Categories
2022 Bermuda Biennial

A Creative Voice

Heather Nova

Heather Nova needs little introduction. Over the past 30 years the Bermudian singer/songwriter has released 13 albums, which together have sold over 2 million copies worldwide. Pre-pandemic, she spent the best part of her time on tour, however the past two years have seen her based in Bermuda full time, living simply and quietly at her island home, writing, recording music and painting. This time of intimate creativity led to a new acoustic album, Other Shores, and her poem Pink of Sands of Time being selected for the 2022 Bermuda Biennial. Her Biennial work builds on the success of The Sorrowjoy, a collection of poetry and drawings, which has recently been re-released 20 years after it was originally published.

Of her 2022 Bermuda Biennial poem she says “I prefer not to say too much about a poem; I believe it is more purely received by the reader without an explanation. For me, this is an important aspect of art. The artist takes a committed deep dive into the complexities of their consciousness, bringing their expression to the surface in a unique entanglement of their truths and visions. The audience brings their own unique perspective and history to experiencing the piece, thus making the work relevant to each person in their own way. This is the magic of how art connects us all and is how the acutely personal transforms to the universal.”

As Heather prepares for the start of her first tour since 2019, which will see her perform 41 European shows in 48 days, we caught up with her to discuss how tuning into nature allowed her to find a creative voice from a young age and why both poetry and song writing stem from the same source but come to her in different ways.

Heather Nova photographed by Vincent Lyons.

BNG: Congratulations on the release of Other Shores, your most recent album, which went straight into the top 20 in Germany. It is a compilation of covers sung acoustically. Could you please tell us about it? Why did you choose to release covers rather than original material for the first time?

HN: Thank you! It was just a little side project that I did here in Bermuda during lockdown. So I never expected it to chart! A wonderful surprise. I have often thrown a cover version into a live show, so I decided to explore a few more and see where it led me. I really got into embodying the songs, stripping away all the production and finding the essence of the songs in their bare bones. I took some big anthems like Don’t Stop Believing and Staying Alive, and it’s astonishing what happens when you strip them back and slow them down. I really tried to make them my own, so that you hear the lyrics with a whole new emotion. That, I think should be the objective of a cover version – to allow the listener to hear the song in a completely fresh way.

BNG: Pre-pandemic you spent most of your time touring. However, the last two years have seen you based in Bermuda fulltime. In what ways has this affected your creative practice?

HN: Yes, I liked having an excuse to stay put for an extended period. I really am a homebody and love nothing more than to be here, living quietly and simply. It was nice not to have to get on a plane. I know a lot of people felt frustrated by that, but I live my life sort of backwards to most; my work is spent travelling and my vacation is being at home! It also gave me a lot of time to be creative. I wrote a lot, made my covers album, and painted.

BNG: A lot of your inspiration comes from the natural world. Growing up in Bermuda, you spent much of your childhood exploring the Caribbean on Moon, a 42-foot sailboat which your father built. How did this unique childhood inform your career?

HN: Yes, I have always felt a sense of spirituality through connecting with the natural world. Spending my childhood in Bermuda and the Caribbean, living so close to the sea, gave me a profound respect and appreciation of nature. And I found my creative voice even from a very young age, by tuning into that. We were living such a simple life on the boat, and as kids we spent so much time outdoors exploring. That, combined with my parents’ great music collection, which was always playing on the tape deck, seemed to breed a connection for me between creativity and nature.

The Sorrowjoy, a book of poems and drawings by Heather Nova, has recently been re-released, twenty years after it’s first publication.

BNG: Do you remember writing your first poem/ song? Have poetry and music always been a big part of your life?

HN: Yes. I remember writing my first songs. They were songs about seagulls and lighthouses, and moonlight on the water – things like that!  Songwriting and poetry always came very naturally to me. I did it because it felt good, it felt vital.  And as a teenager on the boat, when there was no physical space to call my own, I retreated into writing. Once I got a guitar at age 11 and learned a few chords I was writing all the time.

BNG: You are very well known as a singer/songwriter, however poetry is also a key part of your creative practice and in 2002 you released The Sorrowjoy, a book of your poems and drawings. How do you know when a written piece will become a poem and when it will become a song? Are the writing processes different, if so in what ways?

HN: I am often asked this question and it’s a hard one to define. They are both streams from the same creative source. But I guess poems feel more inward, whereas songs are created to be sung out. They they each have a different feel when they come to me. Usually when I write a song the lyrics and melody arrive together. I don’t write a whole lyric and put it to music, but rather I get a fragment of melody and words, and then I develop the song from there. When I write poetry I am not restricted by rhyme. It has a rhythm that is more subtle, and overall it is without the confines of structure. The poem I wrote for the Biennial is actually an exception for me, because it does rhyme and is more traditionally structured. But that’s the way it came to me, and I believe in following and honouring what comes.

BNG: In your Biennial statement you say “I never tire of the interplay of words, sound, and imagery – like working clay between my fingers; I feel most alive when I am making something”. What other creative pursuits do you have and how do they interplay, if at all?

HN: I believe we can have a creative approach to just about anything, and I tend to live my life that way as much as possible. I also draw and paint. I actually went to art school (RISD) before deciding to focus on my music. I feel most alive when I am creating something. Ever since I was a child I’ve felt most at home and most relaxed when making things. My mother instilled this in us; she encouraged us to make things, whether it was drawing, writing, weaving, crafts, etc., and to be honest, not to sound like “back in the good old days” or anything (!) but we did it to entertain ourselves. We didn’t have iPads, and in my case, we didn’t have a TV, so being creative was my fun and my purpose. And it still is!

Drawings by Heather Nova.

BNG: What does it mean to you to have your poem Pink Sands of Time included in the 2022 Bermuda Biennial?

HN: I’m incredibly honoured. Truly. It meant a lot to me to have my poem selected. I might have had many albums in the charts in different countries over the years, but nothing has the same meaning for me as being recognised in my home country.

BNG: You are about to embark on a big European tour, your first since 2019. How does it feel to be getting back on to the road again?

