Explorations VI: Engaging Abstraction

George Rodney – Drifter (1985), Collection: NGJ

Explorations VI: Engaging Abstraction is on view from December 19, 2017 to February 25, 2018, and consists of a selection of portraits from our collection. The exhibition was curated by Assistant Curator Monique Barnett-Davidson. The Explorations series examines big themes and issues in Jamaican art.

Engaging Abstraction examines the role of abstraction in modern and contemporary art from Jamaica and also makes reference to abstraction from the Caribbean and its Diaspora. Our collection includes several hundreds of works of art that qualify as abstract, or at least as abstracted. While abstraction has been a consistent preoccupation in the local art scene since the 1960s, the visual rhetoric of abstract art nevertheless continues to challenge many Jamaican viewers, who crave art that is more literal and presents a clear narrative, often dismissing abstraction as alien to Jamaican and Caribbean culture. This exhibition therefore, seeks to add to the conversation about abstraction in the Jamaican and Caribbean context, as well as to explore its inherent contentions.

Rex Dixon – Burning Cage (1987), Collection: NGJ

The Tate Gallery offers the following definition of abstract art: “The term can be applied to art that is based on an object, figure or landscape, where forms have been simplified or schematised. It is also applied to art that uses forms, such as geometric shapes or gestural marks, which have no source at all in an external visual reality.” This definition highlights that abstract art – or abstraction, as it is more appropriately called – involves a wide spectrum of approaches, from stylized representations to pure abstraction which is concerned with form rather than content. While it is often assumed that abstraction is exclusive to Western modernism, various other cultures have produced art that can be defined as abstract. Religious Islamic art, which is characterized by prohibitions on representation, is an example. The pioneers of Western abstraction found inspiration in the stylizations of traditional African and Oceanic art. The indigenous imagery of the pre-Columbian peoples of South and Central America and the Caribbean have also been referenced by a number of our own regional artists.

Edna Manley – Beadseller (1922, Collection: NGJ)

While modernist abstraction was well-established in the European, North American–and for that matter Latin-American art by the early twentieth century—it took much longer for it to become common practice in the Jamaican art world. The thematic content of early modern art in the Caribbean region had a strong nationalistic ethos, with anti-colonial art dominating the second quarter of twentieth century in Jamaica and in most other parts of the region. This called for a figurative modernism that conveyed its political content clearly, although there were elements of abstraction in examples such as Edna Manley’s Beadseller (1922).

Aubrey Williams (Guyana/UK) – God of Corn and Plenty (1973), Collection: NGJ)

Continue reading

Advertisements

Last Sundays – December 31, 2017, ft. Nexus

PARKING INFORMATION
Ocean Boulevard, which is the normal access road to drive to the NGJ on Orange Street, will be closed on Sunday, December 31, in preparation for the New Year’s fireworks that night. UDC has kindly made complimentary parking arrangements for visitors to our Last Sundays programme in the parking garage across from the NGJ main entrance, with the understanding that those who park there will leave by 4 pm (or moved to paid parking for those who are staying for the fireworks). To access the NGJ, please proceed on Port Royal Street (or Harbour Street, if coming from the West) and turn on Orange Street, where there will be crowd control barriers. Please indicate to the security guard on duty that you are a guest of the NGJ Last Sundays programme and you will be directed to the parking garage. Feel free to call us at 922-1561 or -3 if you need any assistance.

***

The National Gallery’s final Last Sundays event for 2017 will take place on New Year’s Eve, Sunday, December 31 from 11 am to 4 pm, with the featured performance starting at 1:30 am. Visitors will have the opportunity to view the National Gallery’s current exhibitions, Explorations V: Portraits in Conversation and Explorations VI: Engaging Abstraction. The featured performance will be by the Nexus Performing Arts Company.

The Explorations exhibition series, which was launched in 2013, explores big themes and issues in Jamaican art and features mainly works from the National Gallery Collection, which are reinterpreted in these thematic contexts. Explorations V: Portraits in Conversation examines the significance and conflicted politics of artistic portraiture in the development of Jamaican art from the 18th century to the present, looking at issues such as race, class, gender, as well as the ideas about art and the artist that are reflected in the portrait. Its counterpart, Explorations VI: Engaging Abstraction, examines the at times contentious role of abstraction in modern and contemporary art from Jamaica and the Caribbean. Abstraction became an established part of the local art practice in the 1960s but is often dismissed as alien to Caribbean culture, which has a strong focus on content and iconic local subject matter. More recently, abstraction has also found new life in the age of time-based, digital media. A special feature in the Explorations VI exhibition is the Kingston staging of David Gumbs’ Xing Wang interactive video installation, which was originally shown as part of the 2017 Jamaica Biennial at National Gallery West in Montego Bay. David Gumbs is an artist from St Martin who lives and works in Martinique.

