Gold Musgrave Medal – Petrona Morrison

Petrona Morrison - Reality/Representation (2004), detail of installation

Petrona Morrison – Reality/Representation (2004), detail of installation

Here is the third and final of the citations for this year’s Musgrave Medals in Art, for Petrona Morrison who was awarded the Gold:

“The Institute of Jamaica recognizes Petrona Morrison for distinguished eminence in the field of Art and Art Education.”

“Petrona Morrison was born in the parish of Manchester in 1954. She obtained the Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts (Summa Cum Laude) at McMaster University and a Masters of Fine Arts in Painting from Howard University College of Fine Arts. During her MFA studies, she spent a year in Kenya and she was artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem from 1994 to 1995. More recently, she has also held short-term artists’ residencies at the Contemporary Caribbean Arts in Trinidad in 2002 and at the Bag Factory in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2005.”

“Morrison’s travels and residencies in Kenya, Harlem and South Africa have deeply influenced her artistic development. Her earliest works were fairly conventional, figurative paintings and drawings with autobiographical overtones but her art took a different course in the late 1980s when she started producing textural reliefs and assemblages that incorporated discarded materials.”

Petrona Morrison - Altarpiece 1 & 2 (1991, Collection: NGJ)

Petrona Morrison – Altarpiece 1 & 2 (1991, Collection: NGJ)

“These reflected her interest in traditional African art forms, such as Dogon architecture and the carved doors she had seen in Mombasa; but she invoked these sources poetically rather than literally, as symbolic acts of reconstruction and reconnection.”

“These assemblages became larger over time and culminated in a series of totemic structures made from scrap metal and wood, several of which were over ten feet tall. These assemblages signified, in her own words, “transformation, renewal and healing,” on a personal and broader social level, which has remained as the central theme in her work.”

Petrona Morrison - Sanctuary/Space (For Me), 1995

Petrona Morrison – Sanctuary/Space (For Me), 1995

“Morrison’s residency at the Studio Museum resulted in more three-dimensional constructions that incorporated urban debris such as wood beams and metal fragments from nearby derelict buildings.”

“These recuperation materials were turned into altar-like structures that evoke the frailty of the body and the restorative power of the spirit in the face of material transience. These ritualistic works also mark a turn towards a spirituality related to African-derived New World religions rather than their African sources.”

“By the late 1990s, Morrison’s interest in articulating ritual spaces resulted in room-sized installations that were at first constructed from the recuperation materials she had used in her earlier assemblages but gradually shifted to other, less materially dense media such as medical X-rays, maps and aerial photographs, and other ready-made and purposely produced images, which were placed in front of light boxes and often combined with a few evocative found or constructed objects.”

“These works more directly referred to events in her own life, including her medical history, and also made reference to the social tensions and violence in Jamaican society, which gradually became a more important theme. While materially and visually very different from what she had produced before, these works, nonetheless, reflected thematic continuity as they again spoke about the frailty and resilience of body and spirit and the interconnectedness of the social and the individual.”

“More recently, Petrona Morrison’s work has become even more conceptual and dematerialised, in ways that further question conventional notions about the art object and, increasingly, about the artist as author. She started producing installations that consist of cheaply printed digital photographs, wall-mounted in simple horizontal and vertical grid formations and often in combination with text elements and, more recently, also video. By working mainly with appropriated photographs and video footage, taken from the mass media and other sources, Morrison not only challenges conventions about artistic value and authorship but also speaks poignantly about the visual economies of the digital era.”

“Thematically, her work has taken a more documentary and critical turn and addresses subjects of more specific socio-political significance than before, such as the racial and social tensions of post-Apartheid South Africa, which she visited in 2005, and the violence of the 2010 Tivoli Gardens incursion in Jamaica.”

“In addition to being a ground-breaking and critically acclaimed contemporary artist, Petrona Morrison is also an influential art educator in Jamaica. She has taught at the Edna Manley College since the early 1990s and has pioneered the teaching of installation art there. In 2005, she became Director of the Edna Manley College’s School of Visual Arts and her views about art have played an important role in how its programmes are developed.”

“She has recently retired from her position at the Edna Manley College but she leaves an important legacy, in terms of the renewed intellectual rigour and strong focus on experimentation and new media in the School of Visual Arts’ current programmes. Her influence on recent fine arts graduates is noticeable, in their work and the self-reflexivity they bring to their artistic practice.”

“For her contribution to Art and Art Education, the Council of the Institute of Jamaica is pleased to award Petrona Morrison the Gold Musgrave Medal for distinguished eminence in the field.”

Petrona Morrison - Sentinel (1992)

Petrona Morrison – Sentinel (1992, Collection: NGJ)


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