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Butterfly painting a tribute to sister

Emotional work: Shakira DeRoza with the picture she painted in memory of her late sister, Shakeya (Photograph by Gwen Ward)

Whenever artist Shakira DeRoza sees something with a butterfly on it, she has to buy it.

Butterflies are a reminder of her late sister, Shakeya DeRoza, who was murdered in 2009.

“She just loved butterflies,” the 30-year-old said.

So earlier this month, when she realised she only had a few hours left to paint something for the latest Bermuda Society of Arts members’ show, she knew exactly what she would do — butterflies.

“I wanted the piece to be a tribute to my late sister,” she said. “The painting I did follows the journey of the caterpillar to the butterfly.”

Prison officer Shakeya DeRoza was murdered in front of Roses Flower Shop in Sandys, at the age of 23. Her boyfriend, Jermaine Pearman, admitted the crime and is now in prison.

Shakeya DeRoza’s mother, Judy DeRoza, is now raising her two children, aged 11 and 9. She felt that painting butterflies was a way of connecting with her sister.

“I haven’t felt that connection in a long time,” she said. “I was thinking that I miss her, but how can I remember her?”

It took her two hours to paint the scene.

“When I was done, I took it outside to photograph it,” she said. “When I was doing that, a butterfly flew right across the painting. Then there were tears. I felt like she was sending a message to say, ‘I’m OK. My life took this path, but I’m free now’. This was so meaningful to me.”

Ms DeRoza called the painting Still I Rise, after her sister’s favourite song by Yolanda Adams.

It includes the lyrics: Yet still I rise, Never to give up, Never to give in. Against all odds, Yet still I rise, High above the clouds.

When Ms DeRoza finished the painting, she knew she could not sell it; it held too much meaning. “The painting is going to my mother,” Ms DeRoza said. “She has been asking me to paint butterflies on her wall in the house. I didn’t want to paint it for her because I knew it would be emotional every time she saw it. But she has asked for it.”

Her mother, Judy, cried when she saw the finished piece.

Ms DeRoza has always loved art. Her mother still has her primary school journals filled with pictures she drew as a youngster.

When she went to university, she thought about studying fashion design, but did not think she could make a living from it. Instead, she studied early childhood education at Ryerson University in Toronto.

In between classes, she started painting seriously.

“I had a lot of time on my hands, and supplies like canvases were cheap out there,” she said.

Today, she teaches at Once Upon A Time: Chapter One on Church Street in Hamilton, and loves it. “At first I thought it was keeping me away from my passion, but I found teaching is fulfilling as well,” she said. “I am creating with the children all day and then, after hours, I can work on my own art.”

She paints in the evenings for two or three hours; longer if she has a commission.

“People are commissioning me to do abstract acrylic painting,” she said. “I find customers through social media and also through friends and family. They are always showing my work to other people.”

The first piece she sold was called Crazy Eights, based on an infinity symbol. She sold it within the first five minutes of her first BSoA show in 2014.

“That was a piece that I had painted all over black because I didn’t like the way it turned out,” she said. “Then I redid it at 2am the morning before the show. I find that a lot of my under-pressure work is my best work. I have been consistently selling my work every other month or so.”

She used to get frustrated with her art and spray paint over a lot of it. These days she is learning to find more peace with it.

“I have come to understand that my work is not always going to be perfect,” she said. “Art is the only thing that makes me feel like I am doing what I am supposed to do.”

She tries to keep her prices reasonable. “I get a lot of criticism from experienced artists and collectors,” she said. “People say ‘you should add another $1,000 to that’. I want to make my art affordable. My goal is to see my art in people’s homes. I don’t want people to say ‘that’s nice, but I can’t afford it’.”

To see more of Ms DeRoza’s work, visit her Instagram page under Onyx Designs