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Bermuda Artists

Redefining Success

Gherdai Hassell

Mid-way through 2021, it is clear that Bermudian artist Gherdai Hassell is having an extraordinary year. In March, her first solo exhibition, I Am Because You Are, opened at the Bermuda National Gallery. The exhibition, which has been greeted with a rapturous response, led to her being named Visual Artist of the Year in the 2021 Best of Bermuda Awards

This was swiftly followed by the purchase of two of her artworks for BNG’s permanent collection and a commission for an installation at the National Museum of Bermuda. All whilst completing her MFA at the China Academy of Fine Art remotely from Manchester, England, where she has been sheltering from the pandemic, having fled China several weeks after the initial outbreak in Wuhan.

We caught up with Gherdai as she prepares to join her first artist residency at the Chatauqua School in Upstate New York, to discuss how redefining success on her own terms led her to where she is today, the role that mentorship has played in helping her to find her own voice and the importance of “finding your why.” 

I Am Because You Are by Gherdai Hassell is on display at the Bermuda National Gallery through to the end of September.

BNG: In your artist talk at BNG you spoke about how art is something that you have enjoyed since you were a little girl, yet you originally took a more academic route before returning to art. Why do you think this is and how has your path changed since you made the decision to pursue art full time?

GH: I took a more academic route because I didn’t believe that a career in art was viable. Young people have a blueprint of what they’ve seen as possible based on what others have done. I didn’t know any artists, so I didn’t know that this was an actual career path. Further Bermuda’s economic environment favors careers that are finance, medicine and business. You can see that this is true just by looking at how many scholarships are available in these industries as opposed to the funding offered to young people for the arts. Once I did away with society’s idea of success, and redefined it for myself, my path drastically changed. 

BNG: You were self-taught until starting your MFA at the China Academy of Art a couple of years ago. In what ways has the programme helped you to develop your practice?

GH: The programme has helped me to get more experience contextualizing and talking about my work. Masters programs in art are more geared toward this, as opposed to learning techniques which is how bachelor level programs are. So, to a degree I would still consider myself to be self-taught, because technique wise, I haven’t learned much more. But my program has helped me to discover and develop the why behind my work, which in my opinion, is far more vital than technique. 

BNG: You are currently working as an artist full-time which requires a lot of self-motivation and self-discipline. How do you structure your time in the studio?

GH: I show up every day. Some days I go to the studio and don’t make anything. But I am tinkering. And thinking, even if I’m not making. I don’t have much of a structure, but my daily collage practice that I have implemented has propelled my practice in ways I didn’t realize was possible. It has increased my productivity, connecting of ideas, and pushes me through creative block. 

The exhibition is sponsored by the Department of Culture. Dr The Hon. Ernest Peets JP, the Minister of Youth, Culture and Sport was visibly moved at the opening.

BNG: Working with you on I Am Because You Are was a fascinating insight into your process. How do you develop your ideas and how do you know when a piece is complete?

GH: Pieces are complete by a feeling I receive. The work speaks to you, as you’re making it. If you listen, it tells you where to go, what it needs, and once it’s reached completion. 

BNG: You held an Artist Talk at BNG earlier this year in which you mentioned that Instagram has been invaluable platform in terms of promoting your work. Indeed, it was thanks to Instagram that your work was included in the Wearable Art Gala which was a turning point in your career. What advice do you have for emerging artists in terms of how they can use the platform?

GH: I would encourage artists to take advantage of the visibility that Instagram provides. Before galleries were gate keepers, to select who and how artists could have a career. IG has leveled the playing field. I have received many of my opportunities through the connections I’ve made with people through Instagram. 

BNG: You were awarded a grant from the Bermuda Arts Council towards the framing of your work for I Am Because You Are. There are many outlays, such as framing and materials, when it comes to producing artwork, not to mention all the hours that go into it. Grants such as this are key to making it happen. Do you have any advice for emerging artists as to how they can find and secure funding?

GH: I would say that artists should focus time on activities such as networking, applying for funding and searching for opportunities to get their work out there. Being an artist is about 60 percent making work and 40 percent the admin and business side of being an artist. Spend time getting the work out in to the world. There’s no point in spending all of this time making work that no one will see. Update your CV, prepare an artist statement and have a solid body of work that can be used in applications.

From left: Jennifer Phillips, Chair of the Bermuda Arts Council, Gherdai Hassell and Dr Kim Dismont Robinson, Director of the Bermuda Department of Culture.

