New Roots: Petrona Morrison’s Opening Remarks

Matthew McCarty - I Took the Liberty of Designing One (2013)

Matthew McCarty – I Took the Liberty of Designing One (2013)

We are pleased to present the opening remarks delivered by Petrona at the opening of New Roots: 10 Emerging Artists on July 28, 2013.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to share some observations on what is an exciting and challenging exhibition.  This exhibition is significant in a number of ways. The National Gallery has had a long history of providing opportunities for artists to show work which challenge prevailing ideas and reflect new thinking, as seen in the Young Talent exhibitions. This exhibition, however, is groundbreaking in that it presents bodies of work which do not have the curatorial framing based on chronology, and presents the body of work on its own terms. This is the realisation of the concept of the “project space” which allows artists to present proposals for recent work, and allows us to focus on their ideas in a given space.

Varun Baker - Journey (2012), digital photograph

Varun Baker – Journey (2012), digital photograph

The exhibition reveals some interesting developments taking place in contemporary Jamaican Art. Taken as a whole, there is a prevailing denial of traditional notions of the “art object”. The space in which we are now located cannot be bought, collected or sold.  The site-specific work of Matthew McCarthy and the New Jamaica collective is defiant in its emphasis on collective engagement, and forces the audience to re-evaluate their ideas about “art” in the museum space.  What we see in this exhibition are investigations with a diverse range of media which challenge the hierarchies of the singular precious “object”, and do not privilege one form or media over another. The site-specific installations, video installation, photo-based work and animation sit beside painting and collage, each presented on its own terms. Continue reading

Last Sundays, September 29, 2013: New Roots and Shady Squad

NGJ_Sunday_Opening_29_September_2013_2-01The National Gallery of Jamaica’s Last Sundays programme for September is scheduled for Sunday, September 29, 2013, from 11 am to 4 pm.

Visitors will have the opportunity to view New Roots: 10 Emerging Jamaican Artists and the permanent galleries will also be open. New Roots features work in a variety of new and conventional media by 10 artists under 40 years old, namely Deborah Anzinger, Varun Baker, Camille Chedda, Gisele Gardner, Matthew McCarthy, Olivia McGilchrist, Astro Saulter, Nile Saulter, Ikem Smith, and The Girl and the Magpie. The exhibition samples some of the most dynamic and innovative directions in the Jamaican art world, by artists who are questioning conventional understandings of art and the artist while presenting a socially engaged perspective on contemporary Jamaican society.

The featured performance on Sunday, September 29 will be by Shady Squad. The brothers Matthew and Conroy Richards, who are the Shady Squad leads, will be performing a duet, dancehall style, and their performance will start at 1:30 pm. The internationally acclaimed Shady Squad has won several major dance competitions, including the 2010 and 2011 World Reggae Dance award and they placed second in the inaugural season of Dancin’ Dynamites in 2006.

As is now customary, admission to the NGJ will be free on Sunday, September 29 and free guided tours and gallery-based children’s activities will be offered. The gift and coffee shop will be open for business and contributions to the donations box are welcomed. Revenues from our shops and donations help to fund programmes such as the New Roots exhibition and our Last Sundays programming.

New Roots: An Invitation to Dialogue

girl and magpie installation view

The Girl and the Magpie – installation view

We at the NGJ are committed to fostering critical dialogue and our exhibitions are designed to do just that. The current New Roots: 10 Emerging Artists exhibition is a perfect example and it has already elicited a variety of responses, informal and in writing – we welcome both. This morning we received the following comment from a George Blackwell to one of our posts on the exhibition:

The New Roots Exhibition at the National Gallery of Jamaica is interesting to take note of for several reasons. Firstly, ‘New Roots’, as the title suggests, betrays a desperate bid to get away from any serious discourse that foregrounds the black as the essential constituent in local identity matters. Therefore, the exhibition is insipidly curated to avoid this discussion.

Secondly, new routes are not really new. Videos, installations, animations and graffiti art have had enduring presence in Jamaican art. Nor are the directions and messages of the respective artists new. What is new, however, is the irrational extent to which the curators have gone to scrape the barrel to find people who have no skills or claims to the art making process regardless of the media or medium they choose to work with.

The short film by Saulter suffers from a lack of interesting camera angles and a powerful metaphor has been sacrificed to a gruffly overdone gabble posing as narrative. The other videos are for the most part jejune, the entertainment value and cultural schmaltz become part of the naked technological seduction, while artistic endeavor is absent.

Nile Saulter - Pillowman (2013), video still

Nile Saulter – Pillowman (2013), video still

Nor is the graffiti display new. What is new about it is that though most graffiti works display a competent level of intellectual finesse in their political charge and their artistic ambitions, in McCarthy’s case, one would have to dig deep into the dense layer of clichés to find any smidgen of such. This he compensated for by his PR teamwork and media savvy.

