can.

BNG: The Youth Arts Council students studied your work for their first module. They interviewed you and have also produced their own artworks inspired by Transience. How was the experience for you?

ES: I enjoyed the experience, as I expected I would! I am always happy to engage young people who have an interest in the arts. Now I am looking forward to seeing which aspects of Transience appealed to them. Their points of view are as important to me as are analyses and reviews received from other individuals who may or may not be immersed in the art world.


Artwork by BNG Youth Arts Council student Tcherari Nu Kamara, age 15

“My piece is about how time, while it facilitates growth and learning, can also be something that traps us if we pay too much attention to it. Inspired by Dr Edwin Smith’s piece Transience I used tape to create part of this artwork. I decided that the watches would work as handcuffs to represent the feeling of being trapped by time. The watches are made out of tape with bold, geometric print to provide a contrast against the more organic forms in the rest of the artwork.”
Artwork by BNG Youth Arts Council student Nae’ Zori Weeks, age 14

“I choose to do a big healthy tree mixed in with trees that have perished. To me, trees symbolise life. The dead and cut down trees in the background symbolise how humans have killed the earth. The sky is dark with thick grey smoke because factories are polluting the air that we breathe. I added clear tape to the ground to make it look as if there are plastic bags and bottles. I wanted to incorporate the tape as a reference to Dr Edwin Smith using tape in his work.”

The BNG Youth Arts Council, aimed at students aged 13 -17, produces art activities relevant to the teens of today. Registrations is free. For further information contact education@bng.bm.

Categories
2020 Bermuda Biennial

Meet The Jurors

Behind the scenes with Bermemes

As a member of the International Biennial Association, the Bermuda Biennial, sponsored by Bacardi, provides local artists with the opportunity to have their work seen by some of the foremost art professionals in the world.

Bermemes caught up with the jurors for this year’s exhibition, Melissa Messina, an independent curator and curator of the Mildred Thompson Estate, and Kimberli Gant PHD, the McKinon Curator of Contemporary Art at the Chrysler Museum, when they were on island in January.

The film, which is presented by Qian Dickinson, explores the making of the exhibition and looks at ways in which emerging artists can get ahead.

Click HERE to view the film.

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2020 Bermuda Biennial

Biennial Jigsaws

BNG Puzzles

To celebrate the digital launch of 2020 Bermuda Biennial we have produced online jigsaw puzzles of both Gherdai Hassell‘s large scale collage Interactions Bermuda and Antoine Hunt‘s mixed media artwork This Is Not A Home.

Click HERE for the Interactions Bermuda puzzle (shown above).

Click HERE for the This Is Not A Home puzzle (shown below).