Jamaica Biennial 2014 to Close on March 15 with Artists’ Talks

Artist Talk (Web)

The Jamaica Biennial 2014 is scheduled to close on Sunday, March 15, and to mark the occasion the National Gallery of Jamaica will exceptionally be open from 11 am to 4 pm on that day. A special programme of Artists’ Talks will be presented on that day, starting at 1:30 pm. Admission to the National Gallery of Jamaica and the Artists’ Talks will be free but contributions to our donations box are much appreciated and help to fund exhibitions and programmes such as the Biennial and our Sunday programming.

The Jamaica Biennial 2014 has been a landmark exhibition in several respects and has received significant critical acclaim, in the media and from visitors. Rebranded from what used to be the National Biennial, the Jamaica Biennial 2014 was re-conceptualized to have a more international outlook and to engage local and international audiences more effectively. It is the first Biennial to be judged by international curators – Sara Hermann from the Dominican Republic and Diana Nawi from the Perez Art museum in Miami. It is also the first to include non-Jamaican artists, Blue Curry (Bahamas), James Cooper (Bermuda), Gilles Elie-dit-Cosaque (Martinique), Sheena Rose (Barbados), Richard Mark Rawlins (Trinidad), who were invited to participate in the Special Projects section of the exhibition, along with the Jamaican-born Renee Cox. In another first, the Biennial is shown at more than one location: in addition to the main exhibition at the National Gallery itself, this includes Devon House, which features work by Greg Bailey, James Cooper, Laura Facey, Ebony G. Patterson, Oneika Russell, and Cosmo Whyte, and National Gallery West in Montego Bay, which features work from the Sacred Geometry series by Renee Cox. One special project, PARADISE.jpg by Blue Curry, consists of an intervention on the facades of several buildings in Downtown Kingston. Sunday, March 15, represents the last opportunity to see the Jamaica Biennial 2014 in its entirety.

The Jamaica Biennial 2014 is one of the largest exhibitions in the National Gallery’s history and it is arguably its most diverse exhibition to date. This diversity is reflected in the artists who have been invited to participate in the Artists’ Talks, which are divided into two panels. Panel 1, which is presented under the theme “Traditional Media/New Approaches,” explores how artists use traditional media and styles such as representational painting, ceramics and fibre art to produce work that has significant cultural and aesthetic currency in the present moment. This panel features Michael Layne, Tina Spiro, Katrina Coombs, and Samere Tansley and will be chaired by National Gallery Senior Curator O’Neil Lawrence. Panel 2, titled “Mapping the Social Terrain,” explores how artists engage with the social environment and the social and political issues of the 21st century in new, experimental media. This second panel features Sheena Rose, who is visiting Jamaica for the occasion, as well as Camille Chedda, Katherine Silvera-Sunley and Leasho Johnson and will be chaired by Executive Director Veerle Poupeye. Each artist will make a short presentation on their work in the Biennial and its context, followed by an open discussion at the end of each panel.

Ebony G. Patterson - installation view at Devon House

Ebony G. Patterson – installation view

The Biennial exhibition at Devon House will exceptionally be open on Saturday 14 and 15 – from 12 noon to 6 pm on both days – with special admission packages in effect, namely: $550 per person, inclusive of single scoop of ice cream, and $700 per person, inclusive of single scoop of ice cream and gourmet patty.

We are also pleased to advise that the Sacred Geometry exhibition by Renee Cox at National Gallery West has been extended to April 30, 2015. Opening hours at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, which houses National Gallery West, are: Tuesday to Sundays 10 am to 6 pm and admission is as follows: overseas visitors: US$ 6; local residents: $ 300; children under 12: free.

Renee Cox - Zulu Man Tree (from Sacred Geometry), digital photograph

Renee Cox – Zulu Man Tree (from Sacred Geometry), digital photograph – on view at National Gallery West

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2 thoughts on “Jamaica Biennial 2014 to Close on March 15 with Artists’ Talks

