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Bermuda’s history through art

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Documenting our culture: intern Zoë Lepiano is managing and cataloguing all that the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art gallery has to offer (Photograph supplied)

What mysteries are buried in the belly of a museum? That’s the question that Zoë Lepiano is constantly interested in.

The new collections intern at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art is diving straight into the island’s culture, managing and cataloguing all the gallery has on offer.

Ms Lepiano, who has a master’s degree in photographic preservation and collections management from Ryerson University in Canada, says the job satisfies one of her great interests.

“I love learning about places and I love to travel and explore other cultures,” said the 33-year-old Canadian. “Bermuda has a great mix of British, European, American and Caribbean culture and also its own unique culture, so I am learning those histories through the objects in this collection.”

The Masterworks collection differs from those she’s worked on in larger museums. According to Ms Lepiano, the diversity is intriguing and adds a challenging element to her job.

At Ryerson, she worked at the Wendy Snyder MacNeil Archive; she also worked with the American photographer Sally Mann, on her collection in Virginia.

“Coming here, it has been a great experience because I’m dealing with a much different scale of things. It’s not only one artist’s career in its entirety but it is many different types of materials, many types of things within the collection and all of them have been collected differently.

“It’s a really diverse and rich collection. What I’m here to do is bring access equally to all of the things in this collection. A postcard could have as much significance to somebody as a painting simply because what it might mean historically in a personal way or [it could be] something that has to do with somebody’s research.

“I’m really here to get an idea of what the belly of this museum is, and then figure out a way to make that visible to everyone working here and for curation, for education and for the general public.”

Part of her challenge is that while much of what a museum holds isn’t always visible to visitors, it’s important to continue to bring people in.

“What I will be working on is creating an internal structure so that it can give an example of the types of collections that are here,” she said. “There will be the ability to at least see some of the items from a collection online but if you had an interest to see more there would be the ability to come into the museum in person. Because really, a lot of the learning and the detail and power of things is in seeing them in person.”

Her hope is to assist in getting the new system in place “as best I can” before she leaves the island in December.

“My particular focus during this time is to assist in organising the digital database,” she said. “This will probably take years, as it has already taken years to get the objects semi-organised. It’s an ongoing effort that various people have had their hands in helping to shape. The going live part is complicated. In terms of the actual staff having access, some elements of that are already accessible. In terms of having a website with a function that allows the public to search our collections, that is but a dream for the future.”

Her efforts should provide greater insight to Bermuda’s past as well as the direction the collection should take.

“I think objects and art ground you in the past and present,” she said. “I’m very grateful to be learning about Bermuda through the objects created by both Bermudians as well as others who were expressing something that Bermuda had given them.”

When examined closely, the history of tourism, politics and architecture can often be seen in one piece and connect to a time period, she said.

“Being able to bring the collection into education, and people being able to experience the collection and experience different types of materials — that happens through curation and through making that visible to Bermudians and accessible to them.

“If I can use some of my knowledge in collections to do that, then down the road, as we move further into the 21st century, it will become more available and palpable.

“Once you have an idea of what’s been collected over the years it’s a great chance to take stock and look back and figure out what would we like to have more of, which voices aren’t as represented, and where we can flesh that out a bit more.”

Zoë Lepiano (Photograph supplied)