HN: I’m both excited and nervous! It’s a big tour – 41 shows in 48 days. A different city every day. But I feel fortunate to have such a loyal fanbase that I can still do this after 30 years in this career. I will never take live music for granted again. Maybe that’s something good to have come out of the pandemic; we have renewed appreciation for things like this. To gather together in person, to share music, this is really important for human beings; that sense of community and sharing we can only half simulate online. The energy is palpable when you are all in a room together, exchanging the experience that music creates. It’s magic.

The 2022 Bermuda Biennial A New Vocabulary: Past. Present. Future. is on display at the Bermuda National Gallery through to the end of the year.

Categories
Education

Meet our Interns

BNG Internship Programme

The Bermuda National Gallery Internship Programme provides paid opportunities for people aged 18–25 and training in all aspects of museum operations. The 2022 programme is generously sponsored by Zurich Bermuda (a member of the Zurich Insurance Group). 

As a small team, interns play a key role in the smooth running of BNG. We’d like to extend a big thank you to Yasmin Eve-Townsend who spent the summer with us, and welcome Julia Cox who joins us for next 3 months. 

Julia (above) recently graduated from the Arts University of Bournemouth with a BA (Hons) in Photography and is looking to gain an in-depth understanding of what goes on behind the scenes at an art gallery. With an interest in curation, she will be assisting the team as they prepare for our upcoming exhibitions.  

A graduate of Bermuda College and the Berkeley Institute, Yasmin (below) is currently completing a placement year as part of a BA (Honours) degree in Film at the University of Kent. We caught up with her as she prepares to return to university, to discuss what it was like to assist on the installation of the Bermuda Biennial and A Personal Perspective: Photographs by Richard Saunders and find out what she has learnt from her internship. 

Top: Julia Cox recently graduated from the Arts University Bounemouth and is interning at BNG for the next 3 months. Above: Yasmin Eve-Townsend just finished a summer placement at the gallery and is returning to the University of Kent. 

BNG: What have you been working on during your time at the Bermuda National Gallery?

YET: When I started here in June, we were in the middle of setting up the 2022 Bermuda Biennial, so helping with the installation was the first thing I did. After the exhibition opened, I was given the task of uploading the online exhibition that goes with it. I then did the same for A Personal Perspective: Photographs by Richard Saunders when that opened. Most recently, I’ve done a lot of research for an upcoming exhibition.

BNG: What has been the most interesting part of your exhibition and why?

YET: I’ve really enjoyed learning about all of the different artists that are exhibited here. I genuinely didn’t think that I would learn this much about art in general during my internship! I feel like I’ve learnt so much. I would say that before, my knowledge about fine art was at zero and now I feel like I have a base. I’m also a lot more interested in it than I was before.

Yasmin assists Lara Hetzel, BNG’s Volunteer and Operations Officer, with the lighting for A Personal Perspective: Photographs by Richard Saunders.

BNG: What has surprised you about working at the Bermuda National Gallery?

YET: I’ve been surprised about the amount the work that goes into curating. All of the artworks are placed in a very specific way and everything in the gallery is there to create a better flow between artworks and to ensure that whoever is walking through the gallery has the best experience they can. There is a lot of care and consideration that goes into what is showcased.

BNG: In what ways has the work placement helped you in terms of you career path and next steps?

YET: This was my first internship and it feels like it has laid a lot of groundwork for any future experiences that I’ll have working with a team in a creative field. It was a really good experience and well rounded as well. I’ve become very interested in curating and I would enjoy interning at a museum or art gallery again.

The BNG Internship Programme provides paid opportunities for people aged 18 – 25 and training in all aspects of museum operations. For further information email Peter Lapsley at director@bng.bm

Categories
Community

Fall Art Classes

Registration Now Open

Registration is now open for our fall art programmes. BNG education initiatives are designed to provide opportunities for creative and independent thinking through an exchange of ideas and art education. Students develop art appreciation, critical thinking skills and creative problem solving.

Spaces are limited. Secure your spot today to avoid disappointment. 

DRAWING FOR ANIMATION

The Bermuda National Gallery’s after-school programme for high-school students ages 14-18, continues this year, with students meeting twice a week to learn to create their own short animations on iPad, building a foundation of the principles of drawing and animation.

The programme is a natural fit for teens looking to build their portfolio and deepen skills gained in the Art+Tech summer camp. Classes, which begin on October 4 and run through to November 17, take place every Tuesday and Thursday from 3.45-5.15pm. 

Click here to register


NARRATIVE ART CAMP

This year, the Bermuda National Gallery will be running a Mid-Term Break camp from October 24-28. The theme of this year’s camp, for ages 8-12, is Narrative Art.

Join us as we make comics, create flipbooks, illustrate poetry, and more! Our camp will be limited to fourteen students who will be based between the gallery and the BNG’s satellite education space in Washington Mall. Camp will run from 9am-3pm

Click here to register


URBAN SKETCH

BNG Urban Sketch is a free monthly meetup for artists of all ages to go out into the city and sketch together. Participants meet in the gallery on the first Saturday of each month from 11am – 1pm and visit different locations around Hamilton to sketch from life.

The programme is free and open to all to drop in. All you need is a sketchbook and pencil, but you can bring any supplies you would like to work with. Please note that BNG members receive a 10% discount on art supplies at the Stationery Store.

Click here to register. 


YOGA IN THE GALLERY

Reboot, refresh and restart as we head into fall with a new 6 week series of Yoga in the Gallery with Tiffany Paynter.

Tiffany, a three-time Bermuda Biennial artist, studied at the International Sivananda School. She recently launched SOHAM, a social enterprise dedicated to providing lifelong, practical mental health tools through yoga.

Classes, which are held in the striking setting of the gallery, run September 26 to October 31, and take place every Monday from 1-2pm. Spaces are limited and must be booked in advance. Individual classes are $20 for BNG members and $25 for non-members.

Click here to register.

The class is open to beginners. Alternative poses will be given for more advanced students. Please bring your own yoga mat.

Categories
The European Collection

In Remembrance

Queen Elizabeth II

In remembrance of the UK’s longest reigning monarch, a delicate oil on ivory miniature of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, from the Bermuda National Gallery’s permanent collection, has been put on display for a limited time.

