More in the Explorations Series: “Portraits in Conversation” and “Engaging Abstraction”

The National Gallery of Jamaica is pleased to present two new exhibitions – Explorations V: Portraits in Conversation and Explorations VI: Engaging Abstraction – which will be on view from December 9, 2017 to February 25, 2018. The Explorations series, which was launched in 2013, examines big themes and issues in Jamaican art, inviting conversation on these issues, and features mainly works from the National Collection.

Explorations V: Portraits in Conversation examines the significance and conflicted politics of artistic portraiture in the development of Jamaican art from the 18th century to the present, looking at issues such as race, class, gender, as well as the ideas about art and the artist that are reflected in the portrait. Examples of colonial era portraiture are contrasted with portraits and self-portraits from the Nationalist era that reflect its drive towards psychological decolonization and cultural self-representation. The exhibition also includes works by contemporary artists that illustrate how portraiture has been redefined and repositioned in response to recent social changes and cultural developments. Among the artists who are represented in this exhibition are: Alvin Marriott, Renee Cox, George Robertson, Albert Huie, Samere Tansley, Milton George, Isaac Mendes Belisario, Vera Alabaster, Berette Macaulay, Richmond Barthe, Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, Olivia McGilchrist, Varun Baker, Robin Farqueharson, David Boxer, Pompeo Batoni, Barrington Watson, Mrs Lionel Lee, and Vermon “Howie” Grant. This exhibition is curated by Senior Curator, O’Neil Lawrence.

Explorations VI: Engaging Abstraction, on the other hand, examines the role of abstraction in modern and contemporary art from Jamaica and the Caribbean. Early modern art in the Caribbean region had a strong focus on thematic content, often with nationalist overtones, and this called for figurative modernism rather than abstraction. There was a reaction against this in the middle of the 20th century, when a number of artists began to experiment with abstraction, often challenging the nationalist premises of earlier artistic developments. More recently, abstraction has also found new life in the age of time-based, digital media. It also has a place in the popular culture, often related to belief systems such as Revival and Rastafari, which employ abstract symbols. The visual rhetoric of abstract art however continues to be challenging to many Jamaican viewers, who crave art that is more literal and presents a clear narrative, and abstraction is often dismissed as alien to Caribbean culture. This exhibition therefore also addresses the debates and contentions that have surrounded abstraction in the Jamaican and Caribbean context. It features work by artists such as Eugene Hyde, Hope Brooks, Milton Harley, Osmond Watson, Margaret Chen, Petrona Morrison, Karl Parboosingh, David Boxer, Gloria Escoffery, Seya Parboosingh, David Pinto, Fitz Harrack, Di-Andre Caprice Davis, Edna Manley, Stanford Watson, Leonard Daley, Vernon Tong, Everald Brown, and Winston Patrick. This exhibition is curated by Assistant Curator Monique Barnett-Davidson.

A special feature in the Explorations VI exhibition will be the Kingston staging of David Gumbs’ Xing Wang interactive video installation, which was originally shown as part of the 2017 Jamaica Biennial at National Gallery West in Montego Bay. David Gumbs is an artist from St Martin who lives and works in Martinique.

Several events will be held to accompany these exhibitions, including the Last Sundays programmes of December 31, 2017, January 28, 2018, and February 25, 2018. Details will be announced separately.

Digital: Introduction

Digital technologies now shape many aspects of contemporary society and have completely transformed the global image economy. This has created myriad opportunities for individual and collective participation (and new associated dangers) and many lives, careers and causes are now enacted on social media, in ways that rely heavily on digital images. Ordinary individuals now have ready access to a vast visual archive that literally spans human history and contribute to this rapidly expanding archive on a daily basis. They do so by producing and circulating digital photographs of themselves and other images that capture their interest, in what is now an instantaneous and global network of exchange. Images have arguably never been as influential as they are today, in terms of their capacity to shape, reinforce, question or change ideas and convictions, and conceptions of self and community. This has significantly altered the traditional relationships between power, identity and visual representation.

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Explorations IV: Masculinities – Curator’s Notes

The following notes were contributed to the Explorations IV: Masculinities exhibition catalogue by its curator, O’Neil Lawrence. Masculinities opened on December 6, 2015 and continues at the National Gallery of Jamaica until March 5, 2016.

While I feel privileged to have been part of all the exhibitions in the National Gallery’s Explorations series, co-curating the first, Natural Histories, with Nicole Smythe-Johnson, the second Religion and Spirituality with Veerle Poupeye and curating the third Seven Women Artists, the current edition, Masculinities, is somewhat different to me. It is different not because its thematic concerns are particularly unique amongst the concepts explored in previous Explorations exhibitions, but because the theme is related to my own academic work, on subjects in which I have a strong personal investment.

