Jamaica Biennial 2017 – Guide to the Devon House Interventions

We present additional information on the Jamaica Biennial 2017 exhibition at Devon House. This document will also be available as a free handout at Devon House. Opening hours there are Mo-Fri 9:30 to 4:30 and on the last Sundays of the month from 11 to 4. Admission rates apply. All Jamaica Biennial exhibitions continue until May 28.

Introduction

As was first done in 2014, the Jamaica Biennial 2017 is shown at more than one location. In addition to the National Gallery itself, where the main exhibition is held, parts of the exhibition are shown at Devon House, which was the National Gallery’s original home in 1974, and at National Gallery West in Montego Bay.

For Devon House, we selected five interventions by artists whose work resonates with the history and context of Devon House, particularly its dual connection to Jamaica’s plantation heritage and to social change, as the great house was built in 1881 by Jamaica’s first black millionaire. The selected work is by Andrea Chung, Laura Facey, Jasmine Thomas-Girvan, Sharon Norwood, Deborah Anzinger and Leasho Johnson. All are displayed in the Devon House interior. Some of these interventions are immediately and provocatively visible, while the others are more subtle and may at first be mistaken as being part of the original furnishings. This makes the process of discovery and engagement involved in viewing the Jamaica Biennial 2016 exhibition at Devon House all the more exciting.

Leasho Johnson, In-a-the-Middle

Location: The Palm Hall

In-a-the-Middle is a mixed-media sculptural floor piece that parodies a dancehall party, or more specifically, a “daggering session.” It is comprised of locally made metal ‘dutch’ pots, cast from scrap metal, fluorescent red paint with papier mâchè and ceramic castings of speakers and legs. The title is a derivative of a dancehall song, Inna The Middle performed by ZJ Liquid, which in the local context is referred to as a “gyal song” – that is, a song that speaks mainly to female party-goers. The “dutch” pot in Jamaican culture is a multi-purpose item and is commonly found in most Jamaican homes.

In-a-the-Middle explores female objectification and the male gaze within dancehall culture, compared with a perspective of the woman as nourishment giver, bread winner and home maker, symbolized in part by the use of the “dutch pot.” He states, “I was trying to describe a kind of negative space that is misogynistic [and] that surrounds a female described space… women becoming the weak default of a culture that puts its men on the podium of social ideals”.

(Photo: Randy Richards)

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan, The Table (Parallel Realities Dwelling in the Heartland of My People)

Location: The Dining Room

Awarded the Aaron Matalon Award

The Table (Parallel Realities Dwelling in the Heartland of My People) presents an account of the social, historical and cultural realities of slavery, using various materials and objects. It is set up with a sharp juxtaposition between the indigenous world of Nature, Veve and Taino, against that of Empire with all its assumptions of beauty and civilized behaviour. The Tea Table is laid with fineries like crystal, silverware and China. It lays bare notions of civility in harmony with plunder, murder, rape and genocide, as in the case of the Parsley Massacre in the Dominican Republic in 1937 with its dismembered figures and pools of blood. Historically, the establishment of this Euro-centric status quo has been challenged. This is symbolized in the use of the ‘abeng’, a symbol of subversion by the Maroons as a counter narrative force which disrupts and displaces the genteel setting, celebrating the human capacity for resilience and survival.”

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Jamaica Biennial 2017 – The Awards

The Jamaica Biennial is one of the big highlights of Jamaica’s cultural calendar, and also a very important one, not only for the local visual arts community but also for the art world of the broader Caribbean region. In recent years, this ambitious, high-profile exhibition has become more international in character, attracting participating artists from the region and beyond. It is fast earning a significant place on the international art world’s map of must-see events.

The Jamaica Biennial 2017 opened last weekend, to record crowds, at its three locations, starting with National Gallery West on February 24 and Devon House on February 25 and culminating with the main opening event at the National Gallery of Jamaica on the Kingston Waterfront on February 26. The Biennial presently attracts two awards, the Aaron Matalon Award and the Dawn Scott Memorial Award and both were announced and presented at the National Gallery on February 26.

