The North Hamilton Gallery existed during the summer of 2012 as the unlikely love-child of art and commerce, erected at the now-closed Tyrrell’s Fabrics and Tailoring located on Angle Street. Inspired by pop-up galleries and alternative spaces in the US and London, Nicaraguan-born artist/organizer Manuel Palacio was seeking innovative ways to repurpose commercial spaces that the diving economy has emptied. He was also interested in contributing to the rebranding of “bakatown,” the area north of the wealthy city centre where violent crime, drug sales, and drug use has been known to proliferate. After volunteering for a North Hamilton beautification project, he approached Economic Development Officer Roxanne Christopher, who then connected him with entrepreneurs Helen and James Tyrrell.
B-Side was the Gallery’s only show: a bold counter to the Biennale in which artists that had not been validated in one forum found acceptance in another. The show evolved, however, into a place where Biennale and non-Biennale participants co-existed, including such eminent artists as Sharon Wilson, Antoine Hunt, and Graham Foster.
The difficulty Manuel experienced in the course of his search for a space to display his own work led to the creation of the North Hamilton Gallery. He stressed that while he had “some support,” his overwhelming impression was a lack of enthusiasm from the companies he approached. “You might think a famous Bermuda artist who has something to say might get a little help. Consequently, I might think I’m the shit but businesses in Bermuda have no idea what I do. They think I’m just somebody else who wants to use their space for free. So I don’t have no social value, no communal value for them to say, ‘Oh yea I think an art show talking about the racism in Bermuda might be interesting. They don’t see that.”
Through the glass windows of the storefront-turned-art space, the artist came into intimate contact with the public. Some people from the neighborhood suggested that the gallery was a welcome symbol of respect. “A lot of people appreciated that there is a gallery here…They say, ‘People think we don’t appreciate any good thing; we’re just ghetto, we’re just poor. It’s nice to see something classy’…So immediately art gives you a sense of pride in the community.” Manuel would stand by the door in broad strokes of sunlight, easel steadied under his gaze. Fully visible to the street, passersby stopped to watch Manuel paint, and when I visited, a group of guys in white undervests and paint-splattered Dickies were telling stories about their families, eating peanuts on the stoop.
But Manuel also believes that art can benefit a local economy. Of his search for a space to show his work, he says, “People were willing to listen and entertain, but they could not see how art could be of a benefit to the society in general. Not many people do. But [North Hamilton Gallery] is a start.”
Manuel’s work is up until further notice at the Sweet Saak Bakery in St. Georges, where he continues his pop-up experiments with the help of artist/organizer Ami Zanders and owner Kamilah Cannonier. There are some restrictions: no controversial works, and the Gay Pride flag that hung in the North Hamilton Gallery is conspicuously absent. Either way, Manuel is forging ahead. As he says, art “needs to move out of the galleries,” and knowing Manuel, it could appear anywhere.
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Below, kulcha! presents the artist in his own words: an extract from our conversation about the origins of B-Side, why it wasn’t diss to the National Gallery and why we love curator Sophie Cressal. This interview was very interesting; if you want more of it let us know.
If you’re interested in starting your own pop-up or exploring case-studies of artist projects around the world, check out this culture map called Empty Spaces.
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K: So let me ask questions, ‘cause I could talk to you about anything, all day. So basics, basics… What is the name of the exhibition? The exhibition’s B-Side, and the Gallery’s North Hamilton right?
MP: The gallery’s North Hamilton; the exhibition’s B-Side.
K: Okay cool. So what is B-side, if you were to sum it up in like, 3 words …
MP: Ay, B-Side is the other side of a cool album. [Giggling] Of a cool LP…
K: Of a phonograph or a gramophone?
MP: [Laughing] I’m not that old… Noooo…. B-side is the other side of a cool album.
K: Is the BNG a cool album? Is the Biennale a cool album? Is… What is B-Side the other side to?
MP: Well, the B-Side is the better part of a good album. [Laughing] That’s how you know is, most people like, Ay, I’d rather listen to the…
Manuel says something indistinct. Cars and trucks pass loudly on the street below. Fish and Tings, a Jamaican owned and staffed eatery is next door. Guys are hanging out on the corner. We’ve moved from street-level to the second floor to do the interview, but it’s still noisy.
K: This is like, the worst day to do an interview possible!
K: What drove you to set up this space? What values drove you to organize it?
MP: Basically, a need to find alternative spaces where artists could display their work. A pop-up gallery was sumthin that’s going on in d States and in London..I got d idea from readin how ar’ists been doin’ popup gallery, n alternative spaces…[where the economy had taken that business away, so artists decided, Let’s use these spaces. I was looking for something like that, a pop up gallery space. I think that’s such a cool idea, especially if you’re struggling with financial support…
K: Yeah, okay, that’s something I want to get back to later/is about, the practical aspects of this. The finances, the support, the partnerships, Roxanne Christopher of the EEZ, Mr. and Mrs. Tyrell… ok. Tell me about alternative space. Why did you feel the need to set up an alternative space…what was lacking? What did you perceive as inadequate in the spaces that we currently have?