BNG: Artist in residence programmes, such as the Chatauqua Visual Arts Residency, which you will be attending later this year are also important as they provide both time and studio space to dedicate to your practice, as well as invaluable networking opportunities. How did you find out about the residency programme and what are you hoping to gain from it?

GH: I am always searching for opportunities. Some speak to me more than others, so I don’t apply for everything. I’m selective, but I apply for opportunities that resonate with me and I spend time preparing a good application. I am very excited to be a participant in the 2021 Chautauqua School residency program. The cohort is a talented and very diverse group. And I’m looking forward to being a part of the program. 

BNG: Artists, especially today, are entrepreneurs. You already have several strands to your work – exhibiting in museum spaces such as BNG and selling original artworks via by a commercial gallery. You also have your own online store which sells limited edition prints alongside a range of merchandise – from colouring books to sweatshirts – inspired by your Alibi series. This allows someone to own a piece of your work from as little as $35 for a tee up to the purchase of an original artwork for three figures at the opposite end of the scale. Why is it important to you to have such a broad offering?

GH: I think that art should be accessible. Art is all around us, it’s culture, it’s music, it’s visual, it’s visceral. I think that everyone should have access to experiencing parts of my practice. It’s cool to have works that sell for thousands of dollars, but the work that people can readily experience resonates with me too. Because when I first started out, the barrier I faced was lack of access. Leveling the playing field is an important thing to consider for any business who wants to reach more diverse audiences. I’m considering many with my offerings. 

BNG: You have several mentors who have helped you to develop your practice in different ways, including local artist Sharon Muhammad. Could you please tell us about how the mentor/mentee relationship works and why mentors are so important?

GH: Mentorship is one of the most important relationships to have, no matter the career path. The relationship allows you to talk though ideas and to develop your practice. The advice given aids you on you journey. It saves you time, provides your focus and foundation accountability. I find that mentorship relationships are always a two-way street. Your mentor can learn from you, just as much as you can learn from them. Consider what you also bring to the table, and what you can offer the relationship. 

Veteran artist Sharon Muhamad (formerly Wilson), shown here the exhibition opening, is a mentor for Gherdai and she credits the relationship as helping her develop her own voice.

BNG: You opened your first solo show earlier this year and have just completed your MFA. What’s next?

GH: I am working on my second solo exhibition of the year, an installation that will be installed at the National Museum of Bermuda in Commissioner’s House in Dockyard next month. I am very excited to install the work.

BNG: Do you have any other advice for emerging artists hoping to follow in your footsteps?

GH: A career in art is possible. But it does require swift action, the making of good work, perseverance and vision. Find your why: why you’re making the work you’re making, get a mentor, keep making the work, apply for opportunities and get enough sleep. It’s good for your mental health, work-flow and skin! 

Photographs by Brandon Morrison for Burnt House Productions. I Am Because You Are by Gherdai Hassell is on the Bermuda National Gallery through to the end of September. 

Categories
The Bermuda Collection

New Acquisitions

The Bermuda Collection

The Bermuda National Gallery is pleased to announce the acquisition of new artworks by Gherdai Hassell and Jayde Gibbons to be included in the permanent collection. Both artists exhibited in the Bermuda Biennial, sponsored by Bacardi Limited, and Gherdai’s first solo exhibition, I Am Because You Are, is currently on view to the public. As part of the permanent collection, their artworks will be used for exhibition and education purposes.

jayde gibbons all the kings men bermuda national gallery
Above and top: All The Kings Men by Jayde Gibbons, 2019. Photography and mixed media. 72 x 96 in. Collection of Bermuda National Gallery. 

All The Kings Men by Jayde Gibbons, which was exhibited in  the 2020 Bermuda Biennial Let Me Tell You Something, adds to our photography collection, which includes works by James Athill Frith, Richard Saunders and John Pfahl alongside contemporary works by Meredith Andrews, James Cooper and Antoine Hunt.

To mark Gherdai Hassell’s first solo exhibition, currently on display through to the end of September, we have purchased two portraits: Atlas of Afterimage and Points on the Circle. These sit in the collection alongside historical portraits by Joseph Blackburne and Thomas Driver and contemporary works by Jacqueline Alma and Henry Ward. 

Atlas of Afterimage by Gherdai Hassell, 2020. 24 x 30 in. Mixed media, oil paint, acrylic paint and collage on canvas. Collection of Bermuda National Gallery. 

