‘Protective Spirits’ on display at Bridge Art Gallery in Bayonne

She was always passionate toward art, but her upbringing steered her down a more traditional route at first

The artwork of Heather Williams is now on display at the Bridge Art Gallery in Bayonne at 199 Broadway. The solo exhibition entitled “Protective Spirits” opened on Saturday, May 14 from 3 to 7 p.m.

In an interview with the Bayonne Community News, Williams described the intention behind her exhibit. Williams was born in Saint Croix, an island in the Caribbean Sea that is part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, raised in Brooklyn, and currently lives in Jersey City.

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“I am an artist, mother, wife, and educator,” she said. “Currently I just finished a solo exhibition at Akwaaba Gallery titled ‘Damage and Repair.’ As we speak I am in a residency on Governor’s Island through ArtCrawl Harlem.”

Recently, Williams completed her Masters in Fine Arts at The School of Visual Arts in New York and is a recipient of the Paula Rhodes Memorial Award for exceptional achievement in MFA Art Practice. With a background in art therapy and a Montessori Primary Certification, she has been teaching art and running workshops for a wide range of students and participants over the past ten years.

A journey of artistic expression

Williams said she was always passionate toward art, but her upbringing steered her down a more traditional route at first.

“I was always interested in art, but being raised by parents who are first generation Caribbean, they encouraged me to get a job,” she said.

Artwork by Williams is on display as part of her solo exhibit entitled “Protective Spirits.”

And Williams did just that, becoming an art therapist. She worked with the domestic violence population for many years as a therapist, before eventually embracing being an artist again.

“I do believe my practice as an art therapist does help to inform the way I work now as an artist,” she said. “My work is very process oriented, very intuitive, and very organic.”

The sculptures that line one wall of the gallery are known as “Witnesses” and are a key part of the installation.

After working as a therapist, and before becoming an artist, Williams also taught children. She was a Montessori teacher for several years.

“I taught Montessori classes as a certified primary teacher,” she said. “Eventually, I came back to my first love of art. I knew that I didn’t want to have any regrets in my old age. So I made it a point to get back to what I thought is really important for me to do, which is to share and create my work as an artist.”

The paintings on the other wall are abstract visuals of the Moko Jumbie who also seek to watch over and protect Black bodies, Williams said.

‘Protective Spirits’

Following that, she embraced her inner artist and has been featured in a number of exhibits, residences, and other events since. That includes her current exhibit at Bridge Art Galley, “Protective Spirits.”

“It was born probably when I became a mother of two Black boys, out of the pandemic, being under quarantine, having to rethink my art practice, thinking a lot about this question of is there safe passage for the Black body?”

Part of the exhibition is a film that plays at the gallery entitled “Safe Passage.” Williams compiles the film and updates it regularly as part of an ongoing piece involving her sons.

Some of the “Witnesses” are stand along statues which flank the exhibit from all sides.

“In the film I have my son,” she said. “And every year, I’m adding him in the film and looking at how he’s changing so the viewer can go through that journey with me of seeing those changes and asking the question: ‘Is he safe? At what point does he appear to be a threat? Is there a safe place for him?'”

Also featured in the film are some of the sculptures which adorn the walls of the gallery, which she calls “Witnesses.” These “Witnesses” act as protectors with their eyes helping Black bodies gain “Safe Passage.”

“That’s another important piece of this because the ‘Witnesses’ are sculptures that represent observing the past, the present and the future,” she said. “When I think of protective spirits, even if I think now of this recent situation that happened in Buffalo, I’m asking the same question: ‘Is there safe passage for the Black body?'”

The works feature striking contrasts between warm and cold colors, deep purples and vivid oranges.

‘Is there safe passage for the Black body?’

Williams continued: “I was thinking about my own roots and this idea of protection and safety and having the ‘Witnesses’ as a wall of witnesses who are watching over. They are our witnesses to the past, present and also the future.”

The paintings on the opposing wall are also a key part of the exhibit. Williams said they have a bit of cultural influence to them that ties in with the rest of the exhibit, Williams said.

“The paintings have a bit of cultural influence to them because within several of the paintings, they are abstract but you’ll see these figures that are kind of looming,” she said. “And that’s related to those people at carnivals who stand on stilts known as Moko Jumbie.”

The wall of “Witnesses” provides a striking visual as part of the exhibit.

The Moko Jumbie represent a Trinidadian protector spirit, according to Williams.

Overall, Williams’ exhibit is poignant given the current state of the world: “I feel like it’s even more relevant today when we see certain things that keep repeating themselves.” 

An artist talk is set with Williams for June, but a date is still to be determined. The exhibit will be on display until Saturday, July 16. For more gallery hours and information, go to bridgeartgallery.net.

For about two months, the exhibit is on display at Bridge Art Gallery.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com. 

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