We are pleased to present this exciting short video documentary which was contributed by Tristan Galand. It reflects on the 2014 Jamaica Biennial, which was in its closing week when the footage was shot, and focuses on four artists, Camille Chedda, Sheena Rose, Phillip Thomas and Ebony G. Patterson, who present their reflections on the exhibition. With thanks to Tristan Galand and all who helped to facilitate this production, particularly Nicole Smythe-Johnson.
Although the Jamaica Biennial 2014 has now closed, we intend to continue the dialogue. Here is a guest-post by freelance curator and art writer Nicole Smythe-Johnson, who served as project manager for the Biennial and had special responsibility for coordinating projects such as Blue Curry’s.
Bahamian artist Blue Curry flew from London, checking his contribution to the 2014 Jamaica Biennial as luggage. Almost 300 feet of wall poster, divided into sections of 8 by 10 feet were packaged in two large rolls and encased in cardboard. Even though the National Gallery had provided the artist with a letter explaining the nature of the work, and the fact that the piece would not to be returned to London after the exhibition (only because it would be destroyed by then), the customs officer was unconvinced.
As the person meeting Blue on behalf of the gallery, I was called into the customs hall to explain how exactly these were artworks and not advertisements, and why the giant rolls of poster were of “no commercial value”. I did my best, but after 15 or 20 minutes of trying to satisfy her philosophical and functional queries, I began to worry that we would have to leave the posters at customs that night, while the officials figured out what code should apply to this as yet unheard of class of object; artwork of “no commercial value”.
As a last ditch effort, Blue offered to show the officials a mock-up of the poster that he’d printed on a letter-size sheet. He handed the print over, a simple rectangle of gradated blue. The customs officer looked at us as if she wanted to say “yu tink mi born yesterday?”, but instead she said “all of that is just this?”
We left the airport shortly after, with the posters in our possession. Seeing that innocuous blue rectangle seemed to drain the fight out of the official. Surely something that simple wasn’t worth arguing over, it certainly didn’t look like it was worth much.
This has been a recurring theme with PARADISE.jpg. People ask the same question over and over: “But what is it?” As Blue and his motley crew of volunteer assistants (themselves young artists and art students) went from site to site, slathering wallpaper glue on abandoned buildings and painstakingly moulding the poster to crumbling facades, people came from everywhere to ponder the strange image. Some thought it was preparation for something else, “are you going to paint it?” Others approved of the intervention, “yeh man, pretty up di place.” Even if they weren’t sure what it was, “likkle colour.” Several offered advice: “Yu nu si se dat nu do good?” or “Wha kinna glue dat? Dem foreign glue naa go work pon dem dutty wall.” The public installation sessions became a little game, what input will be offered next?
There has been quite a bit of discussion about the similarity of Kimani Beckford’s B.I.B., a large painting on view in the Jamaica Biennial 2014, and Barkley Hendricks’ Lawdy Mama (1969) in the collection of the Studio Museum in Harlem, and some have suggested that Beckford’s painting is overly derivative of the latter. The resemblance between the two works is beyond obvious, and clearly deliberate, but there are also significant differences.
While Hendricks’ realistically painted portrait represents a lanky, brown-skinned young woman with a large Afro who gazes at the viewer with stern confidence, Beckford’s subject is so dark-skinned that her features are practically invisible, except for the schematic eyes. Beckford’s painting is in actuality not a portrait at all but represents a more abstract “type” and reminds more of the “hyper-black” images of contemporary African-American artist Kerry James Marshall than of Barkley Hendricks’ portrait. The flattened, largely undefined features of Beckford’s figure transition almost seamlessly into the equally flat black halo/hair background and the woman also seems younger, shorter and less confident than Hendricks’ subject – an awkward young girl rather than a self-assured young woman. The fashionable, well-fitting 1960s dress in the Hendricks painting has been replaced by a less glamorous and ill-fitting, uniform-like outfit, which further adds to the deliberate awkwardness of Beckford’s depiction. And while Hendricks’ portrait is about life-size, Beckford’s is significantly larger, which gives the figure a more imposing and enigmatic presence.
