Race and Representation

Submitted byJeeraik009 onThu, 09/13/2012 - 15:30

The sudden postponement of Susan Alexander's exhibition Painted People: The Omo People of Ethiopia is not surprising. It is hoped that organisers will use this time to consider the issues raised by her portraits of young highly decorated African girls. Since the 19th century westerners have been fascinated by the beauty of Omo women. Google them and you will see that capturing them in film and photography has been a preoccupation of ethnographers and anthropologists even as Omo customs have changed in response to modern life. Susan Alexander's paintings are even more capricious since it seems she did not work from live models and because her embellishing is consistent with her use of decoration in Jamaican portraiture. One would have hoped that after living in Jamaica for so many years, Alexander would have been more sensitive to the issues of race and representation that this type of exoticized imagery provokes. The sponsorship and endorsements this exhibition has recieved demonstrates that these are not Alexander's failings alone, but also indicative of a mindset in the art world that supports her.