Tara Jerome-Bernabé is a multidisciplinary artist. Their work incorporates compositions, experimental sonics and poetry into performance art pieces. An eminent part of their compositions and soundscapes features instruments that they make such as Bass ocarinas, Balafon and Bronze cast shell Xylophone. Their performances feature costumes which are fashioned out of leaves, seeds, pods, sticks, reeds and other workable organic matter. From their paintings, Bernabé experiments with homemade pigment from coffee to mud and works with various scents to breathe life into the 2D work.
Tara places an emphasis on discovering self-autonomy within the laws of the natural world, believing that much of our ancestral knowledge is inherent and can be tapped into from within. Their works are made to enchant the audience back into this discovery through the mesmerising sounds of their ocarinas, dances, smells, textures and narratives.
In response to ‘Unforgotten Lives’ Tara is reimagining the lives and images of those who were adopted into aristocratic families as ‘houseboys’. Tara will reflect upon the intense loneliness that was likely felt by people of colour within the aristocracy and the humiliation that these paintings grant.
“My work is about revealing what has been lost through history by reviving stories in a folkloric style, often performing in costumes or weaving canvases as a way to piece together my own history: the lost pieces of puzzles that were omitted before slavery to create new narratives and archives of the present.”
Tara Jerome in Conversation
In their own words, read about what drew Tara to the Art at the Archive project and more about the work that they are creating.
I could feel the excitement behind this exhibition and felt that artworks could help to illuminate some of the messages fuelling this exhibition. I also wish to be part of this growing movement to heal, understand and reimagine our past and present narratives.
Archives are a way for us to affirm life experiences and to be supported by what these experiences carry. They can teach us about ourselves and others. They are a way to remember important things that could have easily been lost. I find it fascinating that in a scrap of paper you could imagine years of a person’s life, or that a few thoughts jotted down in a letter could help to thread together people and places, situations, or dreams. They’re the clues we leave behind for others to follow.
I greatly admire the story of Ellen Craft for the bravery and confidence needed to pull off such an escape. Cross dressing as a slave owner and stepping into those shoes for the sake of survival must have been painful and terrifying, but it just shows you that people had to be inventive and fearless to escape these unliveable conditions. No doubt this experience gave her the fire to continue the fight from London to Liverpool, building her character and confidence. In this day, Ellen Craft could have been a revered actor and activist which she was probably loosely considered at the time by her peers, especially since she wrote a book about this experience.
I feel that art produces the feeling that acts as a gateway between information and one’s own lived experience. I believe that it could open a channel for people to be able to formulate their own conclusions with their imagination. Artwork brings to light what words cannot, it is a sensory unveiling. This provides another layer for people to further understand and connect with the exhibition and the narratives defining the space.
My work is trying to create a peaceful and more natural connection to the individuals trapped in certain derogatory paintings. Images that exploited their faces and spirit for the sake of greed and power. In the way that these subjects’ revered ‘exoticism’ was one of the central themes to these paintings, I wish to create the same intensity of admiration but with their friendships and beauty of character. In other words, I wish for people to be captivated by their facial expressions and the dance that they create together. In a sense, this work could be considered a healing ritual.
The records fill in gaps between narrative and imagination, and thus provides a backbone to the project. Having awareness around a variety of historical elements: the time and geography surrounding the work are essential for developing a deeper understanding of what we are trying to achieve through the art piece. Context places you in the timeline, and through this you can create a more honest work.
I get a strong sense of passion for history through discussing with the archivists and conservators at LMA. There is a genuine thirst for knowledge and storytelling through the archives. I was taken on a tour by some of the archivists, and as we travelled through the building, I was told many stories that had been discovered in the archives.
One thing that struck me the most was hearing how emotional archiving could be, as these are real lives that we are handling. Perhaps it could feel as though the archivists are reading some of the most intimate pages of a diary as they piece together events and narratives of people’s lives.
This close relationship to the people behind the archives is something I have tried to foster within my response. There is an aliveness within what is archived from having to think about durability of materials, to how it is stored/restored to the changing smells within each room and the constant influx of resources. No archive can be legally destroyed which conjures up this image of the Earth endlessly churning over its story pages within the archival draws.
Since I am working with lots of sensory materials such as coffee, pigmented mud and leaves, I hope that my work feels handmade and human in real time. A lot of archival records are behind glass, on a screen or printed and it is a special moment to be able to handle the material. Perhaps my work will invoke the feeling of history as a physical presence in the room, and the story inspires new discussions within the space.
I hope that people will feel that my work illuminates the sentiment behind the exhibition and the importance of bringing these individuals to light so that we can continue to create better foundations of our historical understandings of that time. I intend my work to leave new narratives to be archived for future use.
My Instagram: tarajerome_ and youtube @tarajerome-bernabe1412
Some examples of Tara's work in progress