National Biennial 2012: The Way Art Makes Me Feel (and Think), by Deanne Bell, Ph.D.

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This perspective on the 2012 National Biennial was contributed by a visitor to the NGJ, Deanne Bell, Ph.D. It is the second of several perspectives from staff members and viewers we intend to publish.

I return home to Kingston to work on my dry-cleaning business. The days are filled with entrepreneurial responsibilities; fine tuning operations, responding to customer concerns, managing resources. It is difficult to know what I feel. The world of capitalism requires this numbness in order not to question its premise or link it with the poverty and brokenness I see in people’s bodies everyday.

I go to the National Gallery on Ocean Boulevard for the opening of the 2012 Biennial and twice, again, in January 2013. Brazilian politician, writer, and theatre director Augusto Boal (2006) observes that aesthetics can play a role in instigating emotion where the ability to feel is atrophying.

Duane Allen‘s piece Entrapment returns me to that idea of downpression as it traps social relationships in scripts of domination and denial.

I watch Storm Saulter’s short film entitled Tied and see how private expressions of pain fail to interrupt excess leisure we indulge in.

Laura Facey’s De Hangin of Phibbah An Her Private Parts An De Bone Yard arrests me. Raw woods bring back memories of my grandfather’s lumberyard on Hagley Park Road. But beyond this, did she mean to conjure up Freud’s ideas on phallic and genital stages of psychosexual development in these large woods, or am I projecting Western European depth psychology on contemporary Jamaican life?

Ester Chin placed bougainvillea petals inside pockets of bubble wrap in Yistie. Her entire work measures 250 x 888 cm. It is an enormous piece. What a way we keep things (as delicate as petals) in their place!

There is the Slavery Trilogy of black, brown and white faces by Hope Brooks. What do we call social relationships in that formation now?

Charles Campbell, my cousin and someone whose work helps me understand racism and classism in Jamaica today, installs a globe on the ground floor gallery and wraps a center column with triangles of card canvases clipped together. Each form repeats a single image revealing a pattern. I think the one bound to the pillar says something about bodies, still unfree, searching for liberation.

Ebony Patterson’s Untitled Performance from the Bush Cockerel Project: A Fictitious Narrative performs live sculpture in the pre-twentieth century galleries amidst pastoral Hakewill images of colonial life. The slow moving mute black bodies disturb that peace.

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan’s Dreaming Backwards crystallizes an idea Mexican writer and poet Octavio Paz (1973) articulates in one of his early poems, The Broken Jar. If we could reverse our history, if we could dream something different, what could be our future?

I leave the National Gallery reluctant to regress into the world of commerce. I want to continue to explore the thoughts and feelings I associate to these images. To locate myself historically, politically, subjectively. When I am in Jamaica I long to have conversations with others whose concerns include the social conditions under which we live our lives. Often, this desire is extinguished under a blanket of silence. But this exhibition ruptures the pervasive lack of critical reflection. It probes our appearance. It is a form of revolt against psychic colonization that makes us voiceless. This is a role art can play; to mount a mirror in which we can reflect on ourselves. I believe it is here, in dialogue with images on Ocean Boulevard, that I begin to discover what I think and how I feel.

Deanne Bell, Ph.D., is a liberation psychologist whose teaching, writing and social activism interests focus on social emancipation. Her dissertation is entitled “Ode to the Downpressor: A Psychological Portrait of Racism, Classism, and Denial in (Post)Colonial Jamaica.”


Boal, A. (2006). The aesthetics of the oppressed. In A. Jackson (Trans.). New York: Routledge.

Paz, O (1973). Early Poems 1935 – 1955. New York: W. W. Norton.

2 thoughts on “National Biennial 2012: The Way Art Makes Me Feel (and Think), by Deanne Bell, Ph.D.

  1. Pingback: EDITORIAL: An Invitation to Critical Dialogue | National Gallery of Jamaica Blog

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