Storytelling through art
As far back as she can remember Jasmine Lee has always been interested in art.
As a child, she loved art camps. No one was surprised when she signed up for GCSE and IB art; her bachelor’s degree in fine art was a given.
At Masterworks, where Ms Lee is the museum and gallery exhibitions officer, she pondered over how she would fill the final spot in 441, an exhibition of four emerging local artists.
With only a month to go before the April opening, her colleagues encouraged her to include her own.
“This is the first time I’ve shown my work here in Bermuda,” she said. “It’s kind of crazy to be in this position …. this show comes up, I had a fourth spot, I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. The clock was counting down, there was Covid, you’re trying to get an artist to take the space but you also don’t want to do them the disservice of not having enough time to make something.
“So they were like, you make art, you’re an artist as well. Just because you’re doing this job doesn’t deny you that. They were the ones who really encouraged me to step into this light and step into claiming space as an artist as well; pushing myself into the discomfort of being called an artist. I felt way more comfortable being in the museum and part of the gallery process but less comfortable actually being an artist.”
Her interest is in painting, printmaking and text-based media. For 441 she submitted eight works which are all abstract; as is typical with her art.
“I’m very interested in my own identity and how that relates to community and to the broader societal narrative – it’s either colourful or it’s very black and white with high contrast, but largely abstract,” Ms Lee said. “I like to kind of just play with the way we kind of take in the world but also don’t sort of marinate in it or poke holes or ask questions. How we can reveal things that are around us just by spending a little time within them or focusing on them.”
Dear Nana pays homage to her grandmother, Joan Simons, who suffers from dementia. As a child, if Ms Lee teased her about something she did that was old-fashioned Ms Simons would say: As you are I used to be and as I am you may be.
“What it is is a large set of ten prints and on it I printed [that text]. That was her quick-witted comment to remind me, hey we’re a lot closer than you think; you just don’t realise it in your youth.
“Right now it’s quite difficult for all of us to really relate to her in the same way because she’s just not so present with us. And so the work goes from this very clean print of that text to it slowly being erased into a black square.”
The images are a way of explaining how “we’re losing the stories and the presence and the voice and those memories”.
“Even though the person’s in front of us you lose that language and how important that actually is to our relationships and to who we are. It’s about storytelling and just being present with one another.”
Her art was shaped by the camps she attended at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art, the Bermuda National Gallery and Kaleidoscope Arts Foundation.
“My parents, Rochelle Simons-Lee and Carlos Lee, just always pushed me in that because they saw that it was something that I enjoyed so much,” she said. “I felt really at home making art and doing art. One of my biggest influences was Fiona [Rodriguez-Roberts, the founder of KAF]. She [helped me understand] that art could be very personal to yourself but also great to relate to other people.
“Art really became a place that I could share my feelings and express what was going on with me; you didn’t always have to give that over to other people. They can enjoy it for just being pretty or they can enjoy it because it looks cool but it was also really fulfilling for me to make something and to be proud of it as a representation of myself.”
Determined to carve out a career she went off to the University of British Columbia for her bachelor’s degree.
“My dream was art administration. I wanted to be a person that helped other artists succeed and really just champion the value of art to communities and to people and just as a tool that helps us to connect and have conversation and, I think, pause.
“I think that’s something that’s beautiful about art and why I enjoy it so much. It can be an escape as much as a reflection of reality. And so I wanted to be in art administration, working in a capacity whether that’s curating or connecting with artists and bringing them into the space, I wanted to be in that role.”
Time at Masterworks as an intern working under Elise Outerbridge and Flora Goodall made her certain that was what she wanted to do.
“They really gave me a taste of what that could look like – at least here in Bermuda,” Ms Lee said. “And during my university time, that was when I was doing those internships and that was really helpful to me to feel like this is the lane I wanted to be in.”
Painting and printmaking, which she was introduced to at university, dominate her work although the latter has slowed down due to a lack of resources here.
Her last-minute decision to exhibit was made easier because she already had work on hand; 441 opened as a virtual exhibit because of the restrictions then in place due to the pandemic.
“The work I submitted into this show was already made at this point,” Ms Lee said. “But it was very nerve-racking. There is a level of comfort in the virtual because you don’t have to stand in the room and have everyone come up to you.”
Making the video that accompanied her work added an extra level of stress.
“I was so nervous: did I explain everything well? Are people going to relate? Are people going to understand? It does feel quite vulnerable to share your art. It’s so personal to you and it comes from, at least for me, a pretty personal place so being that vulnerable with strangers…..especially on the internet because at least you know in the gallery you’ve had a conversation with a person face to face. When you’re through the screen that gets shared however many times it does and you have no idea where it goes. It was nerve-racking.”
Despite that, the feedback she has received has been “great”.
“I definitely underestimated myself,” Ms Lee said. “I don’t mean that in a braggy way, but just the way that people were able to resonate. Especially with the piece that I made about my nana, I had so many personal comments and personal responses to that from my family, from friends, from strangers. Just saying that it really touched something in them or they could relate to that and that was really what made it feel complete to me and what made me feel better.
“That somebody else could have a personal reflection or a personal moment in relation to my artwork is probably the best compliment that I could get.”
Having gone through the experience, it is her plan to show more of her work in the future.
“That’s definitely a goal of mine. It definitely lit something within me. Having people see my work and respond and just having great conversations with people makes me want to share more and really put myself out there because I’ve realised it really is worth it.”
For more information: rickfariesgallery.com; jasminellee.myportfolio.com or on Instagram, @thismightbeart_. 441 ends its run at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art on Tuesday