Human Rights Commissioner Dany Pen has been selected as the 2016 recipient for the "World Builder" award from OCAD University, Canada. The award is the university's highest honors for alumni achievement.
Pen's family arrived in America as refugees fleeing the Cambodian Genocide. From 1975-1979, over 2 million Cambodians were murdered by the Khmer Rouge communist regime. Many were imprisoned, forced into slavery and executed.
Upon arriving in the Americas as refugees and claiming sanctuary, Pen’s family were separated. Her mother was directed to Canada while the remainder of the family were sent to Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A.
Pen and her mother were placed in Canada's largest government social housing known as Regent Park. In the 1980s and 1990s, Regent Park was considered one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city of Toronto, with many families living under the poverty line bringing home approximately $6000 annually. At the time, due to poverty, drugs, prostitution, gangs and illiteracy in the community, Regent Park had the highest crime rate in all of Canada.
"Education was my opportunity and avenue for success", says Pen. As a young student, Pen scored the highest school grade in the country, along with achieving national honors in secondary school and a full university scholarship.
For Dany Pen, growing up in the projects fueled her advocacy for human rights.
"Growing in Regent Park, you witness many injustices, discrimination and oppression. I have been very fortunate to be able to further my education and pursue a successful career; and so it is fitting to use my skills and abilities to help empower those who feel they don't have a voice or may not know their rights", says Pen.
Pen's social activism over the years includes her advocacy for subsidized housing for young mothers and children and accessible education to at-risk communities in Canada. In Toronto, she has worked with several social agencies to help homeless and at-risk youth. In Bermuda, Pen was formerly a committee member for the Sunshine League Foundation, a member of the Inter-Agency for Children (IAC), and a facilitator for the SCARS program.
In 2013 in Bermuda, Pen launched an advocacy campaign and community march petitioning for a financial increase in the government's art education budget. Pen also launched the first national museum program for early learning at the Bermuda National Gallery. As an art educator, Pen has outreached to over 10,000 students in Bermuda.
Pen is currently a Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as the Education and Communication Officer at the Bermuda National Gallery. In Canada, Pen serves as an Advisory Board Member for the Social Enterprise Program and is currently a key partner in developing art education programs for Syrian Refugees.
Recently, Pen was able to help create a Cambodian translation video for the 'Black Lives Matter' movement and release an article title "Who is Black in America?” published in Today In Bermuda, which reached thousands of readers in Bermuda, Canada, the U.S.A, Cambodia and even Africa.
"I was completely surprised when the university contacted me about the award and even more thankful for being honored with the title of being 'World Builder", says Pen.
To watch a bio film on Dany Pen released by INSTUDIO (CANADA), please click here: https://vimeo.com/188322166
Royal Gazette Newspaper
By Jonathan Bell
A fresh chapter has begun for the Human Rights Commission in its new headquarters, where the latest set of commissioners held its first meeting.
Tawana Tannock, the HRC chairwoman, praised the work of the selection committee in bringing together commissioners from a broad variety of backgrounds.
“I’m very pleased that we have this diverse body of 12 to help move the commission into a new era of greater independence,” Ms Tannock said, referring to the HRC’s official move out from the auspices of the Ministry of Community, Culture and Sports.
Continuing member Jens Juul, a certified insurance arbitrator, has served on several local boards as well as operating Scandinavian Re, while new member Dany Pen, the education and communications officer for the Bermuda National Gallery, holds a special interest in women’s rights, gender equality and education.
New member Jonathan Young said he took inspiration from the service of his mother, Kim Young, as a commissioner; he comes from an insurance background, as well as teaching at the Bermuda College, where he was a shop steward.
Carla George, a new commissioner coming from a legal background, has also served on a variety of boards, including CedarBridge Academy, the Bermuda Hospitals Board and the Board of Education, and gave education as one of her main interests.
Returning commissioner Kim Simmons, a corporate attorney, expressed a broad interest in human rights, particularly in how the topic was perceived by young people. Ms Simmons said she looked forward to continuing her advocacy for persons with mental disabilities.
Donna Daniels, a former teacher and principal of Dellwood Middle School, is also executive director of the Adult Education School. Ms Daniels gave education as her “passion”, along with the protection of the vulnerable, the links between unemployment and poverty, and issues concerning mental health.
New member Ben Adamson, a lawyer with 15 years’ experience, has served as a human rights mediator for the past six years, while Quinton Butterfield, also new, works in the Bermuda Government’s information technology office.
Mr Butterfield said he looked forward to seeing the island “move forward on marriage equality, gender equality and gender identity”, and gave another interest as education and advocacy on the topic of human rights.
Royal Gazette Newspaper
By Jessie Moniz Hardy
A few cherished photos are all that remain of Dany Pen’s family history in Cambodia. One of them was snapped the day her mother, Yean Chham, arrived at a Thailand refugee camp in 1979.
She escaped there after fleeing from the Khmer Rouge.
The picture will be featured in an exhibition about genocide at the Whistler House Gallery of Art in Lowell, Massachusetts.
“It was taken at the Khao-I-Dang refugee camp,” said Ms Pen, the Bermuda National Gallery’s education coordinator.
“In the picture you can see my four uncles, my grandmother and my mother. Only my mother made it to Toronto, where I was born.”
Chham family was in the camp for seven years. About 2.5 million people
were murdered by the Khmer Rouge, the ruling party in Cambodia between
1975 and 1979.
“To get out of the refugee camp, the Red Cross put people on different planes,” said Ms Pen, 28.
“Whatever plane you were on led you to what country was willing to take in refugees. Some ended up in New York, while others went to Canada, Australia and France.”
The refugees were not told their destination beforehand and were assigned to planes with little regard to family structure.
It was several years before Yean Chham was able to find her mother in Cleveland, Ohio.
“It took time because the Red Cross received thousands of letters from Cambodians trying to find family members,” said Ms Pen.
Two of her uncles, Yut and Duong Chham, are still missing.
“They are not in the picture,” said Ms Pen. “They went missing during the war.
“Everyone was captured and turned into slaves in the internment camps in Cambodia.
mother said an older man whispered an escape plan with them when they
were working on the fields. The plan was to escape on a night where
there was no moon.
