Life in the Caribbean is complicated. Sometimes, that complexity comes from the choices we make, much more is determined by family, place and our relationship to history. Laura Facey's Radiant Combs exhibition provides tools for untangling our lives. Her combs are elemental forms drawn from nature that unravel our knots of privilege or poverty and provide a sense of clearing and possibility. It is not coincidence that the afro-pick forms Laura has created are like trees, rooted and erect or with fronds that fold like weeping willows such as Daughter of Comb 2010 shown here. These shapes come from the land around and her skill at whittling and honing whatever it provides, into forms that whisper rather than shout. Placed around her home's high-ceilinged gallery, her sculptures ache with their aged beauty, caressed surfaces and their ability to ease the soul. On the wall, oversize drawings of the surrounding landscape depict peaks and valleys with shafts of light and space. Like her combs, they show how the gaps in-between life's sometimes violent prongs are the true places of healing. Laura has always been in the business of making things beautiful but these combs have opened up channels that allow us to explore new pathways and her own inner passions.


Olivia Mc Gilchrist's multi-media exhibition my dear daddy currently on show at the School of Visual Art's CAGE gallery raises issues about race and gender with imagery that is provocative and compelling. Working with photographs, archival inkjet prints, large scale images printed on vinyl, video and stop frame animation, the exhibition is a precisely considered installation with family furniture and memorabilia that nostalgically explores the artist's past and her relationship with her Jamaican father who died when she was a child. Returning, to her family home after years abroad studying, Mc Gilchrist places her own masked portraits in domestic scenes that suggest her desire to reconstruct the past and retrace a lost family identity. Her use of a white mask taken from the theatrical imagery of Belisario's Actor Boy and an alter ego that the artist calls 'whitey', become useful devices for exploring psycho-sexual romantic yearnings. Depicted, slow dancing with her father, or nervously jittering on the edge of his (?) grave, Mc Gilchrist communicates the sense of isolation she experiences as a white person exploring this 'dark' past. In a society, where white people often have a greater sense of privilege and upward mobility, Olivia's rendering of her personal emotional stasis provides a frank and chilling perspective about the impact of race and cultural dislocation on contemporary Caribbean identities.


Last night we previewed Kevin Macdonald's Marley movie in Kingston's Emancipation Park. A sensitive strategy by Tuff Gong Pictures who, no doubt, wanted to win the support of a Jamaican home crowd before the film's general international release. And it worked. The multicoloured carpet that stretched the length of the park's fountain walkway to the largest centre screen, greeted Bob's family and Rastafari celebs in regal style. For those without special invitations, the park was scattered with multiple screens so that the thousands of viewers could relax throughout the grounds and watch Bob's life unfold. Although the BBC's Talking Movies had criticised Macdonald for his conventional documentary style, it was clear that this director allowed Bob, his fellow musicians and relatives to tell their story without stylistic diversions. The script was forthright while the combination of historical footage, music concerts and contemporary filming in Kingston's ghetto and the scenic rural mountains where Bob grew up, were compelling. For Marley enthusiasts, the film offered rarely seen images, including photos from the musician's teenage years and the final months of his life. For two and a half hours the crowd was mesmerized, most undeterred by the cloud burst that came just minutes from the end. It was a moving evening when Bob's natural mystic was blowing in the air....

