Gombey Swerve

Robert Bassett

Bermudian (b. 1951)

Acrylic on canvas

2007

Collection of the artist

Bermudian artist Robert Bassett is influenced by Bermudian
culture, particularly Gombeys and traditional kite making, as
well as the Impressionists and contemporary African figurativism.
Here Bassett captures a Bermuda Gombey dancer from behind,
his long intricately embroidered and embellished cape symbolic
of his role as the captain of the troupe. The costumes worn
by the gombeys, which conceal their identities, are unique to
Bermuda and incorporate elements from West African (drums,
painted facemask and velvet cloth), Native American (bow and
arrow, tomahawk, feathered headpiece) and British (bass drum,
snare drums, fife and triangle used in British Military bands) cultures.
The costumes are traditionally made by hand by the women of
the troupe and each one can take up to 80 hours to complete.
Each performance is unique and a form of narrative storytelling
handed down from generation to generation. As Ron Lightbourne
writes in the archives of the Smithsonian Centre for Folklife
and Cultural Heritage: “Allan Warner, Captain of the Warner’s
Gombeys, says that some of his troupe’s dances refer specifically
to Bermuda’s connection with Africa. There are freedom dances,
wherein dancers celebrate an absence of shackles and chains
on the limbs. Other themes he depicts as African stories are
‘Johnny and His Spear’, ‘Sampson and Delilah’, and ‘Daniel in
the Lion’s Den’. Other stories depict the Hunter’s Return and
pay homage to the earth and sky.”

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