  1. The Last Words
    I think that by now the Jamaica Biennial 2014 is in its closing days. Already, much has been written about this important National event, yet apart from what seems to be a must-do ego stroking of the director and curators, very little critical responses have been forthcoming in any of the writings. From the mouths (pens) of those “commissioned” or otherwise embedded writers, the well-rehearsed refrain is that this biennial is the best and biggest yet. These two claims are based on two new features of the putative prestigious show.
    The first claim is hinged on the fact that several overseas based artists have been invited to participate and do special projects for the exhibition, and they get the lion’s share of the catalogue also. However, this fact in itself does not make this biennial better than its predecessors, unless the scribes of the early reviewers all fell victim to the popular Jamaican saying that “anything foreign is better than what is local”. Or they were well paid, or at worst they are impervious to sound judgment.
    On a whole, outside of Gilles-Elle-Cosaque (Martinique/France) ‘Zetwal’ and Mark Rawlins(Trinidad) ‘Finding Black’, much of the other “projects” are really thin on artistic merit but heavy on the mendacity of the times, as well as the procrustean impulses to be “aesthetically correct” artists.
    The second claim is that this biennial is the biggest yet in Jamaica. This is a “fact” that is worth closer examination. Though the biennial is spread over three locations in Kingston and Montego Bay, the latter site could well be scrapped and the Devon House leg of the exhibition severely edited down with absolutely no ill effect on the main exhibition at the National Gallery. Both the Montego Bay and Devon house sites were a preposterous overreach.
    The bric-à-brac elements composing much of the interior installations at Devon house were clearly conceived without artistic merits, without social conscience and without a sense of historicity. Of course this lack contributed to the glaring weaknesses in the works. Actually the obvious gimcrackery of the pieces seems well rehearsed and feels more endemic to the artists general output. Such works seem bent on entertainment and as such are directed to the booboisie within the society. Others at this site, especially upstairs were really cute attempts at a kind of hide-and-seek among older bibelots in the rooms. However, they were easily spotted as nothing more than inserted nowadays fandangles.
    On the other hand, Laura Facey’s ‘Walking Tree’, though it fits the outdoor location, is sort of incongruous to the history and memory encapsulated in the spirit of the building. I suspect that by the way the war-of-the-world “tripod” piece is grounded, the “manufacturer” of the National black monuments has her eyes on another prize however scandalously exploitative it might seem. It is no wonder that the sculptures ‘redmouth’ risibly mocks the muted facade of the building as about to be transgressed. But hey, what the heck, her figurines at Emancipation Park assault us daily.
    As for the photographs in the show, only a few words are necessary. By and large they are woefully dull. They are neither documentary photos/ journalistic photos nor avant-garde. They have no sense of content, subject, or histography. For the most part they are just pretty pictures. Though I make a slight exception for Cosmo Whyte’s ‘Head-boy’. This photo has a subject beyond the artist’s subjectivity. The sitter is not conscious of the photographer. The thrust is more the dialogue between subject and audience.
    Petrona Morrison’s video installation, though not mentioned in any of the reviews, in my opinion is the strongest of those within its proximity. The ambition to capture concurrent dialogues is good but I think the video surreptitiously slips into a full scale seduction for the gadgetry instead of working out camera angles, image management and the strength of the visual and verbal signifiers. If you compare this with Renee Cox’s ‘Sacred Geometry’, an anodyne and stale auto-flip slide show, you would come to the conclusion that it is not worth it to go to MoBay and see more or less of the same.
    So up to this point one realizes that the exhibition is not bigger nor better, it is rather stacked and stretched to appear so. The implications of the stretching coupled with the propaganda machine is to provide counter claims to the prevailing views that since the coup de grace by this present administration, the artists’ support, public turnouts and patronage at the gallery are dwindling.
    Many of the figurative paintings from the grandmas and grandpas of the local art scene have hit rock bottom in terms of formal explorations and iconography. They reflect mostly geriatric fervor instead of useful abilities.
    There are many works outside the “chosen few” that the reviews also fail to at least mention. These include Oya Tyehimba’s ‘Black Woman and Three Black Boys’, Ramone Johnson’s ‘Untitled’, Owen Lloyd’s ‘Family Duppy’, Shediene Fletcher’s ‘Curious Man’ and Michael Layne’s ‘Human Habitat #1 and 2’. And there was one that was mentioned but was not a work. This was Matthew McCarthy’s ‘Untitled’ shenanigan under the guise of a performance piece.
    Interestingly, Leasho Johnson is one of those artists whose name comes up regularly. His tongue in cheek jabs at the dancehall’s ambivalence at homosexuality presented here is eclipsed by the works of Omari Ra and the Trinidadian Mark Rawlins. It probably would have come as no honest surprise to say that homosexuality is more of a protected subject than the subject of black identity in Jamaica. This makes it easy for Johnson to flirt his “queerness” on canvases and walls time and time again. While Ra and Rawlins invent and innovate within conventions, Johnson, from what I have seen of his works keeps sampling styles in a very micawberish manner.
    Kalfani Ra’s “Altar for Revolution #3” presents an aesthetic attitude that is current and aggressive in the face of complacency. The work beckons to African fundamentalism and the Haitian experiences on route to be the first sovereign black nation in the West. It is pretty much alone in a crowded room.
    In terms of decolonizing the eyes, Xayvier Haughton’s ‘Philovisualiser’ has broken interesting paths in the exploration of blackness both as skin tones/colour and racial signifiers. He is also challenging the assumption of the pervasive missing paternal nurturer. His work is also buttressed by Kimani Beckford’s ‘B. I. B.’, a large almost silhouetted image of a “soul sister”. Camille Chedda’s ‘Wholesale Degradables’ is as deep as it is broad. Like Beckford and Haughton, she ploughs a mine/mind-field of black energy and issues forth an historical mosaic of the global black victims of European acts of genocide. This work does not look to the Tivoli incursion or the recent spate of the police killings of black men and boys in America. The work constitutes itself in an ongoing process of self-definition and self-defense.
    Serious artists are realizing that there is much to write/paint home about and that there is a big struggle in Jamaica to represent gender, black identity and sexuality in sober fashion in Jamaica and for that matter in the world. For this biennial to be truly the best and the biggest, the director and the curators must also instruct their scribes to lift the asphyxiating “white plastic bags” of the biennial so that apart from the satellite artists others can exhale.

    Jennifer Grant, freelance writer

    • At the National Gallery of Jamaica, we are committed to critical dialogue and we are posting this comment in this spirit, although its spiteful tone is regretted, as it fails to foster any real critical engagement. We however wish to point out the following:

      1. As those who read the reviews of the Biennial must realize, no writer was “commissioned” to review the Biennial or coerced or encouraged to express any particular views. That the author chose to attack the integrity of these writers rather than to engage with the substance of their arguments suggests a lack of commitment to critical dialogue on her part.
      2. We have in no way suggested that the foreign artists included in this exhibition are “better” than any other artist in the exhibition, nor has this been suggested in any of the reviews we have read,and it seems that the author is responding in knee-jerk fashion to their inclusion. Our reason for inviting these artists is to explore how art in Jamaica evolves in dialogue with cultural and artistic developments regionally and indeed globally.
      3. That this comment is titled “the last words” and posted on the penultimate day of the Biennial is also unfortunate. There can be no such thing as “the last word” on an exhibition of this nature and we encourage our readers to continue the dialogue, by evaluating and responding to the points made in this comment and any other critical issue raised by the Biennial.

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