Watch the trailer or see more preview pictures, courtesy of Panmedia


The Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator based in Miami recently mounted an exhibition at Edna Manley College's CAGE gallery as the outcome of its Jamaica International Cultural Exchange for 2012. Entitled Living Sculpture II, the temporary exhibition, accompanied by a one day symposium, allowed artists from the wider african diaspora (including Urbanflo artists Jenni Lewin-Turner, Natasha Ba-Abdullah, Amrita Chandradas, Kaydia Lewin-Turner from the UK) to exhibit together and discuss their art practice. The title accurately pointed to the ecclectic collection of works in varied media that moved beyond conventional interpretations of sculpture. Many were works on paper, prints and photographs suggesting the economic practicalities and scale issues often involved in exhibitions that travel, but a few such as Rodney Jackson's crumpled popular grocery can forms or Carlos Alejandro's washing line of works on paper or Danny Ramirez teddy bear wall drawing (shown here), challenged the third dimension in ways that were spatially creative. Co-ordinated by participating Jamaican artist Carol Campbell and curated by Diaspora Vibe Gallery's curator Rosie Gordon Wallace, Living Sculpture II, was something of a coup for the CAGE gallery that has recently appointed an advisory board to ensure the high standard of its exhibitions. It is shame this presentation of international works was so fleeting and under-publicized but perhaps this too reflects the reality of contemporary cultural partnerships. View works in situ.


A recent trawl of antique websites, collector's magazines and gallery guides reveals that it is taking time for scholarly discourses about race to affect the way vintage items featuring black images are labelled. The tropes related to exoticism, primitivism and servitude appear to be engrained in the black body and the western psyche in ways that are difficult to decode and arrest. Popular sites such as Ruby Lane and eBay, where members upload and label their items for sale, suggest that stereotypes like SamboGolliwogs and Aunt Jemima are alive and well, but there is confusion about how to categorise them. Although the tradition of employing black people as ornaments within the decorative arts goes back to ancient civilizations, these black motifs (which are often pejorative) deny easy aesthetic catagorization. Black Americana, Tribal Art, Ethnic Art, and even Negro Art, are all terms used for this memorabilia with little institutional guidance for that labelling.

It would be good to see purveyors of luxury items such as Christie's and Sotheby's leading the way in reclassifying black ornamentation in ways that reflect their contemporary reading and the type of study that has gone into a re-appraisal and recovery of the Image of the Black in Western Art.


Mutual Gallery's Art Fresh and the School of Visual Arts Faculty Show 2012 are both on show this month. Art Fresh showcases the work of upcoming artists, and many have been taught by the SVA faculty. Visiting both exhibitions, it's tempting to compare one with the other to see how the students match up to their teachers. This year, it looks as though SVA's faculty have the edge, and their show is surprisingly fresher than Art Fresh. Maybe this is because the work displayed is from faculty who are themselves quite young, some having only graduated in the past decade but it's also an indication that the SVA is going through a generational shift and benefitting from its new hires. Whereas the SVA's old-guard stalwarts such as jeweler Garth Sanguinetti (Innovative Lace, 2012), painter Hope Brooks (Backra Pickney, 2010) and printmaker Eugenio D'Mellon (The Magician, 2012) are all well represented with handsome pieces that show craftsmanship and professionalism, it's the work by newer teachers such as Marlon James' series Mark Samuels (2011) and Olivia McGilchrist's Cement Works (2009), the meticulous installations by Paula Daley and Jean Chiang and digital collages by Phillip Thomas Seh Weh Yu a Seh Becaa Wi Knuo Weh Wi a Seh (2012) that prove most innovative and engaging. In fact, Olivia McGilchrist can be commended having been selected for both exhibitions with photographic portraits such as the Dear Daddy series (shown her) that display her conceptual range and technical accomplishment. The one flaw in the SVA show is scale. The works of all fourteen staff fit too neatly into the college art gallery's small space suggesting that these teachers are somehow constrained – if not by age then perhaps, circumstance.


Sculptor Laura Facey is one of few contemporary artists able to think outside of the frame of Jamaican art and push the boundaries of her audiences. Her new work Radiant Combs returns to history and provocative themes stemming from her 2003 public monument Redemption Song that triggered concerns about who has the right to represent Jamaica's history of slavery and emancipation. Radiant Combs which includes a video where Laura discusses her work in prose, is no less challenging. With her usual fiestiness, she has entered it as part of her portfolio for New York's 3rd Ward competition demonstrating that she refuses to be constrained by national boundaries and local criticism. The competition requires viewer participation and asks supporters to vote online for the artist of their choice. If you use Facebook and you like this video then follow this link to share Laura's work and her ideas. The competition deadline is 9 march 2012.