MP: Well the space that we currently have like Bermuda Society of Art, and Art Centre of Dockyard are limited spaces, and they’re catering to like, a tourist market. You can only sell small pieces, so unless you like, sell like one piece every three months, like a small piece it’s ok, even if you have a job and you do art as a hobby. [As an artist] you have to cater to whatever it is that that market want, otherwise you won’t sell any piece…
Like, if you do a performance piece, or you have an idea. [The current spaces] have no use for any creative aspect of art. Its only use is for the practical, aesthetic, talented skilled type art. It doesn’t educate as to what art is; it doesn’t make you think it’s like ok yea, we got nice talented painters on the island and everybody think [muffled] hang in the same room cause it sells. But creatively and progressively we’re not able to do anything beyond that with the art on the island. Consequently, groups like BARU, who tryna do creative things, often don’t have the space to do it and have to invent the space because there isn’t any support for creativity…
And I define creativity as not just the ability to draw, but the ability to produce things beyond what is we’re doing, expanding mindsets to encompass something new, different, which is always what artists struggle to do every day. We have these ideas but how do we incorporate them into society…
K: How does this interact with the Biennale that’s currently up at City Hall?
MP: Well it interacts with the Biennale mainly because I wanted a place where somebody could bounce back, go by the Biennale, and decide dat, What else is going on in the island? It leads them to B-side/The artists producing some of the pieces for the Biennale are showing in another part of town/I wanna see a different part of town! So that journey itself becomes an art piece, because to go from City Hall to here, it’s a whole different world in terms of just that four blocks…
I like this spot mainly because of the contrast with the National Gallery. But In the end, I always wanted to make an exciting exhibit, so I tried to pick the best artists I possibly can. I tried to go with B-Side because I was hoping more artists would be receptive to it, but you know. Pulling pieces out of artists who had been rejected by the Biennale was kind of difficult/They felt jaded…but what I got, I’m happy with.
K.: Let’s talk about that. So in your call to artists on Facebook, you appealed to artists who did not participate in the Biennale because, you actually, and this is a quote, “Some artists do not agree with the direction that the Biennale, is going.” So can you first explain to me what you see, or you what you believe other people see, as the direction the Biennale is going?
MP: I think most of the traditional artists in Bermuda think the Gallery is going to a very contemporary, abstract, and subjective view of what art is, and – Manuel sucks his teeth – I don’t see a problem with that. The Biennale said it’s open to everything and everyone so this is what the jurors chose, that’s just what the jurors chose. I don’t think that has nothing to do with the direction of the Gallery.
I think the National Gallery is, pretty much, trying to hold its own as a place where we can, like, can display art. I think they have alotta trouble as it is tryna raise funds just to keep the exhibit going. So I don’t expect them to do anything more for us that…If they just voice their support for art, I think they’re doing fine.
K: That’s really cool because I think sometimes the impression that Lisa and I guess the BNG, maybe, as an institution – but because I know these people I call ‘em by name – I sometimes feel like they feel caught between a rock and a hard place? Like, what more do artists expect from us? Like as if, the B-Side is a diss per say.
I ran into Lisa on Wednesday and she was like – she felt like B-Side was a – she used the word “diss” – to the Bermuda National Gallery. I guess as part of the conversation, do you agree with that? ‘Cause it seems like you’re more supportive and understanding of their limitations, as well as their opportunities.
MP: Ya, and you know, I believe they are in as much struggle as I am in as an artist. I believe the National Gallery is struggling to get funding and support for what it is that they do. So consequently, this is the problem that us as artists have, they get insecure about what the other artists are doing. So we become enemies of each other when they don’t have to be if they understand what the purpose of art is. And I will support whatever it is Sophie and Lisa are doing because I think Sophie is a genius.
K: Sophie is the shit…
MP: I remember her one-woman show at Masterworks years ago and I still have those pictures that she did in mind, Sophie’s a beast!
K: I’ve never seen any of Sophie’s work…
MP: You was young… [Laughing]
MP: Sophie’s a beast. And ever since then, you know, I understand, it’s like, looking at Charles Zuill, you understand this person hasn’t an understanding of what art is…But Sophie, she understands the whole process. I’m glad she’s working at the National Gallery, and I’m glad Lisa too works at the National Gallery.
Lisa works at the National Gallery, for me, from my perspective, I think she has to call a lot of people to get money for the National Gallery constantly and that’s a hard job to do. So I’m not gonna lie, you know, that’s difficult. It’s not a job that I’m positive I can do, you know, I don’t have the looks to do it! She does, and I’m glad she there. And I think what she does for artists is great.