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“Reflection on Parallels and Continuity at the National Gallery of Jamaica” by Monique Barnett-Davidson

Camille Chedda - Built-In bsolescence (2010-2011), Acrylic on Sandwich Bags, 28 parts, each 20 x 16 cm

Camille Chedda – Built-In Obsolescence (2010-2011), Acrylic on Sandwich Bags, 28 parts, each 20 x 16 cm

Here is another in the series of reviews that were produced as part of the NGJ’s recent art writing workshop for its curatorial staff. This comparison between the self-portraits of Henry Daley from our permanent collection and Camille Chedda’s self-portraits in New Roots was written by Monique Barnett-Davidson. Monique is a Painting graduate of the Edna Manley College and is one of our two Curatorial Assistants.

As an art enthusiast, I always enjoy tracking how artists over time have extended long-referenced concepts and subject matters to discuss and explore aspects of culture and social life. As I explored the recently installed contemporary exhibition, New Roots: 10 Emerging Artists, at the NGJ, I was excited to identify parallels between that and works from the NGJ’s permanent display of older modern pieces.

Take self-portraiture for example. In Jamaican art, approaches to self-portraiture have been largely conventional. There are, however, some Jamaican artists who are exceptional and whose approaches to self-portraiture may be more aligned to figures like Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo. These artists – by consistently referencing themselves in their artistic output – set new standards of openness that move beyond the older heroic depiction of the artist, to the artist as a vulnerable, fallible and questionable human being.

Henry Daley - The Artist (c1943), Oil on Hardboard, 60 x 44 cm, Collection: NGJ

Henry Daley – The Artist (c1943), Oil on Hardboard, 60 x 44 cm, Collection: NGJ

Recently, two Jamaican examples of this approach to self-portraiture have stood out for me. One work is entitled (and aptly named) The Artist (c. 1943), done by early twentieth century painter Henry Daley. The other, entitled Built-In Obsolescence (2010-2011) is executed by young contemporary artist, Camille Chedda. These two works illustrated not only a common interest in subject matter shared by these artists, but offered me a fascinating parallel between two different time periods and generations within Jamaican art and cultural history.

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New Roots: Patreece McIntosh on Ikem Smith’s 2063

The NGJ recently staged an art writing workshop for its curatorial staff, which was presented by Nicole Smythe-Johnson. Here is the first of a series of short reviews that were produced during this workshop, written by Patreece McIntosh – a response to Ikem Smith’s 2063 music animation, which is currently on view in New Roots. Patreece is a Visual Communications graduate of the Edna Manley College and works as the NGJ’s Graphic Designer.

It depicts a blood red sky, absent buildings and not a single tree in sight. Against this post-apocalyptic background a dark figure is running, we don’t yet know why. It is a minute and fifty seconds of panic and confusion, the music becomes more intense and then abruptly there is an impact. He crashes to the ground with force, a firearm flashes across the screen and we now have our answer when we least expect it.

The death of the figure in Ikem Smith’s animated music video entitled 2063, and created fifty years earlier in 2013, is still quite mysterious though it is clearly implied what has happened to him. There are so many questions that can be asked; one can ask who he was, what he was doing before, where he was going to and who he was running from. The fact that the figure is unidentified makes it easy to imagine that it could be any of us and so these questions could be answered with a little imagination.

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New Roots: Introduction

Matthew McCarty - I Took the Liberty of Designing One (2013)

Matthew McCarty – I Took the Liberty of Designing One (2013)

Instead of asking what are people’s roots, we ought to think about what are their routes, the different points by which they have come to be now they are, in a sense, the sum of those differences. That, I think, is a different way of speaking than talking about multiple personalities or multiple identities as if they don’t have any relation to one another or that they are purely intentional. These routes hold us in places, but what they don’t do is hold us in the same place. We need to try to make sense of the connections with where we think we were then as compared to where we are now. That is what biography or the unfolding sense of the self or the stories we tell ourselves or the autobiographies we write are meant to do, to convince ourselves that these are not a series of leaps in the dark that we took, but they did have some logic, though it’s not the logic of time or cause or sequence. But there is a logic of connected meaning.

Stuart Hall

The New Roots exhibition features 10 emerging artists: Deborah Anzinger, Varun Baker, Camille Chedda, Gisele Gardner, Matthew McCarthy, Olivia McGilchrist, Astro Saulter, Nile Saulter, Ikem Smith and The Girl and the Magpie. These artists were selected by our curatorial team, which was headed by Nicole Smythe-Johnson, O’Neil Lawrence and myself, from our initial shortlist of over 30 artists under 40 years old who were either born in Jamaica or of Jamaican parentage or who are active here. We specifically looked for artists who had started exhibiting only recently, at least in Jamaica, and who had not previously been represented in National Gallery of Jamaica exhibitions of a similar nature, such as our Young Talent series. Final selections were made based on obvious practical considerations, such as the availability of work and feasibility of project proposals, but most of all we looked for work that suggested viable new directions in local contemporary art practice. And we found a lot that interested us: a strong focus on photographic reportage; provocative autobiographic reflections and social interventions; new interrogations of gender and the body; an at times unsparing realism but also a capacity for imaginative visual poetry; experimentation with video projection, animation and interactivity; and a growing disregard for conventional notions about the “art object” and the traditional, segregated artistic disciplines.

The Girl and the Magpie - Sponge (necklace, collection Fragile Jamaica) (2013) - work in progress

The Girl and the Magpie – Sponge (necklace, collection Fragile Jamaica) (2013) – work in progress

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