A “landlocked” artist in search of his Palauan roots



For Jerry Bedor Phillips, art is the bridge that connects him to his island origins.

On display at the Leu Center for the Visual Arts’ Gallery 121 until September 24, the artist’s “Landlocked” exhibition offers a glimpse into the life, history and culture of his family homeland – Palau, a island nation in the Western Pacific.

Phillips’ work not only explores his own identity and family history, but also gives voice to an often overlooked legacy in the United States, and particularly in Tennessee.

“It’s a unique perspective. You don’t meet a lot of Islanders here in the south, so it’s very important to have a space for him to talk about his truly unique experiences, ”said Ana Stringer, member of the Indigenous Scholars Organization of the ‘Vanderbilt University.

Phillips was born in the United States to immigrant parents; he only knows how to be an American, he said.

“I think it’s important to make this work because I’m trying to reconnect with my extended family and the history and legacy they leave me and that I just feel separated from,” said Phillips.

Phillips currently works as a studio director and gallery coordinator at Vanderbilt’s Space 204. Prior to moving to Nashville ten years ago, Phillips earned an MA from Bradley University in drawing and printmaking. The artist is therefore used to working with a lot of paper. .

His exhibition features drawings made with dry materials and graphite colored pencils, and he also started working with calligraphy ink on a type of polyester film that looks like plastic paper, using it to make prints. family portraits and photographs.

The artist also reinvented the use of paper in his sculpture “A Paper Boat,” which features folded white boats grouped into fleets, suspended in wooden garden boxes similar to the ones her mother tended on her own. garden.

The play brings back a memory from Phillips’ childhood: his mother taught him how to make paper boats, which led him to fantasize about bending enough to cross the ocean.

The historical context of the play is darker – the group of boats pays homage to the Battle of Peleliu, which took place in Palau towards the end of WWII and was one of the bloodiest and most devastating Pacific, said Phillips.

“The paper boats here represent the people who fought this battle, those who were lost in the conflict and the remnants of this conflict still present in the waters and on the lands of Micronesia,” the artist wrote on the sign accompanying the piece.

“A Paper Boat” is the favorite of Phillips’ colleague in Vanderbilt’s art department, studio technician Taylor Raboin.

“I love boats in general,” Raboin said. “I love how much they can get bigger, and I can easily imagine the whole room is filled with them and only them, so I love the way he’s spaced them out on these islands around the piece and really made you feel at sea as much as you can in an art gallery.

Phillips challenged himself, he said, by tapping into other multi-piece media, including Plexiglas prints of paraphernalia native to Palau – including coral and a traditional necklace – lit up by LED lights.

Work by Jerry Bedor Phillips. Belmont Vision / Olivia Peppiatt

“Landlocked” began to take shape when Phillips moved to Nashville ten years ago as a graduate student.

His geographic transition, combined with the notoriously awkward transition from being a student to the workforce, deprived Phillips of an idea of ​​what his future would look like, which in turn brought him back to the islands of his ancestral past.

“I was starting to really think of myself again in terms of disconnecting from the islands since I’ve lived here all my life,” he said. “I am more focused and open to learning about the history and legacy that my ancestors and my family built for me.”

Phillips hopes those who visit his exhibit will learn that Palau and its people are rich in culture and history, and that knowing their personal ancestors is a gift that should be celebrated, no matter what country they land in.

“I just wish they would come and experience the work and then leave reflecting on their own family history and their relationships with those who are not their immediate family but their extended family,” he said. he declares.

“Everyone has family after their immediate family, and there is a story for everyone. “

PHOTO: Illustration by Jerry Bedor Phillips. Photo courtesy of Watkins College of Art.

This article was written by Olivia Peppiatt.


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