Kei Miller: Languages beyond Meaning

Laura Facey - Radiant Red, stained wood, National Biennial 2012

Kei Miller

As the National Biennial 2012 draws to a close, we are pleased to provide you with yet another perspective, contributed by Kei Miller, Jamaican poet, novelist and essayist.

It has not been my habit to write about art – to transcribe the awe I sometimes feel standing in front of a piece, or to jot down the fleeting thoughts that might cross my mind while viewing a work. Part of this is self-doubt, of course. I have never studied the visual arts, and I suspect it has a language which I don’t know how to speak.

And then again, there is another feeling I have that the best art actually speaks its own language – something beyond words – and that this business of translating paint or ceramic or film into syllables and punctuation marks, a semiotic medium which it resisted in the first place, is always a kind of reduction. Perhaps I have taken Susan Sontag’s warning to heart – that to talk about art is too often an act of trying to interpret it – to give it a meaning.

Of course at this year’s biennial, much of the work is full of rigorous intellectual content, but nothing that I would call ‘meaning’. This word ‘meaning’ suggests a neat and sometimes too-tidy conclusion, while I suspect our best Jamaican artists are more interested and drawn to the many and messy layers of exploration that precede such flat finalities.

Ebony G. Patterson - The Observation (Bush Cockerel) — A fictitious History, video installation (detail), National Biennial 2012

Ebony G. Patterson – The Observation (Bush Cockerel) — A fictitious History, video installation (detail), National Biennial 2012

I am grateful that Ebony G. Patterson has not yet concluded her fascinating exploration of not-quite-male/not-quite-female bodies. And the work does not seem anxious for conclusion. The bodies she represents seem to move both robotically and gracefully across a much wider spectrum of gender than we tend to imagine let alone acknowledge. What might start out as masculine in Ebony’s work can easily end up feminine; what might start out effeminate can end up butch. But more interesting than these binaries are the many other points along the spectrum; Ebony’s bodies pause at and perform many other genders – genders that have not yet been named by language. ‘Masculinity’ for instance, seems to be a plural thing in Ebony’s work and so embraces the effeminate man, not as someone whose behaviour is antithetical to manliness, but rather as a possible and authentic version of it. The dainty flowers that hang in her video installation this year end up not only contrasting but also perfectly complimenting the soft beauty of her men.

When I step out from the tropical, slightly magical cave she has created, back into the bright lights of the gallery – I am not conscious of anything so simple or smug as a conclusions, only of a fascinating journey. Continue reading

National Biennial 2012 – Musgrave Tributes: Ebony G. Patterson (Bronze, 2012)

Ebony_G._Patterson_Photo_of_the_Artist

Ebony G. Patterson was awarded the Institute of Jamaica’s Bronze Musgrave medal in 2012 and, as has become customary, is honoured with a small tribute exhibition in the 2012 National Biennial. The following is the citation that was read as the Musgrave Award Ceremony at the Institute on October 10, 2012:

The Institute of Jamaica recognizes Miss Ebony G. Patterson for merit in the field of Art.

Ebony G. Patterson is one of the most compelling emerging talents in Jamaican art. After graduating from the Edna Manley College in 2004, she obtained her Masters in Fine Arts at the Washington University in St. Louis in 2006.

Ebony G. Patterson - Untitled III (Khani and Krew, From the Disciplez Series, 2009), mixed media on paper, Collection: Herman van Asbroeck

Ebony G. Patterson – Untitled III (Khani and Krew, From the Disciplez Series, 2009), mixed media on paper, Collection: Herman van Asbroeck

A regular exhibitor a the National Gallery since 2006, she had her greatest impact to date in the Young Talent V exhibition, with photographically derived, embellished tapestries and the decorated body of a car mounted on a plinth as a “sculpture.” Hers is a uniquely Caribbean aesthetic that melds elements of “high” and “low” art and draws from carnival costuming, Haitian sequined flags, and above all the “bling” of Jamaican Dancehall fashion. Always concerned with issues of gender, sexuality and the body, Patterson’s current work explores changing notions of masculinity in Jamaican society.

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Young Talent V – Slide Show Ebony G. Patterson

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This is the first in a series of slide shows on the Young Talent V exhibition, featuring the work of Ebony G. Patterson.

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Young Talent V: Ebony G. Patterson

Ebony G. Patterson - Gully Godz in Conversation I (Conversation Revised) (2010)

Biography

Ebony G. Patterson was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1981. She graduated from the Edna Manley College with an honours diploma in Painting and pursued her MFA in Printmaking and drawing from, the Sam Fox College of Design & Visual at Washington University in St. Louis. She has taught at the University of Virginia and is currently an Assistant Professor in Painting at the University of Kentucky. She has shown her artwork in numerous solo and private exhibitions, such as the National Biennial (2004, 2006, 2008), National Gallery of Jamaica, Infinite Island: Contemporary Caribbean Art (2007), Brooklyn Museum, Gangstas, Disciplez + the Boyz (2009), Cag[e] Gallery, Edna Manley College, and Rockstone and Bootheel (2009), Real Art Ways, Hartford, Connecticut. Patterson has also received several awards, including the Prime Minister’s Youth Awards for Excellence, in Art and Culture (Jamaica) in 2006.

Ebony G. Patterson - Di Real Big Man (2010)

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Ebony G. Patterson

Ebony G. Patterson, Untitled - Haitian Flag Project - Ghetto Biennale, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, December 2009

Ebony G. Patterson recently participated in the Ghetto Biennale, an alternative international art event in the Grand Rue slum of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, that was positioned as “as a counter exhibition, disrupting conventional art scene exclusions, as well as a bold conversion of global power systems, centers of art production, and cultural transmission”. She presented an installation of “flags” that brought her provocative “Gangstas for Life” iconography in dialogue with the spiritual splendor of the traditional Haitian Vodou flags or “drapos.” Ebony, who divides her time between Jamaica and Kentucky, is one of Jamaica’s most critically acclaimed and exciting emerging artists and her recent contribution to the Ghetto Biennale presents a good opportunity to share some of her work with our readers.

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