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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.

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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 j.alma.art@gmail.com

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. 
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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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. 
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2022 Bermuda Biennial

Storytelling Through Art

Liana Nanang

Liana Nanang is a multidisciplinary storyteller with Black-Bermudian, Iban-Malaysian and British parentage. Exhibiting in both the art and poetry components of the 2022 Bermuda Biennial, she describes her creative work as “an exploration of my identity and experience as a neuro-divergent, Black, Indigenous, Woman of Colour in a world – and on an island – that would demand my assimilation and my silence.” Of her Biennial works, which include a watercolour and three poems, she says “each of my submissions claims part of that story.”

Daughter of the late lawyer Julian Hall, in 2021 Liana changed her surname by deed poll to relinquish her father’s surname derived from slavery. Embracing all African and Indigenous parts of her, she took on her mother’s Iban surname. She later wrote about how she visited Gherdai Hassell’s first solo exhibition I Am Because You Are, held at BNG, to commemorate this significant life event.

Taking part in a 2021 Bermuda Heartbeats panel discussion A Visible Minority: Asian Diasporas in Bermuda, hosted by the Department of Culture, she said: “Living in a majority-Black country (52%), presenting as Black, identifying as Black AND Asian, Black AND multi-racial, Black AND Indigenous, Black AND… means I rarely have the opportunity to talk about the ANDs.” Through her artwork she explores her identity in its wholeness, claiming all parts that make her who she is. 

A former columnist and the author of The Year of Celebration: A Manic Depressive’s Guide to Celebrating Life… One Day at a Time (a blog which ran from 2011 to 2018), words have always offered Liana a means of self-expression. An introduction to art therapy in 2018 gave her the opportunity to explore sculpture and reignited a passion for the visual arts. She has since exhibited her artwork at Masterworks, in the 2019 and 2021 Charman Prizes, most recently winning the Use of Materials Category, and at the Bermuda Society Arts in Exhibition on Emancipation (August 2020).

Liana is the founder of Unstoried, a production company which develops books and films which “educate, entertain and empower people of the Global Majority.” She is currently writing her first book, Menoa: Ancestral Healings for Trauma, Addiction and Fractured Minds which will be published in September 2024.

As the 2022 Bermuda Biennial opens, we caught up with Liana to discuss how poetry has always been a healing modality for her, how working with her hands helps her to heal trauma and self-regulate and how great art is both universal and personal.

Liana Nanang photographed by Elaine Livingstone.

BNG: This is the first time that you have exhibited in the Bermuda Biennial. It is also the first time that the Biennial has included poetry alongside visual art, and you are exhibiting both. What does it mean to you to be included in the exhibition?

LN: It’s felt like a significant validation of my decision to move into writing and the arts full-time. I took the leap in January and the Biennial deadline was at the end of that month, so it was the first proof point for me. After completing the application form, self-doubt crept in and I nearly didn’t submit my painting, The Child Returned, or two of the three poems, but my partner encouraged me. To have all four of my submissions accepted was a complete shock, and a total delight.

I have no formal visual art or writing training – I studied law then the performing arts – and the calibre of the Biennial jurors was both inspiring and intimidating. Beyond their credentials, I respect their work. Alexandria Smith’s Ibeji I series is a stunning representation of the Orisha and Dr Richard Georges’ poetry gives haunting voice to the particularities of life on an island akin to Bermuda, while Claire Gilman is curating wonderful work in New York. I was feeling detached from the larger world in my home studio on a small island in the middle of a pandemic, so being selected provided a contextualising of my work both within Bermuda and beyond.

BNG: As a former columnist, and author of The Year of Celebration: A Manic Depressive’s Guide to Celebrating Life… One Day at a Time, words have always been a means of self-expression for you. Is poetry something that you have always turned to?

LN: Poetry has only recently become an intentional area of study and development for me, prompted by the Biennial. I took the Department of Culture’s pre-Biennial workshops with Yesha Townsend and I’m now participating in Dr Richard Georges’ workshops through the summer. I hope to elevate my poetry both to complement my visual and performing art and to build a stand-alone body of work.