In what is now an established Holiday Season tradition at the National Gallery, the featured performance on Sunday, December 31 will be by the award-winning Nexus Performing Arts Company. The Nexus Performing Arts Company was formed in 2001 by Hugh Douse, Artistic Director, voice tutor, singer, actor, conductor, songwriter, and a former Director of Culture in Education. The group has a broad musical repertoire that draws on Gospel, Negro Spirituals, Semi-classical, Popular music including Reggae and show tunes, African and Classical music of the European and African traditions. The performance by Nexus will take place in the exhibition galleries, presented as a musical tour, with selections inspired by the Portraits in Conversation and Engaging Abstraction exhibitions.

Admission on Sunday, December 31 will be free and free guided tours will also be offered. The gift and coffee shop will be open for business and contributions to the donations box are welcomed. Revenues from our shops and donations help to fund programmes such as the Explorations exhibitions and our Last Sundays programming.

Explorations V: Portraits in Dialogue

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

Explorations V: Portraits in Dialogue is on view from December 19, 2017 to February 25, 2018, and consists of a selection of portraits from our collection. The exhibition was curated by Senior Curator O’Neil Lawrence. The Explorations series examines big themes and issues in Jamaican art.

Explorations V: Portraits in Dialogue examines the significance and oftentimes conflicted politics of artistic portraiture in the development of Jamaican art from the 18th century to the present, looking at issues such as race, class, and gender, as well as the ideas about art, representation, and the artist that are reflected in the portrait.

The Cambridge English dictionary defines a portrait as “a painting, photograph, drawing, etc. of a person or, less commonly, of a group of people,” to which we should of course add sculpture, and also notes that “a film or book that is a portrait of something describes or represents that thing in a detailed way,” as in, a portrait of life in twenty-first century Jamaica. Expanding the definition in this manner is also useful in the field of art, as it allows us to consider broader, narrative or symbolic definitions of what a portrait can be.

Pompeo Batoni – Portrait of John Blagrove (1774), Collection: NGJ

The history of portraiture is almost as long as the history of art itself. In ancient times, and well into the last millennium, portraiture was almost exclusively connected to power and status and until modern times, very few portraits of common folk survive, in part because very few were made. This is evident in portrait art from the Plantation era in Jamaica: most extant portraits are of members of the plantocracy and these portraits have all the typical traits of conventional, commissioned Western portraiture, from the standardized academic poses and idealized features to the assumed self-importance of the sitters. These are the types of portraits that often inhabit the popular imagination and have significantly influenced the ways in which many viewers approach the genre. There are few depictions of black persons from that period that qualify as portraits. One is the unattributed portrait of a West Indian Boy (c1840), and, while the depiction is sensitive, it is of note that the boy’s (or man’s) name is not documented and that he is presented as a “type” rather than as a socially empowered individual.

Unknown – Portrait of Negro Boy (c1840), Collection: NGJ

Portraiture was revolutionized and, to a great extent, democratized by the introduction of photography, as having one’s portrait made thus came within the reach of the middle classes, although the commissioning a painted or sculpted portrait remains the province of the wealthy and powerful, or is done for those who have achieved significant public status because of their contributions to society and not by accident of birth – the recently unveiled Usain Bolt statue by Basil Watson and the controversial Marcus Garvey busts by his brother Raymond Watson come to mind. The controversies that frequently surround such commissions illustrate that the politics of public portraiture are particularly high-stakes and fuelled by conflicting standards and expectations.

Continue reading

Digital: Patricia Mohammed

Patricia Mohammed - Coolie Pink and Green

Patricia Mohammed – Coolie Pink and Green (2009), still from short film

Digital is opening today. Here is a short feature on Patricia Mohammed, one of the artists in the exhibition:

Bio

Patricia Mohammed is Trinidadian scholar, writer and filmmaker. A Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies at the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS), she is also Campus Co-ordinator, Graduate Studies and Research at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad. Mohammed is a pioneer in feminism and gender studies in the Caribbean since 1976 and in 2006, founded the open-access online peer-reviewed journal, Caribbean Review of Gender Studies, of which she serves as the Executive Editor. Her major publications include Imaging the Caribbean: Culture and Visual Translation (2009, Macmillan UK), and a seven-part documentary film series A Different Imagination, of which the award-winning Coolie Pink and Green is a part. Seventeen Colours and a Sitar was added as the last of this series. Mohammed lives and works in Maracas Valley, St Joseph, Trinidad.

