Confronting the issue

  • Confronting sexism: Mariah Cordeiro with Smile for Me Beautiful, her acrylic of a woman choking herself in The Bermuda College 2018 Exhibition at the BSoA. The 19-year-old intends to enrol in Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in September
  • Stepping back: Mariah Cordeiro with one of her paintings in the Bermuda College Art Exhibition at the BSoA

Mariah Cordeiro vividly remembers the first time she was sexually harassed.

She was 13, playing mini-golf with her family, when a man asked her to squat.

After repeated requests, she gave in because she “was young and didn’t want confrontation”.

“My family were there but they weren’t really paying attention,” the Bermuda College student said, adding that she felt particularly uncomfortable because the dress she was wearing was too small. “Finally, they came over and intervened and he went away.”

Asked in art class this year to do a performance piece on something that mattered, the incident — and the anger and shame she felt — instantly came to mind.

“Plus, a friend of mine had been going through sexual harassment at work and she was too afraid to say anything,” the 19-year-old said.

She put her thoughts into a 4ft painting of a woman strangling herself, which she called Smile for Me Beautiful.

She filmed herself painting the piece in front of friends and family; a friend slashed through it to create a chilling smile.

“With sexual harassment, there is often this strangulation of yourself,” she said. “Women don’t stand up for themselves out of fear of repercussions and, a lot of times, we want to please people, I know that’s my problem. We really need to be forceful and say no.”

Afterward she thought of trying to pretty it up in some way so it wasn’t so “in your face”.

“But then I thought no, it’s about sexual harassment, and sexual harassment isn’t pretty,” she said. She submitted the painting for the Bermuda College Art Exhibition now hanging at the Bermuda Society of Arts.

Although she has wanted to become an artist since childhood, it’s the first time she’s shown her work publicly. Next year she hopes to head to Canada to study art education at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. “I can remember dressing up as an artist in primary one at careers day at St George’s Preparatory School,” Ms Cordeiro said.

As she got older, adults kept telling her “there was no money in art; don’t pursue it”.

She heard it so much she started saying she wanted to be a lawyer or a marine biologist.

Things changed at Warwick Academy when Dan DeSilva became her art teacher.

“He made me fall in love with art again,” Ms Cordeiro said. “He let me express myself artistically. Even though we had to do things to get the grade, he let you do it how you wanted.

“I painted my first acrylic painting in his class at 16; that is the medium I love now. It was a portrait of my friend making this really creepy face. I said, ‘I am going to paint that’.”

She loves painting because it helps her to relax. “It makes you feel like nothing else matters,” she said. “Sometimes I don’t even realise what I am painting until I step back. People think there is a lot of pressure to make it look nice, but for me, it has never been that way.”

The Bermuda College Art Exhibition runs until Tuesday.