Jamaica Biennial 2014 to Open with Week of Events

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The National Gallery of Jamaica’s Jamaica Biennial 2014 will open with a week of events from December 7 to 14, 2014, and continue for three months, until March 15, 2015.

The Jamaica Biennial 2014, which has been rebranded and expanded as part of the National Gallery’s 40th anniversary programme, builds on the National Biennial exhibitions that were held at the Gallery since 2002 and its predecessor, the Annual National exhibitions. One major change is that the Biennial now includes an international component, with six special projects by international artists, namely: Renee Cox (Jamaica/USA), James Cooper (Bermuda), Blue Curry (Bahamas/UK), Gilles Elie-dit-Cosaque (Martinique), Richard Mark Rawlins (Trinidad), and Sheena Rose (Barbados). Another development is that the juried section was selected by two international judges, Diana Nawi, Associate Curator at the Perez Art Museum in Miami, and Sara Hermann, a curator and art historian from the Dominican Republic. In all, the Jamaica Biennial 2014 consists of more than 120 works by 97 artists, including well-established artists as well as many young and emerging ones. A wide range of artistic media and approaches is represented, from representational and abstract painting to video and performance art, with a particularly strong representation of digital photography and video art.

In another first, the Biennial will also be shown at more than one location: in addition to the National Gallery, parts of the exhibition will be shown at Devon House and at National Gallery West. For Devon House, we selected six interventions by artists whose work resonates with the history and context of Devon House – Greg Bailey, Laura Facey, James Cooper, Ebony G. Patterson, Oneika Russell, and Cosmo Whyte – and their work will be integrated into the interior of the great house and, in the case of Facey, on the lawn. Devon House was the National Gallery’s original home when it opened in 1974 and the partnership on the 2014 Biennial, at the time of the Gallery’s 40th anniversary, is therefore particularly appropriate. At National Gallery West, the National Gallery’s new branch at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre on Sam Sharpe Square, we will feature selection from a new body of photographic and video by Renee Cox titled Sacred Geometry. One other project, by Blue Curry, will be shown in various locations on the streets of Downtown Kingston. All other exhibits will be at the National Gallery of Jamaica.

Key events for the opening week of the Jamaica Biennial 2014 are as follows:

  • Sunday, December 7: Soft opening of the exhibitions at the National Gallery of Jamaica, Devon House and National Gallery West; at the National Gallery of Jamaica, there will also be a screening of the film Zetwal (Twinkle) by the Martiniquan film director and artist Gilles Elie-dit-Cosaque, which was start at 1:30 pm
  • Tuesday, December 9: Opening reception at Devon House (by invitation).
  • Friday, December 12: Opening reception at National Gallery West, Montego Bay, from 6:30 to 8:30 om.
  • Sunday, December 14: Main opening reception at the National Gallery of Jamaica, with formalities starting at 1:30 pm

During the opening week, from December 7 to 14, all exhibitions (National Gallery of Jamaica, Devon House and National Gallery West) will be open every day with extended opening hours until 6 pm. Further details on opening hours and opening week events will be posted on this blog. Other programmes and events will be staged during the run of the Biennial and will be announced over the next weeks.


Jamaica Biennial – Bulletin # 4: Blue Curry, Gilles Elie-dit-Cosaque

Blue Curry - PARADISE.jpg, mock-up of installation on Kingston streets

Blue Curry – PARADISE.jpg, mock-up of installation on Port Royal Street

A special and new feature of the Jamaica Biennial 2014 is that we invited six international artists to participate with special projects. Here is our third and final post on the subject, on Blue Curry (Bahamas/UK) and Gilles Elie-dit-Cosaque (Martinique/France):

Blue Curry, who was born in Nassau, Bahamas, in 1974, is a London based artist who works primarily in sculpture and installation. Using his own idiosyncratic language to transform objects and commonplace materials he engages with themes of exoticism, tourism, cultural commodification and authenticity. Blue Curry’s work often undermines fantasies of the tropical paradise by disrupting the mythic components intrinsic to this clichéd narrative. He obtained an MFA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College after which he was featured in the Catlin Guide to the top 40 emerging UK artists in 2010 and profiled in a two-part BBC documentary on graduate artists the same year. He has shown widely, participating in the 6th Liverpool Biennial as well as in group shows at P.P.O.W Gallery, New York; the Art Museum of the Americas, Washington DC; and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London among many others. In 2011 he had his first institutional solo show at the Nassauischer Kunstverein (NKV), Germany and is currently showing a new commissioned work for Unsettled Landscapes at the SITE Santa Fe Biennial, New Mexico.  He has recently been nominated for the Cisneros Foundation Emerging Artist Grant.