Designed by William Hockley Harrington (British, 1898-1977) and painted by Doreen Frances (‘Mac’) Musson (British/ Bermudian, 1925-2015) the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, framed in silver laurel wreath wrought by James Kempe, Jr (Bermudian, 1923-2018), was intended to be gifted to the monarch by the Bermuda Art Association to commemorate her first visit to the island in 1953.

Arriving just five months after her coronation, Bermuda was the first stop on the new Queen’s Royal Tour of the Commonwealth, her first overseas tour as sovereign and Head of the Commonwealth. The 6-month tour saw her fly to Bermuda and on to Jamaica, before boarding the SS Gothic on which she travelled to Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Aden, Uganda, Malta and Gibraltar – covering a distance of 30,000 miles.

The St Edward’s crown above the portrait was originally created by Tiffany & Co. in New York, made in gold and inset with diamonds. However, there was a disagreement within the Bermuda Art Association, with the director opposed to the gift, and it was ultimately deemed by the Governor of Bermuda, Sir Alexander Hood, as “not coming under the category of gifts Her Majesty is able to accept”. When this happened, the jewelled crown was kept by the person who had financed the project, an American friend of Bermuda-based artist Antoine Verpeilleux (British, 1888-1964), and it was replaced with the silver crown shown here.

The rift over the gift of the miniature caused a split within the already fractious Bermuda Art Association, ultimately leading to the formation of the Society of Artists in 1952 by a breakaway group, which, when formalised by an Act of Parliament in 1956, was restructured and officially renamed The Bermuda Society of Arts. BSoA remains Bermuda’s oldest established art organisation, residing in the City Hall & Arts Centre alongside the Bermuda National Gallery.


Queen Elizabeth II visited the Bermuda National Gallery in 1994, meeting former BNG Executive Director Laura Gorham (left) and Founding Trustee John Bluck, Chairman Emeritus (centre) for a private tour of Bill Ming: The Home Comin’.

Laura Gorham remembers: “She was everything you wanted the Queen to be – she made every interaction memorable, making a meaningful personal comment to each person. This was extraordinary as I think I introduced her to 100 people that morning.”

Categories
2022 Bermuda Biennial

Creativity and Connection

Jahbarri Wilson

Driven by instinctive mark making, Jahbarri Wilson’s mixed media practice takes in both fine art and fashion. The self-taught artist, who last year launched Become A Collector – a range of limited-edition sweaters accompanied by original artworks, first began exhibiting his artwork in 2020 after returning to Bermuda following a number of years spent living and working in Los Angeles.  

Exhibiting in the Bermuda Biennial for the first time this year, Jahbarri, who teaches at Kaleidoscope Arts Foundation, hopes that his work will inspire viewers to “let go of fear and move within their visible and invisible strengths.” We caught up with him to discuss the inescapable draw of creativity, how teaching art to children helps him to “stay loose”, both in life and in art, and the importance of making collecting art accessible to all.

2022 Bermuda Biennial artwork Faef by Jahbarri A. Wilson, 2021. Acrylic, oil, oil pastel, and crayon on canvas.

BNG: Could you please tell us about your Biennial artwork, Faef? Why did you decide to submit this work in particular?

JW: Faef came about because I was genuinely curious with how the human body would look if it was being pulled or hanging from its solar plexus. It flourished from there. It felt so heavy and meaningful, yet it had a sense of weightlessness that has the ability to lift the viewer’s spirits. Because of that, I knew it was the one. Faef was also entered to reach and inspire all who view it to let go of fear and move within their visible and invisible strengths.

BNG: This is the first time that you have shown in the Bermuda Biennial. What does it mean to you to be included in the exhibition?

JW: I’m honoured to be a part of something with so many other amazing creators that I respect and that I am inspired by. Honestly, it has shown me that I am taking the steps I should to reach where I know I belong. It has reassured my beliefs in myself and my art, which have been impenetrable and intractable.

BNG: You began exhibiting your artwork a couple of years ago, first in an emerging artists group show at Masterworks (2020) and more recently in 2021 Fall Members Show at the Bermuda Society of Arts. Why did you decide to start exhibiting your work and how that this impacted your practice?

JW: One of the biggest catalysts was bouncing back and forth between Los Angeles and back home in Bermuda. I’ve always known that I wanted to create art but going to Los Angeles totally widened my eyes and expanded my imagination. Being in proximity with so many different creators with a mission. Seeming to be endless amounts of resources, material, and the endless amount of space. Studios here and studios there. It was very new to me and exciting.

Seeing all the different processes and problem solving. I even sold a piece of art for the first time in LA to another creative. That whole experience helped to solidify my goals and purpose. So, I got back home with the intent to have my foot on the neck of my future and not let up. Create and share. Create and share.

Exhibiting hasn’t impacted my process at all. I create for myself, while knowing that I’m not the only being that experiences these vibrations. I’m full of gratitude for the fact that I can share my creations with others.

Jahbarri Wilson photographed by Jayde Gibbons.

BNG: You are self-taught. When did you first discover a love for art and how have you nurtured this over the years?

JW: I have a very vivid memory of the first time I was fully aware that I loved art. I was attending St. John’s Preschool. We were having our arts and craft time and the craft that we were prompted to make was a mixed media collage of a gombey. The teacher had made an example to help steer our imagination a bit. Safe to say my gombey blew her gombey out of the water! I loved that gombey. My momps had it hanging on her door for the longest time. Sadly it got lost when we moved houses.

Simply put, art kept bugging me like an annoying little sister. I kept finding myself needing to give it my undivided attention. Feeling as if my being would break if I didn’t release my creativity throughout my younger years. As I got older, I found myself playing and experimenting with more mediums while watching artist interviews, documentaries, and finding books that contained artists’ entire catalogues.

BNG: You currently teach at Kaleidoscope Arts Foundation. Does working with children and observing their open approach to art making affect your own in any way?

JW: I love the kids and their way of being! I genuinely see them as my peers creatively. I help to sharpen their creativity and imagination, while they help and constantly remind me to stay loose. Loose in my being, my creativity and everyday life.

