After the success of her Gully Godz in Conversation (2010) wall display at Monique Meloche's gallery in Chicago, Ebony G. Patterson's work is on exhibition again. This time it's a one-man show (her third in the USA) and an indication that Monique Meloche who has a reputation for showcasing up and coming artists, recognises that Ebony is an artist to watch. The solo show is likely to draw even more attention since it is concerned with the extradition of Jamaican drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke. In Ebony's new series 0f 72 (2011) the men claimed dead during the State of Emergency that took place at the time of Coke's arrest become masked martyrs. There is a sense of the fancy dress ball about these pictures but through her glitzy yet sacred portraits, Patterson questions the death of these 'innocents' while exploring the ways in which dance hall dons and what she calls 'disciplez' have gained celebrity status within popular culture. We think this is an exciting rejoinder for Patterson that shows her readiness to deal with hot issues in ways that make us reflect rather than sensationalize. We need more artists prepared to work in this critically bold way without fearing recrimination.
This weekend, artist Ebony G. Patterson is in conversation with Infinite island curator Tumelo Mosaka. The event is taking place at Monique Meloche's Gallery in Chicago where Ebony's dance hall imagery will be featured on their 'experimental wall' until March 26. Ebony will be showing work from her Gully Godz series that she has been exploring and expanding for the past two or three years. Initially, the works were an exploration of feminized forms in dance hall fashion that questioned issues related to gender and Jamaican masculinity. Then, her portraits of dons and their 'disciplez' considered skin bleaching and how racialized (and even criminalized) identities were being blurred by the contemporary practice of skin mutation. More recently in exhibitions in Haiti and currently at the National Gallery of Jamaica's National Biennial 2010, she interrogates the identity of these dons by exploring the ways in which they are held up as 'godz' that absorb and transcend Christianity's spiritual forms and compete for celebrity status and worship.
Art in the Caribbean is essentially an art history textbook designed to serve the needs of readers in the region and elsewhere, providing them with a lavish visual resource that is long overdue. As its authors Anne Walmsley and Stanley Greaves point out, the fragmented nature of the Caribbean with its geographical, cultural and linguistic barriers has made such comprehensive art texts difficult to produce. At last, this beautifully designed book with a generous complement of colour plates means that students throughout the region will have a history of art and a visual record at their finger tips. The book has been long in planning and production, so it is understandable that in its blurb, the book's collection of images - including artists such as Wifredo Lam, Leroy Clarke and Christopher Cozier (who is also a contributor)- is described as a 'virtual gallery'. Even as it is being published, there is recognition that this book faces competition from digital resources that have already begun to close the gap between our islands. This book is a much needed resource for educational institutions but it will be interesting to see how its display stands up alongside the myriad Caribbean images now available to students online.
The National Biennial exhibition now showing at the National Gallery of Jamaica is a blockbuster, featuring eighty artists and over one hundred and fifty works in various media. As always the show is topical and a useful gauge for the state of fine arts and how artists are thinking now. It is a show that combines both juried and invited artists that gives the viewer a good sense of which artists are enjoying success or perhaps more importantly, successfully engaged in the creative process. With prize money attached to the winning of the Aaron Matalon Award, the show can also be competitive, pitting younger talents such as Ebony Patterson with her Christ and Co. (Gonzales Christ Revised and Extended) or Philip Thomas and Carousel against the work of older hands. After the dynamic and popular Young Talent show earlier this year, it seemed likely that the prize might go to an emerging artist but a strong showing from others such Tina Spiro Aurora Xaymaca (To Kapo With Love), Petrona Morrison Jamaica 2010 and Omari Ra From the “If We Must Die” Series We Get No Love in the Time of Cholera meant that these established artists could not be dismissed. In the end, the prize went to Laura Facey for Plumb Line an assemblage constructed from cedar, steel cable, and lignum vitae that, with the artists characteristic minimalism, seemed to cut through all of the surface noise of other works. Against the background of ocean waves, Hindu chanting and Rastafari drumming, the viewer is asked to reflect on nature's ability to subvert our daily interest in death, dons, and even environmental issues. It is a beautiful, profound work that speaks to eternal truths and even hope. Happy New Year!
The black diaspora art world is saddened at the recent death of one of its stalwarts Donald Locke This artist who was born and educated in Guyana, developed his talents as a sculptor and ceramist in the UK having gained a British Council Scholarship to Bath Academy of Art and a Guyana Government Award to Edinburgh University. In 1979, a Guggenheim Fellowship in Sculpture allowed him a year as an Artist in Residence at Arizona State University after which he gained permanent status remaining in Phoenix for another decade. In 1990, he moved to Atlanta where he continued to live and work while enjoying international acclaim in group exhibitions in USA and Europe such as Back to Black, Whitechapel, 2005. His works such as Trophies of Empire 1, 1972-1974, (detail depicted here), comprise robust disconnected forms that eerily echo the cultures and geographies he had experienced. Heavy metal vessels, solid wood forms and found objects are placed together creating awkward human effigies or challenging abstract assemblages. Their loaded erotic and sometimes violent symbolism bring to mind mournful memories from the past and issues related to slavery, identity and sovereignty. His, are sombre images of the Black Atlantic world that Locke straddled so boldly.