“My mother, who was 14, escaped the internment camps along with a group in the middle of the night by jumping over the barbed wires.
“Everyone ran in different directions and hid in
the jungle. All the children just kept running. My mother managed to
find four people and ran with them.
“It took her three months on foot through the jungles to get to Thailand. Yut and Duong ran in other directions and that was the last time she saw them.”
Her generation is going through a silent period today, she said.
my research I have spoken to Dr Ben Kiernan of Yale University,” Ms Pen
said. “He said that the Jewish community also went through a silent
period after the Holocaust.
“It’s because it hurts to talk about it and it brings back a lot of bad memories. A lot of people experience post-traumatic stress after escaping genocide. It is very difficult to deal with the memories.”
Her mother reacted with tears when she learned that Ms Pen had been studying the family’s history.
“My mother came to my show at Switch Contemporary in Toronto and was at first shocked at the sight of my work,” Ms Pen said.
didn’t realise I had been working on our family history for some time. I
had a moment with my mother where we sat down and I told her I wanted
to know our family history, what happened in the internment camps.
“She cried and told me she didn’t want to talk about it because she was afraid of confronting emotions and memories.
I told her that her story meant so much more where it could help the
younger generations understand what had happened, she began to open up.
“It was a needed conversation between my mother and I and one that brought us much closer together.”
After showing her work in Toronto, New York and Bermuda, she has had a lot of positive feedback from Cambodians around the world.
very happy that I am doing this,” she said. “A lot of people are looking
to my work for information, because there aren’t many textbooks about
“My work is a means for visual education. A lot of art was burned under the Khmer Rouge.”
Ms Pen sees herself as a voice for the Cambodian community.
“I always knew I wanted to be an artist,” she said. “I did not see myself as taking on the political and social arena until I was older.”
Ms Pen has two children Aries, nine, and Sokiera, seven.
“We have discussions about it all the time,” she said. “This is their history. I want them to know about it.”
Ms Pen won the Source of Inspiration Charman Prize from the Museum of Masterworks in 2013.
• Pursuing Justice Through Art 2014: Multi-Cultural Genocide Exhibition and Symposium runs from March 18 to April 25. For more information see www.whistlerhouse.org
Marching for Art Education
Royal Gazette Newspaper
By Jessie Moniz Hardy
Art, one woman is hoping it really can bring the community together.
Dany Pen is behind a march to raise support for art education in Bermuda later this month.
She claims it’s necessary because art classes in the public school system are so poorly funded.
As a result, some children are limited to torn scraps of paper, according to Ms Pen, an artist and education officer at the Bermuda National Gallery.
“That broke my heart,” she said. “You should be starting off the school year with a full set of supplies. Students should not be scrambling to find paper. Some teachers have told me they have been forced to buy basic supplies such as scissors, erasers and rulers out of their own pockets.”
She’s planned her march to coincide with the St George’s art walk, Carnival of Lights, on February 27.
“I wanted to do an intervention piece as part of the art walk,” she said. “I thought there was a need for advocacy around art education in Bermuda.”
Budget cuts in education have caused art to really suffer, she said.
“I have been speaking to art teachers and their biggest issue is the amount of funding they are given for art supplies,” she said. “They only get a budget of $300 per year for art supplies. If they teach at more than one school then that budget must be shared between those schools.”
She said one student had told her she had made a collage out of scraps of paper, because that was all the class had to work with.
She hoped the march would raise appreciation in the community of the value of art.
“I hope to see lots of different people coming out to support us, not just artists,” she said.
Ms Pen said it was her hope to one day see four-year scholarships offered to students wishing to study fine arts at the college level.
“I was talking to one student who has been forced to study insurance because that was the only way to get a degree,” she said. “A lot of people are forcing themselves into study programmes they don’t want to do rather than pursue their passions.”
She continued: “Art has the potential to collaborate ideas, solution and people if we allow it. This is the value of art. Art is a way to express your voice, emotions, ideas and thoughts. By doing so it allows the individual to contribute to the community and be an active citizen.”
The march begins at
7pm. People should show up at 6pm on Water Street in St George’s,
wearing a blank T-shirt. The shirt will be stamped, “advocate for arts
E-mail [email protected] for more information.
‘A mask on top of a mask’
By Jessie Moniz Hardy
It seems like your typical school photograph — uniforms are straight, heads are stiffly forward and socks are pulled up. The only thing different about this picture is that the students are wearing colourful gombey masks.
This photo, called Formalities, was Dany Pen’s winning entry for the Charman Prize competition at Masterworks. Ms Pen, who is Bermuda National Gallery Education and Communication Officer, won in the inspiration category.
“I took one day off and went through some old archival photos at the Bermuda National Library,” said Ms Pen. “My interest at the time was exploring diversity in Bermuda.”
Two years earlier she had created a piece called Colour of My Skin. As part of the project she gave 40 preschoolers a puzzle piece and asked them to shade it the colour of their arm. The responses she got were surprising.
“I got, green, grey, purple and brown,” she said. “One little boy said his hands were green because he was always painting with green paint. I thought that was a clever answer.”
For the Charman Prize she wanted to create another piece that showed that children live in harmony more than adults.
“With a typical class photo there is almost this military feel to it, but also this feel of colonialism that forces people to pose a certain way,” she said. “In Formalities I added the gombey mask which gave them a mask on top of a mask, in a way.
“The gombey mask is the true mask of Bermudian culture. The gombey mask represents how diverse Bermuda is; it doesn’t matter if you are black or white. The gombey mask shows we should all be in harmony. The gombey mask itself is Bermuda’s icon.”
She said she was very surprised when the piece won the inspiration prize, but also very excited. It seemed fitting to her, as she is a teacher and works hard to inspire children and adults every day with art at the BNG.
She has taken part in several exhibitions with the Bermudian Artists Rise Up (BARU) arts collective and also exhibited her work in last year’s Biennial at the BNG. She is currently getting ready for the 2014 Biennial.
