‘A mask on top of a mask’
It seems like your typical school photograph — uniforms are straight, heads are stiffly forward and socks are pulled up. The only thing different about this picture is that the students are wearing colourful gombey masks.
This photo, called Formalities, was Dany Pen's winning entry for the Charman Prize competition at Masterworks. Ms Pen, who is Bermuda National Gallery Education and Communication Officer, won in the inspiration category.
“I took one day off and went through some old archival photos at the Bermuda National Library,” said Ms Pen. “My interest at the time was exploring diversity in Bermuda.”
Two years earlier she had created a piece called Colour of My Skin. As part of the project she gave 40 preschoolers a puzzle piece and asked them to shade it the colour of their arm. The responses she got were surprising.
“I got, green, grey, purple and brown,” she said. “One little boy said his hands were green because he was always painting with green paint. I thought that was a clever answer.”
For the Charman Prize she wanted to create another piece that showed that children live in harmony more than adults.
“With a typical class photo there is almost this military feel to it, but also this feel of colonialism that forces people to pose a certain way,” she said. “In Formalities I added the gombey mask which gave them a mask on top of a mask, in a way.
“The gombey mask is the true mask of Bermudian culture. The gombey mask represents how diverse Bermuda is; it doesn't matter if you are black or white. The gombey mask shows we should all be in harmony. The gombey mask itself is Bermuda's icon.”
She said she was very surprised when the piece won the inspiration prize, but also very excited. It seemed fitting to her, as she is a teacher and works hard to inspire children and adults every day with art at the BNG.
“Some of the other winners of the Charman Prize were amazing too,” she said. “I was really happy for Teresa Kirby Smith (who won the $10,000 Charman Prize).”
Ms Pen is originally from Canada and has lived in Bermuda full time for four years. She is married to a Bermudian and has two young children. She had her first solo exhibition, Déjà Vu, in 2010 at the Bermuda Society of Arts (BSOA). Since then she has taken part in several exhibitions with the Bermudian Artists Rise Up (BARU) arts collective and also exhibited her work in last year's Biennial at the BNG. She is currently getting ready for the 2014 Biennial.
The deadline for the BNG Biennial is December. For more information see www.bermudanationalgallery.com.
For more information about the Charman Prize see www.bermudamasterworks.com.