Jamaica Biennial 2014 – Bulletin # 2: Renee Cox, Richard Mark Rawlins

Renee Cox - From the Sacred Geometry series (2014)

Renee Cox – From the Sacred Geometry series (2014)

Work on the Jamaica Biennial 2014 continues apace and the selection of the juried section of the Biennial was completed on October 20. Judges Diana Nawi and Sara Hermann selected 65 works by 53 artists – entrants are being notified individually of the outcome or can call the NGJ at 922-1561 for more information. We are now receiving submissions by the invited artists, which close on November 7, after which we will announce the final list of participating artists. We are also working on the logistics with the six specially invited artists and now present the first of a three-part introduction to these artists and their projects, starting with Renee Cox and Richard Mark Rawlins.

Renee Cox - The Red Coat (2004, Collection: NGJ)

Renee Cox – The Red Coat (2004, Collection: NGJ)

Renee Cox is a New York-based photographer and mixed media artist who is known for her seminal and at times controversial presentation of Afrofuturistic photography to the art world. She has also worked as a fashion photographer in Paris and New York.

Cox was born in Jamaica and moved to New York where she received a degree in Film Studies at Syracuse University. She has been featured in many museum exhibitions including the Spelman Museum of Fine Art (2013), the Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art (2008), the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke (2006), the Brooklyn Museum (2001), the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Boston (1996), and the Whitney Museum of American Art (1993), to name a few. Cox’s work was recently featured in the book and exhibition Pictures from Paradise: A Survey of Contemporary Carribean Photography, the exhibition as part of the Contact Photography Festival 2014 in Toronto, Canada.

Finding the inspiration for her work from her own life experiences, Renee Cox has used her own body in her photographs to represent her criticisms of society and to celebrate and empower women. Arguably her best known work is Yo Mama’s Last Supper, in which she recreated Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper by featuring her nude self, sitting in for Jesus Christ and surrounded by all black disciples. When shown at the Brooklyn Museum in 2001, Yo Mama’s Last Supper incurred the wrath of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and religious leaders in New York City but the work is now regarded as a classic example of contemporary photography and it has been referenced in scholarly publications and lectures around the world.

In 2006 Cox exhibited her series Queen Nanny of the Maroons at the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Biennial, where it was awarded the Aaron Matalon Award. The series drew from Cox’s Jamaican heritage and Cox took on the persona of a female resistance leader from the plantation period, Nanny of the Maroons, and other related female figures. One of the photographs from the Queen Nanny of the Maroons, Red Coat is now represented in the National Gallery of Jamaica’s collection and it has also has travelled to museums as part of the Caribbean: Crossroads of the World exhibition, including the Perez Art Museum Miami (2014), and the Studio Museum in Harlem (2012).

The Jamaica Biennial 2014 will feature a selection from Cox’s latest body of work, Sacred Geometry, which consists of digitally manipulated black and white portraits that display self-similar patterns. They are executed with precision, creating sculptural kaleidoscopes of the human body while exploring the power of symbols as elements of collective imagination. The inspiration for Cox’s new work comes from fractals, a mathematical concept centuries old and used by many ancient African cultures. Sacred Geometry has also been the result of Cox’s embrace of the digital world. Bridging the gap between the old and new technology has brought on new challenges and endless possibilities. Renee Cox’s biennial submission will be shown at National Gallery West.

Richard Mark Rawlins - from "Finding Black" (2014)

Richard Mark Rawlins – from “Finding Black” (2014)

Richard Mark Rawlins is a graphic designer and contemporary artist who lives and works in Trinidad. He is the publisher of the online magazine Draconian Switch (www.artzpub.com), and collaborator in the Alice Yard contemporary art-space initiative. His most recent exhibition, STEUPPS (2013), took place at Medulla Art Gallery, Port of Spain, Trinidad. He has had several solo exhibitions in Trinidad and was a resident artist in Vermont Studio Center, Vermont, USA (2012). His work has also been exhibited at the Museum of Art and Design, New York (2010) and in Kingston, Jamaica (2012).

Rawlins will feature two new works at the Jamaica Biennial 2014, #didyouhearyourself and Finding Black. Inspired by a recent series of political soundbites, reportage and utterances of a number of Trinidad and Tobago’s “alleged” government representatives, #didyouhearyourself seeks to present, record, and investigate the notions of accountability, behaviour, disregard and contempt for the populace held by public officials in the course of their duties while in elected office, as well as the role of the media in said reportage.

