It was an opportunity that Edwin Smith couldn’t pass over: the chance to collaborate with artists from islands around the world.
The backdrop was Gibraltar, home of the NatWest International Island Games now taking place.
The Bermuda College lecturer was one of 14 people selected for the two-week art residency that preceded the sporting event.
“Normally with the Island Games, especially in the last few Island Games, there has been a component where artists are selected from each of the participating countries to be a part,” Dr Smith said. “Two years ago, when the Island Games were held in Guernsey, Ami Zanders was the Bermudian representative.
“She came back to Bermuda thoroughly excited about it; she loved every minute.
“It made me even more interested in participating at some point.”
Jon Beard, the chairman of the Bermuda Island Games Association, forwarded details of the Gibraltar 2019 NatWest International Island Games Art Residency to local artists.
Interested people were asked to send their details to organisers Gibraltar Cultural Services.
Dr Smith’s application was met with a request that he send a portfolio of work he’d created on his own, and through collaboration; he also had to say why he wanted to be a part of the event.
“The purpose [of the residency] was to mirror the inclusive and co-operative ethos of the games,” he said, adding he was thrilled to have been accepted. “I don’t know if other Bermudian artists applied. They made the selection there.
“What I said in my application had something to do with the fact that here was an opportunity to work with other artists and not just other artists, but artists from other communities that are small communities like Bermuda.”
Gibraltar covered his expenses “on the rock” while the Bermuda Arts Council paid for his airfare.
Dr Smith made lifelong friendships with “the diverse group” of artists that travelled to the British Overseas Territory, located just off the south coast of Spain.
“As Bermudians, we’ve heard about Gibraltar. We know it guards the entrance to the Mediterranean.
“We kind of know, geographically, where Gibraltar is and that it’s famous for that huge rock.
“I’ve heard, in the past, of Bermuda being called ‘the Gibraltar of the west’, but I never knew anything about the political and social environment and the tensions that go on there.
“What was very interesting is that we had this bringing together of artists from Gibraltar, Bermuda, Guernsey, Ireland, the Ĺland Islands [of Finland], the Western Isles [the Outer Hebrides of Scotland] ... Once we got together the cultural team on the Gibraltar end took us on a number of tours.
“We were privy to presentations by distinguished people who could fill us in with Gibraltar history and how it is positioned now, both politically and socially.
“A lot of effort was made to make sure we could see how their identity was formed.”
The group was then challenged to create works of art in response to that information, invited to draw on their personal backgrounds, the history of their island and any similarities and differences it might have with Gibraltar.
“It really made several things come to mind, such as, the fact that Bermuda, like Gibraltar, is a tourist destination and often the very things we invite our guests to see actually get blocked by some of the developments that take place.
“So Bermuda and Gibraltar and other small nations are not the picturesque, quiet locations that they used to be; the barriers become a way of life.
“Gibraltarians are certainly resolute. They have a precarious existence, and the daily tensions between them and Spain and Gibraltar seem overwhelming.
“On reflection for me, the tensions that exist in my homeland, social in nature and often racial, seem petty, absolutely unnecessary and certainly addressable.”
One of Dr Smith’s main pieces was a collaboration with artist Alan Perez, the head of art direction for Gibraltar Cultural Services.
“We had a large black sheet and wrote five lines: ‘here I am the rock, elsewhere I am something else. But can you see me? Can you really see me? Do you want to see me?’.
“In front of this large hanging, I had several other white hanging sheets, that you would have to manoeuvre around to see the original artwork.
“Although each a piece of art in their own right, they were barriers preventing you from seeing what you really wanted to see.”
Dr Smith was then filmed walking away from the camera, as if into the artwork, while reading a poem. The recording was then projected onto his installation.
“There was also a nightly schedule, where each of us had to give a presentation on our medium, process and inspiration,” he said. “Included in the group were painters, dancers, writers, we had an animation artist and other mixed-media artists.
“After being involved in a number of collaborative pieces, it was only then that we got to work on our own individual pieces; it only happened in the last few days before the opening. So it was a very diverse exhibition, that came together in only a few days.”
Although at different career stages, the residency helped them all develop as artists, Dr Smith said.
“This was not a competition as you would have with the Island Games because art is not like this. Each of us pushed each other to do the best work we could do. Visual artists tend to work alone.
“I found I really liked working in collaboration and want to do more. I loved the opportunity to get off the island and create art with other artists. I’m already looking forward to possibilities for next summer.”
• The Gibraltar 2019 NatWest International Island Games Art Residency ran from June 24 to July 5. It concluded with an exhibition opened by Steven Ernest Linares, Gibraltar’s sport, culture, heritage and youth minister, which ends today. For more information visit bit.ly/2NJYYKC