A walk through the Edna Manley College’s 2007 final year show, particularly the fine arts department, and the body emerges as a general concern. Figures and bodies have always been a part of the imagery produced by exhibiting students but this year’s show seems significant in a sense that in its focus on how we image ourselves and others it seems the dissatisfied descendant of established Jamaican art. The number of confrontational bodies and personas seem also to indicate an underlying direction in contemporary Jamaican painting. These young artists seem to have absorbed and digested the various schools of thought on how to deal with the body and its identity.
Sheldon Clayton, shows the influence of Omari Ra and also Black-British artists such as Keith Piper. Being confronted by the double-headed, young and definitively black male seems both a confirmation of the expectation of threat as well as statement of existence. Nevine Salmon has also presented her own head as a confirmation of self with a work stating that ‘Self is the fact that I exist’. This presents a powerful statement coming from the Ceramics department, in which she attempts more than the expected mastery of media.
Nicole Harris also uses her own image but as a seemingly down-trodden, dollish life-size plaster-cast. She presented various versions of the figure going through transformations while remaining the same. Reading this work could lead us to think about the gender inequalities women face in our society, art etc. Beauty and feminine identity also seems a concern for her in the very precious way the casts are painted. This idea of feminine identity takes on sexual and grotesque tones in Gretel White’s work. Through her canvases she morphs and flickers between turtle and girl with the images paying particular attention to her legs. At some point we are presented with a turtles head hanging like a limp phallus between her bent legs. In front of her paintings I felt like a moth before a flame, looking felt politically incorrect but the imagery was too intriguing to look away.
Brenton Campbell in this sense, was not as much about presenting an intrigue as much as he was about presenting. In several paintings he presented comparisons and foreshortened views of shiny ‘plasticky’ or sketchy bodies. ‘Slim’ was expectedly contrasted with ‘Fat’ in a manner that reminded me of an architects 3D projection of flat drawings or Renaissance drawings plotting out perspective. His manner of working seem s directly derived from artworld superstars Lisa Yuskavage and Jennie Saville. His being male, I ask the question on the appropriateness of painting the objectified female body which would relate him more to the American artist John Currin. The sensual emergence of the female form is achieved in some of Monique Barnett’s paintings. The nude emerges from the paint in a way that gives the impression of the artist herself struggling to find a representation of her own image and an acceptance of its reflection.
The idea of the body as explored by canonized artist such as Ana Mendietta, Kiki Smith and Anthony Gormley is reflected in the space presented by Camille Chedda and Garth Daley. Daley draws silhouettes of bodies in rudimentary bread mixtures while Chedda draws larger than life faceless bodies, which are reminiscent of images of death and angels. She also presents us with a large female body, which seems to have appeared on her medium of choice, garbage bags, through torment. She has presented us with a female body, which is anything but sexual and thus points us in a direction to consider other issues surrounding the contemporary body. Again here as with Sheldon Blake, Garth Daley and Nevine Salmon, black and white is a deliberate palette choice. This seems to be a revisit/ resurrection/revival of the black as colour idealogy as a ploy to reclaim black as a conceptually loaded colour.
Ainsworth Case presents neat and tidy depictions of decapitated and objectified female and male bodies. Case seems to also be this years torch-carrier of the new figurative school of painting which has slowly been emerging from the Edna Manley College; going back to Khary Darby. Each year since Darby’s show I have watched the new members of the school explore personal and social issues through neoclassical depictions of cyborgs, iconic renderings of youth, the development of personal sign systems and loaded art historical reference.
Azariah Clarke interestingly exhibited in a room apart from the other fine artists as though he could anticipate his separation from the overarching concerns. His motif of masks became decidedly graphic and modernist in their genuine pursuit of formal concerns such as colour, shape and space. He presented a mixed media piece however that revealed the presence of a gas mask with black male faces pouring from the region of the mouth-piece. Gas mask generally not playing a large part in Jamaica’s history makes me think of the Holocaust and perhaps he is inciting an awareness of a black holocaust or similar oppression of the black male. Either way it is an interesting and chilling image for me in particular.
Joel Clayton’s shallow spaces seems to exist somewhere between Sheldon Clayton’s strong statements about self and identity, the sweetly pastel colours of Monet and the new breed of African-American painters such as Kehinde Wiley who devote themselves to representing the persona of the contemporary black or ‘urban’ male.
Before closing, I wish to note the similarity in themes and language indicates to me a common concern for the young artist or maybe the young Jamaican, There must be a particular concern and alertness to: a) the frustration of building a career as a contemporary artist in Jamaica, (b) the current terrors and tragedies of the globalised world (c) the struggle for Jamaican art to define itself in the contemporary at arena (d) the contemporary concern with the individual body and its shifting and redefined boundaries
The specific works highlighted in this article are in order to support points and are not intended as a statement of value or merit. The show will be presented as part of The Art on the Edge Festival at the Cage Gallery at Edna Manley College on Tuesday 26th at 6-8pm. Presented will be the work of other interesting graduating fine artists such as Marvin Bartley and Russell Gunning.