Homage to the Black male
Frustrated with all that was happening in her community, Jayde Gibbons picked up her camera and started shooting.
Out of that came My Negus For Real, a series of black and white photographs that is now on display at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art.
Ms Gibbons sees it as a potential life-changer for Black Bermudian males who might otherwise never have a chance to realise their abilities.
“I want to eventually build a scholarship or a grant, a fund that will go towards Black Bermudian men who want to go away to school to do something in the arts or do something to help in the community whether that be a teacher, or social worker or something like that,” she said, explaining that she hopes to raise the seed money for the project through the pictures she sells.
“Ultimately that is what is needed. Black men especially, I feel like they need to see [people like them succeed]. You can’t just tell them, ‘Yes, you’re great.’ They need to see those examples.”
MNFR is the first solo show for Ms Gibbons, a Charman Prize winner whose images are often celebrated for the community they capture.
“I didn’t intend on making this series, it just evolved,” she said. “It was inspired by Sonny – that was my real inspiration. He passed two years ago, on the opening night of my very first show, and that’s kind of what MNFR was formed from, him and that relationship.”
Reginald “Sonny” Furbert was a homeless man who was a well-known figure in Hamilton. Ms Gibbons selected a picture she’d taken of the 70-year-old to hang in Masterworks’ 441: A Group Show, which also featured art by Alshante Foggo, Jaylaka Jayathunga and Carlos Santana.
“I had the picture up of him – and that was a popular picture – and he passed that night. The fact that he was a kind man, he was well respected in the community…..I feel like he just stood for everything that was wrong and the support that Black men don’t get and the stigma that they have. So this is a series inspired by him.”
Ms Gibbons, who became interested in photography while in primary school, is largely self-taught.
“I would say things really took off after I won the Charman Prize in 2019,” she said. “I’ve gotten to rub shoulders with people within the Bermuda art community and learnt a few more things other than just photography.
“I’m really not a photographer. Photography in Bermuda [is usually what I would consider] weddings and portraits, photography for hire – I would say I’m an artist and photography is my current medium. So being in Masterworks and winning the Charman, being recognised as a fine art photographer as opposed to just a photographer that somebody could hire real quick to take family photos that kind of got me; it just opened doors. It introduced me to a whole bunch of other people in different realms that I’m really grateful for.”
Her big takeaway from Covid-19 was just how important it was for her to remember to focus on her skill as an artist.
“Even before Covid hit I was working full-time as a photographer. Although everybody’s business has kind of slowed down I feel like there were more people who wanted photography during Covid. So business went really well for me however I found that I wasn’t able to really focus on the art side of it and I started to get a little burnout. Covid taught me that I need to make time for this art stuff, the stuff that I really want to do. Because although I’m still doing photography, ideally I don’t want to work as a photographer – not in Bermuda at least. I want to be recognised as an artist.”
Ms Gibbons has somewhere between 20 and 40 pictures on exhibit in the Rick Faires Gallery at Masterworks.
“I know most of [the men] but they are, for the most part, candid shots. Some of them are from client work – people who have booked me to shoot family photos – and the rest of them are literally just me with my camera in life.
“There’s one at a barber shop, I was literally just there getting my hair cut and had my camera. And there’s a few from some community events. So for the most part they’re candid and they’re people that I know – some of them personally, some of them that I know just being in proximity to them being in Bermuda and seeing people as often as we do.”
Although many people were familiar with her shots through posts on social media, Ms Gibbons was still a bit nervous about holding a solo show.
“It’s always nerve-racking because you never know how people are going to receive it,” she said. “Photography still isn’t something that is considered art. It’s still not respected as much as it should be, I feel like, in Bermuda. So it’s always a little nerve-racking. Plus, art is personal. So yeah, definitely a little nerve-racking.”
Despite her apprehension the response has been “overwhelmingly positive” since the exhibit opened on September 3.
“I’m glad because I was very worried people weren’t going to understand it. They were just going to see it for face value – just some black and white pictures. But people get it. And it’s evoking some emotions in people. It felt so good.”
The full-time photographer is grateful for the financial assistance she received from the Bermuda Arts Council.
“Without that grant they gave me this show literally wouldn’t be happening because it’s very expensive to print and to frame,” she said.
MNFR is on exhibit in the Rick Faries Gallery of Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art until September 28. Follow Jayde Gibbons on Instagram: @queendom_heights