The City of Hamilton’s mayor, Charles Gosling, together with Bermuda National Gallery director Peter Lapsley last week unveiled two murals produced as part of the Peaceful Art Protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The public artworks mark a collaboration between the BNG and VIVID – the City of Hamilton’s Public Art Initiative as part of the programming for Let Me Tell You Something, 2020 Bermuda Biennial.
The artworks were submitted to the Peaceful Art Protest, a project conceived by former Bermuda Biennial artist Rachel Swinburne and were translated into murals by Dennis Joaquin. The Peaceful Art Protest, an open call for work by artists of all ages, was set up as a way for people to express their solidarity through art ahead of the historic Black Lives Matter march which took place in Hamilton in June 2020.
Mural artist Dennis Joaquin worked for BELCO for 25 years before retiring in 2010 and embarking on what he describes as “a creative journey of self-discovery.” The self-taught artist meticulously translated both a photograph taken by Meredith Andrews and three drawings made by primary school children into larger-than-life murals.
We caught up with Dennis, who credits the Peaceful Art Protest with reminding him of why he loves to create, to discuss his process and how for him the murals felt like “an historical event of energetic change.”
BNG: Have you always been creative?
DJ: I come from a very creative family with a history of mechanics, masons, and seamstress, so I was surrounded by creativity at a young age. My biggest influence has been my mother, as she has shown me there is no limit to what one can create, which is displayed through her handy works all around the house.
I have always been creative. I started by copying comic book illustrations using pencils, brought my first airbrush at 16 years old and started to paint portraits and decorated anything I could find. I started studying master artists and different techniques until I found my own style.
I learned how to sew and started designing and performing puppetry. l learned how to play the conga drums and wrote poetry. Before the lock-down in March, I had for the past five years been working with an Alzheimer’s and dementia charity, and was able to use these skills to entertain and teach art basics to our seniors at various homes.
This was all thanks to the positive creative surroundings that influenced me as a youth.
BNG: What was the first mural you painted? Have you painted many others across the island?
JD: The first mural that I was a part of creating along with Kendra Earls, is located on the front of the public restrooms at No1 Car Park on Front Street.
From there, I have created and or have been a part of the creation of ten murals on the island, most of which are on private estates.
BNG: How do you approach a mural project?
JD: Most murals I can approach free handed, as with the first art work that I painted with Kendra Earls. We had an idea of what we wanted, found illustrations on the subject matter and then painted it.
For the translation of photographs and illustrations that need be precise or to scale to a mural, like the Peaceful Art Protest murals, I use Photoshop. There I can design a stencil that will help me get all the right markers in place to create a good representation of the image I am to transfer. This is a technique that I learned as an air brush artist and graphic t-shirt designer.
BNG: What were the challenges of working on the Peaceful Art Protest murals?
JD: Probably the only challenge I had was the weather, hoping that the rain wouldn’t ruin the work, but the weather was great for the four days I worked on the Front Street Mural.
Again, weather was an issue for the primary school exhibit on Queen Street, but gratefully it held until I was able to complete all three images.
The energy and responses from the passers-by were most encouraging and inspirational. I had great positive conversations that uplifted my spirit and spurred me onward to paint more. It reminded me why I love to create.
BNG: What has the overall experience of completing the Peaceful Art Protest murals been like for you?
JD: I feel honored to be a part of what I consider to be an historical event of energetic change. I almost feel like the scribes of old, recording today’s events for historical reflection.
BNG: Do you have any advice for young people who are interested in pursuing the arts?
JD: I think the most amazing gift that humans have, but take for granted, is the imagination. It is the greatest tool one has to express one’s inner being outwardly, the place where we make the invisible visible and create the world as one chooses it to be.
My advice would be to train your imagination daily. Like an athlete trains for strength, we train for visions of new ideas and progress for future goals. An imagination is a terrible thing to waste. So use it wisely.
The full selection of artworks submitted to the Peaceful Art Protest can viewed at www.peacefulartprotest.bm