Christ Church Foundation School old scholar Orlando Gabby Scott perhaps put it best when he said that artist Coral Bernadine is not a person to be constrained by defined roles. Her life’s achievements are literally a painting of this free spirit.
“Bernadine’s excellent gesture reflects the true spirit of Independence,” Scott said of her art exhibition launched Saturday as part of Barbados’ golden jubilee celebrations.
“Here is a past student of the Girls’ Foundation School, as it then was, who early in her life boldly defied the edict as to what role she should play in national development, and instead honed her God-given talents to make her contribution to nation building in a way that she wished.”
He made the remarks in the upper floor of the school’s auditorium amid a spread of Bernadine’s paintings detailing 50 years of Barbados, and a half century of her time as an artist.
Scott said that through the exhibition, Bernadine was “giving back to the institution that has contributed to the shaping of her character and her skills”.
Bernadine’s story is one of patience and relentless pursuit of her true calling, despite the early rejection she suffered because her desires clashed with society’s defined role of women.
She recalled that after her teacher in the early ’60s recognized her artistic talent and advised her father to enroll her in art school, “he said it was foolishness”.
“So he bought a typewriter and brought in a tutor,” Bernadine said.
That well-intended attempt at making her fit into the mould set for women of that era lasted for just over a decade. During that time, she used the clerical skills obtained from the tutoring and typewriter to work, and she got married and had three children.
But in the 11th year of Bernadine playing the traditional role, the burning desire to express herself as an artist burst to the top again and, “with the blessings of my husband, I went off to the [United States] to study as a graphic artist, majoring in fashion illustration”.
She returned home after graduation to work in advertising agencies and newspapers, and also had a 10-year stint as a tutor for prisoners.
Then she returned to fine arts, where she has been recording Barbados development for 50 years.
Bernadine’s two score and 10 milestone coincided with that of her beloved nation, so “I decided to come back here with this exhibition to the school that nurtured my ability as an artist”.
The last addition to the exhibition was a painting of young Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, also a Foundation old scholar, looking into a mirror at his future self.
Bernadine’s 50 pieces are divided into 12 themes, to coincide with people, social, and landscape development of Barbados through the years.
As she explained, a viewer could see the display in an order beginning with A1Supermarket and continuing with the Spouge Twins; the cricketing 3Ws; Four Hills Plantation, bought by Bajans in Panama; Five Diamond Hotel, Sandy Lane; Six Men’s Bay; seven Dames of Barbados; the ‘Little Eight’ small islands in the post-West Indies Federation era, when Barbados was in union with the OECS; Ninth Hour, religion depicting nine sacred spaces; 10 National Heroes; 11-plus examinations and 11 parishes; and 12 being future Barbados – young people.
“I couldn’t help but being overawed at the thought that went into all she has done for this art exhibition,” Prime Minister Stuart said.
Of the message in the entire collection, he said: “These stories of Barbados breathe the authenticity of this beloved country of ours”.