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

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Deborah Anzinger – A Piercing Cold 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.

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Sharon Norwood – Root of the Matter XI (2016)

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New Roots: Deborah Anzinger

Deborah Anzinger - detail of installation

Deborah Anzinger – detail of installation

This is the first in a series of posts on the artists in our upcoming New Roots exhibition, which opens on July 28.

Biography

Deborah Anzinger has exhibited her work at the District of Columbia Arts Center (DCAC), Arlington Art Center (AAC), George Mason University, Civilian Art Projects, Hillyer Art Space, Delicious Spectacle, Porch Projects, Corcoran Gallery of Art with Transformer Gallery, and National Gallery of Jamaica. She recently co-curated with Chajana DenHarder Intimate Encounters, a solo exhibition of work by Marlon James at New Local Space (NLS), Kingston; and Loose Ends, an exhibition of work by Chandi Kelley, Chajana DenHarder, Matt Smith, Joseph Hale and Dafna Steinberg at DCAC.  She has written for ARC Magazine and Caribbean Beat; and sat on panels for San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, DCAC and AAC. She is founding director of the non-profit visual art initiative NLS that creates a more connected global network where unconventional art, ideas and artists are accessed openly through artist residencies, exhibitions and conversation series. Deborah received her PhD in Immunology and Microbiology in 2005 from Rush Medical Center, Chicago.

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Natural Histories: Deborah M. Carroll Anzinger

A closer look at Deborah Anzinger’s work in the Natural Histories Exhibition:

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Instability is a major theme in much of Deborah Anzinger’s recent work. In both Gone and Lizard Anzinger uses images of nature as a means to reference anxieties around the instability of life- which she experiences as an“urgent sense of mortality”. This is paralleled with an anxiety around representation, which is always dual in so far as it is both the thing it represents and not. The word “tree” is a tree- in so far as it signifies one- and at the same time is not a tree in so far as it is only a four-letter word.

In Gone the thick, almost sculptural rendering of the words makes the text at once tactile and symbolic, their duality as signs is made visible through their excessive physicality. Similarly, the photograph floating in the corner is from a visit to her family’s rural farmland in Maroon Town, Jamaica; the figures in the image are Anzinger’s sister and two friends coming out of a cave. The image is completely un-moored, out of context, and like the words, made to bear both what it represents (the memory of “back” then/there) and its unstable status as image, capable of being made to mean many things and/or nothing. Taken together, the work stages an interrogation of representation at the level of form, and an interrogation of the concept of“belonging”at the level of content.

In Lizard (the video piece to be found in the next room), the ethereality of nature and looming mortality are again the focus. As in Gone, this is paralleled with an anxiety around the unstable sign. The video seems to perform the instability of the sign“lizard”. A feared creature for many Jamaicans including Anzinger, the lizard is here transformed by natural processes into a sad carcass of little interest to anyone, and further transmutated into art object by abrupt infusions of a distinctly synthetic yellow. In the artist’s own words, the work is“an oscillation between tactile physical experience and representative language”.

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