Bermuda National Gallery celebrates 25 years in 2017. The history of BNG, as a museum, comprises decades of local and international exhibitions, a growing collection that spans time, regions and genres, and years of education programmes that have reached thousands of people. The relevance of this history, however, is rooted in the human experience, those moments of art engagement: past, present, and future.
Art is powerful. Art can evoke memories and provoke ideas. Art can be quiet and meditative or confrontational. Art can bring people together. It can be used in therapy; it can encourage positive change. Art can be many things, but without an audience it lacks potency and impact.
British art critic John Berger said, “The strange power of art is sometimes it can show that what people have in common is more urgent than what differentiates them.” Art has the power to transcend barriers.Exploring difference within common grounds is an urgent social matter supported at BNG.
Also with a nod to Berger, The Power of Art is an exhibition that seeks to challenge “ways of seeing.” The artwork is curated by section, each space having a thematic focus: activism; environmental protection; ideas of influence; humanity’s strength in diversity; representing women artists; and, in the children’s gallery, imagination. In many instances, juxtaposition of historical and contemporary artwork from the permanent collection is augmented with loans of art.
In exploring the theme of activism, the exhibition presents artwork that either can be read as political or was intended to be political. Forcenturies, artists have played a role in social change. For example, Hale Woodruff addresses race and poverty in post-Emancipation America, Goya uses satire to address superstition and power in eighteenth-century Spain, and contemporary artist Shepard Fairey, known for his OBEY brand, is more direct in his appeal for peace and justice.
In The Ondaatje Wing, Bermuda’s natural beauty is celebrated in a selection of American Impressionist paintings of the island, rendered in the early twentieth century. These artworks recall a time that is now long gone. In the context of today’s environmental issues, the paintings have a new potency. They provide an opportunity for the viewer both to enjoy the artwork and consider, too, the fragility of Bermuda’s ecosystem, itself a microcosm of the earth. The mission to ensure the sustainability of the natural world for generations to come is a collective one.
The theme of humanity is presented in a salon-style installation that stretches floor to ceiling, with portraits and artwork featuring people from diverse ethnicities, times and regions. The physical experience of the installation intends to bring to life the impactful words of former First Lady Michelle Obama: “The arts and humanities define who we are as a people. That is their power—to remind us of what we each 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 to bring us together when nothing else will.”
There is much more to explore in The Power of Art exhibition at Bermuda National Gallery. A visit is highly recommended.