Blue Curry – Untitled (2012), cement mixer, sun cream – Liverpool Biennial 2012

Curry writes about his Jamaica Biennial 2014 project, PARADISE.jpg: “I plan to cover walls and buildings in Kingston and vicinity with a large poster image of a continuous seascape culled from the internet. This infinite seascape is an impossible paradise unspoiled by people and still awaiting discovery. The image might have originally been taken somewhere in the Caribbean but has been so highly manipulated that it is now unrecognisable as belonging to any one location. It has become a generic image used by marketers to conjure up fantasies of a tropical paradise. The expectations that this sort of imagery creates of the region are unrealistic, limiting and impossible to live up to. The work is an intervention in the public space which returns this image to one of the many places it is supposed to represent and in doing so participates in the very act of tropicalisation by covering up what might be seen as unsightly urban areas of the city.”

Elie-dit-Cosaque, Gilles - still from Zetwal3

Gilles Elie-dit-Cosaque – Zetwal3

Gilles Elie-dit-Cosaque is a Martinican director, photographer and graphic designer. He began his career as an art director in the advertising business. In 2000 a short films series called Kamo triggered several projects in the French West Indies, such as the documentaries as Ma Grena’ et Moi, Outre-Mer Outre-Tombe about funeral rituals, and Zétwal, the extraordinary story of a Martinican who built a spaceship propulsed by poetry. More recent films are La Liste des Courses, a reflection about consumption in the French Caribbean and his latest, Nous Irons Voir Pelé Sans Payer. His films have been shown widely and received awards in French, American, and African festivals. As a photographer and visual artist, Cosaque has taken part in many exhibitions, such as Photoquai 2007, organised by the Quay Branly Museum in Paris, Entrevues at Fondation Clément in Martinique, Latitudes 2009 at the Paris City Hall, and BIAC 2013 in Martinique. Continue reading

What is a Biennial? Part II – Where do we go?

National Biennial 2012 installation view - small

Installation view at the National Biennial 2012, NGJ – central galleries

Here is part two of project manager Nicole Smythe-Johnson‘s reflection on the background to the Jamaica Biennial 2014:

The story I have given you so far is largely a European one. That same old story in which history was being made in the Euro-American West all along, while we (the rest of the world) only surfaced from the darkness somewhere in the mid twentieth century, after the West had finally taught us enough to permit our emergence as newly minted modern subjects. Not quite developed, but nonetheless “developing”. This, in addition to the spectre of the Crystal Palace, could have been the intellectual death knell of the Biennial as the preeminent exhibition format. Yet, the biennial has thrived on precisely this contention, and the resistance to it. In fact, the genre is in many ways defined by a grappling with the well-founded charge of Eurocentrism levelled against the global art establishment.

In considering a “Biennialogy” Filipovic, Van Hal and Øvstebø also consider the Crystal Palace/counter-museum narrative of Biennial genealogy but then ask: “…how much of what biennials have become, in the aspirations of many of them to represent cultures other than those of the West and to reflect a truly international art world, is the result of an entirely different kind of genealogy?”[1] They recall the problematic, but ground-breaking in its time, Les Magiciens de la Terre (1989.) That exhibition sought to address what curator Jean-Hubert Martin reportedly referenced as “one hundred percent of exhibitions ignoring 80 percent of the earth.”[2] The exhibition sought to revise the traditional Paris Biennial format by exhibiting 50 Euro-American (i.e. Western) artists shoulder to shoulder with 50 non-Western artists. Whatever we might think of the exhibition now, it changed the face of the biennial form, sparked many debates and broadened the horizon of what an international art world might mean.

