The Explorations III: Seven Women Artists exhibition, which will open at the NGJ on Sunday, May 31, asks the question whether any concept of women’s art is relevant in Jamaica today – it is part of our Explorations series, which examines the big themes and issues in Jamaican art, the first of which was Natural Histories (2013) and the second: Religion and Spirituality in Jamaican art.
Seven Women Artists, which is curated by Senior Curator O’Neil Lawrence, features the work of seven mid-career female artists who live in Jamaica or art part of its diaspora and who work in a variety of media: Jasmine Thomas-Girvan, Judith Salmon, Miriam Smith, Prudence Lovell, Kereina Chang-Fatt, Berette Macaulay and Amy Laskin – a small but representative sample of accomplished female Jamaican artists. We invite viewers to explore whether there are any commonalities that set these artists’ work and careers apart from those of their male counterparts and whether there is any justification to label them, individually or collectively, as “women artists,” or their work as “women’s art.” We have also asked each of the artists to produce a statement on the subject that will be reproduced in the catalogue and the exhibition text panels.
The sculptural and sometimes wearable work of jeweller Jasmine Thomas-Girvan explores the complexities of Jamaican and Caribbean histories as well as the cultural implications of those histories. Her spectacularly surreal assemblages often employ or are inspired by naturally occurring plant matter and oftentimes actively utilise found objects that have a personal resonance with the artist. Her work None but Ourselves references the intellectual legacy of Marcus Garvey highlighting the importance of the transmission of liberating values to the next generation.
The dynamics of memory are at the heart of the installation and assemblage work of Judith Salmon. Salmon who creates work that has, in some instances, involved an element of interactivity for instance Pockets of Memory (which invited viewers to leave notes or other things that had personal significance and made the audience a part of the creative process) explores the way in which memories are preserved obscured or lost over time. She utilises fibre, wax and various printmaking techniques to create work that contains multiple conceptual and also physical layers.
Miriam Smith is known for her mixed media artwork prioritised by her manipulation of fibres and textiles. Her work also reflects her experience of bookbinding, some in the form of actual books are often symbolic pages weaving a personal history that highlights life changing experiences but is also at its heart very much concerned with historical and contemporary social injustices. The multi-panelled work Justice Denied…1600 and Still Counting reflects that focus and challenges the viewer to do the same.
Prudence Lovell, an artist who’s widely ranging concerns coalesce in a number of stunning drawings and collages. To paraphrase her own words Lovell explores ‘the history and potential for allusion’ found in art as well as the various ‘truths’ found in documentary images. The ambiguities and disjunctions that occur due to the immediacy of photographic and other digital imagery and seeming reliability of these images and the often result in a rupture between perception and reality. Her most recent work, such as Untitled (Connected II), is based on Skype conversations with her children, who are studying overseas, and address the moderated reality of online connections, in terms of the ambiguities of the simultaneous experiences and realities of proximity and distance.
Linked explicitly to her preoccupation with drawing and the manipulation of surfaces in her printmaking background, Keriena Chang Fatt’s dreamlike installations of filmy voile fabric are a meditation on the way her own personal relationships have played an important role in shaping her life. The delicate threads and fabric that are at the heart of her work act as metaphors for the fragility of the human body and add a universality to the themes of fertility, loss and longing that emerge in her work. The undoubtedly visceral response that comes from viewing a work such as Progressive Unravelling speaks not only to her themes but also to the power of the medium to elicit such a response.
The search for identity and belonging is at the heart of the photography and multimedia installations of artist Berette Macaulay. She has done seemingly distinct bodies of work done over the last few years exploring not only traditional photography but also Polaroid image transfers and collages set on light boxes. At the core of her work is a preoccupation with mythology continuing exploration of a complex personal history and the drive to resolve those histories. The power of memory and its relationship to the construction, reconstruction and establishment of family ties is seen in the work Lisa from her Neue Rootz series.
The seemingly whimsical compositions of exquisite floral arrangements with distinctly feminine touches belie the conceptual depth of the work of Amy Laskin. The paintings themselves could be appreciated for their beauty alone but when one looks deeper one sees in works such as Flora and Coral Collaborate a preoccupation with the natural environment but also an implicit warning about the fragility of the beauty that we admire. A traditional painter, inspired also by her surroundings in the mountains St Andrew, her paintings often have distinctly feminine elements ranging from a simple ribbon in some cases to surreal dresses that double as the vessels for the natural arrangements. She has subtly inserted herself within the environments that she depicts because the concerns she seeks to share are her own.