2022 Bermuda Biennial

Re-Examining History

Dr Kristy Warren and Ami Zanders

Art allows us to tell our stories. Never was this more evident than in Embers, the first collaboration between academic Dr Kristy Warren and artist Ami Zanders

The short film, which was produced for the 2022 Bermuda Biennial, layers animation, archival research, legend, symbolism, and poetry to explore the life of Sally Bassett. This unique approach produces a nonlinear narrative, immersing the viewer in Bassett’s story as “a sense of the real and the imagined, past and present” fuse together.

As the Biennial comes to a close, we caught up with the pair to discuss why re-examining history means thinking creatively, how objects hold our memories, and why, when it comes to understanding the past, traditional historical sources alone are not enough.

BNG: Ami, last time we caught up (in August 2020) you had just begun experimenting with animation, having discovered the Stop Motion Animation app on your phone while confined away from your art studio during the first Covid-19 lockdown in England. This ultimately led to you changing the direction of your final MA Fine Art project at Liverpool John Moore University. How has your interest in animation developed since then?

AZ: I want to do more of it but I need more time as it’s a long process. This year, life and work have changed, giving me more freedom. I want to get back into it, but I also need to think about technology. I’m working with a phone on its last leg. My poor little phone can only handle about 15 seconds when I need about three hours’ worth of work. So that’s a bit of a problem, but it’s not stopping my love for it, or wanting to make more and working on ideas that are going to happen in the future.

BNG: How did your collaboration on Embers come about?

KW: Ami decided I should be an artist.

AZ: There was more to it than that. It was during the first year of Covid-19 – shortly after George Floyd’s murder and the resurgence of Black Lives Matter. A social media post about the Tucker sisters led to us discussing the Sally Bassett bell. My sister Karla (Ingemann, the Appraisal Archivist at the Bermuda Archives) and I had one, but we thought it was from the American South. In talking with you we learnt that the bell was Bermudian, not from the south. Also, you have good ideas about releasing bad energy from artefacts that we’d been talking about since before Covid-19 started. 

KW: Yes, I see these objects as holding our memories. It is memories that a lot of us have ‘forgotten.’ What frustrates me is that much of this so-called forgetting is the result of purposeful erasure.

AZ: That’s what I thought was interesting. But, also, I think you’re an artist anyway. And you’re doing cool things.

Left: Dr Kristy Warren. Photograph by Alia Hamza. Right: Ami Zanders.

BNG: Kristy, this is your first exhibition. As a lecturer in Black History at the University of Lincoln, you have previously approached similar subjects from an academic perspective. However, this project re-examines history through an experimental lens, using a collage of archival documents, legend and symbolism. In what ways can an artistic approach such as this help us to tell our stories?

KW: I have only been employed as a lecturer for one year. When we began working on Embers, I was a post-doctoral researcher. I’ve worked across a few different universities and projects on short-term contracts. Through these various research projects, along with other work and education experiences, I learnt that traditional historical sources alone are not enough.

For one thing, it’s difficult to find the voices of the enslaved in archival sources. So, it’s necessary to use a range of sources that are stored in different archives and libraries, which were written and assembled by people who didn’t value us, to find fragments of our voices and experiences. We also need to pay attention to the narratives that have been passed down orally.

What I found so powerful about Sally’s traces in the archives is that she doesn’t speak much. Why would she speak to them? She’s already been to court before; they’d already decided to punish her. The stories that were passed down in Bermuda suggest that Sally Bassett saved her voice for other enslaved people. When she left the courtroom she spoke to them; I’d suggest this is because that’s who mattered to her.

AZ: You were talking before about the role of sailors in helping Sally. This means what happened her would have been passed on to the other islands through those same networks.

KW: Yes, they’re all connected. Bermudians would have learned of events on other islands. So, it makes sense that people on other islands would have known what happened in Bermuda. Because if these sailors are, as Dr Clarence Maxwell says, bringing back these goods, they’re also bringing back knowledge and ideas. And they’re taking knowledge and ideas when they go.

A memorial to Sally Bassett by local artist Carlos Dowling was commissioned by the government of Bermuda and unveiled in the grounds of the Cabinet office in 2009.

BNG: You worked with Karla Ingemann, the Appraisal Archivist at the Bermuda Archives on the project, along with research by historians Dr Clarence Maxwell and Dr Quito Sawn. Why was it important to you to include original archival documents in the projects alongside hand-drawn elements?