Peter Lapsley, Executive Director said “The BNG Collections are a wonderful resource and when a new work or works are added it is always after a very considered review. That is to say we are thrilled to have the chance to add these works by Jayde Gibbons and Gherdai Hassell to the collection. These young Bermudian artists are masterful storytellers and their works will remain as relevant for future generations as they are for this moment”. 

Points on the Circle by Gherdai Hassell, 2020. 24 x 30 in. Mixed media, oil paint, acrylic paint and collage on canvas. Collection of Bermuda National Gallery. 

Gherdai added: “The Bermuda National Gallery collection should reflect a wide variety of artistic offerings from local artists. I’m thrilled to have my work included in the collection. When works become part of public collections, they become permanent parts of culture. I’m so happy to have BNG as a steward of this work. I am humbled by this acquisition. It is my hope that with us opening this door, we can leave it open for other upcoming young artists to follow.”

BNG’s permanent collection celebrates Bermuda’s unique cultural heritage. At the core of the collection, which includes the European Collection and the African Collection, is the Bermuda Collection, which brings together the best of Bermuda art produced over the last 350 years.

Gherdai Hassell (left) and Jayde Gibbons (right) at the opening of the 2020 Bermuda Biennial, in which they both exhibited. The artists were in the same GCSE art class at Berkley Institute in 2007.
Categories
Education

Education Materials

I Am Because You Are

In I Am Because You Are Gherdai Hassell creates a deliberate, living relationship with historic materials, fusing past, present and future in a celebration of resilience.

In so doing, she gives a voice back to those who were silenced, reminding us that “Black people as the descendants of the slave trade exist more as a human accomplishment than the remains of human destruction.”

To accompany the exhibition, we have produced a free activity booklet for children age 10-14, which allows them to learn about Bermuda’s shared history in a way that they have never seen it before. 

Click here to download the education materials. 

I Am Because You Are by Gherdai Hassell

Photograph by Brandon Morrison for Burnt House Productions.

Categories
Bermuda Artists

Gherdai Hassell

In Her Own Words

Driven by an exploration of her own heritage, in I Am Because You Are, Gherdai Hassell examines the lasting impacts of slavery: re-imagining the identities of enslaved Bermudians in a series of striking portraits, poetry and installation inspired by the Bermuda Slave Registers and historic photographs in the Bermuda Archives. 

To accompany the exhibition we have produced a film in partnership with the Department of Culture in which the collage based artist discusses the approach to her first solo exhibition, how she hopes to create a safe space and why all Bermudians should come in to experience it. 

Gherdai Hassell photographed by Akil Simmons for Royal Gazette.

Categories
Exhibitions

I Am Because You Are

Gherdai Hassell

The Bermuda National Gallery is pleased to present the first solo exhibition by Gherdai Hassell. I Am Because You Are opens to the public on Friday, March 12. 

The exhibition fuses painting, text and installation to create an immersive experience.

In 2019, the former Bermuda Biennial artist uncovered a family tree which traced her lineage back eight generations from Bermuda via St Kitts to Africa, where her ancestor was captured and enslaved. Driven by an exploration of her own heritage, in this exhibition, Hassell examines the lasting impacts of slavery: re-imagining the identities of enslaved Bermudians in a series of striking portraits, texts, and installation inspired by the Bermuda Slave Registers and historic photographs in the Bermuda Archives. 

In scrutinizing her personal history, Hassell weaves an imagined narrative of Bermuda and its people, merging past, present, and future. The exhibition is sponsored by the Department of Culture with support from the Bermuda Arts Council and the Centennial Bermuda Foundation. 

Dr. The Hon. Ernest Peets JP, Minister of Youth, Culture and Sport, visits the exhibition.

Dr. The Hon. Ernest Peets JP, Minister of Youth, Culture and Sport, opened the exhibition. He said: “The Department of Culture is pleased to partner with the Bermuda National Gallery as a sponsor of Gherdai Hassell’s first solo exhibition – I Am Because You Are. This is an inspiring and moving exhibition that chronicles Gherdai’s family history and her connections to St. Kitts and Africa. More specifically, it traces our own difficult collective history as it relates to the Bermuda Slave Registers and how that journey intersects with Gherdai’s family story.