The Aaron Matalon Award, which was inaugurated in 2002, is the National Gallery’s award to the artist who made the most outstanding contribution to the Biennial. The award is named in honour of the National Gallery’s past chairman and benefactor, the Hon. Aaron Matalon, O.J. and had, prior to 2017, been granted to Omari Ra, Renee Cox, Norma Rodney Harrack, Phillip Thomas, Laura Facey, Jasmine Thomas-Girvan and Ebony G. Patterson. The award is selected by a committee that consists of members of the National Gallery’s Exhibition and Acquisition Committee. The award consists of a uniquely crafted medal, designed and produced by master jeweller Carol Campbell, and a $ 100,000 cash award. The medal design is customarily based on an iconic work from the National Gallery’s collection and this year’s design was based on the famous Taino Pelican zemi in the historical galleries.

The 2017 Aaron Matalon Award was granted to Jasmine Thomas-Girvan, who had also received the award in 2012 and thus receives this award for the second time – a first in the award’s history. She received the award for her two stunning installations at Devon House: Parallel Realities, Dwelling In The Heartland of My People, in the Devon House dining room, and The Real Princess, which can be seen in the sewing room. Both works comment, with exquisite detail and visual poetry, on the epic histories of the Caribbean and its people, and resonate perfectly with the historical and social significance of the Devon House mansion. Devon House was built in 1881 by George Stiebel, Jamaica’s first black millionaire, as a suburban great house, and today operates as a very popular heritage and recreational site in the city of Kingston.

The Dawn Scott Memorial Award was created and presented by the New York-based art critic Edward M. Gómez and honours the legacy and enduring influence of Alison Dawn Scott (1951-2010), one of Jamaica’s most original artists of the recent past, who was known for her innovative work in drawing and architectural design, as well as in the use of complex fabric-dyeing techniques to create vivid portraits and landscapes representing Jamaican life. The award is given to artists with works on view in the Jamaica Biennial whose art and ideas reflect the artistic values and principles of the late Dawn Scott. The Dawn Scott Memorial Award comes with a cash prize in the amount of U.S.$700, funded by Mr Gomez and Dawn Scott’s daughter, Tsehai “Spoogie” Scott, a Kingston-based, film-production specialist. The inaugural Dawn Scott Memorial Award in 2014 was presented to Camille Chedda and Kimani Beckford.

Alica Brown

Alica Brown – Exchange (2016), painting

For the 2017 award, Gómez split the award among three deserving artist winners: the Jamaican painters Greg Bailey, for his painting Colonial Legacies, and Alicia Brown, for her painting Exchange; as well as the American mixed-media artist Andrea Chung, for her mixed media installation Pure. Chung, who is of Jamaican and Trinidadian ancestry and lives in San Diego, California, USA, is one of the international artists who was invited to contribute a special project. The work of Bailey and Brown can be seen at the National Gallery of Jamaica, while Chung’s work can be seen at Devon House, in the adult bedroom and bathroom.

Greg Bailey - Colonial Legacies (2016), painting

Greg Bailey – Colonial Legacies (2016), painting

Gómez had the following to say about the Biennial submissions of the joint awardees: “With fine technical skill, including a strong sense of composition and superb draughtsmanship, Greg Bailey creates psychologically probing portraits of contemporary figures – usually young, urban, Jamaican men – that make us wonder: What’s on the minds of these subjects? What motivates them? When it comes to the issue of identity, just who do they think they are? By extension, Bailey’s portraits offer a reflected image of a broader society in which some of us might not always know what it is that we are – or should be – striving for, and how chasing certain kinds of goals might shape who we are or what we may become….Marked by excellent draughtsmanship and a skillful use of her materials, Alicia Brown’s Exchange, a head-on portrait of a country man, seen standing out in front of a farm field, is rich in detail. It offers an image of its subject that is as penetrating in its precision as it is compelling, poetic and empathetic in its character and aura….In Pure, Andrea Chung uses handmade, coloured soap to mould vividly accurate sculptures of the outwardly extended, beseeching, comfort-offering hands of elderly women. In fact, they are the hands of actual Jamaican midwives, whose skillful, compassionate intervention at the very start of a new life’s journey represent a first point of contact — physical and spiritual — between members of the human family.”

The National Gallery of Jamaica congratulates and salutes the winners of the 2017 Aaron Matalon and Dawn Scott Memorial awards, and extends its commendations to all artists who are participating in the Jamaica Biennial 2017, which is a very competitive exhibition with many strong and unique submissions. The Biennial continues at all three locations until May 28.