BNG: Your mixed media work spans drawing, painting and fashion. Prior to joining Kaleidoscope, you spent a couple of years in Los Angeles working for Bermudian designer Khamari Greaves. Could you please tell us a bit about this?

JW: I was actually at Kaleidoscope Arts Foundation first and had to let the team know that I had the opportunity to further my art career by traveling to LA to shadow artists of different mediums and industries. The Kaleidoscope family was very supportive, so I went off and put Kaleidoscope to the side for a while to follow my heart.

While in Los Angeles, I was networking and shadowing people in the fashion, music and fine arts industries. I worked with Khamari Greaves and he showed me a lot of the ropes and how things worked in the city I was new to.

I learned a great load of things while helping on sets of video shoots, photo shoots, and just being in art studios assisting and watching artists at work. Seeing so much public art, woah! While in Los Angeles I also collaborated on painting a food truck for Adidas with LA locals and one of the artists I was shadowing Gianni Lee.

Become A Collector by Jahbarri Wilson modelled by the Knit Pickers. Photograph by Jayde Gibbons.

BNG: Last year you launched a range of limited-edition sweaters accompanied by original artworks. Could you please tell us about the project? Why did you decide to combine art and fashion?

JW: I don’t see art and fashion as separate entities. It’s all a form of expression. I titled the launch of the knitted garment drop Become A Collector because I want to bring more people into the realm of owning and collecting art. I feel that art collecting is still kind of taboo to the masses. One, because they don’t know where to start and two, art can be pricey. Ultimately, my reason for making a 1 of 1 piece to accompany every knit purchase is because I genuinely want people to enjoy having my art in their spaces.

BNG: You describe your practice as being shaped by “a perpetual tug of war between the conscious and the subconscious”. How does this manifest itself in your artwork?

JW: I intentionally create without thought, with total instinct. Occasionally switching from being conscious to being guided by instinctive mark making. Just flipping in and out of “control” while being fully present during the process.

The 2022 Bermuda Biennial A New Vocabulary: Past. Present. Future is on until the end of the year.

Categories
2022 Bermuda Biennial

An Ode to Mami Wata in Bermuda

Judith Aidoo-Saltus

Standing at over 7ft tall, Vocable #2: The Veneration of Mami Wata (aka Mother Water), whose Ecstatic Beauty and Celestial Power is Made Most Manifest as She Bestrides both Atlantic and Time, (Re)Presented in Bermuda, August 2020 by greets visitors as they enter the 2022 Bermuda Biennial.

Of her Biennial work, which pays respect to the powerful African water spirit Mami Wata (Mother Water), Judith Aidoo-Saltus says: “The ocean is my mother, and the beach is my church. Both inspire me to shine my eyes, as we say in West Africa, to see and feel and communicate what exists at the centre of so much unpredictable beauty and power. With my wife Julia as my muse and officiant, I make almost daily pilgrimages to the Atlantic to limn simple magic in search of life.”

The artist, who has American and Ghanaian parentage, splits her time between Bermuda, the US and Ghana. Both an artist and a passionate supporter of the arts, Judith is a photographer, filmmaker and author. “My prayer is that my best work will mesmerise, even for a second” she says, “and inspire the smallest shift, to allow for something new and better to take root in all of us. Then, we can together draw a series of maps so we can easily find our way back home before, of course, we begin again.”

As Bermuda prepares for its second ever Pride Parade this weekend, we caught up with Judith to discuss the importance of marriage equality, what it means to exhibit in the Bermuda Biennial for the first time, and how Bermuda is her centre of gravity, but Africa is the source of her soul.

Top: The 2022 Bermuda Biennial A New Vocabulary: Past. Present. Future., Vocable #2 The Veneration of Mami Wata can be seen in the centre. Above: Judith Aidoo-Saltus.

BNG: This is the first time that you have exhibited in the Bermuda Biennial. What does it mean to you to be included in the exhibition?

JAS: It is a beautiful honor and privilege to be included in the Bermuda Biennial. I am humbled and grateful. It signifies to me that all the time and effort that I have spent learning to craft beauty and meaning over literally thousands of photographs and dozens of years were not in vain. There was a greater purpose, and that includes sharing my work with the world. Now that I have this exposure, and with it a heightened sense of courage, I now call myself an artist and know in my bones that I can back it up. 

BNG: Vocable #2 references the powerful African water deity Mami Wata. On a recent trip to Ghana, you visited two shrines dedicated to Mami Wata, guided by professor and well-known artist Dr Sela Adjei, to deepen your understanding of this spiritual belief system. Could you please tell us about it?

JAS: In Ghana, my fatherland, I had heard and seen continuous references to the water spirit known as Mami Wata for nearly 5 decades. However, I had never thought to visit a shrine or to learn more about this indigenous knowledge system. Fortunately, art has a way of opening the mind and spirit to exploration. I thought that having been inspired to name my Biennial photograph Vocable #2: The Veneration of Mami Wata (aka Mother Water) whose Ecstatic Beauty and Celestial Power is Made Most Manifest as She Bestrides both Atlantic and Time, (Re)Presented in Bermuda, August 2020, the least I could do was to actually visit a shrine dedicated to Mami Wata the next time I was in Ghana.

Two weeks before the opening of the Biennial, renowned artist and friend Kwame Akoto-Bamfo was kind enough to introduce me to fellow artist and educator Dr Sela Adjei, an expert in the intersection of traditional religion and art. Over the course of a 2-day visit to eastern Ghana, and numerous research papers and photographs, he shared aspects of our history, culture and traditional spiritual expression that were completely new to me. What a gift!

We know that our first human ancestors originated in Africa at least some 70,000 years ago, and Christianity only arrived 600 years ago when the first Europeans landed in Africa (coincidentally in Elmina situated in modern Ghana). Even for the mathematically challenged among us, this leaves at least 69,400 years of wisdom and spiritual practices from which to learn. It beggars belief that indigenous Africans still practicing their traditional religion have nothing to teach us. I am gratified that I was well received by two Mami Wata shrines and I was permitted to ask questions about their beliefs and practices, and their art on the shrine walls, which for them embodies prayer. 

Judith Aidoo-Saltus (left) on a recent trip to Ghana to explore the history and significance of Mami Wata.

