Discovering men behind the masks
Bermudian artist April Branco hopes her mural depicting members of the H&H Gombey Troupe will help to garner a greater respect in the community for the men behind the mask.
Ms Branco, who has been shadowing the troupe for the past four years as part of a book project she is working on, is in the process of creating a vibrant mural on the wall outside City Hall.
As she finalised the first in a series of portraits of four Gombey captains yesterday afternoon, she told The Royal Gazette that their unique contributions to the community went farther than their art.
Ms Branco said: “These men get respect when they are out on the street dancing, but when they are just the black man delivering water to your job or laying tile in your house, are they honoured the same?
“Do they have the same respect as when they are in their regalia?
“I want to visually cross the line between saying yes, he is a Gombey and he is colourful, but also he is a human being, he is an artist and plays a role in the community — they are leaders, they are father figures, tradition bearers of our ancestors who did this for spiritual and sacred reasons.”
Ms Branco feels the Gombeys have a specific role for the young black men in Bermuda.
She said: “A part of Gombey life that is not talked about is that these are black men getting together in the community.
“That is imperative for a lot of the young boys who have lost their fathers or their fathers are not present, sometimes they are struggling and they have an additional tribe on top of their family.
“I am hoping this will help the community to see that underneath the fancy costumes is a black man who is equally as valuable with or without the mask.”
Ms Branco said she had changed the design of her work, which is commissioned by the Corporation of Hamilton, because she had found others had been using some of her Gombey imagery without her permission.
“I do not wish for people to be using my work without my permission — they are stealing from two artists when they do that because the Gombeys are artists too.
“They provide me with what I have and I pay them — I give back. I’m pushing for people to have a higher respect for Gombeys as they are not our property, they are individual artists and they deserve respect.”
Ms Branco is due to release her book on the Gombeys next year.