Prior to this year, I hadn’t truly considered myself a poet, but I recently found my 13-year-old self’s journal and discovered that, even then, I had been using poetry to process what I now know was severe mental illness. It has always been a healing modality for me.

When I was 18, Chewstick at Champions was the place I could safely share my poetry. The things we lost in the Chewstick fire in 2016 go beyond the material – it was a catastrophic loss for our creative community. However, the spirit of Chewstick persists through so many artists, writers, and musicians today. I wouldn’t be the poet I am today without it and its impact will reverberate through generations to come.

Liana Nanang’s 2022 Bermuda Biennial artwork The Child Returned can be seen to the right. Photograph by Brandon Morrison.

BNG: You are currently writing your first book, Menoa: Ancestral Healing for Trauma, Addiction and Fractured Minds, which will be published in September 2024. You are also working on a memoir. How does your approach to poetry and long form writing differ?

LN: My writing process always starts the same way, with three morning pages of longform freewriting The Artist’s Way-style. They clear away the deafening inner critic and make room for my true voice. My book editor, Kristen McGuinness, calls them magic pages because they work at any time of day.

With long form, I hurl words onto the page and edit later. The Bermuda Arts Council funded my attendance at The Rock Retreat in Gibraltar in May and facilitator Sarah Odedina (who oversaw the publication of the Harry Potter series) emphasised the importance of not editing as we write. She introduced me to setting timers, which has proven to be an invaluable addition to my process.

With poetry, I take time to pause. I focus on my breath and listen to what needs to be birthed. Sometimes, poems arise within my morning pages, as was the case with my Biennial poem yellow. a week before the deadline. Other times, I’ll write a long form essay, and then realise it would be more effective as a poem.

Without intention, poetry can creep into my writing. When a friend complimented my “poem” describing my sculpture in the Charman Prize catalogue, I was surprised to discover I’d written one!

2022 Bermuda Biennial poem proud. by Liana Nanang.

BNG: In a 2019 Pecha Kucha talk, you described how you first started working with your hands after being introduced to art therapy as a patient in a residential trauma treatment centre in Santa Fe in 2018. In the talk you described how trauma lives in the body and how working with your hands has helped you to process it. Could you please tell us more about this?

LN: I’d always turned to drawing and painting when life felt overwhelming, but I’d only sculpted once for GCSE art, so I wasn’t aware of how profoundly it could support my healing. I fell in love with the form in treatment, so I joined a clay studio for two months in Santa Fe, where I began to develop my craft.

I experienced the benefits of sculpting with clay before I understood the mechanics. I had previously been treated with EMDR (eye movement desensitisation reprocessing), which is a therapy that uses bilateral stimulation. During a traumatic experience our processing systems are derailed, so memories are not processed properly. They are fragmented and short-term and long-term memories become confused – hence flashbacks and other life-disrupting symptoms. Bilateral stimulation – i.e. right, left, right, left – links the right and left hemispheres of the brain, connecting thinking to feeling. It helps trauma survivors regulate our bodies and minds, reconnecting explicit memory with implicit memory and grounding us.

In sculpting, I alternate using both hands in a rhythmic and mindful way. I was self-regulating without realising!

Before the pandemic, I hated wedging clay. I was learning under the brilliant Bermudian potter, Johnny Northcott, who would kindly do it for me. When the pandemic hit, I saw it as an unwelcome preparatory step that fuelled my procrastination. Out of necessity, I discovered that pounding and wedging the clay allowed me to release my anger and sadness. In preparing the clay, I was preparing myself. In softening the clay, I was being softened.

2022 Bermuda Biennial artwork The Child Returned by Liana Nanang. Watercolour on paper.

BNG: In what ways does your approach to painting and sculpture differ to your approach to poetry?