BNG: The subject of the photograph is your wife, Julia, whom you describe as your muse. The two of you made history when you married in 2017. A union made more powerful in recent months by the UK Privy Council’s controversial decision to uphold a ban on same sex marriage in Bermuda, first introduced in 2018. Marriage equality is, unfortunately, a very divisive issue in Bermuda. How can we overcome these differences?

JAS: Thank you for this question. I thank God for Julia and her welcoming family and community of friends on island. With the exception of two or three outliers, Bermudians have been welcoming and generous. Please allow me to formally thank every single human being on island (and across the globe for that matter!) that has treated us, and people like us, with the dignity, compassion and respect that we deserve as fellow human beings. Thank you for modelling genuine charity and moral leadership for others to follow in the fullness of time. 

Truth is, it was a miracle that Julia and I got married in Bermuda at all. We had planned to marry in NYC and had gone down to City Hall to formally register in late April 2017. Two weeks later, the Supreme Court of Bermuda declares same sex couples have the right to marry, thanks to the historic efforts of Winston Godwin and his Canadian spouse Greg De Roche. Without missing a beat, Julia and I immediately submitted our wedding bans, understanding as lawyers that legal challenges were certain to follow. We further assumed that Winston and Greg would be first, but they decided on a Canadian wedding instead. As a result, Julia and I ended up walking hand in hand, grinning from ear to ear, to a government office building to exchange our simple heartfelt wedding vows before our family and friends. But, not before engaging lawyers to respond to a gratuitous legal challenge by a Bermudian who knows us not. Our entire wedding experience was so beautiful and painful and joyous and tortured. Much like life. 

Bottom line: with or without the imprimatur of the state, the church or our families, we found and lovingly chose one another. Like countless lovers before us, we were prepared to cry and walk away, as and if required, from our traditions and families and cultures to be free, together. 

How can we overcome these differences? Nothing like the fullness of time. Eventually, there will be a critical mass of compassionate leaders with intellect, integrity and courage, who decide, often with the encouragement of relentless activism and an act or two of God herself, that the time has come for freedom and justice to prevail. For everyone. When that happens again, and of course it will, don’t tarry, folks! Run fast toward freedom! Take as many with you as you can! 

BNG: You have American and Ghanaian parentage and split your time between Bermuda, the US and Ghana. How do each of the countries feed both your world view and your artistic output?

JAS: Bermuda is my centre of gravity because my heart is here. Africa is the source of my soul. Ghana, my fatherland, makes me who I am. It colors my words, my spirit, my sense of humor. The US is my motherland: it is my root. As twisted and tortured as it is, I cleave to its beauty and its capacity for growth. So, you see, I need all three places to feel fully alive and at home in the world. From this triangular base, I look out at the world and I can see things that the average person may not see. I perceive trends and vulnerabilities and possibilities too. Most of all, I can see beauty, even as I feel the suffering of others. This may be my superpower. 

Detail of 2022 Bermuda Biennial artwork Vocable #2: The Veneration of Mami Wata (aka Mother Water), whose Ecstatic Beauty and Celestial Power is Made Most Manifest as She Bestrides both Atlantic and Time, (Re)Presented in Bermuda, August 2020 by Judith Aidoo-Saltus. 

BNG: As an artist, you work across a variety of media, including photography and film, and are currently writing your first book. Could you please tell us about it?

JAS: My working title is Field Notes of a Soul Safarian. This is a guide for those who value a life of wonder and magic. It is based on lessons that I have gleaned in the company of some of the most extraordinary creatives, road warriors and thinkers. 

BNG: Last year, you wrote an article, Field Notes from an African Investor, describing how investment in the arts in Africa is rarely profitable but it is essential. Could you please tell us about this?

JAS: It took me a long time to understand that not all investments need to make money in the short or medium term. Clearly, an investor has to win more than she loses in order to earn the right to act as a fiduciary. All the same, I believe part of the duty of the visionaries among us, especially those with financial resources, is to invest in people, a community, or even an idea for the greater good. This is critical, especially for a functioning democracy.

So, I consider an investment in art and culture as a necessary part of strengthening any society. It is like protecting the environment. Art is like air. We need it to thrive. Accordingly, please kiss or encourage or thank the next art benefactor you see for actively investing in culture so as to make us better people. 

BNG: A passionate supporter of the arts and an experienced producer, you have holdings in television, publishing, feature film and theatre production. How can we support both the arts, and artists, here in Bermuda?

JAS: Invest resources of all kinds, from time to finances to education, in creating an artistic mindset from the very young to the very old. Convene people from all walks of life to share multiple ways of seeing, and to imagine alternative futures. Then, let’s activate our best ideas with all due speed so we can progress together.

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BNG Team

Rehana Packwood

Meet the BNG Team

Get to know the team behind the 2022 Best of Bermuda Award. As a small but nimble team of five staff, we all wear many hats. Our membership has grown over the past year and with a relatively new team in place we thought that we would introduce ourselves to you. In celebration of being named Best Museum we will be profiling each of our staff members over the next few weeks. This week we meet Rehana Packwood.

Since joining the Bermuda National Gallery just over a year ago, Rehana has breathed new life into the gallery’s education programming in her role as Education Officer. A passionate digital artist, she has expanded the scope of BNG’s signature Art+Tech programme to include a focus on animation and digital painting and has introduced an after-school programme to further develop student skills picked up in the long-running summer camp.

An avid fan of comics and visual storytelling, Rehana has also introduced a Narrative Art camp, taking place in the shorter school breaks, which encourages a younger age group to learn to make comics, create flipbooks, and write and illustrate poetry.

Rehana returned to Bermuda in 2021 to take up the role at the gallery, moving from London where she was completing her Masters, having previously spent two years teaching in Japan. As Education Officer she plans and coordinates all BNG education programmes, for both children and adults. Working closely with the curatorial team, she produces the BNG Kids activity booklets which accompany each of our exhibitions and works with schools and community organisations to lead tours of the gallery.

We caught up with Rehana to discuss her passion for digital art, the joy of children discovering the gallery for the first time and how BNG education programmes provide art classes for a broad audience, often free of charge.