“We are particularly intrigued by this solo exhibition because it speaks to the kinds of artistic works and experiences relating to the African Diaspora that we also seek to highlight as part our Emancipation Programme. The Department of Culture is delighted to support Gherdai Hassell’s artistic voice and vision, and encourage the community to support this young Bermudian talent by going to the Bermuda National Gallery to see her exhibition when it opens to the public.”

The exhibition was inspired by the Bermuda Slave Registers and historic photographs held in the Bermuda Archives.

Peter Lapsley, Executive Director of the Bermuda National Gallery, said: “This exhibition began for us in 2019 when we saw Gherdai’s work in an exhibition at the Bermuda Society of Arts here in City Hall. We were struck by the immediacy and authenticity of her collaged portraits and encouraged her to consider applying to the Bermuda National Gallery’s 2020 Bermuda Biennial themed Let Me Tell you Something sponsored by Bacardi Limited. 

“Gherdai applied, and was accepted by the international jurors with her impressive artwork Interactions Bermuda quickly becoming a visitor favourite and based on the artwork produced by our education programmes a student favourite too!  

“In getting to know Gherdai it became clear that she had an important voice and as part of our multi-year series exploring our place, our people, our stories, and our future, it was important that we give her a national platform. This has led to a year long process, complicated by a global pandemic, of working with Gherdai to create the exhibition I Am Because You Are. I want to thank Gherdai for her effort and engagement and also for her courageousness in making this exhibition. 

Visitors are encouraged to share their reflections on their experience.

He added: “This exhibition is brave, challenging and beautiful and it is our hope that it will not only provide inspiration and contemplation, but that it might help us all reflect on our shared history.

“I would like to thank Minister Peets and the Department of Culture, whose sponsorship of this important exhibition was integral to it’s development and implementation. I would also like to thank the Bermuda Arts Council for recognising and supporting Gherdai’s work as an artist through their artist grant programme, and to the Centennial Bermuda Foundation for their kind support of the exhibition as part of their connected communities programme.”

I Am Because You Are by Gherdai Hassell opens to the public on Friday, March 12 and runs through until September.

Categories
2020 Bermuda Biennial

The Art Affects

In conversation with Gherdai Hassell

The Art Affects is a new podcast by 2020 Bermuda Biennial artist Gherdai Hassell which aims to amplify the artwork and voices of artists of the African diaspora. 

For her first interview, Gherdai caught up with fellow Bermuda Biennial artist NOBODY. The artist, who has been creating artwork under the pseudonym since 2018 in order to express himself freely, creates protest art. 

He discusses his 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork I-ANK-Forget, why activist art fuels the morale and how, in his view, There is nothing more impactful, inspiring, and galvanising than art that communicates and expresses the pain, mood, feelings and energy of the people.”

Tune in to the episode, which launches today, to hear the artists in conversation as they discuss growing up in Bermuda, how the past experiences of loved ones can be used to understand contemporary issues and the ways in which the experiences of people throughout the African diaspora are interconnected. 

Click HERE to listen to The Art Affects. 

2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork: I-ANK-Forget by NOBODY, 2019. Digital print. 48 x 48 inches.

Artist’s Statement:

 “We need to bring our understanding of art into the 21st century. It is not merely decoration, it also can be social, political and racial commentary; and that too is acceptable, relevant and necessary. Those in positions of power need to stop censoring and muzzling the creative expression of the people. Public art should represent the public. The era of flora & fauna, pink cottages and longtails is over.” – April Branco, Bernews, 17 September, 2018.

Categories
2020 Bermuda Biennial

Biennial Jigsaws

BNG Puzzles

To celebrate the digital launch of 2020 Bermuda Biennial we have produced online jigsaw puzzles of both Gherdai Hassell‘s large scale collage Interactions Bermuda and Antoine Hunt‘s mixed media artwork This Is Not A Home.

Click HERE for the Interactions Bermuda puzzle (shown above).

Click HERE for the This Is Not A Home puzzle (shown below).

Categories
2020 Bermuda Biennial

Interview: Gherdai Hassell

Interactions Bermuda

Bermudian artist Gherdai Hassell’s mixed media artwork celebrates the black female figure. Exploring ideas about representation, perception, identity creation, and childhood, her vibrant collages capture and center the gaze.

We caught up with Gherdai, who is currently studying for an MFA at the China Academy of Fine Art, to discuss her artistic process and the importance of the arts as we navigate these uncertain times.

