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Art to make you think

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Solo exhibit: Gavin Djata Smith, the co-founder of Chewstick, says he spends a lot of time thinking about the symbolism behind a set of images (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Gavin Djata Smith might best be known for rocking out on stage with a guitar and mic in hand.

But the 37-year-old Chewstick co-founder is showing off another aspect of his creative side with his first solo art exhibit #Discuss at Bermuda Society of Arts.

His aim? To use art to open up a dialogue about some of the pressing issues facing our country. Mr Smith explains ...

Q: How did you get involved in the arts?

A: Well, visual art was my first medium when I was a kid. In primary school I was always the number two artist in my class. My best friend at the time was naturally incredibly talented and I was just always working to get better. My mom got me my first membership at BSoA when I was a child and soon after that I realised the creative arts were the area I wanted to be in. In my high school days there were no real careers in art other than being an art teacher, but then I discovered graphic design as a good middle ground between my creative side and more techie computer-loving side as well. I went to Savannah College of Art and Design to study art and focused on graphic design. But being there at that school really opened up my mind to all the incredible creative mediums out there. Generally, I’m a creative person, but since being back home from college I’ve tended to focus on music.

Q: Why did you decide to get back into it then?

A: Sometimes you can’t say everything you want to say in a song, so I try to dig a little deeper in my art and also leave a little room for personal interpretation. One of the big differences is visual art is in the eye of the beholder. They can read into it what they like and I like that aspect about it.

Q: Have you shown your art anywhere else?

A: I [showed my art in] the Charman Prize in 2012 and 2013 [and got awards in] back-to-back years. I didn’t get the top prize, but one of the smaller category prizes and in doing that it made me realise how it’s not just about making a pretty picture. I started, around then, brainstorming for my first solo art show and got painting over the last couple of weeks. That’s kind of how my process is. I spend a lot of time thinking about the symbolism behind a set of images and then I take the materials and see where it goes.

Q: Has it been challenging getting everything ready for the opening?

A: It’s been a lot of late nights of me figuring out what I want each piece to look like. I’m also bringing out some of my older works in combination with my Charman Prize entries and some of my new stuff. I’m hoping it will be different and that they’ll spark some meaningful discussion. I also hope people actually buy some of my pieces because I understand it’s hard times right now and I think a lot of people see art as a luxury, but I’m hoping these images will resonate with people to where they take them and maybe even share them in public spaces. That’s my ideal scenario. I would like to see art teachers bring their classes to this exhibit. What I find with some artists and aspiring artists is they look outwardly for inspiration and creative examples, but I think we, as Bermudians, have the ability to be that example to the community. When I go to the art galleries I always feel a little intimidated because it’s such a sort of elite world, but the only way to make it more comfortable is to make work that speaks to a broader audience. I want to create an opportunity to introduce people to spaces that they don’t usually know about.

Q: What would you want people to take away from your work?

A: This exhibition will be a little bit thought-provoking and, in my opinion, the best art is the kind that makes people think. It’s really about making people think broadly and more empathetically about the issues, or race and class in Bermuda. I think there’s a really big disconnect that adds fuel to the fire for a polarised community and I want people to be able to empathise more with some of our young black men who get into some of these tragic situations. It’s important to understand and respect and honour the other side of the conversation; so my pieces are coming from a perspective of trying to challenge people to think. I want people to really explore how we can better work together to come up with solutions.

Q: So how are you feeling going into your first solo exhibit?

A: I’m really excited about it because it’s been a long time coming. I’m out there quite a bit on the music front, but people might not know I do all the graphic design for Chewstick and have a degree in visual art. Most of my efforts are spent helping other artists to grow and develop, but I’ve taken this year to reignite my creative side and start putting my own stuff out there as well. I’m also hoping to put out an album later this year.

#Discuss is on display at BSoA until February 23. Mr Smith will take part in a Q and A session at the gallery on Saturday from noon until 2pm

Thought-provoking show: Gavin Djata Smith says the best art is the kind that makes people think (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Opening a dialogue: an exhibit of Chewstick co-founder Gavin Smith’s art is on display at Bermuda Society of Arts until February 23 (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)