Above: Rehana photographed by Meredith Andrews. Top: The BNG team, from left to right Jennifer Phillips, Office Administrator; Eve Godet Thomas, Director of Programming and Engagement; Peter Lapsley, Executive Director; Rehana Packwood, Education Officer; Lara Hetzel, Volunteer and Operations Officer.

BNG: What does a typical day in the gallery look like for you?

RP: There is no such thing as a typical for me really, as it is dictated by what programmes are going on. At the moment, I am running the Art+Tech Summer Camp programme, so that takes up most of my attention. I split my time between teaching digital art skills, liaising with the camp counsellors and running back and forth between our satellite education space in Washington Mall and my office at the gallery, as I am also planning our fall programming.

During term time, my weeks are shaped by the programmes that we run on different days – whether that is the twice-weekly after school programme or Draw and Explore, an artist-led drawing course for adults. We have had some great teachers, including Dr Edwin Smith, John Gardner, Tiffany Paynter and Vaughan Evans who have each shared their unique approach.

A lot of my time is also taken with creating the education materials that accompany each of our exhibitions, reaching out to schools to promote our programming and encouraging field trips to the gallery.

Young visitors work through the BNG Kids activity booklet for A Personal Perspective: Photographs by Richard Saunders.

BNG: What part of your job do you enjoy the most and why?

RP: I enjoy teaching, particularly younger age groups. Kids are fun, and their enthusiasm can be infectious. I enjoy giving tours of our exhibitions for the same reason. Seeing smaller kids come into the gallery for the first time is always fantastic as they get so excited!

Towards the end of the last school year, we were able to bring in a couple of different schools to see The African Collection: Our People, Our Places, Our Stories, which was wonderful after two years of field trips being put on hold because of the pandemic. I look forward to doing more this coming academic year.

Rehana with students from a P3 class at West Pembroke Primary who came in to see The African Collection: Our People, Our Places, Our Stories.

BNG: What would people be most surprised to know about your role?

RP: People are often interested to discover that alongside kids programmes, we also offer a range of adult classes.  People are also always intrigued by the fact that I design all of the BNG Kids activity booklets. A lot of work goes into them, working closely with the curatorial team to define the underlying theme of the show and then expanding on this to create a holistic approach that is both educational and entertaining for varying age groups.

The packs are designed so that kids can use them for self-guided tours of our exhibitions and so that schools can also use them as stand-alone lesson planners, alongside our virtual tour. The booklets are free and can be picked up in the gallery or downloaded online.

BNG: What is something that most people don’t know about BNG?

RP: I think that a lot of people don’t realise that we work hard to get funding for our education programmes, which means that often we are able to offer free places, both for adults and children – whether that be with scholarships or through community-based adult programmes such as Urban Sketch. Our programmes are designed to be inclusive and to reach as broad an audience as possible. The arts should be for everyone, and we work hard to make that happen.

South American Project, c.1965 by Richard Saunders. Collection of Bermuda National Gallery.

BNG: What is your favourite piece in the collection and why?

RP: I don’t have a favourite piece, but I am fascinated by the images in A Personal Perspective: Photographs by Richard Saunders. Every time I look at them my eye is drawn to something interesting and unique – whether it is the baby’s face peaking through in South American Project, c.1965 or the intensity of the girl’s stance in Members of the 4-C Club Listening to Instructor, Upper Volta, 1972.

I have always loved black and white art and the strong contrast that it creates. I am a big fan of manga, Japanese comics, which are in black and white, and Saunders’ photographs share a similar narrative thread.

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Bermuda Artists

Documenting Life in Africa

Richard Saunders

Swapping a successful freelance photographic career for a role as a foreign correspondent for the US government, in 1967 Richard Clive Saunders (Bermudian, 1922-1987) became International Editor for Topic, a magazine published by the United States Information Agency (USIA), now the Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs bureaus within the US State Department. Topic ran from 1965 to 1994 and covered art, international politics and emerging technologies. As part of a commitment to cultural exchange, the magazine was printed in both English and French and was aimed at audiences in Africa, often focusing on Americans with family ties to the continent such as Miles Davis, Martin Luther King Jr, and a young Barack Obama.

Saunders stayed in this role until his retirement in 1986, during which time his photographs appeared in almost every issue of Topic. Over 20 years, he took close to 50 trips to Africa, visiting more than 30 countries, moving seamlessly between photographing heads of state and documenting rural life across the continent. “I never took pictures of what people thought Africa was about,” he said. “I was there to record what I saw when I saw it […] I never felt strange in Africa. It was always like going home.” In 1973, the USIA held an exhibition of Saunders’ work in Africa, which showcased 59 of his best photographs. The exhibition opened at the US Information Service Lincoln Library in Kumasi, Ghana, and toured the continent for two years, displayed in libraries, galleries and cultural centres the length and breadth of Africa.

Top: Women Building Lesotho Track, Lesotho, 1971. Above : Members of the 4-C Club listening to instructor, Upper Volta, 1972. Both by Richard Saunders.

“I was a witness to everything,” Saunders told Bermuda’s The Royal Gazette shortly after his retirement in 1986. “Whatever I saw, I was a part of — I didn’t try to change it, didn’t attempt to change it. I simply tried to document it. “In those days Africa was just beginning to develop,” he explained. “When I first went in, it can’t have been more than ten years after the first independent African nation had come into being. It was an exciting period — you could actually see the changes occurring from one month to the next.” During his lifetime, Saunders was awarded many honours for his contributions to photography, including the International Black Photographer’s Award (1982) and the United States Information Services Honour Award (1986). Of his chosen path, Saunders said: “It’s been a way of life for me that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

“Photojournalism has been a very rewarding and fascinating career for me. As I look at my friends who are lawyers, or doctors, I think how bored they must be. For me there is always a different room, a different sunrise, different people with different ideas — and always a new experience tomorrow.” Richard Saunders died in 1987 at the age of 65, just days before receiving the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bermuda Arts Council. The award was presented posthumously to his wife, Emily Saunders.

 Maize Harvest at Ejura, Ghana, 1972 by Richard Saunders.