AZ: For me, it was about the layers of the piece to ensure that it was not a linear narrative. So, I layered the legend using the Bermudiana flower with the formal histories by using the archival documents. In this way, you have a sense of the real and imagined, past and present all coming together. This combines to create the post-cinematic effect where you’re taking the foreground, the background and everything in between and mashing it together.

Using historical documents in the video gives the viewer an idea of what they look like. This provides a historical element to the piece. The script is very ornate so it also acts as a decorative part of the piece.

KW: As much as I hate what they obscure, I like looking at archival documents. I love that there is a place where documents are held, that I can draw them out of that place and put them in a space for so many more people to see them.

AZ: As for mentioning Karla, Clarence and Quito, it was really important for us to acknowledge those who have been part of uncovering this story for and with us as a key element of the work is transparency. This is not to say they’re the only ones exploring this story, as Sally has long been part of Bermuda’s narrative.

BNG: Sally Bassett’s public execution is the most well-known part of her story. However, the film also focuses attention on her trial almost 20 years earlier, in which she and another enslaved Bermudian known as Indian Tom were accused of damage to property and livestock. For this, Sally Basset was sentenced to be ‘whipped the length of Southampton Parish’. The telling of these events is overlaid with images referencing the Little Green Door Tea Garden and Shop, run by the Tucker Sisters from 1909-1958 (during which time Bermuda was segregated), where they sold a brass dinner bell in the likeness of Sally Bassett. In what ways does the use of a non-linear narrative such as this help us to re-examine history in a way than a purely academic approach perhaps cannot?

KW: We drew on academic work to help us. However, I think creating something like Embers allows for a form of engagement not often available in academic work.  For me, this includes using poetry, which isn’t common in historical research; it lets me use my imagination. I also love how the format of the video allows viewers to tie the pieces together themselves.

AZ: From an artistic point, the Tucker sisters are so celebrated as wonderful artists, but it’s interesting to look at what they valued or who they were. They weren’t for women’s liberation, even though they owned their own business. They weren’t for racial equality either, as we see through the Sally Bassett bell, which kept Sally Bassett in servitude.

So, we combined what we can learn about the Tucker sisters’ association with the bell with what we know about the story of Sally. We don’t know the full extent of what happened to her. We just know what is in the court documents. We also know about the bell. So, the point of Embers is the layers of Sally’s life – past, present and future.

KW: That’s a really important point because re-examining history means thinking creatively! So, it’s really what you just said to me. Yes, we have these court records, but that’s not Sally’s life. That’s not who she was.

A Bassett bell produced by the Tucker sisters and sold at the Little Green Door Tea Garden and Shop.

BNG: In what ways does art help us to tell our stories?

KW: I think that creative visuals help us to remember the stories.

AZ: There are a number of examples of this in Gombey culture. Take the capes that Gombeys wear; they have Bible stories on them. Some of their movements also reference Bible stories, from what I’ve read. So, we’re constantly telling stories through the work.

BNG: You mention in your artist statement that this film is the first in a series. Can you please tell us more?

KW and AZ: Hold this space. We have many ideas but can’t give too much away. We’ll be sure to stay in touch.

2022 Bermuda Biennial

Through the Lens

Teresa Kirby Smith

Fine art photographer Teresa Kirby Smith settled in Bermuda over 10 years ago. Her photography practice is split into two distinct approaches: the Night Photographs – shot in black and white on medium format film, often using the moon as the only light source – and the Colour Photographs – which, by contrast, are shot on a digital camera using the bright afternoon sunlight refracted through man made materials, such as acrylic film, to create abstractions.

Teresa credits her island home with shaping this dual practice – the lack of light pollution enhancing her medium format night photography and Bermuda’s unique quality of light leading her digital abstractions. “The very clear and vibrant afternoon light, saturated with color, almost feels like a gift.” she says. “I couldn’t make these digital images in a place like London.”

This year marks Teresa’s fifth inclusion in the Bermuda Biennial with Double Exposure, a triptych which captures the same subject through three different photographic mediums: a cyanotype, a gelatin silver print and a digital colour print; encapsulating the history of photography in a single work.