THE B.A.R.U "I FOR AN I " EXPERIENCE
Ether Magazine- http://www.ethermg.com
by Ether Magazine
We caught up with the BARU Group at their “ I FOR AN I” art exhibition held at the Bermuda college . The theme of last night’s show addressed the issues related to and around gang violence in our community. There was a wide variety of mediums being presented such as installations, paintings, music, and spoken word. Participating artists were Calix Smith, Alan C. Smith, Dr. Edwin Smith, Dany Pen, Davika Hill, Akil Simmons, Gracie Edwards, Richard Gibbons, Marquedelle Rodriguez, Khaleed Muhammed, and Sandys Middle School Students. With no set medium the art work served as a valuable and viable catalyst for the BARU group’s message.
From the Ether point of view we found that the displayed works attacked the cause and gruesome effect of the Bermudian gang culture/fad and its code of silence. A code that has been lashed upon hard working ethical Bermudians.
With a good local turnout last night, BARU event coordinator Davika hill was pleased to see that her fellow countrymen were taking a conscious effort to support positive change and awareness of the social ill that is GANG CULTURE BERMUDA. Dany Pen (BARU Curator) also enforces the need for change and diversity when dealing with violence.
Dany also stated that Bermuda is such a small place everyone knows each other we all feel the ripple effect. She also stress this importance of working in the school ,youth mentoring and advocacy .
Ether Magazine congratulate BARU for their hard work and dedication to the people of Bermuda
Tackling gang violence, one painting at a time
Arts collective Bermudian Artists Rise Up (BARU) are using paintbrushes and pens to tackle one of Bermuda’s biggest social ills — gang violence.
Artists from all over the community will be giving their take on gang violence in Bermuda and possible solutions using poetry, photography, painting and other forms of artistic expression in the exhibition I For An I on next Tuesday at the Bermuda College Art Gallery.
“We are addressing the issue of Bermuda’s gang culture and how we as artists contend with it,” said Calix Smith, one of the founders of BARU. “We want to use our skills as artists to be advocates for the community.”
Mr Smith said he would be doing an installation piece that tackled the domestic abuse side of Bermuda’s gang culture.
“It is about how gang culture interprets sexuality and what is praised and what is demonised,” he said.
Participant Davika Hill said the show would explore “heavy” subject matter.
“It is an issue that has been playing in our communities for awhile now,” she said. “Each year it gets worse and worse. The repercussions get deeper and deeper.
“There are multiple issues that caused us to get to this point. This I for an I exhibition allows the artists community to express their views on it and how it can be resolved.”
Ms Hill said she would be reading a piece she had written about gang violence in Bermuda. She is about to graduate from the arts programme at the Bermuda College.
Another member of BARU, Dany Pen, said the idea for an exhibition came out of a discussion she had with another local artist.
“After our show, Fetish, back in 2011, I was talking with Amy Zanders about all the social issues that are going on the Island,” she said. “The concept for this came out of that conversation. It has taken us two years because we have been doing outreach and trying to get feedback from the community, first.”
Other artists in the exhibition will include Manuel Palacio, Alan C Smith, Akil Simmons, Edwin Smith, Richard Gibbons, Gracie Edwards, Marquedelle Rodriquez and students from Sandys Secondary Middle School who will be providing an installation piece expressing their thoughts on gang violence.
Entry to the exhibition at the Bermuda College is free. It is on for one day. For more information e-mail [email protected].
CARIBBEAN ART & CULTURE MAGAZINECapturing the Ellipsis: the BNG 2012 Biennial of Contemporary Bermuda Art
Writer: Lisa Howie
In preparation for their submissions to the exhibition, local artists (Bermudians, residing foreigners) often ask what is considered to be “contemporary”. How do they know that the international jurors (this year Naomi Beckwith and Christopher Cozier) will deem their submissions acceptable? It’s a tricky thing, this notion of the contemporary, a word that at once captures a time that bends. It’s not enough to say that simply work made today is indeed considered contemporary, and yet, the work is very much a creation of the present moment.
As the director I have no say in what gets selected for the exhibition. I organize the jurors, ensure that they have an engaging, critical experience; that before they leave the exhibition has a considered form; and that they are on the path to writing an essay for the catalogue. My overarching role is a manager, overseeing the selection of the submissions, casting an eye on the unfolding of an unplanned narrative on the present state of art in Bermuda within the narrow time frame between the day of submission to the exhibition’s conclusion. It is exclusive.
The exhibition can also be defined by what it is not. It is not a survey. It does not speak on behalf of all of the various art groups, aesthetic practices, subjects, or medium on the Island. It does not communicate the history of art in Bermuda, posting signs at the leaders in the field. It does not acclaim. There are no prizes. No awards.
The curator, Sophie Cressall, has the unusual task of arranging an exhibition that she has not constructed. Gone is the critical question, the compelling motif. In this exercise, she must create an experience for the viewer to enter into the museum, navigate the various expressions and do so in a way that encourages intellectual or reflective links, while not compromising the intentions of each artist, of each unique expression. It is, as I have seen, a challenging exercise.
So what is the 2012 Bermuda Biennial? This year, had you visited, you would have first experienced the installation in the City Hall foyer, a Dr. Seuss like-illustration with draping men’s ties, colorful plastic streamers, simple tubing that appeared both caterpillar and whip awhirl– you could drop a ball at the top on the third floor and watch it descend through this playful journey of materials. This work, while representing the journey/ cycle of life, also represented a very new direction for the exhibition. For the first time a collective submitted a proposal for an installation. The artists, James Cooper & Russell de Moura (and their installation team) created an interactive, playful experience that while engaging in its own right, that purposefully interrupted the austerity of the City Hall foyer with its historical portraits and grand staircase.
I was delighted. Here was an opportunity to demonstrate the museum’s commitment to the contemporary: artists working in partnership; an interactive project that required different needs thanks to its interactivity; and irresolute solutions. How dare we encourage artists to take chances if we are unable to do so as an institution?
So where are the women artists, you ask?