Barkley Hendricks’ Lawdy Mama is representative of how black artists in the late 1960s and early 1970s challenged dominant, white representational codes by interpreting traditional iconographies in ways that made them assertively black – in fact, it is one of the icons of the Black Power era and makes a compelling Black is Beautiful statement. Lawdy Mama draws on a long history of Christian icons, particularly representations of Mary, which is alluded to by the halo-like hair and the gold background. The Jamaican artist Osmond Watson’s Rastafarian Christ in Peace and Love, which was also painted in 1969, is another example, albeit one with more explicit religious content. Such works not only make reference to traditional Christian imagery but also to the pop culture representations of blackness that were being articulated at that time. It is often assumed that Lawdy Mama is a portrait of the activist Angela Davis, whose trademark Afro had helped to legitimize and politicize natural black hairstyles, but it is actuality a portrait of Barkley’s cousin Kathy (and the title of the work comes from a Blues song that has appeared in many incarnations). Osmond Watson drew from the emerging visual culture of Rastafari and, particularly, its engagement with Ethiopian icon painting traditions. That Watson’s Peace and Love is also a self-portrait makes it an even more powerful endorsement of Rastafarian ideology as a positive social force at a time when the movement was still very controversial in Jamaican society and deemed violent and disruptive by the ruling classes. Both paintings are part of a complex economy of images, derived from art history and pop culture alike, and navigate that economy with deliberate and provocative political intent. Continue reading
The National Gallery of Jamaica’s Last Sundays event for February 22, 2015, will feature yoga in the gallery with Nadine McNeil (Universal Empress) & Donovan Manning, music by DJ Iset Sankofa, and the Jamaica Biennial 2014, which is now in its final month. Doors will be open from 11 am to 4 pm.
The yoga session, is presented under the title Yoga Ethnochoreology, is themed around what McNeil prefers to call African Heritage Month, with a special focus on the “divine masculine,” and will be accompanied by music selected by DJ Iset Sankofa. The yoga session will start at 11 am and the cost is $ 1,000. Proceeds will be used to fund an internship at the National Gallery for an Alpha Boys school student. Interested persons are asked to pre-register at firstname.lastname@example.org. Space is limited, so please register early and bring our own yoga mat.
Iset Sankofa will also provide music for the rest of the day. As she describes it, her sets are an “‘all genres considered’ milieu… where dusty Malian Blues takes a night stroll with Dub, Naija hip hop flirts dangerously with Kingston Dancehall grit, and bubbly Brazilian Electronica steams a peace pipe with Afro-Jazz futurism.” Her musical selections have a way of running past the dance-able and the obvious. Usually, the next stop is a bold convergence of history and magic – one that playfully wields the listener into the lush, downright sensuous terrain that music can be.
Tours of the Jamaica Biennial 2014 will also be offered on February 22. As is now customary, admission to the NGJ and guided tours will be free. 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 Jamaica Biennial 2014 and our Last Sundays programming.
The Devon House part of the Jamaica Biennial 2014 will exceptionally be open on Saturday, February 21 and Sunday, February 22, from 12 noon to 6 pm. Regular admission fees will however apply at Devon House.
Once an exhibition is up and running, everything may seem effortless and it is easy to forget what went into the installation. In this post, the first of several that give you a glimpse behind the scenes of the Jamaica Biennial 2014, we let you in on what was probably the most technically challenging part of the process: the installation of Laura Facey’s large wood sculptures, Walking Tree and Needle for the Planet.
Because of the unusual size and weight of the works — 14 meters tall for Walking Tree and nearly 10 meters long for Needle, with both weighing several tonnes — the decision was made to exhibit the works outdoors, in the formal gardens at Devon House. The problem was however to get these works from Laura’s studio in rural St Ann to Devon House and then to mount them there without damaging the gardens. Special precautions also had to be taken to ensure that the works were stably mounted, for the safety of visitors and the works themselves. With other works, the installation was a piece of precision engineering, kindly contributed and very ably executed by Tankweld Limited.
