Photographer Meredith Andrews Discusses Bermuda’s Bourgeoning Creative Scene, as a New Arts Festival Kicks Off
Bermuda Art Month is arranging events across the island.
Photographer Meredith Andrews is proud that her work can be seen in two of the premiere gallery and museum spaces in Bermuda: the Hamilton Princess hotel and the Black Pony Gallery in the lobby of the Cambridge Beaches resort.
“The hotels have been great spaces where you can go see work. They’re championing local artists. The Hamilton Princess is the best contemporary museum on the island,” Andrews said in an interview on the sidelines of Bermuda’s inaugural Art Month. “The local galleries might be annoyed with me saying that, but in terms of international work, you can see stuff here that you can’t see in other places.”
With limited gallery spaces on the island, artists are left to their own devices when it comes to selling work and making a living. But the tourism industry, such as local hotels, has “given us a platform,” Andrews said,“The hotels have been kind of integral to the growth of art.”
Andrews, one of the leading artists to come from the island nation of about 60,000 people, is the recipient of honors including making the shortlist for the 2009 and 2019 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, which features an exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery. She has shown work in galleries across the world and has shot photos for a long list of publications including The New York Times, New York Magazine, Getty Images and Der Spiegel.
“Being an artist in Bermuda is a bit like being a square peg in a round hole. You kind of have to make it work. Commercially, I have to shoot certain things that, maybe in a different place, I wouldn’t have to,” Andrews said.
Andrews, 47, said she followed the path many Bermudian artists have taken to make a living: getting off island for school and work, before returning with experience and knowledge of the art and photography world abroad.
She returned to Bermuda about ten years ago, but some never do. This leads to an artistic brain drain that has plagued the island’s cultural scene in the past. “This time, living back here, I’m very inspired by the island and its physicality. That has informed my work a lot in the last 10 years,” she said.
“I worked as a photo assistant in London for a long time. I was sort of in the photo scene there and following different things that were going on, particularly in the portrait world. This time around, I’ve been able to bring that back into Bermuda.”
Andrews highlighted a third exhibition of her work titled “Homestead” at the National Museum of Bermuda, housed in the Royal Naval Dockyard. The show, currently on view, features portraits of families taken around the island. These images make a departure from traditional Bermudian photography, which can lean towards prioritizing tourist-friendly aesthetics.
“I think the exhibit is a good example of how I have taken the way people were telling stories and shooting portraits abroad, and importing that into my practice,” she said.
Andrews, repeating words a college tutor once told her, called herself a “collector” in terms of her photographic practice. She typically takes series of photos around themes, whether it’s the faces of Bermuda or plastic objects found at sea.
“It’s much more contemporary than what has been [previously] shown here, because there is this idea that a pretty picture is a good picture,” she said. “I used to call it bathroom art, or postcard art, because it’s the pictures that everybody hung in their bathrooms.”
Bermudian artists are “getting away from that” more and more, Andrews said, which she called a good thing for the artistic community on the island.
“We can just open a window here and it looks pretty outside, but there’s a lot to talk about,” she said, describing Bermuda as a “microcosm of the world.” The island has growing numbers of Filipinos, Nigerians and other diverse groups.
“We’re a small community, but there’s a lot of issues and Bermuda is actually a really great place for me to make work. I guess my background as a storyteller, and working in photojournalism and as a portrait photographer, means there’s a lot here,” she added.
She added that, beyond artists like her importing art-world know-how, the community in Bermuda is influenced by social media and the internet, adding to a “bit of a renaissance” in the last decade.
“It’s not the same as being in a gallery or a place, but you can see what’s going on, you can see what’s contemporary, you can see it’s just all out there now for people to consume and then create their own art,” she said.
“Bermuda is not seen as this black hole of nothingness anymore because through the internet, we now have access to everything that’s going on globally. I think a lot of people are creating work here and not feeling the need to go somewhere else.”
However, arts education is still “not prioritized here” and now that she has her own children, she is cognizant that, along with her husband who is also an artist, she have been able to give them an arts education at home.
Bermuda College, the only higher education institution on the island, has produced “a lot of exciting artists” in the last decade, Andrews added. “When I went to university, I sort of went away and stayed away and then was like, ‘Ok, I’m established enough—I can go back,’ but I’m excited by the idea that people could stay here,” she said.
Unfortunately, she said, artists do not have access to industrial spaces to create studios or galleries, which is why the island has very few places to show work.
She praised the Bermuda Tourism Authority for championing Art Month and other initiatives. While the BTA has its “postcard aesthetic” for its advertisements, she said it has been open to the work being created in Bermuda.
“They really just want us to do our thing,” Andrews said. “Most of the work that’s being created now is for people that actually live here, for them to consume and question stuff. Whereas, for a long time, I think it was all very safe. The guard rails have been taken away.”
Andrews said Bermuda is excited to become a destination for the arts and to have more “cross-pollination” with artists across the rest of the world. “It’s great and something that’s way overdue,” she said. Visiting arts could be inspired by the character of Bermuda, which she called a “funny little place,” as well as the natural world, and the amalgamation of West Indian, American and British culture.
“We’re this little rock in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “[Even its art world] is the tale of import and export.”
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