Bermudian artist April Branco fired off a salvo via social media on Friday, saying she was “enraged, disgusted and heartbroken” that her nearly completed mural of Gombeys by the City Hall car park was painted over and removed by the Corporation of Hamilton.
But the Corporation in response claims Ms Branco deviated from her agreed submission and that the mural painted highlighted only one specific Gombey troupe.
A spokeswoman for the municipality said: “It is not the City’s policy to practice favouritism and Ms Branco’s decision to paint only members of a particular local Gombey troupe did just that.
She added that Ms Branco “was offered the opportunity to paint the captains of each active Gombey troupe in Bermuda that would have still met the criteria and would have been seen to be more inclusive but she declined”.
Ms Branco raised the conflict in a post on her Facebook page, when she wrote: “On the ludicrous grounds that it was ‘biased’ my nearly completed gombey mural, a tribute to the H & H Troupe, was removed from its location at City Hall car park today.
“Three upstanding black men were whitewashed because their ‘characters had not been vetted’.
“Despite continuous appeals to the administration and the mayor, Corporation of Hamilton refused to allow me to finish this mural and demanded I removed the portraits.”
She further stated that the decision was rooted in race: “We like Gombeys but not black men. We think a mask is more worthy than a man.
“I live in a country that still in 2018 would rather tree frogs and butterflies to decorate the city than it’s own people.
“For the first time in my life I am ashamed to be Bermudian. For the first time in my life I’ve relinquished the belief that art is my life’s purpose.”
The CoH said: “It is unfortunate that Ms Branco has resorted to a campaign on Facebook to smear the City directly and completely violate its policy to remain apolitical and unbiased, especially when it comes to public art.”
A spokeswoman also said the city, through the City Art Festival, has tried to highlight local artists and beautify the city.
“Ms Branco, in good faith and because of her supreme artistic talent, was selected to paint the mural as part of the City Art Festival’s public art initiative,” she said.
In follow up to the Corporation’s response, Ms Branco, to be “exceptionally clear”, cited a 12-point list of counter points, and stated up front that “not one single ‘policy’ of which the City spoke of was presented” to her “at the outset of this project”.
“They are nowhere in writing and No parameters or guidelines about the portraits, troupe bias or troupe selection was discussed. AT ALL.
“I am an H&H artist, have been since the beginning and anyone with an internet connection would and should know this, the initial layout contains, in its ENTIRETY, H&H Gombeys; dancers, drummers and regalia, which would immediately be recognizable to anyone familiar with the troupe. A portrait artist requires source material to execute a realistic representation of the subject. What source material would I use except my own extensive database from my years working with the H&H troupe?
No enquiry was made regarding my source material or the people featured, and NO guidelines were given for the execution of this piece,” she added.
Mr Branco’s final point: “I have not “resorted to a campaign on Facebook to smear the city directly” I publicly stated the facts as they transpired , as the public deserve to know why THEIR art was removed. Public art BELONGS TO and should REPRESENT the PUBLIC!! The City are facilitators, not dictators, for this art.
“I am APPALLED at the blatant lack of respect the City has shown for local art and artists, WHICH INCLUDES GOMBEYS for they are both ART and ARTISTS,” she said.
“The City has shown an utter disregard for us and it will not go unnoticed and unquestioned.”