LN: They both mostly come from visions I experience in meditation, but sculpture more so. I tend to sit quietly and touch the clay and see what emerges, whereas my paintings are more planned.  However, my Biennial watercolour The Child Returned came very quickly and clearly and was sketched and completed in one evening sitting.

Even though I’ve been painting longer, I feel I’m still finding my way with that form and there’s more self-judgement. I describe my sculpting method as FAFO (F*** around, Find Out) and it helps me maintain a beginner’s mind where the magic can really happen. Self-judgement slips away, and space is made for the unknown.

When I’m doing abstract painting the same format applies and, while I haven’t tried bilateral drawing yet, I’d be interested to see what would emerge.

BNG: Are the two disciplines very separate for you or do they overlap in any way?

LN: They overlap only at the start. When I have a vision, I sit with it to decide which medium would be best suited to depict what I saw, felt and heard. I’ve been taking a Crit.art course with Turner Prize nominee Dexter Dalwood and he’s pushing us to consider the effectiveness of our chosen mediums. It’s easy to stay stuck in what I feel is working, but I feel more fulfilled when I take risks.

After that, everything is different. With painting, I feel less attached. It’s easy to leave and return to it later, sometimes years later. With sculpting, there’s an urgency – not just due to the timing of drying, glazing and baking – but an urgency within my body. Everything else becomes secondary. The sculpture is the only thing in focus.

They also heal me differently. With painting, the healing is in the completion; with sculpture, the healing comes in the process. When I’m sculpting, my creation is an extension of me, an elongating of a limb; and, after completion, the extension is severed, and my limbs are mine again. I have more distance from my sculptures after completion, as though they were created by someone else in the past, whereas my paintings feel like my present.

Liana Nanang and Ajala Omodele at the opening of the Biennial.

BNG: You describe your Biennial works as “an exploration of my identity and experience as a neuro-divergent, Black, Indigenous, Woman of Colour in a world – and on an island – that would demand my assimilation and my silence.” Could you please expand on this?

LN: I am the child of Julian Hall. I was raised by a giant of a man with an unwavering commitment to dismantling Bermuda’s systems of oppression. My life was spent experiencing attempts to silence and economically assassinate him. He was banished, bankrupted, bloodied, but unbowed. He, like me, wrangled with the demons of personal and transgenerational trauma at a time when mental illness was not accepted. At BHS, white girls would push against me and say, “You’re my PLP – my personal leaning post” and repeat the violent words against my father their parents and grandparents had said the night before. It was a different time and the PLP were a different party. With the interplay of incessant racist attack and years of childhood sexual abuse by a family friend, there’s no wonder that teenage me was writing poetry about death.

My partner Ajala Omodele’s father also spoke up in the 1960s and 70s and experienced the sanctions that went with that, essentially becoming an economic refugee from Bermuda. We were both 24 when our fathers died prematurely, and we know first-hand the consequences of speaking truth to power. It’s the backdrop of The Child Returned, my partner holding his teenage son in a way he never was held. His poetry is also in the Biennial, taking us to the crossing – the originator of all of this pain.

It is terrifying to have lived through this, and still be determined to create art and writing that confronts reality. At home, we often discuss how we’ll survive when we bring to the light things that others don’t want seen. Our answer is, “We must do it in community.” Artists like Carlos Dowling and April Branco, who were doing the work before Black Lives Matter sprung into international white consciousness, were ostracised for the work they create that is so desperately needed to empower and educate us. For all the ills that social media creates, it has given a platform for the oppressed to organise and galvanise, but damage has been done. 

Bermuda society is the epitome of W.E. Du Bois’ concept of double consciousness. In our list of National Heroes, we honour both a committed segregationist and a committed abolitionist who wrote for her and our freedom over a century before. With a bankrupt father who was refused a legal practicing certificate due to legislation designed specifically to target him, I was only able to afford university through the Sir Henry Tucker Scholarship. Sitting in that committee room praising him was like singing for my supper. It’s demoralising and damaging to the Black psyche.

