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 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.

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.

2022 Bermuda Biennial

Applications Close Jan 31

2022 Bermuda Biennial

Calling all artists!

The deadline for submission to the 2022 Bermuda Biennial is January 31. This year, all applications must be submitted online.

Generously sponsored by Bacardi Limited since its inception, the Bermuda Biennial has for the past 30 years provided a uniquecultural cornerstone for our contemporary artists and shines an international spotlight on our people, our places, our stories and our future.

The theme for this year is A New Vocabulary: Past. Present. Future. Artists can submit up to 5 artworks across different mediums. In celebration of our anniversary, we are this year opening applications up to include a poetry category and encourage proposals for public artworks.

As with every Biennial, the calibre of our international jurors is one of the key components that stands this exhibition apart. The 15th Bermuda Biennial will be juried by Claire Gilman, Chief Curator at The Drawing Center in New York and Alexandria Smith, Head of Painting at the Royal College of Art in London. Richard Georges, the first Poet Laureate of the British Virgin Islands, will be the juror for the poetry component.

As we take stock of the seismic societal shifts that have taken place since the last Bermuda Biennial and approach our 30th year in reflection upon the Bermuda National Gallery’s past, present and future, we turn it over to you, our artists, to write a new vocabulary. 

Click here for the entry guidelines.

2022 Bermuda Biennial

Site Specific Proposals

2022 Bermuda Biennial

In celebration of our anniversary year, we are encouraging proposals for public art for the 2022 Bermuda Biennial. Large scale artworks, that sit both within and outside of the walls of the gallery, can be submitted as a proposal. These should be site specific and include a clear written outline of the concept, alongside detailed graphic plans for both fabrication and installation.

A clear illustration of the proposal should be included through a scale model and/or drawings or digital images. For further information please contact Executive Director Peter Lapsley at 

Click here for entry guidelines. The deadline for submissions is January 31.

2022 Bermuda Biennial

Writers Workshops

In Partnership with the Department of Culture

To celebrate BNG’s 30th anniversary and the 15th iteration of the Bermuda Biennial we are this year opening up submissions to include poetry. The selection of written works will be overseen by Richard Georges. A writer of essays, fiction, and three collections of poetry, Richard is a founding editor of Moko, an online publication focused on Caribbean art and literature, and in 2020 was appointed the British Virgin Islands first Poet Laureate.

In support of the new category, we have partnered with the Department of Culture to host a series of writers workshops throughout the month of January, as part of their Writer-In-Residence Programme, to help develop new work for entry into the exhibition. 

Unlike the Department’s previous Writer-In-Residence programmes, each workshop will be a stand alone experience – focusing on a range of topics, from generating new work to refining already written pieces. Writers are invited to participate in all the workshops or select workshops based on their interests or needs. 

The workshops, which are free, will be held via Zoom. Register at, or for more information, please contact the Department of Culture Folklife Officer Catherine Hay at


Fri. 7 Jan 12.30-1.30pmCreate New Work with Yesha Townsend

Sat. 8 Jan 10am-12pmGenerating New Work for a Theme with Alan C. Smith  

Fri. 14 Jan 12.30-1.30pmCreate New Work with Yesha Townsend

Sat. 15 Jan 10 am-12pmCreate New Work with Dr. Chris Astwood

Fri. 21 Jan 12.30-1.30pmCreate New Work with Yesha Townsend 

Sat. 22 Jan 10am -12pmCreate New Work with Dr. Chris Astwood

Fri. 28 Jan 12.30-1.30pmCreate New Work with Yesha Townsend

Sat & Sunday 29 & 30 Jan – various times – one-on-one sessions with Dr. Paul Maddern or Andra Simons to review and edit completed work

writers workshops bermuda

Click here for details of the 2022 Bermuda Biennial and how to apply.

2022 Bermuda Biennial

Biennial Jurors Revealed

2022 Bermuda Biennial

We are thrilled to be preparing for the 2022 Bermuda Biennial as it is our 30th anniversary and the 15th iteration of this exciting exhibition. The theme, A New Vocabulary: Past. Present. Future, was born out of the challenges and changes that we have all been through over the past two years.

In recognition of the Biennial in this anniversary year, we have also taken the opportunity to expand the submissions to include a poetry category to accompany the visual art submissions and we are excited to see how our island’s poets interpret this.

The 15th Bermuda Biennial will be juried by Claire GilmanChief Curator at The Drawing Center in New York and Alexandria Smith, Head of Painting at the Royal College of Art in London. 

Richard Georges, the first Poet Laureate of the British Virgin Islands, will be the juror for the poetry component.

As with every Biennial, the caliber of our international jurors is one of the key components that stands this exhibition apart, and we look forward to welcoming them to Bermuda and introducing them to our island’s artists.

The deadline for entry is Monday, January 31. Application details can be found here

Claire Gilman, Chief Curator of the Drawing Centre, New York

claire gilman the drawing centre

Claire Gilman is Chief Curator at The Drawing Center in New York. Over the past ten years, she has overseen the museum’s curatorial program, organizing more than forty exhibitions and public programs and authoring nearly as many catalogues.