Dany Pen astutely interrogates the construct of history and memory in her mixed media film installation Erasures. The viewer adorns a headset, one of four, and looks down on a screen that shows a sepia portrait of a man in a communist style jacket and cap, while an unseen persona vigorously attempts to erase the visage from the paper. We hear her breathing; we feel her angst. We watch her hand, (or is it our hand?) attempting to erase the face. Just above is a clear tiny vessel containing what we must assume are the erasures from this fraught exercise. History, memory cannot be erased. Here is the attempted capitulation of those capital killers, the Khmer Rouge regime, who annihilated the artist’s family, their history, their future. We come to the piece unknowing that we will soon share in this tragedy. It is a profound expression.
Here is an example of where the Bermuda Biennial transcends borders, moves so very far away from this mid-Atlantic geography/ history and enters into the global narrative. The politic surrounding Pen’s past is not a dead history. Neither for the survivors or their families, nor for the mass of humanity presently submitted to the ills of dictatorship, to the tyranny of power poorly matched to man.
Futureale Magazine: Arts/Culture
March Issue 2012
Bermudian Artists Rise Up (B.A.R.U)
Writer: Nafisa Hasan, B. A, M. F. A
Bermuda is an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It is currently still a colony of Britain. Unlike most other Caribbean islands, such as Jamaica, Cuba, and Trinidad, that have attained sovereignty, Bermuda has yet to become an independent nation. As a result, Bermuda continues to struggle in establishing a nationalistic and distinct cultural identity uninfluenced by its colonial rulers.
The artistic collective group Bermudian Artists Rise Up (B.A.R.U.) has been formed in response to Bermuda’s national/cultural identity crises, with the goal of pushing for progression and even a renaissance by using the arts as their main outlet.
“The twenties and thirties were decisive years in the development of modern Caribbean art. It was the golden age of nationalism globally, as new and old nations sought to find their place within a rapidly changing political, economical and social order. In the colonized world, there was a surge of anti-colonial and anti-imperialist sentiments” (Poupeye 49). Bermuda being a colony of Britain raises questions pertaining to its culture identity: Are Bermudians the ones governing its nation’s image or is this overlooked by Britain? “Cultural self-affirmation is deemed a critical part of decolonization and art is recognized as a powerful nation building tool” (Poupeye 50). We can see collective up rises and the building of a nation’s cultural self-affirmation by looking at Jamaica, Cuba and Trinidad but where does Bermuda stand in its current struggle with its national identity.
Jamaica became independent in 1962 and what helped paved way for this independence was the rise and influence of Garveyism and Rastafarianism, both movements pushing for nationalism. Emerging out of this up rise were political sculptures, such the notable piece titled “Negro Aroused” by Artist Manley. Musicians such as Bob Marley also became internationally renowned and recognized for his push for activism.
Trinidad became independent in 1962 and its national art movement was developed by the Society of Independents (1929-38), a small group of young upper class artists, followed by the Trinidad Art Society (1943) who, as a group became more committed to the arts movement in the country and evoked nationalism by incorporating emblematic Trinidadian subjects into their artworks (Poupeye 80).
The Cuban revolution of 1959 also played a big role in the movement of the arts in the Caribbean. The Cuban revolution was one of the most turbulent periods in the socio-political history of the Caribbean (Poupeye 111). Emerging from this era were some of the most distinctive schools of political and abstract art embodying nationalistic ideals (Poupeye 113).
The three nations – Jamaica, Cuba and Trinidad – have encountered their own artistic movements that were embedded with their own nation’s political and social issues. An array of artistic collective groups, emerging during this struggle in nation building and nationalism, paved the way for using art as a tool to voice political and social concerns/frustrations. Their artworks became iconic images for their country’s progression in becoming independent. The artworks themselves maneuvered and helped support the cause and needs of the people as a collective.
B.A.R.U is pushing for a cohesive collective for the people of Bermuda to progress in its own nation’s cultural identity: by using the arts as the driving foundation. One of B.A.R.U’s shows that had a significant impact on the island was “Males Academic Disengagement” which took place this past November 2011. The show focused on the question, “Why are males still academically disengaged considering the amount of available resources?” The exhibition was held at the Bermuda College, followed by a lecture directed by the Division of Liberal Arts. The exhibition attracted over 100 viewers, igniting a significant awareness of the state of young males in Bermuda and the conflicts and issues they face as a result of drugs, crime and lack of support. These societal issues have hindered them from obtaining further education.
Bermuda’s last notable up rise was in 1959 with the theatre boycott calling for an end to the segregation between blacks and whites. Emerging from this event was a painting titled “Theatre Boycott Upstairs Right” by Robert Barritt and “Storm in a Tea Cup” by Charles Lloyd Tucker. These paintings depict an era when the people of Bermuda rose up calling for the end of segregation and to come together as a collective body: as one nation working together.
Founder Calix Smith started B.A.R.U as a forum to bring all artists together to engage with one another to simply push for the progression of the arts in Bermuda.
“B.A.R.U started out as a Facebook group page with its main focus being a place for Bermudian artists (of all genres) to share their love of art with one another. With almost a year under its belt, B.A.R.U. has transformed from a simple Facebook page into a full on major artistic movement. As an artistic movement, we do not confine ourselves to a certain technique, aesthetic or concept like many artistic movements of the past, but instead we embrace each other’s individual talents and strengths for the sake of progression in Bermuda’s stagnant art scene. It is only by being united that we can achieve a much more meaningful goal…evolution”, says B.A.R.U Founder Calix Smith.
Today the collective has grown to over 170 members with a diverse group of established and emerging artists who are painters, photographers, videographers, performers, musicians, rappers, jewelers, graphic designers and sculptors. The core active members are: Dany Pen, Manuel Palacio, Summer Wood, Robert Somner, Davika Hill, Krystle Assan, Milton Hill, Vanessa Richmond, Lisa Woodley, Alexandra Mosher, Lexy Correia, Tricia Walters, Lara Smith and Mark Henderson; they are striving to host venues for the collective and showcase their works and talents.