We caught up with Teresa to discuss the ways in which living in Bermuda has affected her artistic practice, the ease of digital photography and why, in the age of the iPhone, nothing can match the exploratory process of developing film in a darkroom.

Color Cut by Teresa Kirby Smith, 2020. Archival inkjet print. Collection of the artist. Exhibited at BNG in Illusion & Abstraction: Capturing the Landscape (March – November 2021).

BNG:  Your current photography practice is split between two distinct series:  Night Photographs – black and white photographs taken at night with a medium format camera – and Digital Color Photographs, which are shot during the day and abstract in nature.  How long have you been developing each series?

TKS:  I’ve been taking photographs at night for more than 40 years. This first started during photography school when my days were busy, but my evenings were usually freer and less structured. I used several different medium format cameras, my favorite being a borrowed Rolleiflex. The subject matter varied – urban and rural landscapes, public parks, portraits, trees, clouds and stars.  The one constant throughout, however, was that every image was shot at night.

My interest in digital photography came about much later, maybe ten or twelve years ago.  Normally I try to spend part of each day in my studio, but if I don’t get outside to stretch and be in the fresh air, I feel lethargic and start to shut down. Anyway, I enjoy long walks and going down to the water.  Like most people today, I have a smartphone, and it tends to go wherever I go. During these afternoon walks I would often think about my night work and make mental notes, but at some point it occurred to me to use the camera on my phone as a way to keep visual reminders of anything that caught my interest – a particular tree or rock, a bend in the road – that I thought might make a good shot at night. Soon I discovered, though, the ease of taking a digital photo, and the immediate feedback from seeing it, which became interesting in its own right. I was working with bright sunlight, with color, these were my new daytime subjects, and I quickly found the process pretty seductive and hard to resist.

BNG:  Could you please talk us through the processes involved in making your Night Photographs and your Colour Photographs?

TKS:  My black and white night images make use of available moonlight. Nights when the moon is full or nearly full can be very productive. But, of course, there are plenty of evenings when the sky is dark or clouded over, which is when I’ll use artificial light. I carry in my pack a couple of flashlights of varying intensity. There’s also ambient light – from streetlights or from the headlights of a passing car or from, say, the illuminated front porch of a house that’s fifty yards from where I’m standing with my camera. And then there’s one more way I’ve learned to wring light from the night, and that’s with time exposures. When taking a shot, I’ll often leave the shutter of my camera open from several seconds to several minutes. If I’m hand-holding the camera, as opposed to using a tripod, intentional movement is also introduced because I’m breathing in and out as I hold the shutter open. This slight movement lends a dark rounded softness to the image which at times can be inviting, at other times almost sinister.

My digital color photos are primarily abstract. I prefer shooting these in the mid or late afternoon when the sunlight is more sharply angled. I’ll use different props and tools – colored paper and acetate, transparent acrylic film, bits of glass, optical devices. When sunlight is reflected and/or refracted off of these materials, new and unexpected shapes emerge, sometimes only fleetingly, which is why the speed of a digital camera, and the ease of using it, is so convenient.

Cooper’s Island, Doppler Dome Beneath the Perigee Full Moon by Teresa Kirby Smith, 2015. Archival inkjet print from film negative. Collection of Bermuda National Gallery.

BNG:  What is it about each method that keeps you experimenting and exploring?

TKS: With the black and white night photos, after I return home from having shot one or perhaps two rolls of film, I know there’s still a lot of work ahead of me in the coming days before I produce any finished images, and most of this work will take place in the darkroom.  The film will be developed – 12 frames per roll – and while it’s still wet and hanging to dry, I’ll examine each frame, sometimes with my naked eye but more often with a magnifier. If two frames out of the original twelve survive this examination period, I’ll start to perk up and be eager to get printing. Two out of twelve is a pretty good strike rate.

There are many ways to shape what the finished image will look like during the printing process. Prints can be darkened, made lighter, cropped, re-sized, turned sideways, blemishes removed. The process that takes place in the darkroom is almost by definition one of experimentation and exploring.

With my digital color photos, most of the shaping of an image, the experimentation, takes place as I manipulate the various props and tools at my disposal before I click the camera. I can take 20 or 30 shots in the space of a few minutes, hurrying to catch the light and the color before it changes. Shooting digital sometimes feels like the equivalent of hyperventilating. Your heart begins to race, your pulse quickens.

