Mention Heather Doram to anyone in Antigua and they will know exactly who she is and what she represents and has given to the Island, which is simply her artistry at its best! Former Cultural Director for Antigua & Barbuda, Actress, Artist, Educator and TV Host. The daughter of a father who worked in the Sugar industries and mother who was a professional seamstress. She had an idyllic childhood despite moving from one sugar estate to another every few years with her family because of her father’s work… but I think those early years of nomadic experiences has prepared this multi-talented lady for what we see today- let’s find out more about Heather.
Judd: Hi Heather, and welcome to BAT! For those who are yet to know Heather Doram, please tell us how it all started, and what was your early education like?
HD: My primary and secondary education was done at the Antigua Girls’ High School in St. John’s. After leaving secondary school, I chose teaching as a career path and eventually went to The Leeward Islands Teacher Training College, where I achieved an Associate Degree in Education from the University of the West Indies. I returned to my alma mater, the A.G.H.S. to teach and a few years later received a scholarship from the British Government to pursue Textiles at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston, Jamaica. I again returned to my alma mater and taught visual arts.
Some years later in 1994, I received a scholarship from the Organization of American States to pursue a Master’s Degree in Fibres at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia.
I graduated with honours, was named “Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities” for outstanding work. A high point of that time would have to be the fact that my work was selected to represent the College at the Venice Biennale; the largest modern art show in the world in Venice, Italy. In addition, the College purchased most of my thesis show for their permanent collection.
On return to Antigua I was appointed as Curriculum Officer for Visual Arts in the Ministry of Education in Antigua. In 2003 I accepted the position of Director of Culture. I retired in 2006.
Judd: So were you ever tempted to try something completely different, another subject perhaps?
HD: I cannot remember ever being interested in anything else but art and all forms of creative expression. At school art was always my favourite subject in addition to other subjects which involved drawing of diagrams etc. For example: geography and biology.
Judd: Let’s move onto Carnival, you and your husband Connie Doram were one of the main designers for the festival?
HD: When I started dating my husband he was involved in Antigua’s Carnival with the production of elaborate costumes. You can say that I was smitten. After a few years of observing the processes and techniques involved in the construction of costumes I decided to try my hand. So the husband and wife duo of Connie and Heather Doram was born. We worked together, I producing the designs for groups and individuals and both of us working on the construction of these fantastic costumes. These costumes were very well received by the public and we dominated that arena until our retirement in 1986. It was a pretty exciting time and genre.
Judd: You must have so many highlights during your career and even now?
HD: One highlight of my career would have to be being selected by CLICO Insurance Company out of Trinidad and Tobago who selected me as one of twelve Caribbean Artists to grace their much sought after calendar for 2004. I received a prize of $20,000 US and was flown to T&T for the prize giving ceremony. Another proud moment (and there have been so many) was getting national recognition, Grand Cross of the Most Illustrious Order of Merit for my contribution to the arts in 2002.
In 2004 my designs were accepted by the Parliament, as the official National Dress of Antigua and Barbuda.
Judd: Wow that’s some accomplishment, congratulations! Ok, I’m ticking off my list of ‘things Heather has done’ and the next one is about your acting career how did it all happen?
HD: In the late nineteen nineties I made a cameo appearance in the first locally produced full length movie; “The Sweetest Mango”. A few years later I played the lead role in the second full length movie “No Seed” produced by HAMA productions a local company.
I met a lady named Elaine Spires, a writer from England. We became great friends and she asked me to act in a production of two plays she had written. “Elvroy Prescott has left the building” and “Sweet Lady”. Shortly after that a local women’s organization asked Elaine and I to perform a piece which she had written for their production of The Vagina Monologues. After that I was asked to perform a piece written especially for me by Zahra Airall a playwright. I really enjoyed taking part in these productions, so when they put on their next production, “When a Woman Moans”, it was a no- brainer that I would participate.
Judd: For fans of YouTube (and I think that's basically everyone in the world!) please check out "The Amazing Adventures of Maisie &Em, written by British actress Elaine Spires and directed by Lawson Lewis. I have to say I giggled at these two friends and their light banter with each other.
Was it easy to build such a great chemistry with Elaine? And can we expect more from Maise & Em?
HD: Yes, it was. Elaine pitched the idea of this television series about these two characters, “Maisie (myself) and Em played by Elaine. We have had some challenges in getting this series shot over the last couple of years. But hopefully in the not too distant future this can be achieved.
Judd: What makes you happy and fulfilled? And what makes you tired?
HD: I feel happy and exhilarated when I’m focussed and producing art. I had an epiphany, that there had to be more meaning to life. We are all here for a purpose and we need to fulfil that purpose before we leave this earth. I discovered that I needed to be fulfilled otherwise I could become hardened and hateful towards others. I strongly believe that if women find out what their passion is and work towards living it, that everyone around them will also benefit from this. I am happiest and so at peace when I’m in my studio working. I’m in another world and all the worries and cares of this word melt away. I’m so energised that I find it difficult to even fall asleep. My mind is racing with ideas or outcomes. So I make time for ‘me’.
At times, I do get mentally tired, but it’s just because I have too many projects going on at the same time…that’s where my famous ‘list’ come in. I constantly write lists, on which I try to prioritise what I do next and next etc. But I’m so passionate and love what I’m doing that it never seems like a chore. Ideas and inspiration come at me fast and furious…. I get ideas anytime and anywhere. I always travel with pad and pen as these ideas can come in the oddest of places. I can remember scribbling and sketching for an entire flight. I often jump upright and awake in the middle of the night because an idea came to me. So I would turn on the light and make a note of it. I am game for anything that I know will be fulfilling to me and to others.
Judd: Earlier this year you and I - although unknown to us at the time, attended the same play in Antigua called Whispers in Wallings. The story was set in a forest and brought to life the old folklore Caribbean characters such as the Soucouyant and La Diablesse.
I saw in an interview that you said you are a lover of the Lizard, if you were to play the part of a Lizard how would you bring that character to life and what would you want the audience to know about this reptile?
HD: In my artwork I often include some personal symbols such as the butterfly, dragon fly and the lizard which have significant qualities which are symbolic of my life, my experience, my history and culture and that of women in general. If I were to play the lizard in a performance I would be fearless and tenacious. I would forever be changing my look, as I’m extremely bold and love change. I would like the audience to take away these qualities from my performance; no matter how life beats us down, no matter how many obstacles are place in our way we can get over and around them. The lizard is always going upwards and never falls off a branch or wall. I embody all of these things.
Judd: Lastly do you have any advice to budding creative entrepreneurs who don't mind wearing several hats at once? And who may also be versatile in different areas of the arts and not quite sure where to start?
HD: My advice would be to stay focussed and position yourself for where you would like to go. You will be mentally a happier person if you find career choices in the area in which you are interested. Opportunities can come from where you least expect it to. Get involved, be sociable, and make contact with persons in the industry. Take advantage of any opportunity which will take you even one step closer to your career goals. Be open to advice. I have noticed a trend especially in persons involved in the creative industries that they are not open to advice or suggestions; they feel that they ‘have arrived’. Connect online with other persons in the industry, exposure to others and other ways of doing something is powerful tool for your development.
Folks, this is one busy lady and I am so happy we caught up with her.
For more about Heather Doram just Google, Facebook, YouTube…she’s everywhere! JB