The collective group has hosted 4 group art exhibitions this past year in Bermuda. These include the “Last minute Art Show” at the Bermuda Society of Arts, “Not your Nana’s Art Show” at Rock Island, “Male Academic Disengagement” at the Bermuda College, and “Fetish” at TQ Gallery. B.A.R.U has also collaborated with other organizations on the island such as “The St. George Artist Alliance,” the “Bermuda College”, and “Chewstick”. B.A.R.U has already paved way in Bermuda by publicly tackling on subjects and art forms never before done on the island such as: sex, fetishism, racism, prostitution, race, graffiti; with an anticipated show in the new year on gang culture and violence.
“There is a thin red line we as artists are allowed to walk on when it concerns content versus censorship. With that being said, B.A.R.U puts emphasis on creative freedom and promotes being on that red line without any restrictions. As long as the artist can thoroughly explain their work for the greater good of understanding we will support them. In order for the Bermuda art scene to grow and evolve, the conservatives must put down their barriers through censorship and allow artists to freely express themselves. Once we do we will see greatness like we have never seen”, states Calix Smith on censorship and art.
With the collective’s continual expansion, B.A.R.U hopes to position itself as a contemporary collective arts group, and bring the talents of Bermudian artists into the international art scene.
BERMUDA SUN NEWSPAPER
WEDNESDAY, NOV. 28: From the fading natural beauty of our island to the four elements of our earth, ten musicians came up with a rich mix musical interpretations of the biennial artwork on display at the Bermuda National Gallery.
The Art of Music returned for the second year following the success of last year’s inaugural event. It was an exercise that helped to form new relationships across different creative disciplines, raised funds for the gallery and attracted a new calibre of visitor. Here is a rundown of their musical responses.
Erasures by Dany Pen composed and performed by Princess Black:
Princess Black was described as tough, magnificent and progressive and her soul-inspired response to Danny Pen’s Erasures contained every element of that description.
Dany Pen’s biennial exhibit focuses on “how memory and history are preserved, salvaged and revived through the displacements of individuals and groups.” The singer, aka Ashanti Caesar, gave a stoic performance in her song The Way of Life which, like the photo, reflected the “Cambodian experience”. Lyrics such as “my forefathers’ pain runs through my veins” were accompanied by a soulful sound and a heavy beat.
This Week: Arts & Entertainment Magazine
Artist of the Month: Dany Pen
Feature Article pages 30-32
Royal Gazette Newspaper
BNG Biennial of Contemporary Arts
Taking Dany Pen’s Pulse – from Toronto’s Regent Park Projects ... http://collective.com/2012/07/22/profile-taking-...
Taking Dany Pen’s Pulse – from Toronto’s Regent Park Projects to Bermuda’s Biennale 2012
July 22, 2012
Friday April 20 – 4/20 – just before the rush of summer. The tourists, with their bright shirts, paleskin, and slow saunters have yet to dominate the sidewalk. On Front Street, purse-sized landscape paintings and tchotchkes tumble out of open shop doors. Lunchtime has the air of a rat race, and Front Street is its ﬁnal lap.
A little after high noon, Dany Pen and I tuck away to Maria’s Ristorante: Chancery Lane’s discreet ,cobblestone meeting place for politicians and businessmen. We are neither. Cambodian, Canadian, “‘hood:” Ms. Pen is all of these things. She is full, red lips and a leopard skin sweater, huge gold hoops and ﬁne art. Dany has taken a break from her job coordinating the National Gallery’s youth education program to talk with me about how she has come to be an expat, an immigrant, and an artist. How she came to create art that through merges her personal histories of genocide, poverty, and displacement. Most importantly, I want to know how she came to love art and believe in its power to crack open the world.
Meet Dany Pen: artist. Meet the stark, photographic installations of her family and other Cambodian Khmer Rouge survivors that won her a place in Bermuda’s 2012 Biennale. Find out more about her childhood in Toronto’s Regent Park, and how and why she creates art that acts as umbilical cords to her community and family, art that thickens and pulses with empathy and relatedness, always questioning what it takes to maintain – or even achieve – a sense of a self amidst disconnection.
How the Other Half Lives
From St. James to Jane and Finch, Dany describes her childhood as moving “from project to project.” Like many other marginalized people, the Government heavily regulated her young life. The Toronto Community Housing Corporation, Canada’s largest social housing provider, and the second largest in North America, shuttled Dany and her illiterate, immigrant mother in and out of Canada’s most infamous social housing complexes.
Taking Dany Pen’s Pulse – from Toronto’s Regent Park Projects ... http://collective.com/2012/07/22/profile-taking-...
“Growing up with a single mother, my mother had to make due with where we were placed, in subsidized housing. So we were always moving place to placed.” Dany’s environments were from ideal. Jane and Finch has the distinction of having one of the largest concentrations of gangs, youth, single-parent families, refugees, immigrants and “low-income earners” anywhere in the country. St.James is not only one of Toronto’s 13 economically deprived neighborhoods, but is also Canada’s most densely populated neighborhood and one of the most tightly packed populations in all of North America. “Eventually, we ﬁnally settled in Regent Park where we weren’t moved again.”
Originally built in 1948 as a “garden community” physically distanced from the city, Regent Park’s inaccessibility is now a symbol not for escape but isolation. Regent Park became a multi-ethnic ghetto where drugs, prostitution and murder proliferated. It is Canada’s oldest and largest social housing project where (until recently) over half its population was age 25or younger and almost 70% lived below Canada’s low-income cut off rate. Average income for Regent Park residents was approximately half the average for other Torontians, resulting in a community facing multiple stressors relating to wealth, opportunities, and crime. “There was always this saying in Regent Park, ‘You don’t cross the street out of Regent Park because on the other side you don’t belong there.’ It was a physical mentality because Regent Parkers never cross the street. We stayed in our communities because we were seen as outcasts.” She continues frankly, “Every single person I know from the projects dropped out at twelve. They’re either locked up, on welfare, on drugs, or missing.” Toronto’s revitalization project aimed to inject hope into the crumbling projects, moving tenants to temporary housing, tearing down substandard homes and replacing them with a mix of townhouse and condominiums. Some see these projects as urban renewal. Others – including Dany – see it as a thinly veiled gentriﬁcation project. Although the Toronto Community Housing Corporation promised to replace all 2,083 low-income units, Regent Park residents moved out of their life-long neighborhood – some with as little as days notice– feel that the government deserted them in new projects, making space for high rises and high-end retail – and, some note bitterly – higher-income residents.
