The 20th century has arguably produced the most art movements in the history of Western art.
While there are no definitive criteria as to what constitutes an art movement, it is generally accepted a commonality of ideologies, philosophy, technique or even styles during a given time period births an art movement. Art movements are important because they validate new methods, use of materials, themes and techniques in unique ways and with unique representations. Art movements and the subgenres they spawn are readily identifiable: Cubism, pop art, abstract expressionism and Post-Modernism to name a few.
So where am I going with this and how does this apply to art in Bermuda today?
In the span of a week, I viewed the Bermuda Society of Art’s Invitational Show, the Bermuda National Gallery’s galleries featuring Illusion & Abstraction, Cape Dorset Prints (Inuit Art from a private collection), Gherdai Hassell and, finally, Masterworks’ 2021 Charman Prize. Given the breadth and scope of creativity and expression in these shows, it would be too daunting a task to single out specific artists from more than 100 works of art. And to do so in this context would be discriminatory at best — regardless of the justification.
Despite this, I am compelled to highlight Gherdai Hassell’s I Am Because You Are. Hassell’s portraits with their “striped” or “fractured” facial features possess an undeniable humanistic narrative with their amalgam of character, social identity and innate beauty. She manages to transcend symbolism and deconstructs the racist superiority/inferiority complex by communicating identifiable innate qualities in her portraits with powerful memorialised humanity.
Hassell dispels the legacy of racial marginalisation with arresting portraits of Black men and Black women who are fully present as human. Her portraits speak to the absurdity and perversion of racism without pandering to an exclusionary social agenda — and therein lies the power of Hassell’s portraits.
The exhibitions at the BNG or BSoA’s Invitational Show speak overwhelmingly to the importance of art in Bermuda. Art is a profound reflection and a collective expression of Bermuda’s culture and a point on the linear of our history. The intensity of its pulse is indicative of our cultural sophistication, as art and intellect, art and humanistic expression, and art and social statement are synonymous.
So why is it imperative we support our galleries and attend art shows?
Since time immemorial, art challenges social opinions, questions accepted values and renders experiences. Oftentimes, the most powerful vehicle for social change is art, eg, books, movies and music. Art is, although not exclusively, a voice for the disenfranchised and the subjugated. Ironically, this is not the only reason to support art. While art has utilitarian social influences, it is in the expression of imagination where its fullest importance lies. Where the most profound emotions are experienced and where a genuine empathy is solicited.
And then there is the tenth 2021 Charman Prize that is on display at Masterworks.
Let’s park the pros and cons of a juried art exhibition and its relative merits. For any artist, especially an emerging artist, this is essentially a positive experience. For the viewer, this show is an absolute boon.
The Charman prizes will not be awarded until the spring of 2022 — the adjudication has been delayed as a result of the pandemic. By default, the viewer has the opportunity to visit Masterworks, grab a handsome catalogue, read the judging criteria and choose their winners with absolute licence based on their own values and appreciations.
Yet, the 2021 Charman Prize is infinitely more than this. It is one of the strongest art exhibitions I have seen in Bermuda in recent years. There are 90 works in this show and the alignment to the judging criteria — Design and Composition, Use of Material, Distinctive and Convincing Style, and Source of Inspiration — simply resonates off the walls and the displayed installations around the galleries.
The quality of the art is stunning. The Bermudian artistic vernacular and colloquialism are presented with richly articulated aesthetic sensibilities regardless of medium, and is underpinned with technical skill and a palpable currency of intellect. Social commentary and political themes have equalitarian positioning in this show of unbridled and varied artistic expression. The strength of the 2021 Charman Prize is its actuality of presentation — bold, realised and transcending a provincialism so often present in unbalanced Bermudian art shows. The fashion and manner of how the 2021 Charman Prize is presented reverberates with a tenor of appreciation and is testament to how well the Masterworks team have curated this show.
While I cannot conclude there is a Bermudian art movement in progress at the BNG or the BSoA or Masterworks, as for art in Bermuda, I can enthusiastically state as Sly Stone said of his 1971 recording, “There’s a Riot Goin’ On!”
By Wayne Dill
• Wayne Dill is an art critic and lover of art