After realising that the Edna Manley College has temporarily removed its online Visual Arts Archive, I've spent the past couple of weeks creating galleries with photographs of Caribbean art works for this site. It seems to me, that there has to be a place where students and others can access accurate information about artists and their work. So far, I am pleased with the outcome, the galleries are attached to artists' biographies in the Caribbean Artists A-Z archive and can be viewed by clicking on the link provided with each full biography. As usual, I have given most attention to historical material and pioneer artists - hopefully I can add more images for contemporary artists as time and permissions allow. These galleries offer optimal viewing and detailed inspection of individual images as well as the possibility of slide shows or carousels formats. Where possible, I have provided full titles, dates and collections but if artists have additional information or amendments please contact me through the site and I will be happy to make the changes. Copyright with images will always be tricky, but in the main, I have used small sizes at a sufficently low resolution while maintaining their quality. We cannot support the downloading of images but it is my hope that others will appreciate them for research/reference purposes and that they will follow fair use guidelines when using them.
After its successful showing in London the exhibition From War to Windrush is opening at the Institute of Jamaica in Kingston. Organised by the Imperial War Museum, the exhibition uses multi-media to document the contribution of over 10,000 service men, women and many more civilians who aided Britain's victory in the Second World War and after. The images and experiences of these volunteers and immigrants remind us that war-torn Britain was not dissimilar from today's Iraq with major cities being blitzed and whole communities demolished. Family life too was disrupted with fathers joining the war, mothers working in arms factories and children evacuated. Yet ,even as West Indians rushed to rebuild Britain, their service would lead to even longer term dislocation back in the islands. In the next ten years more that 125,000 West Indians left their homes for Britain, often creating broken families and children abandoned to be raised by grandmothers. Many never returned, remaining in Britain to face prejudice and resentment or sometimes worse, cultural invisibility. From War to Windrush documents the successes and failures of those years in a manner that is poignant, compelling, and especially important for those who cannot forget because they are still dealing with the consequences of those brutal years.
If as Rastas believe, we are all divine and ever living then we cannot be sad about the passing of Alton 'Barry' Chevannes one of the movement's finest scholarly supporters. Instead we must celebrate his life and consider his achievements in support of Rastafari. As a university academic and a cultural activist/pacifist Chevannes helped to remove the stigma from the movement that was once reviled and almost outlawed by the State. Today, the Rastafari movement is a global phenomenon, popularised through its music and spiritual life style. Chevannes sociologist, anthropologist and the author of important books such as Rastafari: Roots and Ideology and Rastafari and Other World Views played a significant part in extrapounding the beliefs of Rastas as well helping to decriminalise their sacred herb marijuana. As the Chairman of the Institute of Jamaica and dean of the UWI's Faculty of Social Sciences, Chevannes put his intellectual weight behind the movement helping others to see it as a modern cultural phenomenon with roots that our nation should be proud of. In this sense his legacy lives and Jah lives!
It is ironic and perhaps sad that Roktowa the building and organisation that has become an artist's beacon in downtown Kingston is opening its gift store Glyph uptown at Red Bones Cafe this week. The new outlet's location in a trendy New Kingston happy hour spot reminds us that the patrons and well wishers of contemporary Jamaican art are still not prepared to frequent the Roktowa's huge warehouse space for more than the obligatory hours of an exhibition opening. The idea of hanging out downtown is still not chic. Even so, we wish Creative Director Melinda Brown well as she launches this project that will showcase 'beautiful and curious object d'art' for the xmas season. Profits go towards Roktowa's exhibition program which has so far supported artists from the local and mainstream contemporary artists community as well as a recent exhibition of Haitian artisans in residence there. If the reception poster is anything to go by, the Haitian connection will offer a new twist on the often predictable shopper's fare available at other uptown venues.
This week I was a member of the seven person panel judging entries for the National Biennial IV exhibition scheduled to open at the National Gallery of Jamaica in December. To ensure fairness, panel members were selected from diverse areas of artistic life with artists, curators and others having equal say. Yet, it was interesting to note how much consensus there was about what art pieces qualified for this high status exhibition. It was also good to argue about the merits and demerits of artworks without feeling that our critiques would engender bitterness or feelings of victimisation. The process of judging which was in turns reflective, lively, argumentative, humourous and serious brought home the fact that forums where one can discuss art in this open and honest way are limited in Jamaica and that perhaps our art product is suffering as a result.