BNG:  You have been living in Bermuda over 10 years, after time in New York and London, and a childhood growing up in South America. In what ways has living in Bermuda, in particular, affected your artistic practice?

TKS:  It seems as if I’m always outside here in Bermuda.  That wasn’t as true in other places I’ve lived, especially New York and London. Bermuda may be small, but the horizon line is off in the far distance, out where the ocean meets the sky. I just love that. As a night photographer, I appreciate that there is less light pollution in the evening and early morning hours than in most other places. Less light pollution and less ambient light in general broadens my palette. I’m also drawn to water and to shorelines, so living here gives me plenty of material to work with.

As for my digital color photos, the very clear and vibrant afternoon light, saturated with color, almost feels like a gift. I couldn’t make these digital images in a place like London.

Teresa Kirby Smith.

BNG:  You are exhibiting in the Bermuda Biennial for the fifth time this year (’22, ’18, ’16, ’14, ’12). Your 2022 Biennial artwork, Double Exposure, is a triptych captured through 3 different photographic processes: a cyanotype, a gelatin silver print, and a digital color print.  Why did you decide to approach it in this way?

TKS: Uppermost in my mind when I began this project was the theme of the 2022 Bermuda Biennial, A New Vocabulary:  Past, Present, Future. The 3 photographic processes I chose represent 3 different periods in the relatively short history of photography as an artistic medium, so it seemed logical to me to create a triptych in order to address the Biennial’s theme.

The first image is a cyanotype, made by using a chemical printing process first developed in the mid-19th century. The middle image is a gelatin silver print from a film negative, which was the dominant photographic process of the 20th century. And the third image, representing the foreseeable future of photography, is a digital color print.

The subject of Double Exposure is repeated in each of the triptych’s three images: a Bermuda cedar growing from volcanic rock as seen from the vantage point of past, present, and future.  But here’s where it gets a bit tricky. Each of the three images I shot of the cedar tree is in fact a double exposure. I remembered it was Edweard Muybridge, the 19th century American photographer and pioneer of motion studies, who first demonstrated that repeating still images can suggest movement through time. I liked slipping that idea into the triptych.

BNG: In the age of the iPhone, digital photography has become ubiquitous.  What does film – and the varying formats of film – produce that digital can’t?

TKS: Digital photos are produced in an instant. Aim, click, on to the next, and then the next. All other photographic images, whether daguerreotypes or cyanotypes or prints made from developed film, are the culmination of sequenced steps. The steps vary from one format to another, but a sequence must be followed in order to produce a finished image. These steps take time, that’s one, and two, decisions must be made each step of the way that will affect, for better or worse, the final outcome. There’s no app to make these decisions for you. You are the app and you create the image. Regardless of format, producing a non-digital image is a tactile, hands-on process. It’s also a lot of fun.

Click here for more information about Teresa Kirby Smith or follow her on Instagram here.

2022 Bermuda Biennial

MOKO Magazine

Special Bermuda Biennial 2022 Dispatch

Issue 2022 of MOKO: New Vocabularies features a Special Bermuda Biennial 2022 Dispatch. The digital magazine, dedicated to Caribbean arts and letters, was co-founded by Richard Georges, the poetry juror for this year’s Biennial. The special dispatch presents a selection of art and poetry featured in the exhibition.  

Of the Biennial, Andre Bagoo, MOKO’s Managing Editor, writes: “To help the gallery celebrate its 30th anniversary, poets were invited, just like the biennial artists, to respond to the set theme. This gesture towards ekphrasis has had interesting results. At the onset, it places poets alongside painters, sculptors and video artists in a manner that does not suggest any kind of hierarchical relationship. Poems are ‘displayed’ within the gallery space, perusable as you take in the art. If confluences and relationships emerge, it is because each individual is somehow capturing the zeitgeist.

But every piece from the biennial (whose jurors were Claire Gilman, Alexandria Smith, and Richard Georges), selected here for publication in Moko has been chosen also because it in some way troubles the categories of genre we so often take for granted. These pieces exemplify how these categories are more – to borrow Jacques Derrida’s notion from his famous essay The Law of Genre – contaminated than we would like to admit. To wit, Charlie Godet Thomas’ Downpour Dream Song, which he describes as an “Illuminated Manuscript”, pairs writing and imagery on newsprint. Cynthia Kirkwood’s delicate paintings recall asemic writing. James Cooper’s sculptures read like cheeky visual poems. Jessica Lightbourne’s poem brood, meanwhile, reminds us that a poem is first and foremost a visual thing, while Catherine Hay’s A Reference underlines poetry’s chameleon quality: it can shapeshift, it can be costumed in the form of an essay, letter or, in this case, ostensible character reference.”