The ongoing drama of Regent Park’s former residents is always at the forefront of Dany’s social conscience. “Growing up in the projects you experience a lot of things…prostitution, robbery, drugs, violence, murders. In the projects, it was everyday, normal scenes, hearing gunshots everyday. It was literally growing up in an unjust system that made me aware of the hierarchies, the different tiers. I use art as an outlet to voice and project what I experienced from the other side of the street that usually the other side wouldn’t see.”
Crossing the Street
Dany returns to this metaphor of crossing the street to describe the acts of transgression and transcendence that allowed her to see life outside of the projects. It wasn’t without disappointment, and more than once Dany was rebuffed. After teaching herself the basics of operating a manual camera – one she’d bought herself, at eight, by saving her lunch money for an entire school year – Dany felt that it was time to upgrade her skills. Later, she applied to two high schools: one across a bridge in a different neighborhood, and the second a“[prestigious] arts school” Dany had always admired. Both schools rejected her. At the ﬁrst, students from outside of the neighborhood were not allowed to attend: a policy that kept disadvantaged people from accessing greater privilege (and has since been rescinded in the ten years since Dany applied). The second school required prerequisites and prior training in the arts. A “very conﬁdent child,” Dany recalls walking into the school, going into the ofﬁce, and declaring that she wanted to attend. “The receptionist was like, ‘Well, do you have any private training, any background in the arts, any programs your parents enrolled in. I was like, ‘No, I have nothing.’ I was very blunt. [I said] my mom can’t afford to put me in any of these things.” Again, Dany was rejected. Initially, she was “devastated.” In time, however, she became friends with a girl from the school, who snuck her into the school’s dark room after hours to develop her ﬁlm.
Dany ﬁnally got her chance to “step across the street” when she fell in with a generous group of artists working in the projects. In her daily journeys to and from school, she became intrigued by an underground basement, visible to the street through small windows through which a modern wunderkammer caught her eye. One day, as Dany was walking along, she noticed that the window to this wonder-room was ajar. Without hesitation, Dany slipped in. There, she encountered a “bizarre and intriguing” array of “hundreds of weird objects,” a strange collection of meticulously arranged junk. She had, of course, fallen into the art studio of a young collective of artists, who eventually started an out-of-pocket program that took Dany and other neighborhood kids out of the ghetto and into the downtown Toronto art scene. “The artists got very involved with us as the youth coming through their space. Because of those artists, for the ﬁrst time in my life I crossed the street into downtown Toronto where I had never really been on my own. I was thrown into the art gallery for that ﬁrst time experience, and it was a Keith Haring exhibition.”
At eight years old, Dany encountered the artworks of one of the best-known artists of the twentieth century. The pop artist and social activist drew his inspiration from grafﬁti, anti-apartheid struggles, AIDS awareness, and the 1980/1990s crack epidemic. Openly gay and later AIDS-infected, Haring made colorful, cartoonish works that were striking in their raw simplicity and feeling. To see a contemporary artist make work based on their life experience was highly inﬂuential to Dany. The effect was sudden and game changing. “I literally died on the spot and was reborn. The most intimate moment of being in that exhibition was that (Haring) had a journal on display, a personal journal…There was this passage where he was talking about his sexuality and being an outcast., sleeping and living in the subway tunnels. He said he didn’t care, he feels comfortable in his own skin. [That] he’s always going to create what he feels. It gave me the conﬁdence to say, hey, it doesn’t matter that I’m from Regent Park, seen as a statistic. It made me tell myself, ‘I can totally ﬁnish school, can totally get out of the projects.” It gave her the conﬁdence to begin creating honest, personal, socially engaged art.
Getting to the Other Side
Like a weaver, Dany threads life’s fray into digitalized tapestries that display histories of loss, displacement, and silence. Central to all of her photographic installations are lived experiences. Her recollections – from steering herself through homeless people to get to her subsidized stoop, or counting prostitutes as family friends in her youth – provide the inspiration for work that exposes the universal condition of displacement. She explains, “It’s like if I made a work about landing on the moon. I can’t make a piece if I don’t know anything about it, if I have no attachment, no experience.”
From June 17th to November 25th, her most recent work, “Erasures,” is being exhibited at the Bermuda National Gallery in the 2012 Biennale. In the four, short years between 1975and ’79, the Red Khmers murdered more than 2 million people in real or perceived threats to their tragic reign with arbitrary executions and torture. Her mother – a survivor/refugee of the Khmer Rouge’s red reign – inspires the piece. Even as an immigrant in Canada, Dany’s mother could ﬁnd no refuge from trauma of war. Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Leng Sary, and Khieu Samphan – leaders of the Communist Party of Kampuchea in Cambodia and the subjects of Dany’s work – haunted her on every news channel, magazine, and newspaper. Even as
refugees, survivors of the one of the 20th century’s most violent regimes were still confronted with the faces of their oppressors. An attempt to heal the wounds left behind, “Erasures” is a empowering ritual that leaves the viewer unsettled by its lunges at power and lapses into pain.
An installation combining photography, video and performance, “Erasures” is the second work in the main room of the National Gallery, displayed on four DVD players side by side on a white table. The four screens feature the yellowed images of various Khmer Rouge warlords, some authoritarian, some smiling, all reeking of the fascistic propaganda that can make warlords look like monks. In all the videos, only the artist’s hand is visible, shown erasing the somber, yellowed image of warlord. Her hand casts a shadow that eclipses PolPot’s face. Alone in a quiet gallery, I can hear Dany’s breath through untouched headphones. Together, the audio and video leave a jagged record of her efforts to erase the pain. They stagger: at ﬁrst, her hand strokes are short and vigorous. When she tires, she takes a long pause… then, a renewed commitment to her task of erasing the image of war. Above the DVD players, four small glass capsules hold the traces of the erasures. Dany tells me that these are meant to represent the decapitation of the heads, a victory over the genocide, the perpetual trauma. “[It’s] almost like this subliminal decapitation…like, Yes, I ﬁnally cut off his head. In the piece, I’ve kept the erasure bits in a capsule. In the olden days when decapitations happened they put the head on the stick as a trophy. And that’s literally it: their head in a capsule as a trophy.”
