Yello Interviews: Award-winning Antiguan Artist Heather Doram
by Karen Rollins Oct 5, 2020
Antiguan artist Heather Doram has almost seen and done it all, but she’s nowhere near finished yet!
Undoubtedly one of the most successful artists the Caribbean region has ever produced, Heather has never been afraid to push boundaries with her art and has won several awards for her work as well as international recognition.
A creative powerhouse, Heather is also an actress, a fashion designer, and a teacher as well as a wife and mother. One of her mottos is “live out loud”, and Heather’s life and career have certainly embodied that approach.
Yello asked Heather to share her incredible life story with us.
Describe yourself using three words.
Phenomenal, creative, inspirational.
Tell us about your background.
My father was an overseer in the sugar industry, and my mother a seamstress. I grew up with six sisters. We loved being in the countryside, picking fruit, walking through bushes, and exploring old ruins.
My formal art training began at secondary school. I went to the Antigua Girls’ High School and then the Leeward Islands Teacher Training College in Antigua.
I graduated with a BA in Textiles from the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts in Jamaica. That’s where I got hooked on fibre!
I completed a masters’ degree in Fibres at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, which is one of the leading art institutes in America.
Were you always interested in art?
Yes, as a child I always tried to find pieces of paper to draw on. I also loved sewing and learnt by watching my mother.
Please describe your art.
My art is explorative. I wander mentally, looking into the past, and physically, incorporating found objects into my art. This intuitive approach informs my technique – my layering of fabric, my compulsive stitching.
I layer because no single surface can tell the whole story. My resulting art is collage-like; so rich, textured, and intimate you yearn to touch. My work, which incorporates traditional women’s techniques, like sewing, has a rich sense of place, and explores being black and female in a world that centres on males.
As people, especially women, view my art, their eyes may dart around taking in the fragments before pulling back for a full experience of the whole. As she does, I hope she feels reflective, feels pleasure ignite inside of her, feels emboldened, feels her own spirit come alive.
Where do you get inspiration from?
My approach to my art revels in being uncomfortable because it is all part of being human; being willing to explore identity, sexuality, loving, nurturing, aging, women’s roles in society, society itself as it becomes more multicultural and at once connected and distanced.
In my current creative phase, I feel so invigorated, so inspired, so playful, and so expressive. As both an artist and a woman, I am exploring new spaces, taking on new challenges, transcending my past, and shaping my future.
I am compelled to make art. My art aims to make sense of life, my roots, heritage, and being a woman.
What motivates you to keep developing as an artist?
I am a very driven and creative individual, so it’s not difficult for me to be prolific at producing art.
I have so much to say, so many issues to cover, and so many stories to tell. There is no shortage of subject matter or materials with which to make art.
I am always looking for new art and discarded materials to incorporate into my work.
Which local, regional, and international artists do you admire?
Locally, I admire the paintings of Mark Brown.
Regionally I admire the work of Barrington Watson, Dawn Scott, Ebony Patterson, and Tamara Natalie Madden of Jamaica. Alison Chapman Andrews and Ann Dodson from Barbados, and Stanley Greaves of Guyana.
Internationally, I admire Mark Bradford, Kehinde Wiley, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Frida Kahlo, and Anselm Kiefer.
What has been your proudest achievement in your career so far?
There have been many proud achievements in my career so far like being the designer of the National Dress for Antigua and Barbuda; receiving a National Award for my contribution to Culture and the Arts; acting in the first locally produced TV series; playing the lead role in the second locally produced movie called ‘No Seed’; and winning the ‘12 Artists of the Caribbean’ Clico competition.
While at the Savannah College of Art and Design, my work was chosen to represent the college at the Venice Biennale, which is the largest modern art show in the world. I graduated with a 4.0 average, was on the Dean’s List, and the list of Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.
Another extremely proud and gratifying experience for me was being commissioned to paint a mural at the V.C. Bird International Airport. It starts on the wall in the immigration area and continues into the baggage claim area.
What do you love about Antigua and Barbuda?
Antigua is a paradise to me. The landscape, especially when it rains, is a sight to behold. Just taking a drive around the island and seeing the lush vegetation, interrupted by the aquamarine of the sea and white sand, takes my breath away. The food is delightful. There are so many local and traditional delicacies to sample.
There are activities to suit every taste, and my favourite is sailing on Wadadli Cats catamarans. Seeing my island from the sea is pretty awesome. It is extremely relaxing.
The people are still pretty warm and inviting and have a special infectious sense of humour. There is also a wealth of creative individual persons on the island, producing high-quality art, craft clothing, etc.
I love Antigua and Barbuda for our rich culture. Some of the best singers and musicians in the region come out of Antigua and Barbuda. I’m proud of our national heroes and sporting legends such as Sir Vivian Alexander Richards.
Our greatest cultural spectacle, the Antigua Carnival, is the highlight of our cultural calendar.
Where do you go on the island to relax with friends?
There are great Antiguan restaurants which are perfect for hanging out with family and friends. I love Garden Grill and Salt Plage and for fine dining La Bistro.
I love going to the beach. I have so many to choose from. A day trip on Wadadli Cats is hard to beat and my favourite thing to do with family and friends.
‘Soothe’, a neo-jazz event held in March, is top on my list. I also love attending local fashion shows.
Potluck lunches and brunches are other fun ways to relax with family and friends.
What makes Antigua and Barbuda different from the other Caribbean islands?
There must be something quite special and unique about Antigua and Barbuda because many persons who come to visit never want to leave or can’t wait to return.
I believe there is a laidback inviting vibe. Our crime rate is also relatively low compared to other islands in the Caribbean. Persons still feel quite safe. People are still very welcoming and accommodating.
Our topography allows easy travel across the entire island. We have the best beaches anywhere in the region.
What are your career plans over the next 12 months?
Since March, with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been in a most creative and productive phase. I have been in my studio almost every day. I intend to continue producing paintings and mixed media pieces.
At some stage, I would like to have a joint exhibition with other artists who have also been working.
I also plan to produce a series of colouring books and continue to work at building my radio show on Jump 100.1 FM.
What advice do you have for aspiring Caribbean artists?
I think there are two paths that young Caribbean artists can follow, either to paint pretty pictures or paint paintings from your heart; paintings with a message, a point of view, that speaks to issues such as the human condition.
Going to school and acquiring the knowledge, experience, and technical skills will be vital to your career going forward. Always be willing to learn, to observe and experiment.
Keep sketchbooks and notebooks with you everywhere you go.
Keep at it, and as much as possible, develop your unique style.
What is your philosophy / motto in life?
Live life out loud. We only get one chance at life, so live it fully.
Never let fear prevent you from taking the next step. Be bold, be confident, be you.
Please tell us something only a few people know about you.
I love to travel but have a fear of flying.
I’m a daredevil.
When I was young, I lacked self-confidence and had low self-esteem.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Why?
To put love, kindness, compassion, and fairness in the hearts of all human beings so that all wars, hatred, racism, and other forms of discrimination would end.