Both Brian MacFarlane, creator of Trinidad's masquerade designs, and the musical band 3canal appeared to be in sync with their performances for this year's carnival, offering the best and most socially conscious productions for the season. Neither could ignore a concern for their island nation that in the recent past has experienced corruption scandals, a partial State of Emergency, curfews, high profile sexual mishaps and an increased violent crime rate that could have even marred carnival. Distinctive for their patriotic use of Trinidad's flag colours red, black and white, both Sanctification: In Search of designed by MacFarlane and 3canal's The Pappy Show a critique of Trinidad's contemporary life and politics - expressed their pain for Trinidad's current state of affairs and a call for national reflection. Unsurprisingly, Sanctification's costumes with section titles such as Luxuria, Annihilation, and Patrioteer (shown here) were again outstanding for their innovation and mobility, securing MacFarlane's sixth successive win for the Mas road march parade. Meanwhile, 3canal's theatrical show although less well co-ordinated was risk-taking and ambitious. They used their musical presentation The Reckoning and J'ouvert mas entitled Occupy to powerfully communicate their concern for national renewal and healing. At a time when most masquerade bands have devolved into tourist entertainment and bacchanal, it is good to see these creators crossing artistic disciplines to raise consciousness and use the expressions of carnival as a vehicle for social change. See more images from carnival 2012, click here.


Art from the Heart, the second exhibition from Kingston's newest gallery has provoked some discussion about the art market and the gumption it takes to run an art business now.

DecorVIII opened late last year and its new show, Art from the Heart, (both phonetic puns intended) celebrates love and Valentine's Day. Situated in a small business enclave in an increasingly commercial but chic part of Kingston, DecorVIII is well appointed for uptown viewers seeking new trends and Art from the Heart offers a mixed bag, sometimes reflecting the sentimental tastes of the McDonald family team who run the gallery. The exhibition's Sunday morning opening with live music and good wine, was reminiscent of the nineties, an era when Jamaica's economy was buoyant and collectors had more disposable income to buy both good and bad art. The art market has dwindled since, even as it has become more competitive and sophisticated. With resources scarce, art lovers are becoming more discriminating about what they view and ultimately what they buy.

Perhaps because of these harder times, the McDonald's have been able to garner consignments, with stock from pioneer artists such as Alexander Cooper to younger talents such as Nakazzi Hutchinson (shown here), all keen for visibility given fewer opportunities to exhibit. DecorVIII's good natured owners are also enthusiastic about using their space to feature the work of up-and-coming artists, so they are showing pieces by those who have yet to find favour with the art world cognoscenti.

Art from the Heart reflects the McDonald's altruistic intentions and the exhibition's title is a gesture to their own passion and their eclectic approach. It remains to be seen if they also have the heart to weather the competitive nature of the business, the critical appraisal of their venture, and the risks of a shrinking market in these recessionary times.

Just when most Caribbean artists and institutions have started to congratulate themselves for establishing their presence on the internet, the technological landscape is shifting again. Recently, the Jamaican based digital agency Panmedia launched the first mobile app custom designed to provide exhibition news and listings for Blackberry phone users. The free app pushes information already available on their Art Events Jamaica to mobile phones in a form that is user friendly. So does this mean that artists are going to have to rethink how they package their work for viewers online? Perhaps. Whereas displaying work on a website allows for the use of high resolution images, stories and extensive cataloguing, many Jamaicans spend more time browsing their phones rather than their desktop computers. Artists will need to consider ways to make their work zing on hand-held devices like ipads, iphones and Blackberry phones.  This may call for mobile apps with more stunning images, sound bytes and only the critical information that can capture the attention of audiences increasingly on the move.