After his death, Saunders was acknowledged by Congressman Charles Rangel of New York for his contributions to both photography and civil rights. Gordon Parks, who described Saunders as one of his dearest friends, told The Mid Ocean News, “He was a first-rate person as well as a very fine photographer.” The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington expressed interest in collecting Saunders’ photographs and bid for his work but his wife, who was the executor of his estate, decided that they should go to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, which is where he had wanted them to go. However, as a project of the USIA, there was a Congressional ban on the domestic distribution of Topic, and it became clear that an act of congress would be required to release his photographs taken for the magazine.

In 1988, Congressman Rangel wrote to Charles Wick, then director of USIA, about the best way to preserve Saunders’ archive. A congressional waiver was sought and secured, and legislation was introduced to move his work from the USIA to the Schomburg Center, which is now a custodian of 20 years of photographs taken by Saunders for Topic. His wife donated 30 of his photographs to the Bermuda National Gallery’s permanent collection, from which A Personal Perspective: Photographs by Richard Saunders is drawn.

Shirley Pearman, MBE, a friend and neighbour of Saunders, has generously loaned several issues of Topic to the Bermuda National Gallery for this exhibition. In the 1970s, Saunders sent the magazines to Pearman, a long-time educator and advocate for the arts, to share with her students.

A Personal Perspective: Photographs by Richard Saunders is on display in the Ondaatje Wing through to February.

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2022 Bermuda Biennial

A Poetic Response

2022 Bermuda Biennial

Amidst the vibrant artworks gracing the walls in the 2022 Bermuda Biennial stand three custom built tables. Step closer and you will see that each one displays a selection of poems, marking the first time that the medium has been included in the exhibition and providing Bermuda’s vibrant community of writers with a new platform. 

The selection was overseen by Richard Georges, the first Poet Laureate of the British Virgin Islands and the Department of Culture’s 2022 Writer-in-residence. Eleven poets were chosen, each with a unique approach. 

“The theme of the 15th Biennial of the Bermuda National Gallery is A New Vocabulary: Past. Present. Future., an apt prompt that remains at the centre of these fine literary submissions.” says Richard. 

“If we were to take up one of the many vocabularies that these works gesture towards and trace the cartographical qualities of these poems, we would discover each poet turning towards the liminality of the spaces they inhabit, of the realities and histories they recall, document, or imagine.” he adds. 

The 2022 Bermuda Biennial. Photographs throughout by Brandon Morrison.

“The poets here are searching the contours of language to discover another subtextual and submarine truth. In Alan C. Smith’s lyrical prose-poem 2059: Devonshire Dock, that truth is literalised by an eco apocalyptic vision. It is a function of a global outlook to a ubiquitous issue to flatten, to similarise the ways in which different communities grapple with the problem. Smith begins from a point of nostalgia, the areas of the map that we recognize, the words and ideas and images we find familiar: ‘There was a time this dwindling pile / of shattered stone used to be a pier’ this is juxtaposed and challenged by the foreboding vision of a lessened or lessoned island that has been devoured by the rising sea.

That ravenous sea reappears at least twice, once in Ajala Omodele’s Middle Passage Atlantic in ‘the crossing’ yawns ‘open-mouthed, frothing / and toothless’ as it swallows the sick and the young alike. The ocean here, has taken on the spirit of the atrocities that occur upon it, and operates as an ethereal abyss, an ending and a nothingness, a ‘madness’ that the stolen must endure and survive. The boat then too, mirrors the island, and is here an avatar of horror, of separation, loss, and disconnection.

2022 Bermuda Biennial poem Brood by Jessica Lightbourne.

In this way, Smith’s shrinking island, the ‘needle narrow stretch of land’ resonates, not just with the horror of the loss of the foothold of hope in the void, but of the growing ‘still encroaching waters’. Andrea Ottley’s sea is the same, must be the same as the first sea, but her ocean is a playful participant, ‘laughing along the shore’, as much setting as character amidst the wide family of birds and the tapestry of music they make. If Ottley’s sea laughs, then the sea has both mouth and humour – it is not a stretch for us then to assume that it may also have its own language, just like the boastful white-eyed vireo

It would be a mistake to sweep these poems into the neat box of ecoliterature, as for most, the environment is not merely an ends of its own, but a necessary participant in what is overwhelmingly a collection of work that concerns itself primarily with the psychic trauma of loss. Nancy Anne Miller’s suite of poems flutters in the space between the artist’s eye and the page or canvas amid the ever-present threat of interruption by water (sea, rain, and even ink), a humming, a returning wave.

2022 Bermuda Biennial poem proud. by Liana Nanang.

But perhaps what Miller senses is truly an echo, a word we have forgotten but Yesha Townsend still searches for. She says that ‘all of June is a broken loaf’, but perhaps it is the chain (of islands? Of bondage?) that has been broken over the ‘hundred and a hundred and a hundred years’. Townsend returns to that echo, searching for it on the tongue of Sally Bassett and in the creased pages of Shakespeare. Sycorax is long gone before the curtain rises for the first act of The Tempest, but she haunts the conscience of the islander in the audience. But ‘let’s say hiaro is fire’.

As much as their words slick and slice the tongue in equal measure, these poets echo the canons of the archipelago and the continent. They embrace the duality of the in-between space that every island and shore represents, knowing full well that when we dwell on the threshold of the marine and the terrestrial, the past and the now, the living and the dead we claim neither and we claim both.

The poet’s burden remains the same after this noble celebration of art. They will continue to mine their vocabularies, the shifting contours of their tongues, bodies, and histories, searching for the right words that must make us right.”

– Richard Georges, Poet Laureate, British Virgin Islands.

The 2022 Bermuda Biennial is on display through to the end of the year.

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BNG Team

Lara Hetzel

Meet the BNG Team

Get to know the team behind the 2022 Best of Bermuda Award. As a small but nimble team of five staff, we all wear many hats. Our membership has grown over the past year and with a relatively new team in place we thought that we would introduce ourselves to you. In celebration of being named Best Museum we will be profiling each of our staff members over the next few weeks. This week we meet Lara Hetzel.

