Audacious Artist

“Being bold and taking risks” is Jeffrey Meris, TYL ’15, in a nutshell. The visual and performance artist has been pursuing an unconventional path for most of his life—and it’s working out to his benefit.

Jeffrey Meris sitting in his NXTHVN studio in New Haven, Connecticut.
Photo credit: Ryan S. Brandenberg, CLA ’14

Finding himself

Born in Haiti and raised in Nassau, Bahamas, Meris currently resides in New Haven, Connecticut, as a 2020 NXTHVN Studio Fellow. NXTHVN is a nonprofit organization that promotes an alternative model of art mentorship and career guidance. Through the yearlong fellowship, Meris receives a generous stipend, an apprentice, access to the Yale University Art Gallery and library, and a dedicated studio space to commit to his artistic practice, which includes sculpture, drawing, performance and video.

In 2013, Meris won the Central Bank of the Bahamas Art Competition for his project, Dis We Tea Party, which marked the 40th anniversary of the Bahamas’ independence from the British Empire. For the project, Meris crafted 40 ceramic teacups and 40 ceramic saucers and invited 40 Bahamians to have tea with him. What developed was a merging of 40 different experiences with people from various walks of life.

In 2015, he was invited to speak at TEDx Nassau about the experiential performance piece, which explored the question, “What does it mean to be Bahamian?” It’s a question that Meris, who has wrestled with his sense of belonging, often asked himself while living in Philadelphia as a Temple transfer student.

Fitting in

For Meris, who came from the underresourced College of the Bahamas, adjusting to life at a large university took time and a lot of trial and error. 

“I chose Temple because it was in a big city that was diverse. I didn’t want to go somewhere homogenous,” Meris said. “And, looking at the faculty, they all had amazing careers. And then Tyler had these innovative facilities and studio equipment for art making.” 

During his first semester, Meris struggled with his studies and felt he was falling behind in his artistic development. He credits Karyn Olivier, associate professor of sculpture, with giving him the tools to grow as a creator. 

“This was really the first time that I realized that my artistic practice could be whatever I wanted it to be,” said Meris. “I didn’t have to think about art as this limited thing that happens in a white cube or within a sterile environment.”

Jeffrey at a glance

A force for good

As for where Meris goes from here, there’s no limit to where his ambition might take him. 

“My proudest accomplishment is having the courage to leave a small community and chase a super unorthodox career path and somehow find my destiny in the world,” he said. “Being bold and taking risks is something I plan to continue doing.”

—By Sujeiry Gonzalez and Dutch Godshalk