Daughter, artist, record keeper of communities and nations forgotten by the world, Dany Pen is triumphant. To me, the work is much more ambivalent. Rubber shavings cover the faces, but don’t bury them. The images dull, but they persist. So what really matters? Is it not her compulsion to rub away the wounds that crack us open? Is it not her ode to survivors and their daily work of surviving that really inspires? And for those of us that are survivors of the many shades of modern trauma, the end point of the piece becomes a starting point for our deepest concerns. Is the work of triumphing over trauma even erasure? If it is not possible to erase the trauma, is our power in the irresolvable actions we take to survive, and then to thrive? Perhaps, it hints, triumph is something subtler. Perhaps it is a state between presence and absence, where the outline of pain is always visible, and our work is not to remove the pain, but to lighten its darkest hues until what we are left with are shades of gray, hidden under the scrap heap of our efforts toward healing.
By Krystl Assan,
Category : Uncategorized
Taking Dany Pen’s Pulse – from Toronto’s Regent Park Projects ... http://collective.com/2012/07/22/profile-taking-...
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I was in the midst of writing this review on the Dany Pen exhibition when my efforts were interrupted by Hurricane Igor. When I finally got back to working on it I realised that I was, by then, too late to get it published before the end of the show.
Nevertheless, the exhibition raised such important issues, I thought it important to continue with it.
The Dany Pen exhibition was concerned with issues of identity. For her it was a personal quest to discover her Cambodian roots, as best she could, given their rupture by the Khmer Rouge. This show triggered my thinking about other aspects of identity, especially our Bermudian identity. I also looked for other artists who have used their art as a means of dealing with identity. One such was the Post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin.
In 1897, Gauguin, who by then was living in Tahiti, painted his masterpiece entitled: 'Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?'. These three fundamental questions are ones we all want answered. Basically they deal with identity and in order to find answers we often look to our past to our ancestors. In researching family genealogies, we might find names and some basic information, such as who married who and who their children were, but beyond that, not much else. Mostly our ancestors are unknown to us other than names, if that. What were they like? What did they look like? We have little way of knowing.
Beyond our own particular links with our ancestors, however, there is the impact of our community's history, which is also part of our identity. Additionally, personal achievements are a consideration.
But what if your family's genealogy is only piecemeal, what then? Such was the case with Gauguin. Although his father was French, his mother was Peruvian, through whom Gauguin claimed Inca ancestry. In growing up, he spent time in both France and Peru. His roots were multicultural. His move to Tahiti in 1891 was part of his search for the noble savage, as exemplified in the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but to a certain extent it was a search for his own identity, the non-European aspect of his past.
As a member of the International Association of Art Critics, I occasionally attend meetings in the Caribbean and there the issue of identity, it seems, is almost an obsession. Some years ago, the Brooklyn Museum hosted a show of Caribbean art called Infinite Island. (Incidentally, the curator of that exhibition was Tumelo Mosaka, who was one of the jurors for this year's Bermuda National Gallery Biennial). The exhibition made much of such Caribbean issues as identity, diversity and hybridity, however, one critic writing for the New York Times said that such concerns are considered "uncool" in Manhattan.
Perhaps that says more about the state of art in Chelsea, than anything constructive regarding this exhibition in Brooklyn.
Bermudians, at least on the surface, seem less concerned about identity. I have said, half facetiously, that we Bermudians these days are mostly obsessed with money and materialism. Yet, we too are concerned with identity even though we seldom talk about it. An important part of maturing is gaining an understanding of who we are, individually and as a community. We Bermudians have, over the centuries, developed a unique culture that is unlike any other. It is important for us to know about it and respect it. We as a community, however, are at risk of losing our cultural distinctiveness through the ever pervading influences of foreign television programmes and other media.
I noted a few days ago the request made to Government by Berkeley Institute student, Kiaaron Minks, for more Bermuda history in the school curriculum. This resonates with my thinking. We cannot now control the influences from outside the community, nor would I want to, but we can teach Bermuda history including our cultural history. While teaching at Bermuda College I found that many of my students had little knowledge of local history or were able to identify aspects of our uniqueness. Instilling in our students a knowledge of who we are and how we got that way, therefore, is of critical importance in combating the loss of personal and collective identity. We need to be proud of our uniqueness and the only way to gain this pride is knowing about it. Knowing who we are is important in developing a positive self-image.
These thoughts have been going around in my head ever since visiting the Dany Pen exhibition which, until recently, was on show at the Bermuda Society of Arts. Entitled Deja Vu, this exhibition was about the artist's search for identity and the loss of knowledge of her Cambodian roots, through her exile from her homeland and the loss of relatives through mass killings on the part of the Khmer Rouge. She is also concerned about the current loss of Cambodian cultural identity through the impact of western media. She sees the latter as a kind of neocolonialism.
Upon entering the show I was confronted by three large photographs which appeared notably blurred. These pictures of unknown relatives were, originally, background pictures in larger family photographs. The large photographs on show are the result of her attempt to reconstruct the appearance and bring into focus these unknown individuals. In the end her achievements are completely out-of-focus portraits. These unknown relatives are as mysterious as the names we find on genealogical charts. She was told that these individuals had helped her family escape the genocide that took place in Cambodia a few decades ago, but beyond that, she has little knowledge of who they were. Yet, she recognises an indebtedness to them, of her very existence.
We too owe our existence to our ancestors, who, are likewise, largely unknown to us. For some, this lack of information may be due to the loss or difficulty in accessing records. For those of African descent, there is also the massive disruption caused by slavery, which leaves a large part of our community with truncated roots; that is, they are cut off from knowing their African ancestry from beyond the period of enslavement.
