In 1992, when the Bermuda National Gallery first opened its doors to the public, it was not only the island’s first designated art museum, it was also the culmination of a longstanding dream for a local art museum. It was an idea that probably goes back to 1952, when the founders of the Bermuda Society of Arts stated that one of their intentions was the establishment of a Bermuda museum of art.
This intention took a long time to be realised. Nevertheless, it was a remarkable ambition, considering the society did not have a permanent home to hold members’ exhibitions. Still, we are, like them, great believers in thinking big dreams. Creativity takes courage.
Fast forward to the 1970s and 1980s, and the desire for a Bermuda art museum was resurrected by a small group that set out for its realisation, meeting regularly to plan and to promote the idea.
At the same time as these meetings were taking place, the Corporation for Hamilton was pondering what to do with the underused second storey above the corporation offices. Uppermost in its plans was an art gallery.
By 1992, all was in readiness. On March 15, 1992, the Bermuda National Gallery was officially opened. The BNG has never been a selling gallery; that is not its purpose. Instead, it is about collecting, preserving, exhibiting and educating about our visual culture. Over the 25 years that the BNG has been open, more than 200 exhibitions have been produced. Space does not allow a complete overview of these exhibitions, but here are few hits:
The Bermuda Biennial exhibition series, sponsored by Bacardi Limited, was the brainchild of the late Dennis Sherwin. This contemporary exhibition focuses on innovation and more recently a theme was introduced. Many of the artists featured in the Bermuda Biennial since it started in 1994 are on display today in the present exhibition. International curators since 2010 include Naomi Beckwith, Isolde Brielmaier, Holly Bynoe, Valerie Cassel Oliver, Amanda Coulson, Christopher Cozier, Mark Krisko, Tumelo Mosaka, Veerle Poupeye and Franklin Sirmans. In a further effort to promote local artists, the BNG is a member of the International Biennial Association.
Secrecy: African Art that Conceals and Reveals
The first international exhibition from an overseas institution and one of the most well-attended. This show inspired wide community investment in traditional West African masks, relic-like figures, headdresses. On display in the exhibition at present is a zoomorphic mask in relation to Graham Foster’s 21st Century Fetish Family. By placing the objects in juxtaposition, we encourage new ways of seeing both the historical and the contemporary artwork.
Another exhibition of note was the Bill Ming show. Ming is a Bermudian artist with a successful artistic career in England, but who was relatively unknown at the time of his first BNG exhibition in 1994. Today his artwork can be found across the island, such as that found on display: Hands Across Da Table, 2008-09, a work of art that is sculptural and painterly, suggests a family narrative that some viewers may identify with.
A Window on the Azores
This 1999 exhibition celebrated the art of those Atlantic Islands and coincided with the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first Portuguese immigrants to our island. Artwork by Azorean artists, such as Tomaz Viera and Fatima Madruga Gomes, are now in the permanent collection and are on display in the current exhibition.
Remember that the list of exhibitions is more than 200 since 1992. Also, there is the permanent collection to talk about. Space does not allow us to cover it all in one article. This is the exhibition that is on now:
The Power of Art
Our current exhibition celebrates 25 years. To curate the show, we started by closely examining the history and then focusing on the present. It was important to us that we tried to connect with different audiences by creating experiences about how art has impact. Perhaps the most important way in which art is powerful is best summed up by Michelle Obama, former First Lady of the United States:
“The arts and humanities define who we are as a people. That is their power: to remind us of what we have to offer and what we all have in common. To help us understand our history and imagine our future.
“To give us hope in the moments of struggle and bring us together when nothing else will.”
The Power of Art is organised by theme, such as humanity, activism and environmental protection, and uses juxtaposition of artwork to drive the presentation.
You will see artwork of many genres, time periods and regions, all in conversation with each other.
To bring this conversation to life, we need the Bermuda public to participate. Please visit today to enjoy an art experience.
• Lisa Howie is the executive director of the Bermuda National Gallery and Charles Zuill the founding trustee. If there are any questions, email@example.com