My recently concluded Master’s thesis looked at the convergence of constructions of masculinity, eroticism, exoticism and the black male body in the photography of Archie Lindo – whose work is included in this exhibition. Explorations IV: Masculinities however, goes significantly beyond the necessarily narrow focus of my thesis, as the concepts and realities of Jamaican masculinities are quite complex. Because of this, the exhibition is organized around eight thematic concerns that we hope will take into consideration the breadth of the topic: “Sexual Bodies”; “Beyond the Normative”; “Power & Status”; “The Male Body as Icon”; “Precarious Masculinities”; “The Athlete & the Worker”; “Style & Fashion”; and “Fathers, Brothers & Sons.”

There is, naturally, significant overlap between these themes, as none of them exist in isolation. Many of the works in this exhibition could have been shown under more than one of the exhibition’s thematic headers and many other artists and art works could have been included, although this would have resulted in an exhibition of an impractical size. The themes and selections are meant to act as provocations for further thought, research and debate on what is a topic of enormous complexity and social significance, rather than as any definitive or exhaustive statements. I am in this essay presenting my own notes on these themes and the key selections I have used to represent them but this catalogue publication also features introductions to each thematic section, contributed by Veerle Poupeye, that provide slightly different and more detailed perspectives on the works on view. Continue reading

Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists – Jasmine Thomas-Girvan

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan - None but Ourselves (2015)

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan – None but Ourselves (2015)

Here is the final of our posts based on text panels in the current Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists exhibition, which opens today and is on view until August 8:

Bio

Born in 1961 in Jamaica, Jasmine Thomas-Girvan attended the Parsons School of Design in New York, where she received a BFA in Jewellery and Textile Design. Thomas-Girvan currently lives and works in Trinidad.

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan - Anansi (2009)

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan – Anansi (2009)

About the Work

Other artists in the exhibition produce work that conforms less to narrow expectations about women’s art but nonetheless seems to reflect female perspectives. The sculptural and sometimes wearable work of jeweller Jasmine Thomas-Girvan explores the complexities of Jamaican and Caribbean histories as well as the cultural and political implications of those histories. Her spectacularly surreal assemblages often employ, or are inspired by naturally occurring plant matter and actively utilise found objects that have a personal resonance with the artist.

She often takes inspiration from Caribbean and Latin American literary sources. Olive Senior’s Gardening in the Tropics is a strong reference and Amazonia embodies the spirit of Senior’s words. Regally depicting, in bronze, wood and calabash, the type of woman many in this exhibition have had to be: balancing the concerns of childrearing with the other responsibilities that usually revert to women and still being able to express themselves artistically.

O’Neil Lawrence, Exhibition Curator

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan - Dreaming Backwards, mixed media - detail

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan – Dreaming Backwards, mixed media – detail

About Women’s Art

“When I think of women’s art two words come to mind: tactile and contemplative. Tactile, because process is an inherent characteristic; and contemplative, because the creative process, from idea to completed work, is often interrupted by domestic life, which though messy and frustrating exacts a kind of deliberation that gives ideas time to ferment, developing a dialogue with time. A female sensibility does not only exist in biological life experience but is a product of a specific cultural time and place.”

“In the contemporary Caribbean space, women’s creative pursuits mirror dynamic challenges to previously determined canons and this does not necessarily translate to confrontation. It means understanding your perceived role as an artist, the function and purpose of your art, reconciling this with private and public realities, always searching for a connecting thread or meaningful metaphor.”

“My energies are always in dialogue with our history, past and present, returning to the primal locations of life – to memory, to the body of self and Earth, to birth, growth, decay, death and rebirth in a ceaseless cycle, recognising a connection to the ephemeral elemental forces that shape us alongside the historical, political and cultural forces which have damaged us.”

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan

Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists – Judith Salmon

Judith Salmon - Pockets of Memory (2012)

Judith Salmon – Pockets of Memory (2012)

The Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists opens today, May 31 and will be on view until August 8, 2015. Here is another text panel from the exhibition:

Bio

Born in 1952 in Kingston, Jamaica, Judith Salmon holds a graduate certificate in Museum Studies from the University of South Florida; an MFA from Johnson State University in Johnson, Vermont; a BA in Liberal Arts from Norwich University in Vermont, USA; and studied painting and printmaking at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, USA. Salmon lives and works in Kingston, Jamaica.

