Like most of us, Ami Zanders has found herself embracing technology in new ways over the last few months. Confined to her home in Liverpool under lockdown, she wasn’t able to access the materials she was used to working with in her studio at university and with no access to a computer, she turned to her phone.
The multi media artist soon found herself absorbed in the Stop Motion Studio App. She started playing around with it, creating short clips for fun. This soon led to a new found fascination with stop motion animation and changed the direction of her final project. Her explorations into the new medium impressed her lecturer at John Moore University, where Ami is currently completing her MFA, and they swiftly arranged for her to borrow the equipment needed to develop it further.
The result is first her standalone project, Journeys Through The Atlantic, an experimental animation video which explores her Bermudian heritage, produced exclusively for the Bermuda National Gallery.
We caught up with Ami to discuss creativity in confinement, why art has always been an escape for her and how art making can help to heal a community.
BNG: What was the inspiration for Journeys Through The Atlantic?
AZ: I always work intuitively. Making things helps me to gather my thoughts and sort through my emotions. Like most people, I have been engrossed in current events – the coronavirus pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and thoughts of an uncertain future.
I’m currently interested in early experimental videos and late 1970s/ early 1980s music videos. My animations have a naïve early MTV look about them. I’m also finding inspiration from artists such as Pipilotti Rist, Tai Shani, Mark Bradford, Benedict Drew and David Hammons.
For this project, I began using 13 second videos and animations that were initially going to be used as imagery for other projects but they never got off the ground and so I turned them into my own personal scratch video.
One of the images in the video is of a person riding a turtle. That’s actually a drawing made by Sir George Somers which can be found on the map he drew of Bermuda. It is believed that The Tempest is inspired by the Sea Venture shipwreck and I started to think of a symbol for the spirit Ariel and used Somers’s drawing to represent her as a way of connecting the two.
Since I’m currently living in Liverpool and Liverpool is one of the major ports that sold enslaved Africans to the Caribbean and the United States, I animated black hair – my hair and my son’s hair – to symbolize a human journey through the Atlantic. There are lots of other layers to it but ultimately it’s an experimental animated video that doesn’t quite make sense but somehow does.
BNG: Has living (and being locked down) in Liverpool made you see Bermuda through a different lens? How has it changed your relationship with home?
AZ: I was glued to every online press conference that the Bermuda Government had. I was so impressed with how they handled it. Making masks mandatory, having a curfew, contact tracing, etc. It made me proud. Seeing images of the Black Lives Matters protest made me teary eyed. I hope that change will come out of this. Not just in Bermuda but worldwide.
When you’re away from your own country, you realize that you have taken for granted everyone being able to understand your point of reference. Your word choices. Bermuda is beautiful but it’s a difficult place to live if you are an artist or not taking home a big salary. Then again, it’s hard for artists everywhere.
I’ve also taken for granted things like seasoning salt, pumpkin puree, molasses and codfish and potato breakfast.
BNG: You are well known for the vibrant yarn bombing pieces which you created a few years ago across the island. These were included in the Bermuda National Gallery exhibition Marking Territory: A Focus On Bermuda’s Landscape. Your piece Nelly Spins A Yarn was designed to make passersby view their surroundings anew. Could you please talk us through the project?
AZ: It was a challenge. My sister and mother helped make portions of it for me. Fabulous secret knitters donated pieces for me to sew together for this project as well. I also used elements from my Biennial art work in it. I liked it. A lot of people hated it. It got people talking about it. Someone took time out of their busy day to write a scathing letter to the editor of the Royal Gazette about how tacky it was. But like the wise prophet Andy Warhol once said, “Don’t pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.”
BNG: In an interview you likened yarn bombing to a form of graffiti. Could you please expand on this?
AZ: It is a form of graffiti. Anytime you do an unauthorized marking on a public space it’s graffiti. But in my case, I have for the most part been asked to do it or paid to do it. Getting paid for it is nice.
BNG: You also turned to textiles for your 2014 Bermuda Biennial artwork When The Bough Breaks in which you explore the impact of a personal childhood trauma. How does art making help you to process events and emotions? Have you always used it in this way?
