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 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.

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Sharon Norwood – Root of the Matter XI (2016)

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Jamaica Biennial 2014 to Close on March 15 with Artists’ Talks

Artist Talk (Web)

The Jamaica Biennial 2014 is scheduled to close on Sunday, March 15, and to mark the occasion the National Gallery of Jamaica will exceptionally be open from 11 am to 4 pm on that day. A special programme of Artists’ Talks will be presented on that day, starting at 1:30 pm. Admission to the National Gallery of Jamaica and the Artists’ Talks will be free but contributions to our donations box are much appreciated and help to fund exhibitions and programmes such as the Biennial and our Sunday programming.

The Jamaica Biennial 2014 has been a landmark exhibition in several respects and has received significant critical acclaim, in the media and from visitors. Rebranded from what used to be the National Biennial, the Jamaica Biennial 2014 was re-conceptualized to have a more international outlook and to engage local and international audiences more effectively. It is the first Biennial to be judged by international curators – Sara Hermann from the Dominican Republic and Diana Nawi from the Perez Art museum in Miami. It is also the first to include non-Jamaican artists, Blue Curry (Bahamas), James Cooper (Bermuda), Gilles Elie-dit-Cosaque (Martinique), Sheena Rose (Barbados), Richard Mark Rawlins (Trinidad), who were invited to participate in the Special Projects section of the exhibition, along with the Jamaican-born Renee Cox. In another first, the Biennial is shown at more than one location: in addition to the main exhibition at the National Gallery itself, this includes Devon House, which features work by Greg Bailey, James Cooper, Laura Facey, Ebony G. Patterson, Oneika Russell, and Cosmo Whyte, and National Gallery West in Montego Bay, which features work from the Sacred Geometry series by Renee Cox. One special project, PARADISE.jpg by Blue Curry, consists of an intervention on the facades of several buildings in Downtown Kingston. Sunday, March 15, represents the last opportunity to see the Jamaica Biennial 2014 in its entirety.

The Jamaica Biennial 2014 is one of the largest exhibitions in the National Gallery’s history and it is arguably its most diverse exhibition to date. This diversity is reflected in the artists who have been invited to participate in the Artists’ Talks, which are divided into two panels. Panel 1, which is presented under the theme “Traditional Media/New Approaches,” explores how artists use traditional media and styles such as representational painting, ceramics and fibre art to produce work that has significant cultural and aesthetic currency in the present moment. This panel features Michael Layne, Tina Spiro, Katrina Coombs, and Samere Tansley and will be chaired by National Gallery Senior Curator O’Neil Lawrence. Panel 2, titled “Mapping the Social Terrain,” explores how artists engage with the social environment and the social and political issues of the 21st century in new, experimental media. This second panel features Sheena Rose, who is visiting Jamaica for the occasion, as well as Camille Chedda, Katherine Silvera-Sunley and Leasho Johnson and will be chaired by Executive Director Veerle Poupeye. Each artist will make a short presentation on their work in the Biennial and its context, followed by an open discussion at the end of each panel. Continue reading

Young Talent V: Leasho Johnson

Leasho Johnson - Territorial Fad (2010) (right panel of triptych)

Leasho Johnson is a graphic designer, painter and fashion designer. His exhibition is curated by Veerle Poupeye.

Artist’s Statement

My work is inspired by various graffiti and graphic art styles, which I interpret within the context of my own environment. Being trained by my father in the traditional methods of painting and drawing, I have fused these traditional methods with my love for cartoons to create art that I consider to be more relevant to me as a young person than the kind I was trained to create. I believe cartoon illustrations are capable of reinterpreting controversial subjects such as religion or even homosexuality into a source of amusement, which provides me with an opportunity to express my interpretations of my immediate environment and my experiences as a Jamaican. I also believe cartoons reinterpret reality in another manner that reality itself cannot express; they are less threatening towards sensitive human emotions (anger, fear, hate) because they are not considered to represent reality. Ironically, using cartoons allows me to reintroduce and address the realities behind them. Continue reading