BNG: You grew up in Bermuda and are now studying in China. How have the two very different experiences shaped your work?

GH: Growing up in Bermuda definitely shapes my artistic practice. Bermudian heritage is so rich and vibrant. I draw on many experiences I had growing up in Bermuda. Being in China has also had a profound impact on my work. It has underscored a pride that I never had before in my heritage. When you’re placed out of context, it makes everything clear – who you are, what you want to say, and why it matters.

BNG: Your work celebrates the strength and beauty of black women. Historically, there has a been a lack of representation of people of colour in the art world. Is this something that you were aware of growing up? How has it influenced your practice?

GH: I was less aware of the lack of representation when I was a child because being from Bermuda, and growing up within the community, I saw and engaged with mostly black people. In real life, there was representation. I’ve always had wonderful black women in my life: my mom, aunts, grandmothers and family friends. It wasn’t until I got older and started engaging with media and traveling that I became more aware that images being presented about people that I knew and loved did not reflect my real life experience. So I wanted to create work that does.

BNG: You describe you work as ‘an exploration of self through various materials which suggest that identity should be self-determined and understood’. Could you please expand on this?

GH: My process is meditative. The work unfolds as I make it. I never know exactly what it will look like when I begin. As I’m exploring the ways in which I can use and manipulate material to create, I’m also exploring parts of myself. I’m fully in the moment – mixing paint, cutting, drawing, making marks, assembling, discovering what could be. I’m on a quest for understanding and acceptance of my own identity when I work. I create from my subconscious. When I’m exploring materials, I’m also exploring untapped parts of myself.

BNG: Your 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Interactions Bermuda is an incredibly ambitious large scale installation which incorporates collage and painting. At 6 ft x 8 ft it takes up an entire wall of the Young Gallery. Could you please take us the process of creating and installing the piece?

GH: Interactions Bermuda is my most ambitious and largest piece of work to date. I created the collages in my studio in China. I started with the faces and upper half of the figure then created the limbs. The figures are all over 4ft in height, so to get the work to Bermuda I had to disassemble the work and re-assemble it on site in the Young gallery. I then created the Aura Mural around the figures directly on the wall.

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

GH: I’m thrilled to have my work exhibited on such a platform, to have my work curated by an international jury and shown alongside some incredible artists.  I’m particularly happy to have my work showcased on such a platform so early in my career. Taking part in Biennials was something that I had planned to do perhaps midway through my art career, so I feel like I’m a little ahead of schedule. I’m very humbled and grateful for the opportunity.

BNG: Your work was showcased in the last year’s Wearable Art Gala, which was founded by Tina Knowles and Richard Lawson, and chaired by Beyonce Knowles-Carter and Solange Knowles. How did your inclusion in such a high profile event affect your career?

GH: The artwork I displayed at the event was an experimental piece. It sold for over $6,000 – about $1,300 above asking price.  I was thrilled to be included and even more pleased that the work went to such a worthwhile cause. It gave me the opportunity to take a step back and to reflect and grow as an artist. It has strengthened my belief in my messaging and my work.

BNG: Their team discovered on social media. How has Instagram provided a platform for your work?

GH: Instagram is a great platform for artists as it allows you to tell a visual story. I have created and grown my brand on Instagram. It has allowed me to connect with other artists – both in Bermuda and across the world. Most of my press opportunities and sales outside of Bermuda have come through Instagram.

BNG: You are a great role model for young Bermudians. Do you have any advice for local emerging artists who are looking to further their practice?

If you have a dream to be an artist, go after it. Just do it. Artists are so crucial to our society. When you step out on faith, everything you need shows up to meet you halfway. As everything has shut down due to the coronavirus lockdown, people are turning to the arts more than ever. They read books written by artists, they watch films directed and acted in by artists, they listened to music created by artists and they looked for inspiration created by visual artists. Without art, life wouldn’t be as beautiful. So create your work, we all need it. Find a mentor – early – it can make a difference on your path. I’m willing to help any young artist coming up in Bermuda, please connect with me on instagram at @hassell_free.

Interactions Bermuda Mixed media collage. 6ft x 10ft x 0.5 ft.

Artist’s Statement:

The eyes of the figures are an access for viewers and a veil or protection: a safe space for the women to exist. The collages are avatars, an exploration of self through various materials, which suggest that identity should be self-determined and understood. I employ multimedia to communicate the complexity of being myself, out of context.