Born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1981 to a French mother and a Jamaican father and educated in France and the U.K. I moved back to Jamaica in 2011 after completing a Photography M.A. at the London College of Communication in 2010. Since this sudden return, I have indulged my alter-ego Whitey in her appropriation of this space of utter difference – Jamaica – by exploring trans-location and physical expressions of emotional states in the search for my cultural identity.
Since returning to Jamaica in 2011, my practice has incorporated my body, remapping it within the tropical picturesque through photographic tableaux, performances and multi-layered videos. Whitey has become my alter-ego, a masked character created for the project entitled My Dear Daddy (2012), as a coping mechanism to portray uncomfortable feelings as a returning Jamaican resident of white complexion in a predominantly black society.
The performative aspect within the work traverses two strands of personal experience, which Whitey embodies with varying degrees of engagement. She questions the shifting spaces in which she belongs: white post-colonial creole identity, and the female body in a postmodern space. Now moving to a more installation-based practice, my work is morphing into a more “exploded” method of display.
Native Girl, my current body of work, is an expansion of the Whitey theme and re-investigates several Jamaican mythical and legendary female characters, such as the Rivermaid or Riva Mumma, by imbuing young Jamaican women with attributes of these characters. Through photographs and videos, Native Girl portrays evocative moments from these legendary Jamaican tales as a starting point for discussions on current gender and identity constructs in the local and regional arena.
The search for definition, the self and identity may seem to be a hackneyed pursuit for a visual artist but when approached with the kind of passion and drive that one sees in the work of Olivia McGilchrist, the result is nothing short of compelling. Her journey has taken her from France through London and back to Jamaica, the island of her birth, and she has also expanded her original oeuvre of photography to performance and complex synchronized video-based work, the complexities of which match the heritage she explores. An alternate reading of a history and an experience that may seem all too apparent with the racial stereotypes surrounding McGilchrist’s appearance is brought into consideration and the viewer can choose to become a partner with her as she delves deeper and deeper into her reality. The technically challenging, immersive video installation in this exhibition seduces like the mythical “Riva Mumma” evoked in the work. You are aware of the potential danger of yielding totally, of digging too deep, and yet the potential reward at the end of the quest seems almost within reach.
You can read more about Olivia’s work at: http://oliviamcgilchrist.com/