When the Bermuda Sun published my op-ed in 2013, where I discussed my suicide attempt eight years prior, we weren’t discussing mental illness openly in our society or across the world. I was scared, but I had an internal push to tell my story to dismantle the stigma that drives so many of us to choose death. I did it again on BBC Breakfast in the UK and BBC World News and the posts received both supportive comments and racist ones. Countless people – strangers and friends – have contacted me, sometimes years later, to tell me that the article or the TV programme saved their life, or made them feel less alone, or drove them to seek help. 

I was frightened to write it because people want to pay lip service to mental illness and antiracism initiatives, while continuing to discriminate against the mentally ill and people of colour. Change is not easy; it is a hard graft. To truly look at the structure of your organisation or our country is to realise that we have an intersectional caste system of discrimination. And beyond the photo ops or the one-off diversity workshop, what are your truly willing to do? The sad answer is often not much. People like me will be first embraced and championed, then reluctantly tolerated, and then dismissed and crushed. The resistance is in persisting and continuing to create when the fear arises. That’s also why I had to move into the arts full-time; I felt like I was choking on the work I couldn’t put into the world because of the threat of economic sanctions in the world’s most expensive country. I may now be a struggling artist, but I’m a free one.

Liana Nanang at the opening of the 2022 Bermuda Biennial.

BNG: In 2021, you changed your surname by deed poll to relinquish your father’s surname derived from slavery, choosing to embrace your maternal Iban heritage. You have written about how you visited Gherdai Hassell’s first solo exhibition I Am Because You Are, held at BNG, to commemorate this significant life event. Could you please tell us about the impact that the exhibition had on you?

LN: It was both profound and timely; as though the Ancestors were communicating, through Gherdai, what I needed to see and hear to move me onto my path. I think that’s the power of great art generally – it’s both universal and personal, but for me I Am Because You Are was also a spiritual experience.

My mother is Iban, one of the indigenous people of Borneo. She was born in Sarawak to her Iban mother and Scottish father. She didn’t speak English until she went to boarding school at the age of nine, a process that stripped her of her fluency – a fracturing of indigenous identity. While this happened to her in the 20th century, it happened to my father’s family for centuries through the transatlantic slave trade. I had been considering reclaiming Nanang, my granny’s maiden name, for some time but when my dad died in 2009, the overwhelming grief made me cling to everything that was his. Except ‘Hall’ and all our other family names weren’t his; they had become his through kidnapping, rape, and unspeakable violence. That’s what my poem proud. invites us to grapple with.

Two weeks before Gherdai’s opening, Ajala gave a talk at the Commissioner’s House in front of a copy of a daguerreotype of my ancestor, Mama Doe, who had been taken as a child from Peru and enslaved in Bermuda. She was 13 at the time of Emancipation. Mama Doe later married Joseph Dill, who had been enslaved by the Dill family. She and Joseph had 14 children. Ajala talked about how discarding his Bermuda surname discarded the spirit of the enslaver-rapist who broke into his Ancestor’s body and produced his line. As a survivor of rape, I realised part of my healing lay in acknowledging that level of violence in my ancestral line.

I then came to Gherdai’s opening and, prior to her talk, I found myself alone in the exhibition room. Seeing the composites of Black faces with familiar surnames juxtaposed alongside the African names she had reclaimed for them was further affirmation that I could no longer stomach an enslaver’s brand of ownership on my identity.

I visited it several times over the months and the penultimate day of the exhibition was the day I registered my deed poll. Ancestral spiritual practice is grounded in ritual and the exhibition was there from the beginning to the end for me. It was the closing of a circle. It saddens me that the pandemic was surging at so many times during that exhibition as the whole island should have experienced it. From the black and white composites that filled the walls through to the colourful, rich, dynamic, mixed media oil paintings – it truly was a celebration of the survival and resilience that we Black Bermudians share.

I Am Because You Are by Gherdai Hassell, held at BNG is 2021.