She has organized projects that range from the first solo museum shows of artists like Huguette Caland (first US museum show), Torkwase Dyson, Natalie Frank, Eddie Martinez and Curtis Talwst Santiago, to new considerations of work by established artists such as Cecily Brown, Rashid Johnson, and Terry Winters, as well as conceptually-driven group shows including 100 Drawings From Now (2020), The Pencil Is a Key: Drawings by Incarcerated Artists (2019) (both co-organized with The Drawing Center’s curatorial team), and For Opacity: Elijah Burgher, Nathaniel Mary Quinn, and Toyin Ojih Odutola (2018).

Gilman holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University and has taught art history and critical theory at Columbia; the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College; the Corcoran College of Art and Design; The Museum of Modern Art; and the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in addition to lecturing on modern and contemporary art throughout the U.S.

She has written for Art Journal, CAA Reviews, Documents, Frieze, and October and has authored numerous essays for art books and museum exhibitions. Her book Drawing in the Present Tense, co-authored with Roger Malbert, is forthcoming from Thames and Hudson.

Alexandria Smith, Head of Painting at the Royal College of Art, London

alexandria smith royal college of art

Alexandria Smith is a mixed media visual artist based in London and New York. She earned her BFA in Illustration from Syracuse University; MA in Art Education from New York University; and MFA in Fine Arts from Parsons The New School for Design.

She is the recipient of numerous awards including the Queens Museum/Jerome Foundation Fellowship, a Pollock-Krasner Grant, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Fellowship, the Virginia A. Myers Fellowship at the University of Iowa and the Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship.

She has been awarded residencies including Civitella Ranieri, MacDowell, Bemis, Yaddo and LMCC Process Space. Smith’s recent exhibitions include her first solo museum exhibit, Monuments to an Effigy at the Queens Museum and a site-specific commission for the Davis Museum at Wellesley College.

Smith has forthcoming solo exhibits at the Currier Museum (NH) and Gagosian Gallery (NYC). Alexandria is currently Head of Painting at the Royal College of Art in London.

Richard Georges, Poet Laureate, British Virgin Islands

richard georges poet laureate the british virgin islands

Richard Georges is a writer of essays, fiction, and three collections of poetry. His most recent book, Epiphaneia (2019), won the 2020 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, and his first book, Make Us All Islands (2017), was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. His second book, Giant (2018), was highly commended by the Forward Prizes and longlisted for the OCM Bocas Prize.

Georges is a recipient of a Fellowship from the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study and has been listed or nominated for several other prizes, including the Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize, the Wasafiri New Writing Prize, and a Pushcart Prize.

He is a Founding Editor of Moko, an online publication focused on Caribbean art and literature. In 2020, Georges was appointed the first Virgin Islands Poet Laureate. He works in higher education and lives on Tortola with his wife and children.

Click here for details on how to apply for the 2022 Bermuda Biennial.

2022 Bermuda Biennial

Applications Open Online

2022 Bermuda Biennial

We are now accepting submissions for the 2022 Bermuda Biennial. We have set up an online portal where you can download the entry guidelines and submit your application.

This year we are introducing a $20 reduced application fee for students (under 25 with a valid student ID). The application fee for adults remains $40. This covers our administration costs. 

The deadline for application is Saturday, January 15. Applications are open to all Bermudians over the age of 18, living on island or overseas, and to foreign nationals who have been resident in Bermuda for at least 6 months over the past 2 years.

The Bermuda Biennial provides a critical platform for local artists to engage in an internationally juried process, which strives to represent the excellence of Bermuda’s contemporary art scene. The exhibition, which has been generously sponsored by Bacardi Limited since 1998, will open in June and will run through to the end of the year.

The theme for 2022, A New Vocabulary: Past. Present. Future., speaks to the seismic societal shifts that have taken place since the last Bermuda Biennial. 2022 also marks the 30th anniversary of the Bermuda National Gallery and with it a celebration of 30 years of contemporary Bermuda art.

In recognition of this, we are opening applications to include poetry for the first time, along with an emphasis on proposals for public artworks to be exhibited, submissions dependent, across the City of Hamilton.

As we approach our anniversary year in reflection upon our past, our present and our future, we turn it over to you, our artists, to write a new vocabulary.

Click here to apply for the 2022 Bermuda Biennial.

2022 Bermuda Biennial

2022 Bermuda Biennial

Theme Announced

Next year is an important year for the Bermuda National Gallery. 2022 marks thirty years since the opening of the gallery and forty years since its genesis, the Bermuda Fine Arts Act, was passed in parliament. It also sees the opening of the 15th Bermuda Biennial – a critical platform for our island’s living artists – and, with it, a celebration of thirty years of contemporary Bermuda art. 

Generously sponsored by Bacardi Limited since its inception, the Bermuda Biennial provides a uniquecultural cornerstone for our contemporary artists and shines an international spotlight on our people, our places, our stories and our future.

We are excited to announce the theme for 2022, which we encourage artists to start thinking about: A New Vocabulary: Past. Present. Future.  Applications are due in January and details on how to submit will be shared shortly. 

In celebration of our anniversary, we are this year opening applications up to include prose and poetry and encourage proposals for public artworks

As we take stock of the seismic societal shifts that have taken place since the last Bermuda Biennial and approach our 30th year in reflection upon the Bermuda National Gallery’s past, present and future, we turn it over to you, our artists, to write a new vocabulary. 

2022 Bermuda Biennial