Lara joined the Bermuda National Gallery as Volunteer and Operations Officer in February 2021, having first worked with the team as a Camp Counsellor on the Art+Tech programme the previous summer. A former Watch Leader for the Bermuda Sloop Foundation, she manages the gallery’s volunteer programme and supports the daily operations of the gallery

Volunteers play a key role at BNG and Lara manages 40 active volunteers who work across various sectors of the gallery – from welcoming visitors at the front desk, to assisting with exhibitions and events, to sitting on committees and advising at board level. 

Her role is hands on and wide ranging, particularly when it comes to exhibition changeovers. The logistics of installing an exhibition are myriad: from liaising with artists and lenders, to directing the contractors prepping the space and engaging the volunteers who help both behind the scenes and front of house. At the centre of it all is Lara. You might find her at the top of our 10 foot ladder hours before a show opens, working on the lighting, before running the guest list at the front door moments later as people start to arrive.

With a background in content creation and a degree in Anthropology and Film Studies from Wesleyan, Lara also produces the 360-degree immersive tours that accompany our online exhibitions and photographs many of our visitors and special guests for BNG’s website and social channels.

We caught up with Lara to discuss the vital role that volunteers play at BNG, the daily needs of running a gallery space and how seeing the exhibitions through visitors’ eyes always keeps them fresh.

Top: Lara photographed by Meredith Andrews. Above: The BNG team, from left to right Jennifer Phillips, Office Administrator; Eve Godet Thomas, Director of Programming and Engagement; Peter Lapsley, Executive Director; Rehana Packwood, Education Officer; Lara Hetzel, Volunteer and Operations Officer.

BNG: What does a typical day at the gallery look like for you?

LH: Every morning, I check our volunteer calendar to confirm who we have lined up for the day’s front desk shifts; Bermuda National Gallery has a roster of around 20 fantastic regular volunteers that welcome our visitors, perform reception duties, and serve as the public face of the gallery during opening hours. The day is split into two shifts, with volunteers assisting with a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly slot. At the start of the day, I’ll do a walkthrough of the gallery and turn on any audio-visual works before updating the morning’s volunteer on any gallery events, upcoming exhibitions, or anticipated tours for the day.

From that point on, my typical day can vary widely based on the exhibition calendar. When a new show is going up, much of my time is spent downstairs in the gallery: deinstalling and packing up any loaned works, patching and painting the walls, organizing any trucking needed for the transport of artwork or plinths, and working closely with Executive Director Peter Lapsley to execute the curatorial team’s vision on layout and install. Volunteers also play a vital role in this process; having a broad pool of volunteers with diverse skills and interests means that while one person may not be available for a regular front desk shift, they’re keen to get their hands dirty and hop in on the install front.

Once the shows are up, I can be found photographing them for our virtual walkthrough with a specialized 360-degree camera, planning the upcoming volunteer calendars and liaising with new volunteers, tackling daily facilities needs – from changing light bulbs to communicating with HVAC technicians, supporting other staff members on research projects and website admin, or working to optimize BNG’s always overflowing storage spaces, among other tasks.

Lara uses a 360-degree camera to film a virtual walkthrough of the Bermuda Biennial.

BNG: What part of your job do you enjoy the most and why?

LH: On the public-facing side, I always appreciate spending time with our volunteers and gallery visitors. Having others enjoy and respond to BNG’s exhibitions is the ultimate reward for the time spent in the lead-up. Everyone’s background and approach to art is so different, that even after a show has been up for months, these conversations always illuminate something new for me.

Behind the scenes, it’s been a joy to discover BNG’s permanent collection and familiarize myself with 30 years of the gallery’s exhibition and institutional history. There’s a treasure hunt element to research that can’t be beat, and the thrill of getting a peek behind the curtain never wears off. This year, processing the incoming Biennial applications was also a highlight; to get this condensed snapshot of what some of Bermuda’s most exciting artists and poets are currently working on was invigorating and inspiring!

Lara Hetzel works on the lighting for A Personal Perspective: Photographs by Richard Saunders, together with BNG intern Yasmin Eve Townsend.

BNG: What would people be most surprised to know about your role?

LH: People are often surprised to learn that although I have “volunteer” in my title, I am a full-time paid staff member! That being said, BNG’s volunteers play an essential role in the gallery’s operations, from the front desk all the way up to our Collections and Exhibitions committees. If you have an enthusiasm for the arts, and the drive to expand on your own skills and interests while making a difference, please reach out to me at operations@bng.bm!

BNG: What is something that most people don’t know about BNG?

LH: I’m not sure that locals always realize the rate of exhibition changeover: that due to staggered openings in the five exhibition spaces, in a single year they can visit BNG multiple times and always see something new. This is why I encourage everyone to follow us on social media and subscribe to the e-newsletter, you don’t want to hear from a friend about a great show that you’ve only just missed out on!

A more general tidbit of BNG trivia is that there was once a movie theatre in our current City Hall home. The room in the staff office that currently houses our printer and filing cabinets was formerly a projection booth, and still has the heavy door and metal shutters that you often saw installed for fire safety in the era of flammable nitrate film stock.

Helmut Sculpture #2 by James Cooper, 2009. Photograph. Collection of Bermuda National Gallery.

BNG: What is your favourite piece in the BNG collection and why?

LH: James Cooper’s Helmut Sculpture #2 (2009) is the first piece that comes to mind. I had the work as my desktop screensaver for several years after seeing it at the 2010 Bermuda Biennial, long before I had any thought that I would eventually work at BNG! I admire Cooper’s ability to draw the strange out of the everyday, to take play and experimentation seriously. This piece always makes me want to make art.

Another standout piece for me is Chesley Trott’s Untitled (1997) spice wood sculpture, bequeathed to BNG by the late Nea Willits in 2021. Having previously been exposed to Trott’s powerful large-scale public artworks in bronze (We Arrive at Barr’s Bay Park, and When Voices Rise in Wesley Square), it was exciting to spend time with the Bermudian sculptor’s work on a more intimate scale. When I was photographing this piece during accessioning, it seemed to continually reveal itself, almost unrecognizable from each new angle.

Untitled by Chesley Trott, 1997. Spicewood. Collection of Bermuda National Gallery. Gift of Nea Willits.