Going beyond her comfort zone: ‘The Red Thread’ artist explains her motivation
Artist Jacqueline Alma grew up in South Africa during apartheid — a time where segregation prevented her from having an open dialogue with people from other racial groups.
As a youngster she questioned why some people were treated differently because of the colour of their skin and why their emotions and opinions were not taken into account.
Upon moving to Bermuda several years ago, Mrs Alma decided she wasn’t just going to stay in her comfort zone and socialise with solely the expatriat community. Instead she delved into the Bermuda culture to find out more about the Island’s people.
She has since spent months painting and learning from locals: Trikeita Outerbridge, Kenton Swan, Keamon (K.A.S.E.) Woolaston and Janel Sloan — and built strong friendships with each of them.
The four portraits of these individuals will be featured in her upcoming solo exhibit ‘The Red Thread’ — opening at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art next Wednesday.
Mrs Alma said she wants people to be able to look past the subjects’ skin colour and “really look into the lives of these four people and what they have experienced and how incredible they are”.
She said: “Generally portraits are done of mayors, people in high positions or people who have money to have a beautiful portrait of their wives and children done, but I would really like for people to look at these four individuals who have normal lives as Bermudians on the Island.
“K.A.S.E. has this persona on stage, but beyond that is this enormous depth of pain and how he has become a rapper and [explains] why he started writing and what made him write these words.”
She said people might see the portrait of Ms Outerbridge and just see a beautiful woman, but she hopes they also get a glimpse of the story underneath all that.
The artist paints from life, which means each model spent close to eight hours, five days a week, for three months in her home studio. She said this method means she is better able to capture the essence, emotions and character of the person she is painting.
“Every brush stroke and mark I make is through my dialogue of what is happening that day. If it’s a day where [the model] is incredibly emotional and there are tears it will be reflected in my work.
“So it’s these layers that are built up and sometimes scraped back and that’s why I take so much time and it’s understanding what is closest to me and working back in increments.”
Mrs Alma also uses symbolic pieces in her paintings, for instance a piece of brain coral in the painting entitled ‘32N, 64W’ represents how both Mr Woolaston and Mr Swan felt as youngsters — that some boys were being left out of the education system and not being allowed to think for themselves.
Proceeds from the sale of that piece will go towards the Bermuda Sloop Foundation — a charity she praises for giving children the chance to reconnect with nature.
The artist said she was always drawing as a child and said it gave her a way to express herself and break out of her shyness.
She was determined to become an artist and attended art and art history classes at the Frank Joubert School in South Africa. But when she reached college age her parents couldn’t afford to support her as a fine artist and she thought it more realistic to venture into graphic design as a career.
In 2001, when she had saved up enough money of her own she studied portraiture at the Heatherley’s School of Fine Art in London, UK.
She took a few years break to devote to her family and son Peter, but said after moving to Bermuda she felt inspired to work on her art again.
Mrs Alma challenged herself with a friend to complete a sketchbook full of her drawings. Then in 2011 she decided to enter her art work ‘Janel with Cedar’ anonymously into Masterwork’s competition The Charman Prize.
Businessman and art collector John Charman bought the piece because of the quality of the work — not knowing Mrs Alma had painted it.
“It was the opening night of the exhibit when he found out I had painted it, that was so wonderful for me,” she said.
She said she wants her art to start a dialogue and perhaps even work to dispel myths and stereotypes about racial groups. There will also be a five- or six-minute video filmed by Antoine Hunt that includes discussions with the artist and models.
She hopes people of all ages and races will identify with her work and said it was “exciting” to meet and be allowed into four Bermudians’ lives.
“I absolutely love each of my models and will have a connection with them for the rest of my life,” she told
The Royal Gazette.
“There’s no way with spending that amount of time you cannot form this incredible relationship because [we talk about things that are] private and I trust this dialogue is mutual.
“That’s why my solo is called ‘The Red Thread’ and it’s about this connection we have. It’s this Chinese philosophy that we are connected by this red thread to people we are destined to meet and the thread will never break.”
‘The Red Thread’ will be on display from next Wednesday until June 12 at Masterworks in the Botanical Gardens.