BNG: How does art help us to tell our stories?

LN: Art is immortal, and so are our stories. The Bambara people of Mali use the word Jali to describe a storyteller or what the colonising French called Griot. Jali also means blood. In Yoruba, another West African language, Egun means Ancestors – it also means bone. For me, artists are keepers of memory, and we convey memories we don’t even know we have, but live deep in our blood and our bone. Trauma lives there, but so does our healing. This is so necessary for those of us who have been so disconnected from our ancestral stories. Truthfully, white supremacy and colonisation did this to everyone, including Europeans when they were brought under the umbrella of whiteness and their indigenous connections to their lands were erased. I believe all people can use art to reclaim truth, power and healing – to tell the stories they’re meant to and not the ones we’ve been told about ourselves.

Follow Liana on Instagram here.

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2022 Bermuda Biennial

The Biennial Jurors

On Curating the Exhibition

Installation is currently underway for the 2022 Bermuda Biennial A New Vocabulary: Past. Present. Future. The exhibition, which celebrates the best of Bermuda’s contemporary art, opens to the public on June 11.

Putting together the finishing touches to the exhibition provides the opportunity to reflect on the jurying process, which took place in March when Claire Gilman, Chief Curator at the Drawing Centre, New York, and Alexandria Smith, Head of Painting at the Royal College of Art, London, visited the island for three days to select the artworks.

We were, unfortunately, amid a spike in Covid-19 cases at the time and so they were not able to hold a talk at the gallery. Instead, the jurors connected with all the Biennial applicants via Zoom, together with Richard Georges, poet laureate for the British Virgin Islands and the juror for the poetry component of the 2022 Bermuda Biennial, and Peter Lapsley, BNG’s Executive Director.

As we look forward to unveiling the 2022 Bermuda Biennial, we look back at the talk, in which the jurors discussed their approach to curating the exhibition and their advice for emerging artists.


On Curating the 2022 Biennial

Peter Lapsley: The process of jurying the Biennial is an intense process, which takes place over 3 days. While it’s a condensed process, we work to support the jurying as it goes through and provide information as it is required. It is quite a process, but it is one that I stand by and which I think produces a good exhibition. Now that we have the form of the exhibition, how are you feeling about it? What are your thoughts about the Biennial having been though the process now?

Claire Gilman: When we are looking at the work, we are not necessarily looking at it from the perspective of does this work? Does this fit the theme? The theme is influencing what has been submitted in a sense.  As we look at it, we are thinking about certain commonalities that we’re seeing amongst the work.

We are trying to put together a cohesive show, but we are also evaluating the work on its own terms. That’s the balance we are trying to strike. Looking at each work independently. What the work is setting out to accomplish. Also, thinking about what the whole is.

 It’s a back and forth. It’s not this strict thing of ‘oh it’s the theme’. We can bend. The theme is a loose one and we also come to understand how we’re interpreting that theme as we look at the work and as we see what is being submitted.

Alexandria Smith: It definitely is an intense process, but it really forces you to home in on and then extract those threads and the work that you feel is the strongest. The time doesn’t allow for you to dilly dally at all, we really have to get to it and take your time and make sure that we are giving each artist, each submission adequate time – to meditate and look at the work and not rush through it, because that was definitely not happening – we were very thorough in that regard.

I do feel like the theme did help us to focus on the work itself instead of trying to focus on building a theme through submissions that covered all bases. So, I do appreciate the theme, I think that sometimes yes, it would be nice to have a biennial where you just submit work but in some ways most work can fit that theme. I think the theme is general enough where it could fit.

Overall, I feel great about the work we selected and the way we laid out the exhibition. I think the themes that emerged were already present and are sort of trending anyway in many ways because of the shared trauma that we’ve all experienced over the last couple of years.

Peter Lapsley: I would agree. One of the things for those who are new to the process from the visual arts standpoint, and from the poetry standpoint as well, is that these are blind submissions. I spend a lot of time stripping all of the information off these works as best I can.