At the 11th Havana Biennial - Colombian artist Rafael Gomez Barros mounted giant ants onto art deco Theatro Fausto

At the 11th Havana Biennial – Colombian artist Rafael Gomez Barros mounted giant ants onto art deco Theatro Fausto

The Bienal de la Habana in Cuba, launched in 1984, is also an oft-cited interruption of the centre to margin tale of Biennial origin. Unlike its predecessors, the Havana Bienal positioned itself primarily as a node for South-South (from one “developing” country to another) engagement. The first exhibition was reserved for Latin American and Caribbean artists, but since the second edition in 1986 artists from Africa, Asia and the Middle East have also participated. Havana’s shift in focus has meant that the tone of the Bienal tends toward issues of:

the existing tensions between tradition and contemporariness, the challenge to the historical colonization processes, relations between art and society, the individual and his/her memory, human communication in the face of technological development and the dynamics of urban culture … without distinction among the multiple forms of visuality that operate in culture as a system.[3]

Now that looks familiar. It turns out the history of the Biennial is also made in our image. This is saying nothing of the São Paulo Bienal (second only to Venice, with its first staging in 1951) or the Gwangju Biennale (1995) both of which had significant impact and did much to shift the contemporary art establishment away from its Eurocentric beginnings.

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What is a Biennial? Part I – The Matter of Origins


We are pleased to present the first of this two-part contribution by writer and curator Nicole Smythe-Johnson, who has joined the Jamaica Biennial 2014 as project manager:

On the occasion of the NGJ’s 40th Anniversary, and the unveiling of its re-structured flagship exhibition – The Jamaica Biennial, I thought it might be worth pausing to ask: “What is a Biennial?”

Seems like a simple enough question, and at first I thought I had the equally simple answer. When people asked, and they often did, I replied confidently: “It’s a sort of mega-exhibition, mounted every two years, that focuses on art made in a particular place/region in the previous two or so years.” I would even think to myself: “Surely the name is self-explanatory?”

It became more complicated though. More questions came: Who are we mounting this show for? Who needs to keep abreast of what art is being made in Jamaica, or Sao Paolo, or Havana? What of the visiting (or “international”, as they’ve come to be known) artists or curators? They are not locals, where do they fit? Is this about showing “local art” to “internationals”, or showing “international art” to “locals”? And to what end? Where did this “Biennial” thing come from? And why is a Biennial sometimes a Biennale? I’ll try to give you the abridged version.


At the entrance of the Giardini, Venice Biennale (photo source: Wikicommons)

Most trace the origins of the biennial exhibition back to the Venice Biennale in Italy (turns out Biennale is just Biennial in Italian, and is sometimes used to reference non-Italian Biennial art exhibitions in homage to that first “La Biennale”). Some go back further, to the mid nineteenth century when Europe was riveted by universal expositions. Most notably, the Great Exhibition of 1851 at Hyde Park in London, which sought to house (and order) the world’s newly discovered cultural, industrial and geographic diversity in a grand Crystal Palace. The Crystal Palace and its particular perspective on global multiplicity, as well as its confident assumption of the authority to display and classify that multiplicity is the subject of much literature, but it was in this climate of flexing imperial muscle that the first Venice Biennale opened in 1895.

It started out much like the 2014 Jamaica Biennial. What was conceived as a biennial exhibition of Italian art, quickly evolved into a largely by-invitation exhibition, with a section reserved for international artists, and a jury that selected works from submissions by local (i.e. Italian) artists. Until 1905 the Biennial was confined to the Central Pavilion, then the Pro Arte building. There, work from invited and juried Italian artists, and international (read European) artists were exhibited with no internal division.

Given the success of the first exhibition, the Biennial invited other nations to establish their own national pavilions in the Giardini– the park in which the Central Pavilion is located- to exhibit work exclusively by artists from the various nations. In 1907, the first of the 29 permanent national pavilions in the Giardini was constructed by Belgium. By 1914, Hungary (1909), Germany (1909), Great Britain (1909), France (1912), and Russia (1914) had joined.

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Jamaica Biennial 2014 – Bulletin # 3: Sheena Rose, James Cooper

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As we wrote in earlier posts, a special and new feature of the Jamaica Biennial 2014 is that we invited six international artists to participate with special projects. Here is our second post on the subject, on Sheena Rose (Barbados) and James Cooper (Bermuda).

