New Roots: Olivia McGilchrist

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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.

Artist’s Statement

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.

Curator’s statement

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.

O’Neil Lawrence

You can read more about Olivia’s work at:


6 thoughts on “New Roots: Olivia McGilchrist

  1. Ms. McGilchrist’s work and statement are, for me, refreshing. The small peek into her world via this NGJ blog leaves me wanting to see more. It is refreshing to see her ask, given her ethnicity (a mixed French-Jamaican), through her work, two of the three questions that many humans do: “Who am I?” and “Where do I come from?” She, however, seems to have the answer to the third, “Where am I going?”

    Luckily, she knows the physical part if her story and is exploring one cultural aspect of her being through her works. I sincerely hope that in exploring Jamaica through her works, she does not get stuck in a “suburb of Africa” as Jamaica has become. For example, Americans are stuck within a similar concept as evidenced on the wall at Jamestown, Virginia (“Where America Began”) with its proclamation that “America is a suburb of Europe”.

    Let us hope that her inclusivity takes into account that Jamaica, like the other countries in the Americas, has a more complex story than just an Afrocentric or Eurocentric one. For example, “River Mumma/Water Maid” occurred in a Precolumbian stream, sacred to those who came millennia before Columbus and the entourage that followed; i.e., our other ancestors. River Mumma, in the Jamaican context, like the artist, seems to have multicultural origins. Maybe the long flowing hair of the Maiden is a clue to her ethnicity, especially since Atabey, the Taino virgin mother of the supreme being, Yucahu, is the goddess of fresh waters and childbirth, whom women consulted. Specific streams in the Taino Caribbean were places of power.

    Since she seems to be exploring Caribbean women of power, she may find interest in Anacaona the 16th century Taino cacique of Ayti or Kiskeya (popularly known as Haiti and the Dominican Republic).

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