Richard Mark Rawlins - from #didyouhearyourself

Richard Mark Rawlins – #didyouhearyourself (detail)

Rawlins had the following to say about Finding Black: “I think the control and presentation of one’s own image is an important concern. How you are perceived shouldn’t be defined by passing “poplitical” references which often make simplistic, stereotypical or racist depictions of blackness. Author W.E. Dubois coined the term ‘double consciousness’ to describe the African American struggle to balance being African and American. I would like to think that I, as a black man from the Caribbean, juggle a triple consciousness of sorts – one construct is framed by being Trinidadian, another by being black with entitlements and class privileges, and another purely based on a populist political conditioning by the media. It is in this triple consciousness balancing act that my work finds its way, borrowing elements of Afrofuturism – specifically in its fringe references to Sun Ra, along with heavy doses of remixed early Jack Kirby and Stan Lee and the iconic black character interplay they created (with some DC Comics thrown in for good measure). This remix becomes a counter to perceived notions of the black man. This isn’t a universal fight or martyrdom affair but rather a personal examination of my own “black programming. It is, for all intents and purposes, a ‘Pantone’ reference to my years on this planet.”

Richard Mark Rawlins _ from the STEUPS project

Richard Mark Rawlins _ from the STEUPPS project

5 thoughts on “Jamaica Biennial 2014 – Bulletin # 2: Renee Cox, Richard Mark Rawlins

  1. Pingback: Jamaica Biennial 2014 –Renee Cox and Richard Mark Rawlins | Repeating Islands

    Both Ms Cox and Mr. Rawlins’ posted works confirm my impression of some current works by some African-centered Caribbean artists in 2014. They are, understandably, on the cusp of dabbling in self-identity via an Afrocentric route. I have found that sometimes the rest of the world often follows in the tracks of US societal experiences. Some Caribbean artists with similar national or cultural identity issues would be better informed about this type of movement if they studied the history and works of the 1960’s Africobra artist’s collective. Africobra, an anti-Eurocentric collective, was started by the late Dr. Jeff Donaldson, a greatly talented painter/educator, along with a small group of Black Nationalist artists in Chicago, USA with the mural, “The Wall of Respect”. Both my wife and I were invited to join the group in the 1970’s when they relocated to Howard University in Washington, DC. Although an Afrocentric collective, my wife, a Native American painter was an integral part of the group. Africobra saw little difference between the plight of Africans in the Americas and Amerindians who were the first to suffer a lack of respect, marginalization and European enslavement in the Americas. This “peculiar institution” began in the Caribbean with Columbus’ 1492 abduction of Lucayo Taíno in the Bahamas.
    Both Taíno and Africans (and mulattoes) suffered the same fate in Jamaica, creating the Taíno cimarones who then became the basis for the Maroons. Ms Cox’s photograph (unless she is alluding to piracy) hints at a “Red Coat” (English Infantryman) with cutlass (English pirate weapon/laborer’s tool), however, without any visual representation of inseparable Amerindian contributions. For example, a queen conch fututo (similar to the Twi abeng originally a slaveholder’s horn used to call the enslaved to work) would be appropriate as more inclusive symbolism. Living and learning among the Taíno, the later escaped enslaved Twi-speaking Africans seem to have used a similar instrument to the Taíno fututo ( a horn used for the same purpose of communication), only substituting this “trumpet” with a more available cow’s horn. After all, they were living up in the mountains with easier access to the Spanish cattle ranches from which they both first escaped.

    As an artist with similar Caribbean identity issues as Ms Cox and Mr. Rawlins, I have since moved on to trying to understand a basic piece of the educationally denied puzzle to Jamaican self-identity issues. The following were self-examining basic first questions asked:

    Question #1: Where am I?

    Answer: Historically, Jamaica was a European creation on a Taíno island. As a tri-racial artist, I was born in the Americas in an Amerindian hemisphere. So, in order to understand my history, I had to research what made me Jamaican and not African, European or Asian both in my thinking and in my national identity. This soul searching is centuries old and is also reflected in another Eurocentirc artistic set of questions, “Who am I? Where do I come from? “And “Where am I going?”

    Although technically well executed, I wished the works exhibited were more profoundly thought out. Research is the key.

    • Thank you for your comment. We value a variety of perspectives and opinions, including yours, but wish to avoid any prescriptive approaches to art. Artists should be free to chose and explore those ideological, thematic and aesthetic perspectives that appeal to them, without having their legitimacy questioned. We can assure you that Renee Cox and Richard Mark Rawlins are well aware of the precedents you cite and that their work is based on a healthy amount of exploration and research. What sets them apart from your own work, and that of your wife, is that they make other ideological and aesthetic choices, all of which are legitimate.

      • You are correct on the point of self expression. However, we do not live in a vacuum and communicating ideas to the unfamiliar viewer requires some clarity. As a graphic designer also, the above comment is how I viewed the works critiqued. Additionally, in Africobra, although we were accomplished artists mostly also teaching on the university level, we had group critiques. As you undoubtably know, criticism is an indispensable tool in an artist ‘s development, a process that takes a lifetime.

        One of the artists critiqued contacted me for more information on Africobra and I am sure that the benefit from that research will be realized. Especially since the question of Afrocentrism arose. I am happy that a fellow Caribbean artist can learn from my personal experiences.

  3. Pingback: For college Research | jean dunne bava year 3

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s