In 2019, Gherdai Hassell uncovered a family tree which traced her lineage back eight generations from Bermuda via St Kitts to Africa, where her ancestor was captured and enslaved. Driven by an exploration of her own heritage, in this exhibition, Hassell examines the lasting impacts of slavery: re-imagining the identities of enslaved Bermudians in a series of striking portraits, texts, and installation inspired by the Bermuda Slave Registers and historic photographs in the Bermuda Archives.
The title of the exhibition, I Am Because You Are, is a reference to the African proverb, “Ubuntu.” The saying, which speaks to our shared humanity, is taken from the Zulu phrase, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” which directly translates as: “a person is a person through other people.” In scrutinizing her personal history, Hassell weaves an imagined narrative of Bermuda and its people, merging past, present, and future.
The exhibition serves as a meditation on time and the search for connection. She says: “I use layered symbolism and historical, archival imagery throughout the work as both meditation and access point. Working with the art process, in this way, I imagine and call upon ancestral memory and archival resurrection to bring to the forefront faces, bodies, stories and spirits that have been often systematically erased from the dominant narrative.”
In I Am Because You Are, Gherdai Hassell creates a deliberate, living relationship with historic materials in order to give a voice to those who were silenced. In so doing, she reminds us that “Black people as the descendants of the slave trade exist more as a human accomplishment than the remains of human destruction.”
The exhibition, which is sponsored by the Department of Culture with support from the Bermuda Arts Council and the Centennial Bermuda Foundation, is on display in the Watlington Gallery through to the end of September.