We Have Met Before – Leasho Johnson

 

Leasho Johnson is one of four artists featured in We Have Met Before, an exhibition staged in partnership with the British Council. The exhibition is on view from September 22-November 4, 2017.

Bio

Leasho Johnson was born in St James, Jamaica, in 1984. He attended the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, where he obtained a BFA in Visual Communication in 2009. He is a founding member of the Dirty Crayons collective, which held local group exhibitions in 2012 and 2013. Johnson’s other exhibitions include Young Talent V (2010, National Gallery of Jamaica); Jamaican Pulse: Art and Politics from Jamaica and the Diaspora (2016, Bristol, United Kingdom); and the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Biennials since 2010. He has also participated in a number of artist residencies. In 2016, he participated in an artists’ residency at Bluecoat, a contemporary arts centre in Liverpool, United Kingdom, and he was awarded a residency at Residency Unlimited in New York City by the Davidoff Art Initiative. Johnson works in various media to explore the tensions and contestations in Jamaican culture and society, particularly in dancehall and its associated tropes. He resides in Kingston, Jamaica.

Leasho Johnson

About the Work

Leasho Johnson is the youngest artist in We Have Met Before and presents a visually and conceptually explosive mix of history and contemporary popular culture, with strong references to Dancehall and graffiti. Like the other three artists, he often uses historical source material – visual material in his case – but forces this into a dialogue with a repertoire of cartoon-like female and gender-ambivalent figures in various provocative poses, other recurrent characters such as fighting and copulating dogs, and sexual metaphors such as bananas, sugar cane, palm trees and fish. In some of his recent work, drowned bodies with provocatively placed palm tree extensions become sexualized tropical islands, reminiscent of the violent histories of the Caribbean archipelago. Johnson examines the politics of sexual objectification and the contradictions of gender and sexuality in contemporary Jamaican culture and not only points to the roots of these issues in the histories of colonization, slavery, exploitation and social inequality, but also acknowledges their revolutionary potential in the present as an agent of social change.

Leasho Johnson website: www.leasho.com

 

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Panel Discussion on “We Have Met Before” on September 23 @1:30 PM

We Have Met Before opens at the National Gallery of Jamaica on September 22 and is staged in partnership with the British Council. The exhibition features Graham Fagen (Scotland), Joscelyn Gardner (Barbados/Canada), Ingrid Pollard (Guyana/UK), and Leasho Johnson (Jamaica) and revisits the challenging but important subject of trans-Atlantic slavery and its afterlives in the contemporary world, interpreted by four artists with distinctive perspectives.

As part of the accompanying programmes for We Have Met Before, the National Gallery of the Jamaica and the British Council will present a panel discussion on the issues raised by the exhibition on Saturday, September 23, starting at 1:30 pm. The panel will consist of three of the artists in the exhibition, Graham Fagen, Joscelyn Gardner and Ingrid Pollard, while Deborah Anzinger will speak about Leasho Johnson’s work. The panel will be moderated by Shani Roper, acting Director/Curator of Liberty Hall, the Legacy of Marcus Garvey.

The panel discussion, which will take place at the National Gallery of Jamaica, is free and open to the public and those in attendance will also have the opportunity to view the exhibition, which continues until November 4, 2017.

“We Have Met Before” – Introduction

 

 

We have met before. Four centuries separate our first meeting when Prospero was graced with the role of thief, merchant and man of God. Our hero was ‘the right worshipfull and valiant night Sir John Haukins, sometimes treasurer of her Majesties navie Roial’; and it is his first Voyage in search of human merchandise.

George Lamming – The Pleasures of Exile (1960)

We Have Met Beforewhich will be on view at the NGJ from September 22 to November 4, reflects on the question of historical forgetfulness and the capacity of art to unearth and to shed new light on what is forgotten or supressed. The four artists—Graham Fagen from Scotland, Joscelyn Gardner from Barbados and Canada, Leasho Johnson from Jamaica and Ingrid Pollard from Guyana and England— and the works selected for this exhibition represent a conversation on the histories of Slavery, the Transatlantic trade, and its present-day implications. Each artist brings a distinctive perspective to this subject area, with work that was created in different locales, different media, from different experiences, and at different points in time.

These subjects are of course not new and commonly appear in modern and contemporary art from the Caribbean and its Diaspora, as well as in other art forms such as dance, drama, literature and music. In Jamaica, the subjects hold a central position in Garvey and Rastafari culture, which has produced a recognizable African Zionist iconography that is prominent in the popular visual culture and the visual arts. The histories of slavery have been very contentious as a subject area in Caribbean art and this is particularly pronounced in public art, as was best illustrated by the intense controversy about Laura Facey’s Redemption Song (2003), Jamaica’s de facto Emancipation monument. This controversy raised many questions about the representational choices and the equally contentious issue of who can legitimately speak about this subject.

We Have Met Before revisits this complex and contentious territory, and acknowledges that much has been suppressed and left unsaid, especially by the former colonizers. The exhibition argues that the subject area needs to be approached as part of an ongoing conversation, in which there is no final word and in which it must be possible for various perspectives to be expressed. The resulting conversations may be difficult but they are necessary, as they are central to the histories that have shaped and continue to shape the contemporary Caribbean world, and it is hoped that this exhibition will contribute to this process. Continue reading

SAVE THE DATE – “We Have Met Before” Opens on September 22

The National Gallery of Jamaica in partnership with the British Council will be hosting an art exhibition from September 22-November 4, 2017. The show is entitled: We Have Met Before and features Graham Fagen, Joscelyn Gardner, Ingrid Pollard, and Leasho Johnson.

This exhibition revisits the challenging subject of trans-Atlantic slavery and its afterlives in the contemporary world, seen through the eyes of four contemporary artists. Each artist brings a distinctive perspective with work that was created in different locales, different media, and at different points in time.

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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 – 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.

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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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