Sheena Rose was born in 1985 in Barbados. She has a BFA from the Barbados Community College and she was recently awarded the Fulbright Scholarship to pursue her MFA in Studio Art at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Rose’s work comprises hand drawn animation, combined with photographs, mixed media, transfers and comic strips. The animations have a surreal quality and deal with the daily life, space and stereotypes of her country.

Rose’s work has been exhibited widely, including at Alice Yard, Port of Spain, Trinidad; Real Art Ways, Hartford Connecticut; the Queens Museum, New York; the Havana Biennial; the Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, D.C, Greatmore Art Studios, Cape Town; Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Puerto Rico; the Aruba Biennial; and the Panama Biennial del Sur. Rose’s work is also featured on two book covers: of See Me Here, which was published by Robert & Christopher Publishers in Trinidad, and Small Axe. She is the founder of an art group called Projects and Space, which organized public art projects.

Rose has the following to say about her work: “My work entails drawing and hand drawn animations but I explore my concept using with different media such as performance, installation, painting to also help portray my ideas. My work is about sharing my experiences of living in the Caribbean, daily situations, urban spaces, youth and popular culture as well about challenging stereotypes. As a young artist from the Caribbean, my travels have allowed me to see what is familiar and unfamiliar in various locations. My animated drawings fuse various places I visit and experiences I have encountered such as Cape Town, Cuba, Martinique and many more. Sometimes I experience culture shock from the travels and it influences my work greatly. I share my feelings and experiences of these cultures, urban street life and overheard conversations by integrating these into my work.”

James Cooper, born in 1965, lives in Bermuda with his wife and two children. He studied Landscape Architecture at the University of British Columbia.  His work has been shown and collected internationally, and his photographs published in numerous magazines and books. Recent exhibitions of his work were held at at Alice Yard in Trinidad and at the Ghetto Biennale in Haiti and his work appeared on the cover of Pictures from Paradise, a survey of contemporary Caribbean photography  published by Robert & Christopher Publishers in Trinidad. Cooper’s work is photography-based and incorporates elements of sculpture; performance and collage that bring to light explorations of relationships to the physical environment and our relationship to art itself.

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Jamaica Biennial 2014 – Meet the Team!

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The Jamaica Biennial 2014 is managed by a small but hardworking team, that consists mainly of permanent NGJ staff but also includes special project staff and a varied corps of volunteers. In this post, we introduce the members of the curatorial team, presented in alphabetical order:

Monique Barnett-Davidson is the acting Assistant Curator in the Education Department, National Gallery of Jamaica. Her duties include providing lead supervision and coordination for gallery-based education programmes and research activities as well as contributing to the execution of curatorial projects. She supervises the provision of as well as conducts guided tours of the National Gallery and contributes research-based articles to the National Gallery’s online blog space. Prior to joining the Gallery, Barnett-Davidson attained a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in 2007. She also gained experience in art education as a design arts and visual arts teacher for three years at the secondary school level and worked with the Multicare Foundation as an art tutor for four years. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in Heritage Studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

Cristal Clayton is a graduate of the Mico University College where she studied Visual Arts Education. During Cristal’s third year of study she interned for a semester at the National Gallery of Jamaica where she assisted the curatorial staff to set up the Barrington Watson’s Retrospective exhibition, during this period she became familiar with the rudiments of exhibition design and display. She currently works as Curatorial Assistant at the National Gallery of Jamaica, with duties such as conducting tours, research assistance and exhibition set up, she is also an assistant coordinator for the Saturday Art Time program. As recreation Cristal enjoys singing and doing ceramics works with particular interest in creating functional and decorative household pieces. She is also a youth leader for her church organization and deeply involved in outreach and evangelism.

O’Neil Lawrence received a BA in English Literature and Sociology from the University of the West Indies (Mona) and a Diploma in Visual Communication from the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. He is an M.Phil. student in Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies (Mona) and his research interests include race, gender and sexuality in Caribbean and African Diasporal art and visual culture. He is also an artist who has been exhibiting his photography locally and internationally since 2004. O’Neil Lawrence is acting as Senior Curator at the National Gallery of Jamaica, where he has worked on exhibitions such as Natural Histories (2013), New Roots (2013), Religion and Spirituality (2013-2014), and In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica (2014). He also has curatorial oversight of the National Gallery’s new Montego Bay branch, National Gallery West. Continue reading