Jamaica Biennial 2017 – Bulletin 5: The Biennial @ Devon House

anzinger-deborah-apiercing-cold-where-we-meet

Deborah Anzinger – A Piercing Void Where We Meet (2017, digital study)

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.

bumpy-top-desk-and-mirror

Laura Facey – Bumpy Top Desk and Mirror (2016)

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.

norwood-sharon-root-of-the-matter-xi

Sharon Norwood – Root of the Matter XI (2016)

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Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists – Jasmine Thomas-Girvan

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan - None but Ourselves (2015)

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan – None but Ourselves (2015)

Here is the final of our posts based on text panels in the current Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists exhibition, which opens today and is on view until August 8:

Bio

Born in 1961 in Jamaica, Jasmine Thomas-Girvan attended the Parsons School of Design in New York, where she received a BFA in Jewellery and Textile Design. Thomas-Girvan currently lives and works in Trinidad.

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan - Anansi (2009)

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan – Anansi (2009)

About the Work

Other artists in the exhibition produce work that conforms less to narrow expectations about women’s art but nonetheless seems to reflect female perspectives. The sculptural and sometimes wearable work of jeweller Jasmine Thomas-Girvan explores the complexities of Jamaican and Caribbean histories as well as the cultural and political implications of those histories. Her spectacularly surreal assemblages often employ, or are inspired by naturally occurring plant matter and actively utilise found objects that have a personal resonance with the artist.

She often takes inspiration from Caribbean and Latin American literary sources. Olive Senior’s Gardening in the Tropics is a strong reference and Amazonia embodies the spirit of Senior’s words. Regally depicting, in bronze, wood and calabash, the type of woman many in this exhibition have had to be: balancing the concerns of childrearing with the other responsibilities that usually revert to women and still being able to express themselves artistically.

O’Neil Lawrence, Exhibition Curator

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan - Dreaming Backwards, mixed media - detail

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan – Dreaming Backwards, mixed media – detail

About Women’s Art

“When I think of women’s art two words come to mind: tactile and contemplative. Tactile, because process is an inherent characteristic; and contemplative, because the creative process, from idea to completed work, is often interrupted by domestic life, which though messy and frustrating exacts a kind of deliberation that gives ideas time to ferment, developing a dialogue with time. A female sensibility does not only exist in biological life experience but is a product of a specific cultural time and place.”

“In the contemporary Caribbean space, women’s creative pursuits mirror dynamic challenges to previously determined canons and this does not necessarily translate to confrontation. It means understanding your perceived role as an artist, the function and purpose of your art, reconciling this with private and public realities, always searching for a connecting thread or meaningful metaphor.”

“My energies are always in dialogue with our history, past and present, returning to the primal locations of life – to memory, to the body of self and Earth, to birth, growth, decay, death and rebirth in a ceaseless cycle, recognising a connection to the ephemeral elemental forces that shape us alongside the historical, political and cultural forces which have damaged us.”

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan

Coming Up – Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists

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.

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan - None but Ourselves (2015)

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan – None but Ourselves (2015)

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.

Judith Salmon - Pockets of Memory (2012)

Judith Salmon – Pockets of Memory (2012)

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 - Justice Denied (2014)

Miriam Smith – Justice Denied (2014)

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 - Untitled (Connected III) (2015)

Prudence Lovell – Untitled (Connected III) (2015)

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. Continue reading

Silver Musgrave Medal – Jasmine Thomas-Girvan

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan - Dreaming Backwards, mixed media, size irregular  - detail

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan – Dreaming Backwards, mixed media, size irregular – detail

Here is the second citation from this year’s Musgrave Awards, this time regarding Jasmine Thomas-Girvan‘s Silver Musgrave Medal:

“The Institute of Jamaica recognizes Jasmine Thomas-Girvan for outstanding merit in the field of Art.”

“The jeweller and metal-smith Jasmine Thomas-Girvan was born in Jamaica and presently lives in Trinidad and Tobago. She attended the Parsons School of Design in New York, where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Jewellery and Textile Design. Whilst at Parsons, Thomas-Girvan was awarded the Tiffany Honour Award for Excellence. In 1996 she was the recipient of a Commonwealth Foundation Arts award and in 2012 she was the recipient of the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Aaron Matalon Award, as the artist who made the most outstanding contribution to that year’s National Biennial. Her mixed media installation, Dreaming Backwards, which was exhibited in the 2012 Biennial, was subsequently acquired for the National Art Collection.”

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan - Dreaming Backwards, mixed media - detail

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan – Dreaming Backwards, mixed media – detail

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