We do a projected review of all the works first, without knowing anything about them. So the jurors are just looking at the art. They we do another three or four run throughs, and more information is brought in as those numbers come down.

The poetry side of things is something that is new to us but the theme was something that we felt could translate to the written word as well. Richard, how was the process for you?

Richard Georges: It was invigorating. It was very exciting. It was intense for me too because I had to fit it within a week or so of really close attention to almost 100 poems I think it was that had been submitted.

The benefit of a theme is that you know everyone had the same framework from where to begin. From there, it is really up to the artist or poet tp determine the direction that they choose to take it in. Then the juror has the unenviable task of deciding which of these endeavours was more successful in their eyes.

For me, there were quite a few poems where it was clear to me that it was not just a poet who collected five poems, there was a concert between the pieces, you could see that they belonged together which was very important. This is also very challenging in poetry because often when you have a collection of work that is close, the inclination is to say well ‘I don’t need too many poems that are hitting the same notes, or the same registers’ but if you have a collection of poems that are speaking to each other and taking slightly different angles on a similar contact or theme then it works.

I was very pleased that there was quite a bit of what I would call mature work, where the poet really had some comfort with the line and comfort with what they were doing, regardless of whether it was free verse or it had some kind of structured form. By and large it was a healthy body of work that was submitted for consideration and I could see that many poets had really sat down and generated work from the same sort of starting point and you could see the commonalities, the thematic mirroring that was taking place. You could see how this could be a body of work that is presented or anthologised through the Biennial.


On Advice for Emerging Artists and Writers

Claire Gilman: I think it is very important not to just make work, but to go out and see work as an artist and it’s important not just to write but to read, as a writer. A lot of focus, particularly on writing, is ‘go to writing class, go to writing school’, but sometimes the best teacher is looking at other things and reading other things. I think it’s really important for artists here, everywhere, to get out there and see other work as much as possible. I know that that can be a challenge because Bermuda is an island nation, so there’s a kind of separation built in, but I would encourage applying to residencies as much as possible and just taking any opportunity that comes along to go and spend some time elsewhere.

We are living in a very different world than a number of years ago, so we are also able to see work digitally online and while that certainly is not the same thing as seeing it in person, it is definitely a very valuable resource. I really encourage artists to spend a lot of time in the studio, but also to get out of the studio and just take a look at what else is out there because I think it’s really important to understand how your work fits into, or is in dialogue with, other trends and concerns that seem to be out there, that seem to be vital and that seem to be engaging artists around the world.

I think that it’s important to understand how your work is part of a larger dialogue. I think that’s one of the main ways that artists can move their work forward. If you’re just in your studio all the time, you’re going to enter a very hermetic world and maybe what you think you’re doing is not going to translate to other people, so I think it’s really important also to invite people into your studio and get feedback, understand if what you think you’re trying to get across is being gotten across, if other people in looking at the work are seeing what it that you hope they’re seeing.

Alexandria Smith: I have an unconventional path of being the age I am and having done all this without gallery representation up until this point. I did that through residencies. I did it that through building community. I did have my MFA program as a starting point, and that was where I started building those relationships, with artists that are more successful, more well-known than me now. I think following through and being in New York City of course helps.

Honestly its perseverance. I tell this to my students too, you have to keep making work. But you also cannot keep making work and remain naïve or unaware of what’s happening elsewhere in the contemporary art world. And there are a lot of ways to do that without having the resources – privilege plays a role in having certain resources, allows you to visit, physically visit, and see these places. In some ways Covid assisted us a bit with expanding our access and making the visual arts and artist talks and things of that nature more accessible to everyone, which I think was probably the only plus side of all this.

Showing your work and residencies, that’s really what helped my practice. When I was broke and poor and fresh out of grad school no one knew or cared who I was, I was building community. I stalked a lot of artists CVs, artists that I admired. I would look at where they went to residences or what grants they had. It would take me down this deep dive of internet research and looking at institutions’ Biennials. There are Biennials all over the world and that’s one way of learning about what contemporary artists are being shown right now. Then major galleries and looking at who is enrolled in MFA programs.