Patricia Mohammed - Seven Colours and a Sitar (2010), still from short film

Patricia Mohammed – Seven Colours and a Sitar (2010), still from short film

About the Work

“The series A Different Imagination of which Coolie Pink and Green (2009) and Seventeen Colours and a Sitar (2010) are two of seven films, was produced as an accompaniment to the book Imaging the Caribbean: Culture and Visual Translation. This ground-breaking study of the region’s iconography explores how a Caribbean aesthetic sensibility has been and is being shaped from the many different cultural influences that have come together in this territory. It circles the Caribbean while focusing on Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados, tracing the indelible parameters drawn on each society by the colonial encounter, crossing the boundaries of disciplines and the methodologies and material of history, literature, art, gender and cultural studies.”

Patricia Mohammed - Seven Colours and a Sitar (2010), still from short film

Patricia Mohammed – Seven Colours and a Sitar (2010), still from short film

“As a trained scholar and Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies, my work has increasingly moved to incorporating visuality and developing the visual intelligence of the region’s population. My films are experimental in their approach in that they do not follow formal documentary procedure, incorporating fantasy and jumps in time and space, the aesthetics of each frame in the film are of paramount importance. I use the screen in the same way that a painter might use a canvas.”

Patricia Mohammed - Coolie Pink and Green (2009), still from short film

Patricia Mohammed – Coolie Pink and Green (2009), still from short film

 

 

Digital: Prudence Lovell

Lovell, Prudence - Untitled, Conversation VI

Prudence Lovell – Untitled: Conversation VI, 2016, carbon on mylar

Prudence Lovell is another artist featured in Digital (April 24-July 4, 2016):

Bio

Prudence Lovell was born in Suffolk, England. She was educated at the Kingston on Thames Art College and the Manchester Polytechnic, both in England. Lovell relocated to Jamaica in the 1970s, participating in her first exhibition in the island at the Bolivar Gallery in 1976. Since then, Lovell has become a prominent member of the Jamaican artistic community, participating a number of local exhibitions including the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Annual National and Biennial exhibitions. In 2015 alone, she has exhibited at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts’ Cage Gallery, at the Insides exhibition held at the New Local Space (NLS) in 2015 and, most notably at National Gallery’s Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists (2015-2016). Lovell lives and works in St Andrew, Jamaica.

Lovell, Prudence - Untitled, Conversation VI (2)

Prudence Lovell – Untitled: Say Hello To Nicholas, 2016, carbon on mylar

About the Work

“My work has to do with the global present and takes account of matters, issues, events, and phenomena which impinge on the quality and tenor of daily life in a serious way. In responding, I consciously seek ways, via material, matter and form in which to reference and illumine the Contemporary, both its nature and its substance.”

Prudence Lovell - Untitled (Connected III) (2015) - not in exhibition

Prudence Lovell – Untitled (Connected III) (2015) – not in exhibition

 

Digital: Jacqueline Bishop

Jacqueline Bishop - Bodies of Water (2015, video still)

Jacqueline Bishop – Bodies of Water (2015, video still)

 

We continue our features on the artists in the Digital exhibition (April 24-July 4, 2016)”

Bio

Jacqueline Bishop was born in Kingston, Jamaica. An award-winning writer, educator, photographer and painter, Bishop is currently pursuing her MFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art. She also holds an MA degree in Fine Arts from New York University and a BA degree in Psychology from Lehman College, Bronx. She was a recipient of the UNESCO/Fullbright Fellowship (2009) and the Arthur Schomburg award for Excellence in the Humanities (2000), and her volume of essays The Gymnast & Other Positions has been announced as the 2016 winner of the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature (non-fiction literature). Her artistic work has been exhibited in Belgium, Italy, Morocco, the United States and Jamaica. She teaches in the Liberal Studies Programme at New York University and is the founding editor of Calabash: A Journal of Caribbean Art & Letters. Bishop lives and works in New York, USA.

Bishop, Jacqueline - Bodies of water 3

Jacqueline Bishop – Bodies of Water (2015, video still)

 

About the Work

Bodies of Water is, as Bishop explains, “dedicated to my beloved grandmother who I lost close to two years ago. As a child, living on the island of Jamaica, I would spend my summer holidays in the tiny district of Nonsuch hidden in the folds of the Portland mountains. I would play a game of laying on the grass with my relatives and trying to decipher the shapes we could see in the clouds. I decided to return to this ‘game’ but this time referencing the many forms that water and ultimately matter may take. To particularize this ‘photograph’ I went back to Nonsuch and recorded ambient sounds of the district as well as my young cousins singing childhood songs.” The work consists of a series of digital photographs used in a video format.

Jacqueline Bishop - quilt (n.d.) - not in exhibition

Jacqueline Bishop – quilt (n.d.) – not in exhibition