As an influential artist as well as the Chief Curator (Director Emeritus) of the National Gallery of Jamaica, David Boxer has had a significant impact on Jamaica’s art and its artists. He has consciously steered Jamaican art in new directions.
Boxer studied at medical school in the US, later switching to complete his doctorate in art history. He has had no formal art training. Nevertheless, his artistic vocabulary is sophisticated, stemming from an interest in artists such as Francis Bacon, Joseph Cornell and Joseph Beuys. He now works increasingly in series and was one of the first Jamaican artists to move ‘of the wall’ into environmental and installation art. Canvas, paper, boxes, found-objects and furnishings are all integrated within his displays, as he works to enshrine, dramatise and expound his themes. As an accomplished classical pianist, his themes are like musical suites, each phrase being worked in detail only then to be combined into a major orchestration.
Using and subverting grand narratives, Boxer tackles ideas rarely articulated n Jamaican society, in particular, the taboo issues of sexuality. More recently. he has been pre-occupied with issues related to history, slavery and political traumas as they arise throughout the world. The Milky Way: A Postscript (1991-93) was part of his response to the bombing of Baghdad during the first Iraqui War. For Boxer, it seemed incredible that even in Jamaica one could witness the atrocities of that war, courtesy of the cable news networks which make Jamaica virtually a satellite of the USA and its culture. Boxer’s initial response was to create an installation that was first exhibited at the National Gallery of Jamaica in 1991 in the exhibition Aspects III: Eight Avant Garde Artists. When the piece was dismantled, he decided to retain the imagery in his postscript of works on paper.
Certain ‘leitmotifs’ or ‘icons’ recur throughout Boxer’s imagery. In Memories of Colonisation (1983) and Violin D’Ingres (1986) the fragmented and gauzed human form, the African Tchi Wara mask, renaissance images and musical notations are spliced and collaged; personal and cultural imagery inserted is disruptive, he cuts and replaces so neatly and decisively, like a surgeon, that the overall effect is one of completeness. He explains:
“Very often in my work, I’m trying to deal with bringing together two cultures. I have African ancestry, I have English ancestry and the two cultures clash. This clash is witnessed in my Memories of Colonisation series set in English palaces with the African masks invading them…”
Boxer’s use of African masks is symbolic, if not ritualistic. He incorporates them within these new settings as a way of maintaining the black presence; although they are merely cut-outs, the plastic surgery he executes on them is intended, as he says, to ‘activate and revitalize’ them.