Click here to read the magazine.

2022 Bermuda Biennial

The Birdcage

By Jacqueline Alma

Standing on the lawn outside the City Hall & Arts Centre is The Birdcage, a 2022 Bermuda Biennial artwork by Jacqueline Alma. The three birdcages were created as a way to encourage people to express their own version of Past, Present and Future in response to the theme of this year’s exhibition. People can choose where to stand within the frames and be alone or in a group. The hope is that people will be creative and that the photos will tell unique stories.

There is a stand to hold phones to create selfies, but Jacqueline is also looking for a few participants to be photographed by Amanda Temple on Nov 26th. If you are interested, please email your idea to Jacqueline at

You can also follow on Instagram @birdcagepastpresentfuture and share your own photos using #birdcageppf and tag @bermuda_nationalgallery

Jacqueline Alma was born in South Africa and worked as a designer in London before moving to Bermuda in 2008. She has held two solo exhibitions on the island, The Red Thread at Masterworks in 2013 and Like a Tree Let the Dead Leaves Drop at Bermuda National Gallery in 2019. Her artwork looks both outwards, at Bermuda’s history and culture, and inwards, at her own experiences.

Amanda Temple has been a photographer for 30 years. Although she is primarily known for her portrait and wedding photography, she has also exhibited her photographs and paintings in many group and solo shows. In 2017, Amanda published Tapestry of Tales featuring a collection of 75 portraits and stories of people in their homes.

Top: BNG summer camp students pose in The Birdcage. Photograph by Brandon Morrison. Above: Self-portrait by Amanda Temple, 2022. 
2022 Bermuda Biennial

Biennial Film

Interview with the 2022 Bermuda Biennial Jurors

Together with Method Media, we have produced a film to accompany the 2022 Bermuda Biennial, in which the jurors discuss their approach to curating the exhibition. The theme of this year’s Biennial, A New Vocabulary: Past. Present. Future., asked artists to reflect on the past two years and to imagine what the future might hold.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Bermuda National Gallery and, for the first time, submissions were open to poets as well as visual artists as a way of celebrating Bermuda’s rich poetic tradition and the written word’s intersection with visual form. Over 100 submissions were received, and 32 visual artists were chosen to participate, alongside 11 poets.

2022 Biennial Jurors:
Claire Gilman, Chief Curator, The Drawing Centre, New York
Alexandria Smith, Head of Painting, Royal College of Art, London
Richard Georges, Poet Laureate, British Virgin Islands

Click the image below to watch the video.  

The Bermuda Biennial is sponsored by Bacardi Limited and is on display through to January 7.

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 songwriting 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 full time. 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 its 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 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.

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.

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.

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.

2022 Bermuda Biennial

Public Art Installation

By Jacqueline Alma

Situated on the East Lawn of City Hall & Arts Centre, The Birdcage by Jacqueline Alma provides the first stop in the 2022 Bermuda BiennialA New Vocabulary: Past. Present. Future. 

The installation references the Birdcage, a Bermuda landmark situated at the corner of Front Street and Queen Street in Hamilton. The structure takes it name from Geoffrey ‘Dickie’ Bird, the city’s first engineer, who designed the structure in 1962 to shade policemen who would often be stationed there to direct traffic.

She says: “I’d like people to come and express their version of Past, Present and Future via a photograph of them standing in the birdcages. People can choose how to express it by the way that they stand within the frames. Perhaps it could it be an elderly member of their family for the past, themselves for the present and their child for the future? Or will they stand holding messages in each frame expressing their emotions around the history of Bermuda, their present feelings of today and their hopes or fears around the future? How imaginative will they be?”

There is a custom-built phone stand so that you can take a photograph in The Birdcage. Please tag us on Instagram at @bermuda_nationalgallery #bermudabiennial. We’d love to see your pictures!

Students from the Art+Tech Summer Camp Programme in the 2022 Bermuda Biennial artwork The Birdcage by Jacqueline Alma. Photographs by Brandon Morrison.