Just looking at looking at who your favourite artists are looking at, because there’s always a long line throughout history of people looking at people that are looking at other people and looking at other artists. I think that’s really key. Research is an integral component, and also understanding your work in relation to other artists. But not historically, contemporarily.

Not necessarily making work to try and fit anywhere, I don’t believe in that, but remaining true to yourself and trusting your intuition. Doing that amidst that research and that knowledge of contemporary art is critical. That and persevering, and not taking things personally, continuing to keep going and keep pushing and keep making.

Richard Georges: There was much in what was said that I definitely relate to personally in my journey. There’s a word that Alexandria just used, like “naivete” …I’ll put it this way and if it’s blunt, I apologiz,e but only a little bit. It is very hard to be a poet who doesn’t read poetry, so you know if you want to write poetry seriously then you have to be a student of poetry.

When I was writing my three collections that I published, all I read was poetry, it was all I focused on. All my friends were other Caribbean poets and we really built community that way. I think for me, I was in a bit of the classic writer’s isolation sort of thing – the lonely craft sort of stereotype you know – and it is when I was able to exercise some measure of privilege and invest in myself and go to writers’ workshops, attend festivals…I went down to Bocas many years ago when I didn’t know anybody and because I went to Bocas I started befriending people.

You never know the kinds of relationships, or the kinds of people you run into and the community that you build. I mean, I’ve gotten opportunities because someone said ‘oh you should talk to Richard’ and I’ve gotten opportunities like that which have built me up. And what was cool about that is that you start a big community with writers who are at the same level, same stage as you – who are just starting out. One of my good friends in writing, and a former MOCO editor, is Ayanna Lloyd. She’s putting out her first novel…well it just came out – and you know, she got a massive deal with public publishers in the US, UK and Canada, all at the same time. I remember when she was in the workshops next to me, you know what I mean? So that community thing is really a powerful, powerful part of it – but also, more importantly than the community, I think before the community, comes the study – being a student.

What assisted me in building communities was because we spoke the same language. We were familiar with the Caribbean canon. We had read the modernists and the imagists and the romantics and had strong opinions them because we had studied them. It’s very difficult to dismiss any class, genre, era of poetry without having understood why you don’t like it or why it doesn’t work for you. Then you can have really enriching conversations with other people in the practice.I think for me, that is essential.

If you’re writing and you want to have a collection of poems, you need to have your TBR stack of poetry collections – have so many you just can’t get to. So now that I’m writing fiction, I don’t have any poetry books, because I’m working on fiction. I have tons of novels that I’m struggling to make through all of them, because I must be informed by not just what is in the canon, but also what is happening now in the spaces in which I am writing. I need to know what sorts of schools, what sorts of styles, what sorts of techniques I like and what I’m not afraid to fail at, and try to then stretch and push what I’m able to create and produce. That just makes me better at the end of the day. You have to have that openness and that willingness to submit to the craft.

The last thing I would say, is definitely invest in yourself to the point in which you can. If you can’t save up thousands of dollars to go to the UK to go into a course or if you can’t go to the Indiana Writer’s workshop, or something like that, that makes perfect sense, I understand that. But invest in yourself – there are many online courses that are available, you can do workshops – I teach 10 week courses at the poetry school, that might be a little pricey, but there’s stuff at The Porch and Catapult…there are all sorts of little areas where you can find really good contemporary writers who are teaching for what is proportionately of pittance. So, invest in yourself and don’t see anything like that as money wasted, that’s money that you’re paying into your future practice.

The last thing that writers struggle with is carving out time. You can’t work unless you treat it like work. You can’t sit down hoping for lightening to strike, you have to create the conditions and carve out the regular time to put into your work to see the growth and development that you want to see.

The 2022 Bermuda Biennial opens to the public on June 11. For information click here.