I was fascinated, a score or more years ago. by the novel 'Roots' by Alex Haley which tells about the author's attempt to reconstruct his African roots, first through researching certain words that had been passed down through family members resulting in the discovery, supposedly, of the author's actual African tribe. I understand that, although this theme makes a good story his quest to actually find his roots was, in reality, less successful.
As for the visual artists here in Bermuda: Should we deal artistically with issues of identity, and if so, how? We Bermudians come from a variety of backgrounds, which makes for an interesting community, but how can we appropriately showcase these differences? These are provocative questions that are worth thinking about.
Over the past 18 years that the Bermuda National Gallery has been in existence, the BNG has sought to highlight and celebrate our diverse population with such shows as the Window On the Azores, Secrecy, (African Art) and Carib Art. That is only a beginning, however. Other similar exhibition are currently under consideration, which will continue to build bridges across the diversity divide within our community.
The Dany Pen exhibition is unfortunately finished. I can tell you, however, that through her skillful use of photography, engravings and video, she created a show that gets high marks for sheer impact. It was a strong show that, hopefully, will once again be shown in the foreseeable future. It is that important.http://www.royalgazette.com/rg/Article/article.jsp?articleId=7da97af30030033§ionId=80
A new art show at the Bermuda Society of Arts gallery (BSoA) explores one Cambodian family's heartbreaking legacy of genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge in the 1980s.
The artwork in 'Deja Vu 1965' — a series of photographs, video work and metalwork is done by mixed-media artist Dany Pen, 23.
Ms Pen moved to Bermuda from Canada a few months ago, when she married a Bermudian.
"As an artist I have always been interested in how history is attached to identity," said Ms Pen. "A lot of people nowadays disregard history for their current contemporary identity."
But for Ms Pen, her family history stemmed from a very dark place.
Members of her family were part of an estimated two million Cambodians who died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge in waves of torture, murder and famine throughout the 1970s.
The Khmer Rouge were followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea. Under Pol Pot and others, they ruled between 1975 and 1979.
The exhibit focuses on 1965, as the height of the Khmer culture, before the genocide began.
The Khmer Rouge particularly persecuted anyone with education or the ability to express themselves, including doctors, people who spoke a second language, teachers and artists.
"My mother, Yean Chhan, survived because she was uneducated," said Ms Pen. "My mother led a very humble life in Cambodia. She lived in a jungle village."
She escaped, and it took her three months to reach the safety of an internment camp called Khao-I-Dang over the border in Thailand. The population of the camp reached 160,000 people by 1980.
"She said they would spend time running and hiding, running and hiding," said Ms Pen.
Before leaving home, all Ms Pen's mother could take with her were a few photos shoved into her pockets.
Ms Pen's mother was lucky enough to be allowed refugee status to Canada. Ms Pen was born in 1987, not long after her mother's arrival in Toronto.
"As a child, I could never understand why my mother seemed to know all the Cambodians in Canada," said Ms Pen. "She would always say she met them in 'the camp'.
"For a long time I thought she meant a fun summer camp."
It was only as she got older that she understood that 'camp' referred to an internment camp.
Ms Pen said in school, learning about the Jewish holocaust helped her to understand, to some extent, what had happened to her own family.
"The culture is still in that shock mode," she said. "Nobody really talks about what happened."
She is still learning to live with the loss of culture and identity that her family suffered.
While looking at some of the photos that her mother managed to salvage, she noticed that on dressers and walls in the photos, were more photos.
"I thought I could pull these forward, sharpen it, enhance it and finally put a face to these family members who were executed, murdered, whatever their fate was," she said. "I thought I would finally put a face to the stories I have heard so often."
Some of the people in the indistinct photos had sacrificed their lives to help her mother escape.
Sadly, she quickly discovered that no amount of technology could bring back their faces.
"I was searching for this core truth, this answer, but I did not get it," she said.
"The more I zoomed into the photos the more blurry they became. The images and forms changed."
The results of her work are now displayed at the BSoA.
They are blurry, enlarged photos of men and women and long-haired little girls standing in front of unknown monuments. Their faces cannot be made out.
The photos with their forgotten faces illustrate the Pen family's frustration and loss.
On one wall, Ms Pen has hung a number of copper plates with even more abstract shapes.
These are photographic copper," she explained. "The photograph itself is heated to a certain temperature and literally melts onto the copper."
The images are from a Cambodian textbook that was put together when the refugees arrived in Canada to try to teach their culture to the next generation.
"It was done on very bad paper," she said. "They were disintegrating as I looked at them. I thought I would preserve them by putting them on copper."
She has also etched Cambodian phrases on metal. The meaning has become blurred by Ms Pen's Canadian culture.
"They are things your grandmother might say to you," she said. "For example, when my mother would get mad at us, she would shout, 'don't eat all the rice from the pot and then throw it on the floor'. I did not understand what that meant growing up."
Although Ms Pen may not be able to bring back the faces of her family, through the art show she is helping to keep their memory alive. 'Deja Vu 1965' has also shown in Canada.
"Many people in my generation feel an automatic duty to carry on the legacy of this culture that at the time was almost completely eradicated," she said. "We are in a position to excavate and recover the culture with very little means."
She said she grew up quite humbly in Toronto. Her family did not have a lot of extra money for art supplies.
"For me, I have always been doing art," she said.
"I have always been thinking about art. Growing up I was working with very limited to resources. I had to make due with whatever I had at the time. I worked a lot with found objects."
She went on to study sculpture and installation at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD).
She will soon be teaching art and sculpture classes at Kaleidoscope Arts Foundation.
In some ways, Ms Pen's freedom to follow an art career represents a major triumph for her family, since self-expression and art were the very things that many Cambodians were killed for.
"Some of my family members were frightened when I said I wanted to be an artist," she said. "To them it was not something to take lightly."
But she said that she did not want people to focus too heavily on the Cambodianess of the art show.
The wider theme of the show is loss of cultural identity through assimilation, something that people from many different backgrounds can understand.
"You have children today in Bermuda who are also asking, 'where does my family come from? where did we originate from?'" she said. "I believe history is so important to our current identity."
The show runs in studio A and B at the BSoA until September 22.
For more information about the BSoA visit http://bsoa.powweb.com/.