Like A Tree Let The Dead Leaves Drop

For the last year, Jacqueline Alma's solo exhibition has been on display at The Bermuda National Gallery. It comes down on Monday, so if you have not had a chance to visit, this is your last chance!

The show is an autobiographical body of work that includes drawings, paintings, sculptures and multimedia, spanning a variety of personal experiences. Her work at first glance is deeply rooted in her own narrative, yet leaves immense room for the imagination and speaks to the universal human themes of love, loss and existence. 

The title of the exhibition, Like a Tree Let The Dead Leaves Drop, is from the words of thirteenth century Sufi mystic poet, Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi. Her drawings are an exploration of graphic and compositional possibilities that document events of her life. In this exhibition she shares with us her world, the leaves and roots of her journey, the inspiration and challenges of the past and the nourishment of the future. 

'My work is fabricated with dualities, creating tension that is both appealing and unsettling, introspective and interpretive. There is always a personal reference and universal reference. I am constantly questioning colour, tone and how the objects relate to each other in space.’

Hanging Sketchbooks Tree I, 2015–2018  Graphite on paper, Japanese albums

Obsessively dense and detailed, each of these seven sketchbooks is an impressive exploration of graphic and compositional possibilities. The piece depicts the landscape of her life using the symbol of a tree, the roots, the branches and the space in between. Alma courageously entangles objects in the roots drawing metaphors of her experiences and allegories of her life, and through the complexity of her drawing she weaves us into her roots, and leaves us considering what feeds and informs our growth.

'The repetition of drawing enables me to work out problems.  Releasing myself like the act of a tree breaking ground into open space, breaking the earth, a moth opening her wings and taking flight, giving the space for memories to be understood and healed. This juxtaposition and the intricate weaving of complex internal roots with the seeking of light and freedom is at the core of my process.’  


Soul Tree II, 2016-2018  Oil on linen

‘Soul Tree I and Soul Tree II are a part of a continuing body of work documenting my deeply personal exploration into the meaning of self, life and personal history through symbolic images.’

In these paintings Alma explores the well known visual symbol ‘the tree of life’, a metaphorical journey of psychological, emotional and spiritual growth. Like us, the tree begins as a seed, it grows, the trunk echoing our core, the branches displaying our journey, the leaves our experiences, the roots our life. Ultimately, the tree mirrors the symbiotic relationship between our past and our future; how the dropping of the dead leaves will nurture and guide our life journey.

‘Trees have no problem letting go of their leaves. The leaves recycle and in the fertile soil life can thrive. Leaves dropping, means letting go. How often do we let go of our habits, constructs, relationships, bad thoughts and energies? What things are truly important in our lives?’ 

Alma presents objects in these paintings as metaphors that transcend their purely material presence. Tangled in the roots are, animal bones, a bobbin and red thread, feathers, moths and shells, to name a few. A fetus nestled by a feather but uncomfortably close to a fish bone reflects on the fragility of life, a snakeskin becomes an allegory for the continual shifting and rejuvenation of time, the notion of western perfection challenged as she entangles a Barbie doll upside down in the roots. The cat skull presents an independent spirit and the red thread and bobbin collected from her mother’s sewing machine embodies the holding together of family and emotions, that is both restricting and comforting.  

Potloodboom, 2017  Graphite on paper

Alma’s work is a blend of the surreal and the representative infused with personal narrative. This work is a reference to a dream she had of her father presenting her with a bunch of pencils and encouraging her to draw.


Potloodboom Sketchbook  Graphite on paper

Sketchbooks are vital to the development and process behind each of Alma’s works, it is with these books that Alma works through her ideas, stringing together a myriad of emotions and technical complexities that are deeply autobiographical.  As the pages unfold she offers a glimpse into her world and a universal perspective that is relatable to us all.

In 2008, Alma gave birth to her son Peter, who she refers to as ‘ best creation’. Throughout his childhood Alma stopped creating major works, but continued to work in her sketchbooks.  ‘The sketchbooks are where all the art you see started and are deeply personal to me. They are diaries.  My pencils are my words, my tools of communication.  I am most fluent through drawing a stream of consciousness.  Through drawing I get my answers. It is a continuous search for the truth…my marks are expressions of emotions, thoughts and feelings that leave me with a deep need to almost scratch on to the surface. The repetition of the drawing is like sewing a fine red thread repeatedly, to make all the connections so that I can understand myself and how I fit into the world." 

"My ideas may come from dreams and emotional experiences in my life, but I don’t paint from my imagination. Building structures allows me to work from life; I set objects up and use them as a starting point so that I can completely see how I want my painting to be.  Handling and manipulating these meaningful objects is an integral part of my discovery."