Marcus Bird's Tokyo Story

The Creative Potential of Pecha Kucha Presentations

N.L.S., A New Local Space

Deborah Anzinger's artist run residency and exhibition space in Kingston

Remembering Kumina

Rex Nettleford's Legacy and The National Dance Theatre Company

Light Sensitive

Marlon James' black and whites

Annalee Davis: ON THE MAP

Caribbean Political Documentary

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Curator's Eye 3: The newness and nowness of our cultural past


The Curator's Eye III opened at the National Gallery of Jamaica on April 27, 2008. The show comes around every two years and provides a thesis about contemporary Jamaican art propsed by an internationally invited curator. The curators invited in the past have been Lower Stokes Sims and Eddie Chambers. This year Keith Morrison of the Tyler School of Art was invited. From September 2007, artists were invited to share in Morrison's vision for this show- Ceremony in Space, Time and Sound. The National Gallery's press release lists the artists exhibiting as:
'LOCAL ARTISTS: Cleve Bowen, Carol Campbell, Carol Crichton, Paula Daley, Andy Jefferson, Ras Kassa, O'Neil Lawrence, Khepera Oluyia Hatshepwa and Oneika Russell.
INTERNATIONAL ARTISTS:Albert Chong, Michelle Eistrup, Lawrence Graham-Brown, Ebony G. Patterson and Tal Rickards'

Artists were encouraged to create fresh work in multimedia thus resulting in a numerous new pieces involving video, photography digital prints being exhibited. It will be interesting to see whether this show has opened a path for more Jamaican artists to exhibit work which delves into the sphere of video and digital media. If this is the case then such a show would then become a part of the nation's history of art-making. The curator has sought to extend this concept into the documentation of the show as he seeks to utilise digital media to market the show and its proposal of contemporary Jamaican art. To reimagine ceremony, which usually reminds me of ritual, ancestry, spirituality, history and pre-modern analogue practice, in a digital realm certainly promises something edgy in our cultural landscape.


The notion of 'Ceremony' was evidently interpreted in diverse ways. Artists perhaps used this plunge into new working methods to tackle more confrontational subject matter. Bleached ivory faces on black bodies, burned domestic interiors evoking acts of violence, figures sculpted in the gestures of Afro-Christian religions were just a few of the works exhibited. As I will not be on-site to see this show I invite you to read the curator's ideas and give us feedback on issues such as the timeliness of the exhibition, its approach to Jamaican art, relationship to past curator's eye exhibitions, the value of the distinguishing between local and international artists in a show reflecting on 'Jamaican Art', your notion of 'Ceremony' and its relevance in Jamaican culture etc.


Excerpts from the curator's exhibition write-up follow:
'The Curator’s Eye III consists of art by 15 artists, four of whom live abroad. I call the exhibition “Ceremony in Space, Time and Sound” because the media the artists use involve dimensions that extend forms of visual forms of art. The exhibition involves film, TV and video projections, room installations, interactive art, along with paintings, photographs; prints and sculptures. It is an exhibition with a variety of ceremonial themes to be found in Jamaican art, reflecting a dynamism from which Jamaica takes its cultural character and a source of a continuum from the cultures of ancient Africa to our time. Of course, not all Jamaicans are descendants of slaves or of Africans. Jamaicans are Black, White, Maroon, Chinese, Indian, Jewish, Arab, and just about all others. However, as is commonly known, and as The Curator’s Eye III further substantiates, the cultural originality of the country is strongly affected by Africa and practices evolved from the days of slavery.'
--- Keith Morrison

The following three paragraphs are on walls in the galleries of the Curator’s Eye III

“… it appears to me that the seeds for inclusion in Jamaican art lies in of some of the authentic ideas that characterize the country, such as ceremonial practices, religious or secular rituals, dancehalls, and street life, are probably best cultivated through the populist iconography of new media. “Populist” because its signs, symbols, metaphors, and narrative are commonly known; and the visual language of the art is vernacular. And in the case of electronic media, the art is also populist because it may be shared by a wider segment of the population than rational art, since the cost to own or reproduce it (copying DVD, CD, and video, or internet access) is negligible.”
--- Keith Morrison

‘Originality in art is not how well artists emulate standards set by other cultures (e.g., Europe or the US), but how well they bring new ideas to the fore. Originality is the basis for cultural distinction, without which one is merely a follower, a footnote to the legacy of others. Originality, which comes from new idea, is needed before art can be made. New idea is the foundation of originality. In my opinion, without originality there is no art. Refinement of existing art ideas may be fascinating virtuosity, attained by the very few with superior skill, may be entertaining and enjoyable, but that by itself is what I would call more technical finesse than art. Originality by itself may not be art, but all true art I have seen includes originality. Original art is art that is potentially important. And importance is the criterion for change or influence on the art world at large. Jamaica is ripe with original ideas that may make new and important world-class art. These ideas are to be found in Jamaica’s spiritual and religious practices, its legacy from slavery, its multilayer ethnicity, Jamaican style, music, language, and attitude.”
- Keith Morrison

“But often the best art is strident, even offensive, as it rubs against the grain to reveal complex and contradictory truths of the society it serves. So it is in contemporary Jamaica. And so perhaps the nucleus of originality of contemporary art in Jamaica is in the imagery of sex and gangsta in the Dancehall culture, which takes impetus from the mores of the slums of Kingston and flaunted as phallic shoot-outs in spotlights that defy perceived middleclass denial and suppression, as explored in this exhibition by several artists. But if the slum and Dancehall culture form the prominent contemporary paradigm for Jamaican art, it shares the stage with some other sources from which it springs, as seen in the work of other artists in the show, whose ideas harkening back to ancient Africa, through slavery, festivals, rituals, ceremonies and the urban popular culture. Jamaican artist are expressing a richly layered aesthetic as revealed in the work if these 14 artists. Jamaican artists stand to become world-class leaders through exploring the originality of their culture with its multiethnic racial and ethnic experiences, unique religious diversity and profound ceremonial practices. If The Curator’s Eye III is any indication, the future of art by Jamaicans could be internationally outstanding.”
--- Keith Morrison
In order of apperance, the images show the work of Oneil Lawrence, Michelle Eistrup, Ras Kassa, Ebony Patterson and Lawrence Graham-Brown. Images contributed by Susan Alunan