Judith Salmon, Palimpsests (2014, detail)

Judith Salmon, Palimpsests (2014, detail)

About the Work

The dynamics of memory and the resonance of materials are at the heart of the installation and assemblage work of Judith Salmon. The multiple physical and conceptual layers of the work Palimpsests of Life, made from liquid beeswax and found objects, represent a tactile accumulation of experiences and explore the way in which memories are preserved, obscured or lost over time. The invitation to touch, to share in an experience is a real one in the interactive and ever-expansive Pockets of Memory which invites viewers to leave notes or other items of personal significance in the crocheted pockets enabling their experiences to become part of a work representative of the collective human experience.

O’Neil Lawrence, Exhibition Curator

About Women’s Art

“I grew up in the era when children were expected to be seen and not heard. My socialization evolved from activities at home, school, church, and entertainment such as Miss Lou and Mass Ranny, float parades, Jonkonnu, and making Christmas cakes.  Art seeped into my awareness during high school and became my passion.”

“According to the art historian Linda Nochlin: ‘It is only by adopting … the “masculine” attributes of single-mindedness, concentration, tenaciousness, and absorption in ideas and craftsmanship … that women have succeeded … in the world of art.’ These qualities are necessary for achievement in any field, whether art, athletics or business. They are neither masculine nor feminine attributes, but strategies for survival, which women, especially those who play multiple roles like artist and mother, must actively cultivate. What comes before single-mindedness, however is nurturing, and permitting children to be heard.” 

“This exhibition can function as a looking glass for assessing our journeys and contributions as women. It can also be a window for looking regionally and globally to assess how we measure up. Audiences may become curious about the creative processes for women, and making art could be demystified. The imaginative life is work, after all.”

Judith Salmon

Judith Salmon -  Book of Days (2014)

Judith Salmon – Book of Days (2014)

Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists – Berette Macaulay

Berette Macaulay - (CrowDED) (2009)

Berette Macaulay – Anishka (CrowDED) (2009)

The Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists exhibition opens tomorrow, Sunday, May 31. Here is another text panel from the exhibition:

Bio
Born in Sierra Leone, Berette Macaulay grew up in Jamaica while also spending considerable time in the UK. She obtained her BA degree in Theatre from Marymount Manhattan College, New York, and now lives and works in New York.

About the Work

The search for personal identity, selfhood and belonging is at the heart of the photography and multimedia work of BeretteMacaulay. She not only explores traditional analogue and digital photography but also uses various experimental techniques, such as Polaroid image transfers and chemical manipulation. Using these techniques, Macaulay has produced several seemingly divergent bodies of work, such as the CrowDED, Neue Rootz and, most recently, the ongoing ReKONstruction: Differentiated Possibility series. The haunting, turbulent images in CrowDed speak to overcoming personal trauma; the drive to resolve those histories and its relationship to the construction, reconstruction and establishment of family ties is seen in her Neue Rootz series, which explore her family’s African, Central European and Caribbean connections. Her most recent series, ReKONstruction, in turn, embodies her preoccupation with mythology and the power of memory, to speak about evolution and personal growth. While the work may seem divergent, there is an inner logic that pulls it all together into a complex exploratory narrative about personal history and resolution.

O’Neil Lawrence, Exhibition Curator

Berette Macauley - Lisa (Neue Roots) (2013)

Berette Macauley – Lisa (Neue Roots) (2013)

About Women’s Art

“As a West African and Jamaican artist deeply influenced by these matters via my family’s cultural and vocational background, I see the reflection of ‘women’s issues’ in the arts quite clearly. Historically black women have been pressed to appease the fears, burdens, and shame of others, to supply an endless source of nurturing for everyone’s children, and to be the pastime pleasure of our leaders. In Jamaican art, women are used as subjects to be admired, examined, sexualized, or celebrated as mysterious creatures empowered only with the ability to bear life. Women are almost promiscuously present in the arts, but we have not been agents of this influence.”

“The ways in which this can be addressed scale the spectrum of policy, legislature, advocacy, documentary, and creative fields. While I can see through all these lenses, I am using mythological tales from transcontinental influences to find a common root, a universal idea, a single memory that binds us back together. The forgetful space in which we reside globally that allows abuse and violent neglect of women is ready to be filled by our contemporary creative warriors. This is the
ultimate feminine power – irrespective of nation or realm.”

Berette Macaulay

Berette Macaulay - We Connect at the Root of a Beautiful Catastrophe (2012)

Berette Macaulay – We Connect at the Root of a Beautiful Catastrophe (2012)