Tanya Shirley – “The Female Artist: Living Bad a Man Yard”

Guest speaker Tanya Shirley at the opening of Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists

Guest speaker Tanya Shirley at the opening of Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists

We are pleased to present the remarks presented by poet and scholar Tanya Shirley at opening of Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists on Sunday, May 31, 2015:

If my grandmother saw her children looking untidy she would say, “How you look like you a live bad a man yard so.” The aim of my talk this afternoon is to reclaim my grandmother’s phrase and apply it to the Jamaican art scene where Jamaica is the man’s yard and female artists through the simple act of creating art are being bad. However, I perceive this badness as a good thing: a subversive act of rebellion. My grandmother used the phrase to imply that her daughters looked as if they were being ill-treated by a man. One could argue that the phrase is a metaphor for how patriarchal strictures in our society still prevent female artists from gaining the maximum benefits that could be derived from their artistic output. I want to make it clear that I am not talking today as an art critic. I leave that to the experts like Veerle and O’Neil. I’m a poet and poetry is art; therefore, I am talking about my journey as a female artist. From that viewpoint, I will also address the term “women’s art” or “female art” and how I think the category assists and restricts the work that we do as female artists.

When I was a graduate student at the University of Maryland, I had the honour of having breakfast with the esteemed poet, Derek Walcott. Of course I’ve seen Walcott on many occasions since then and I can tell he has no recollection of our meeting and why should he, I was but a mere graduate student at one of his many university visits. However, that meeting was instrumental for me because one of the things he said very early on in our conversation was, “Don’t ever get married or have children…I’ve met too many good female poets who’ve stopped writing because their responsibilities got in the way.”

One could argue that his sentiment was fuelled by chauvinism and stereotypical ideas of femininity. However, the truth of the matter is that many great female artists have had to deal with the burden of creating art while fulfilling society’s role of the “real woman”; especially in our Jamaican context, where I would argue that art is still not perceived as a viable occupation and though we have many women in managerial positions, women are still judged by their ability to master the traditional roles of wife, mother and housekeeper. As an aside, I will give you a joke, I went to the mineral bath in St Thomas a few years ago and one of the informal masseurs, while massaging me, asked if I had children and when I said no, my good-good therapeutic massage turned into a blessing and a “balming” for my poor, barren womb. Up to when I was getting into my car, this man was still reaching through the window to touch my belly and chant a few Psalms for my womb.

Prudence Lovell - Untitled (Conversation I) (2015)

Prudence Lovell – Untitled (Conversation I) (2015)

As female artists, when we create in an environment like this, we are constantly aware of the politics of going against the grain. Women are permitted to dabble in the arts as a hobby but when you brand yourself as a serious artist, when you have the audacity to exhibit your work and to spend countless hours creating art, it means that you run the risk of being perceived as a ‘bad’ woman, one who is perhaps neglecting the more important work of contributing to society via traditionally prescribed roles. As the writer Virginia Wolf said, women need a room of their own and metaphorically that applies to having the space to create. The challenge for women artists is that society often does not grant them that space in the same way that men are given the space to work. In the same way that black children in the United State are often told, “you must work twice as hard,” the female artist has to work twice as hard just to claim and maintain her space as an artist. Therefore, when a woman produces art, it is in many ways a rebellious act and her work automatically becomes political. Continue reading


Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists – Kereina Chang Fatt

Kereina Chang Fatt - In Search of Silence 2 (2007)

Kereina Chang Fatt – In Search of Silence 2 (2007)

This is the second in our series of posts based on text panels from the Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists exhibition, which opens on Sunday, May 31 and continues until August 8, 2015:


Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1975, Kereina Chang Fatt attended the Edna Manley College where she acquired a Diploma in Painting in 1996, and continued with post-graduate studies in Printmaking the following year. In 2009 she attained her MA degree in Art Education through a joint programme between Edna Manley College and Ohio State University. She currently lives and works in Florida.

About the Work

Delicate threads and fabric are at the heart of Kereina Chang Fatt’s work and they act as powerful metaphors for the fragility of the human body and themes of fertility, loss and longing. Hauntingly beautiful, the dreamlike voile that constitutes and envelops works like Scrapes and Bruises and On the inside both obscure and invite the viewer to meditate on their own vulnerabilities as well as those of the artist. The visceral responses elicited by these works find a particularly resonant vessel in Progressive Unravelling, a work that not only speaks to her themes, which have a particular universality without in any way losing the intimacy of the personal, but also demonstrates the facility of the medium to elicit such a response.

O’Neil Lawrence, Exhibition Curator

Kereina Chang-Fatt - Progressive Unravelling (2008)

Kereina Chang-Fatt – Progressive Unravelling (2008)

About Women’s Art

“Art: a universal language; a coded message; visual stories; social commentary; feelings; memories; conversation pieces; blatant protest.  The creation of a being; male, female, human.”

“Art has the unique capacity to transcend gender roles or expectations and in its message stereotypes may be examined, challenged, reinforced or altogether shattered.  What is women’s art?  Is it timid, thoughtful, subdued, feisty, fearless, passionate, subversive? Is it solely art created by a woman?  Or is it art created for women with themes uniquely woman?  Perhaps women’s art encompasses all these ideas or maybe there can be no definitive answer.  Women’s art can be as mysterious as the idea of woman herself and with certainty somewhere within it all there is a story being told.”

Kereina Chang Fatt

Kereina Chang Fatt - In Search of Silence 2 (2007)

Kereina Chang Fatt – In Search of Silence 2 (2007)

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