The process started with several site visits, to determine where and how the works were to be mounted. The largest and heaviest of the two sculptures, Walking Tree, posed special challenges because it is top heavy and susceptible to wind. The Tankweld team therefore decided that it needed to be anchored with steel plates and 3 feet long steel pegs which would be concealed below the lawn.
December 2 was the big day on which the two sculptures would be transported from Laura’s studio at Mount Pleasant in rural St Ann to Devon House and mounted there in the formal gardens. The day started with loading the two sculptures, which were at Laura Facey’s studio at Mount Pleasant in rural St Ann, onto a large flatbed truck, using a second boom truck. This was followed by what must have been a hair-raising drive to Kingston via the notoriously steep new North-South High Way and the equally challenging Bog Walk Gorge and Flat Bridge. The convoy arrived on schedule at Devon House in the early afternoon and the installation of Needle was completed without too much difficulty, although special care had to be taken not to damage the Royal Palms that fringe the formal gardens. For Walking Tree a larger boom truck was needed and this was done the next day. It was an even more delicate operation, as can be seen in the accompanying photographs.
Once the installation was completed, we all agreed that it had been well worth the effort and the two sculptures make a visually stunning intervention in the Devon House gardens, right in front of the manor’s facade. The installation has been very popular with visitors and has served as the backdrop for countless photographs. The works can be seen there until March 15, after which we will have to embark on the equally challenging task of removing them!
We wish to use this opportunity to extend our sincere gratitude to Tankweld Limited for making this project possible.
The National Gallery of Jamaica’s Last Sundays programme continues on Sunday, January 25 with a screening of two films: Smallman: The World My Father Made (2013) and The Solitary Alchemist (2010). Visitors will also have the opportunity to view the main exhibition of the Jamaica Biennial 2014. Doors will be open from 11 am to 4 pm and the film screening starts at 1:30 pm.
The Jamaica Biennial 2014 exhibition, which opened on December 7 and continues until March 15, can be seen at the National Gallery of Jamaica, which houses the main exhibition, with satellite exhibitions at Devon House and National Gallery West in Montego Bay and one project, by Bahamian artist Blue Curry, on the streets of Downtown Kingston. The exhibition features Jamaican artists, both local and from the diaspora, and, for the first time, also specially invited artists from elsewhere in the Caribbean. One of the National Gallery’s largest and most popular exhibitions to date, it has already received significant acclaim as a landmark exhibition, which provides exposure to the diversity of contemporary art from the Caribbean region and its diaspora and serves as a platform for new development. Among the artists in the exhibition are the winners of the 2014 Biennial’s two awards: the Aaron Matalon Award winner Ebony G. Patterson (at Devon House); and the co-winners of the inaugural Dawn Scott Memorial Award, Camille Chedda and Kimani Beckford, whose work can be seen at the National Gallery of Jamaica.
The films that will be screened on January 25, Smallman and The Solitary Alchemist, were both directed by Mariel Brown whose documentary film Inward Hunger: The Story of Eric Williams recently won the Best Local Feature Film jury prize at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, and has been screened in London, England; Kingston, Jamaica; Florida, USA and Port of Spain, Trinidad.
Smallman: The World My Father Made, a short film, tells the story of John Ambrose Kenwyn Rawlins an ordinary Trinidadian of modest means. He was a great father, grandfather and husband; an obedient public servant. Yet the most vivid part of his life was lived in a small workshop beneath his house. In there, at the end of his workday, he made things. From simple push toys to elaborate 1/16th scale waterline battle ship models and dockyards, miniature furniture and dolls houses, he painstakingly constructed everything from scratch, sometimes spending upwards of a year on a single model. The film is an exploration of the worlds both real and imagined that Kenwyn Rawlins made, as remembered by his son Richard Mark Rawlins, who is also one of the specially invited artists in the Jamaica Biennial 2014.