When Art Speaks

I am Torn, I am Hurt. It was this piece by Heather Doram that really stopped me. I sat cross legged and read it for some time. What did I read? Eyes peering from behind ripped fabric, held together by safety pins, yet still gaping, so that you see she bleeds red underneath. How do I know it’s a woman? Because her eyes plead for me to see her behind what looks like a ripped burqa, her severed psyche, her desperate efforts to hold it together; threads zigzagging across her like she’s old clothing that’s been darned one too many times. It is a Heather Doram art piece (painting is too limiting a term for this mixed media image on felt). And as I move through the upper gallery of the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, from this image, reluctantly because I want to take it home (not the first time I’ve experienced this yearning in the presence of one of her one of a kind pieces), to the ones immediately alongside it, The Sands of Time,  so different from the one that had me so mesmerized, I’m reminded that she is a complete artist – never stagnant. The way she moves between mediums, marries mediums, as blindly instinctive as a child crafting, as deftly focussed as the accomplished artist she is and continues to become. She moves, like a belly dancer, I can’t help thinking, sinuously, between the notes, leaning into their curves and finding new expression in these familiar movements. Art, not literal and yet not wholly abstract; conceptual, symbolic, beautiful to the eye and yet a puzzle that draws the inner eye, wanting to make sense of the acrylic explosion of colour and shapes, huts, palm trees, lizards and hanging banana leaves; realism mixed in with the mystical, reflective of people who dance and see jumbies and climb trees and read the signs. There is a compulsion to touch because her art refuses to lie flat with its colours and curlicues, raised, textured, and yet deeply embedded. Sometimes the technique is simpler, or seems so, the sentiment clearer, nostalgia, as with the mixed media Village scenes – same scene, almost, at sunrise, by moonlight – flowing nicely into the large canvas of Norman Massiah’s naturalistic celebration of colour – gold, brown, green – in the various shades, and unbridled serenity, of the banana leaves. Yes, as the reference to Massiah reveals, this Antigua and Barbuda Independence Art Exhibition is not a Heather Doram one woman show. There are notable pieces by Jane Seagull, Emile Hill, X-Sapphair King, Bernard Richardson, Marie Kinsella, Edison Liburd, Glenroy Aaron, Gerald Farquharson, Priscilla Looby, Zavian Archibald, several of which could be the focus of its own write up or inspiration to write. Archibald’s series of inked or digital (I’m not sure) drawings with its Asian featured characters, a slightly odd sight in an Independence show in a predominantly black country, but only until you realize it’s a visual re-imagining of a Haruki Murakami short story, sort of like frames of a larger film, a classic old Hollywood or old Hollywood style film in its romantic subtlety. Emile Hill’s pieces evoking the futuristic with its intriguing dance of edges and curves, hard and soft. All a reminder that our artists are shaking up the story and the storytelling. If you’re still reading, you’ve no doubt sussed out that that I don’t have the creds of a critic; I have picked up some things over the years, but what I’m writing is purely responsive, a conversation between me and the pieces that moved me to write, and I have to admit that I was – not for the first time – struck by Doram’s style, depth, and versatility and the (not at all contradictory) consistency of her aesthetic as I moved deeper into the show – which included her Memory books Heather Doram Memory Book seriesmade of found objects and repurposed books, and, another one I wanted to take home, the window frame, the four panes capturing the seasons of our lives. That one was mixed media on felt, her technique straddling the line between fine art and fine craft. All that said, though my attention remains drawn to Doram’sever evolving oeuvre, I was overall quite impressed with the Independence visual art exhibition; you should check it out if you’re here, in Antigua. If you’re not, remember, Doram is featured in the Antigua and Barbuda issue of online journal Tongues of the Ocean; I invite you to check out her art pieces and read her revealing contributions to the issue’s artists’ roundtable.

Moonlight on Butterflies from Heather Doram's Essence of Life series is one of the images featured in the Tongues of the Ocean Antigua and Barbuda issue. Please respect the artist's copyright and do not repost.

Moonlight on Butterflies from Heather Doram’s Essence of Life series is one of the images featured in the Tongues of the Ocean Antigua and Barbuda issue. Please respect the artist’s copyright and do not repost.

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