AZ: Art has always been an escape for me. It allows me to shut the world out and focus on the task at hand. I get lost in the work which feels like meditation. I am so much calmer and relaxed after I’ve made something. Learning new art mediums and processes are exciting for me. I can do it for hours. It can be addictive; the more you create, the more you want to do. Creativity is limitless.
BNG: You worked as an art instructor at the Mid Atlantic Wellness Institute for many years, during which time you organized the annual Mind Frame Art Exhibition, which encouraged patients to express themselves through art. In what ways can art be used to aid mental health issues?
AZ: The arts and artists have proven to be useful assets in healthcare. Social prescribing is a term used when health care professionals refer patients to non-clinical social activities that take place in their community. The NHS define it as a holistic approach to an individual’s mental health and wellbeing.
Patients are encouraged to create art and go on field trips to galleries and museums. They get to be around people in various walks of life, they get to exchange their stories, meet new people and share their creativity with one another. It has been used to aid a wide range of social groups that are often isolated such as dementia patients, the elderly and university students, as well as individuals with mental health issues, people with intellectual disabilities and asylum seekers.
According to the Arts Council England, evidence suggests that one in five people visit their GPs for non-medical reasons. Those patients tend to experience issues ranging from loneliness, debt, mental health and housing to name a few. I believe that in Bermuda we need to pay and train artists, musicians, dancers and actors to become facilitators for social prescribing.
Art-based social prescribing has produced positive outcomes. Those engaging in art based activities showed an increase in quality of life, self-esteem and confidence. At the same time, they learned new skills adding to their employability skill sets. It showed a reduction in medication usage and participants were less likely to contact their GPs for mental health issues.
BNG: You have continued with this community focus, most recently working as an art instructor for the British Red Cross Snap programme at Tate Liverpool. Could you please tell us about the initiative and your involvement in it?
AZ: The organizer of this collaborative initiative was a fellow MA student at Liverpool John Moore University named Adi Lerer. She was an exhibition studies student and this was her final project. Adi knew I enjoyed working with people with intellectual disabilities and that I had taught workshops for people of all ages and thought I’d be a good fit. I loved it.
I created lesson plans that revolved around the Tate Liverpool’s art collection and special exhibits such as Pop Art and Keith Haring. I also taught classes on paper making, painting, and basket weaving. The service users were asylum seekers from Iran, Pakistan, Kenya, Syria and Kurdistan. I got to learn their stories, how much they love their country and understand that no matter how much they missed their families, their beautiful countries and their food they could never go back. It’s a cliché to say that it changes you but it does. It puts names and faces to a very serious world issue.
I still occasionally teach for the British Red Cross Snap programme. Most recently using Zoom. I taught a stop motion class last week and I’ve received animations that they’ve done. It’s rewarding to see that they enjoyed the class and that they are using the tools that I taught them.
BNG: You have just completed your MA in Fine Arts at John Moore University in Liverpool. What has the experience been like for you? How has it developed your practice?
AZ: It’s been a rollercoaster ride. Even though I find creating relaxing, I still have to fight with it. I still have doubts that float by and sometimes wonder if quitting my job and going back to school was worth it. And I have to say it is all worth it. I’ve learnt so much. My lecturers are bad asses in their field and I am trying to learn as much as I can from them. They are super smart and have been very supportive during this time of complete chaos.
I’ve been trying to learn bits of everything but there is so much more to explore. I was hoping to learn how to create virtual reality worlds but unfortunately a pandemic hit. Recently my lecturers invited last year’s Turner Prize winner Tai Shani to join our class on Zoom so she could talk about her work. She’s amazing! I love Liverpool. The people here are lovely.
BNG: What is next?
AZ: I want to work as an art instructor for vulnerable people. I love working with people with intellectual disabilities as well as asylum seekers. I’ve been a volunteer for The Bluecoat’s Blue Room Inclusive Art Programme for almost a year now. Their artists are people with intellectual disabilities. I’m having so much fun making others happy through art. We still meet up once a week and we all create art together.
I think everyone should volunteer at least once, sharing their skills with those most vulnerable. I also think that everyone needs to take some form of art – whether it is theatre, dance, music or some kind of visual art. It’ll improve your life.
Follow on instagram Ami at @amizanders