Jamaica Biennial 2017 – Invited Artists: Petrona Morrison

Petrona Morrison – Selfie (2017), video still

Petrona Morrison‘s video installation Selfie (2017), is part of the Jamaica Biennial 2017 exhibition at the National Gallery of Jamaica, where it can be seen until May 28. It explores the social dynamic, conventions and anxieties around the “selfie” culture.

Petrona Morrison was born in 1954, in Manchester, Jamaica. Morrison studied at MacMasters University in Ontario, Canada, where she attained a BA in Fine Arts and at Howard University, Washington, DC, where she gained her MFA. She recently retired as the Director of the School of Visual Art at the Edna Manley College. Morrison is best known for her work in installation and multimedia art that explores personal and political issues and the intersections between those two. She has exhibited locally and internationally and has participated in several artists’ residencies, including Artist in Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1994-1995 and at CCA7 in Trinidad in 2002. Morrison was awarded the Silver Musgrave Medal in 1997 and the Gold Musgrave medal in 2014. She lives in Kingston, Jamaica.

Petrona Morrison – Selfie (2017), video still

Gold Musgrave Medal – Petrona Morrison

Petrona Morrison - Reality/Representation (2004), detail of installation

Petrona Morrison – Reality/Representation (2004), detail of installation

Here is the third and final of the citations for this year’s Musgrave Medals in Art, for Petrona Morrison who was awarded the Gold:

“The Institute of Jamaica recognizes Petrona Morrison for distinguished eminence in the field of Art and Art Education.”

“Petrona Morrison was born in the parish of Manchester in 1954. She obtained the Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts (Summa Cum Laude) at McMaster University and a Masters of Fine Arts in Painting from Howard University College of Fine Arts. During her MFA studies, she spent a year in Kenya and she was artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem from 1994 to 1995. More recently, she has also held short-term artists’ residencies at the Contemporary Caribbean Arts in Trinidad in 2002 and at the Bag Factory in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2005.”

“Morrison’s travels and residencies in Kenya, Harlem and South Africa have deeply influenced her artistic development. Her earliest works were fairly conventional, figurative paintings and drawings with autobiographical overtones but her art took a different course in the late 1980s when she started producing textural reliefs and assemblages that incorporated discarded materials.”

Petrona Morrison - Altarpiece 1 & 2 (1991, Collection: NGJ)

Petrona Morrison – Altarpiece 1 & 2 (1991, Collection: NGJ)

“These reflected her interest in traditional African art forms, such as Dogon architecture and the carved doors she had seen in Mombasa; but she invoked these sources poetically rather than literally, as symbolic acts of reconstruction and reconnection.”

“These assemblages became larger over time and culminated in a series of totemic structures made from scrap metal and wood, several of which were over ten feet tall. These assemblages signified, in her own words, “transformation, renewal and healing,” on a personal and broader social level, which has remained as the central theme in her work.”

Petrona Morrison - Sanctuary/Space (For Me), 1995

Petrona Morrison – Sanctuary/Space (For Me), 1995

“Morrison’s residency at the Studio Museum resulted in more three-dimensional constructions that incorporated urban debris such as wood beams and metal fragments from nearby derelict buildings.”

“These recuperation materials were turned into altar-like structures that evoke the frailty of the body and the restorative power of the spirit in the face of material transience. These ritualistic works also mark a turn towards a spirituality related to African-derived New World religions rather than their African sources.”

“By the late 1990s, Morrison’s interest in articulating ritual spaces resulted in room-sized installations that were at first constructed from the recuperation materials she had used in her earlier assemblages but gradually shifted to other, less materially dense media such as medical X-rays, maps and aerial photographs, and other ready-made and purposely produced images, which were placed in front of light boxes and often combined with a few evocative found or constructed objects.”

“These works more directly referred to events in her own life, including her medical history, and also made reference to the social tensions and violence in Jamaican society, which gradually became a more important theme. While materially and visually very different from what she had produced before, these works, nonetheless, reflected thematic continuity as they again spoke about the frailty and resilience of body and spirit and the interconnectedness of the social and the individual.”

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New Roots: Petrona Morrison’s Opening Remarks

Matthew McCarty - I Took the Liberty of Designing One (2013)

Matthew McCarty – I Took the Liberty of Designing One (2013)

We are pleased to present the opening remarks delivered by Petrona at the opening of New Roots: 10 Emerging Artists on July 28, 2013.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to share some observations on what is an exciting and challenging exhibition.  This exhibition is significant in a number of ways. The National Gallery has had a long history of providing opportunities for artists to show work which challenge prevailing ideas and reflect new thinking, as seen in the Young Talent exhibitions. This exhibition, however, is groundbreaking in that it presents bodies of work which do not have the curatorial framing based on chronology, and presents the body of work on its own terms. This is the realisation of the concept of the “project space” which allows artists to present proposals for recent work, and allows us to focus on their ideas in a given space.

Varun Baker - Journey (2012), digital photograph

Varun Baker – Journey (2012), digital photograph

The exhibition reveals some interesting developments taking place in contemporary Jamaican Art. Taken as a whole, there is a prevailing denial of traditional notions of the “art object”. The space in which we are now located cannot be bought, collected or sold.  The site-specific work of Matthew McCarthy and the New Jamaica collective is defiant in its emphasis on collective engagement, and forces the audience to re-evaluate their ideas about “art” in the museum space.  What we see in this exhibition are investigations with a diverse range of media which challenge the hierarchies of the singular precious “object”, and do not privilege one form or media over another. The site-specific installations, video installation, photo-based work and animation sit beside painting and collage, each presented on its own terms. Continue reading

Petrona Morrison (b1954)

Petrona Morrison – Reality/Representation (2004), detail of installation

The following text is adapted from a section of the doctoral dissertation of NGJ Executive Director, Veerle Poupeye (all rights reserved by the author).

Petrona Morrison was born in Manchester, Jamaica in 1954. She received her initial art training in Canada, at McMaster University, where she graduated in 1976. She left Jamaica again in the mid 1980s for MFA studies at Howard University, which involved a year in Kenya, and subsequently lived between Jamaica and the USA, where she was artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem from 1994 to 1995. She returned to Jamaica in 1995 but travels regularly for exhibitions, such as the Havana biennale in 1997, and short-term residencies, such as at Contemporary Caribbean Arts in Trinidad (2002) and the Bag Factory in Johannesburg (2005).

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