The 2014 edition of the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Jamaica Biennial was shown at multiple venues—a first for this exhibition in Jamaica—and this included Devon House, the original home of the National Gallery and one of Kingston’s main heritage sites. Devon House was included as part of the National Gallery’s fortieth anniversary celebrations, as a home-coming of sorts, but also in response to the Devon House Management’s invitation to organize regular joint exhibitions.
The Jamaica Biennial 2014 at Devon House featured work by Laura Facey, Ebony G. Patterson (who won the Biennial’s Aaron Matalon Award that year), Greg Bailey, Cosmo Whyte, James Cooper, and Oneika Russell, and was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed parts of the exhibition. The approach taken was for the works selected to be installed the Devon House mansion interior, alongside or in replacement the regular furniture and art works, and, in the case of Laura Facey, also in the formal gardens in front of the house. The result was a rich dialogue between the history and context of the house—which was built and owned by Jamaica’s first black millionaire, George Stiebel, in 1881—and the issues raised in the art works, such as the historical and contemporary dynamics of race and class, the politics of visibility and invisibility in the face of social violence, and our relationship to the natural environment.
Given the success of the first Biennial exhibition at Devon House, it was decided partner again for the Jamaica Biennial 2017 and, for this edition, the selected work is by Andrea Chung, Laura Facey, Jasmine Thomas-Girvan, Sharon Norwood, Deborah Anzinger and Leasho Johnson. One work, by Deborah Anzinger, was specifically designed and proposed for Devon House, but the other works were, as was done in 2014, selected by the National Gallery’s curators from the submissions to the Biennial because their particular resonance with the historical significance and environment of Devon House.
Andrea Chung, a USA-based artist of Trinidadian and Jamaican descent who is one of the international invitees to Jamaica Biennial 2017, will present Pure, an installation which is based on her research into grassroots midwifery in Jamaica. Jasmine Thomas-Girvan, a Jamaican sculptor and jeweller who is based in Trinidad, will present two installations, Real Princess and Parallel Realities Dwelling the Heartland of My People, that explore the epic histories of the Caribbean with exquisite literary and visual poetry. Laura Facey’s Bumpy Top Desk and Mirror references traditional Jamaican furniture-making as well as the “bumpy” landscape of the Cockpit Country, making the connection between traditional craft and the island’s natural abundance. Sharon Norwood, an artist of Jamaican descent who lives in the USA, is represented with two digital collages, The Root of the Matter XI and XII that insert the politics of black hair into conventional historical images of Western women that are normally mute on issues of race. Deborah Anzinger’s installation A Piercing Void Where We Meet, makes a surreal intervention into the Devon House ballroom and was inspired by Wilson Harris’ The Palace of the Peacock. Leasho Johnson’s installation In the Middle, finally, uses his trademark whimsical, Dancehall-inspired imagery to comment on the epidemic of gender-based violence in contemporary Jamaica. All are displayed in the Devon House interior. Some of those interventions will be immediately and provocatively visible, while the others are more subtle and may at first be mistaken as being part of the original furnishings, but this will make the process of discovery and engagement involved in viewing the Jamaica Biennial 2016 exhibition at Devon House all the more exciting.
The Devon House mansion is open for visits from Mondays to Fridays from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. In addition, Devon House will also be exceptionally open on the Sundays February 26, March 26, April 30 and May 28, from 11 am to 4 pm on each of those days, to coincide with the National Gallery’s Last Sundays events. Regular admission fees apply on all days.