Christina Leslie's Portraits

N.L.S., A New Local Space

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


Leasho Johnson's Provocative Re-interpretation in 'Canopy Guild'

Light Sensitive

Marlon James' black and whites

Annalee Davis: ON THE MAP

Caribbean Political Documentary

Saturday, October 18, 2014

What does Cultural Identity have to do with Abstraction?

so you, 44" x 65"
GA Gardner has recently returned to more regular artistic practice in Trinidad after years living and working in the U.S and launched a public project on Facebook called GetThru which functions as an artists think tank. He has also recently opened a show in Washington D.C. His work rests on the thin line between abstraction and reality or abstracted realities and has been described as a 'cacophony of messages' and information derived from mass media. He speaks with us about this work and its link to culture identity.

Art:Jamaica: The last time we spoke about your work you were making these collages which cut up source images and reformed them into figures in spaces. How have you made this transition to this newer work? 
GA: This has not been a huge transition in the work; the mission and objective are the same. The pieces you are referring to were simply a more surreal approach to the same discussion and this body of work is more of an abstract approach. I have always looked at cultural identity in my work and it continues, but I wanted to speak to a larger audience - not be so specific - and I believe that abstract work has been the answer to this. I am able to discuss colors, lines, culture and contemporary materials without the limitations of figure and form. I can now approach my art in a more conceptual manner.  The result is now an explosion of information that is woven together by cultural lines and tells a story about how a group of people are identified, ignored, or celebrated in the media.  I continue to recycle what I and others can't make use of in our daily lives. I often take the opportunity to use this material as the foundation for my exploration of color and texture. I love to see how random images can come together and tell a story of a particular time in history and how I can manipulate them to tell my story.  I am trying to find myself in the colors and content to re-purpose the materials and to find a way to discuss topics as passionately as the media publishers' materials are intent on doing.

Art:Jamaica: Your work draws these boundaries between abstraction and representation. What is your take on straddling this line? Can they both exist in the same space? 
GA: Yes, they can and they often do.  I went through a period where I was doing more representational work; I have not always been doing abstract.  Now I am focusing on abstracts, but that does not mean that I won't do some more representational work in the future.  I don't go with my feelings, I go with the message, then I decide on the medium and approach. I am passionate about color and the deconstruction of color--about lines and the complexity of patterns - and about the randomness of it all.  I can accomplish this best with an abstract approach.  Most of want I do is made real to viewers as it takes on familiar forms.  When you see a piece like "so you" for an example, you see things that are familiar, like the weave patterns that are the basis of most woven craft, or the colors that remind you of the Caribbean. If you see this in the work, it then becomes real to you and less abstract.  The randomness of the underlying media material plays second fiddle to the bold colors and geometric woven like patterns.  This is when I am able to blur the lines between representation and abstraction.
Happy Black, 42" x 55"
Art:Jamaica: Much of the contemporary art in the Caribbean is very representation-based due to many of these artists seeking to question and investigate histories and realities. How does your work navigate these issues and this art scene?
GA: You can only appreciate a sharp image if you have seen a blurry one. If you have too many blurry images in your stories, it is no good and if you have too many sharp images, that's no good either; they complement each other.  Often the sharp image will draw you closer to it but the blurry image will make you think more and open a larger dialog, even if the dialog is about whether your eyes are working well.  The sharp images to me are representational art, and the blurry images are abstract art. It takes all kinds and all angles to tell our story. My work is about this investigation of culture and how some cultures are left out and struggle to be included in the mainstream media's relevant discussion.  It has several components that are related directly to our Caribbean culture and our history as a people.  The weaving of materials, for example, is simply a contemporary approach on what our ancestors did to make a living from what was afforded to them.  We are a culture that knows how to deal with the things no one wants and make them into something that most can make use of.  We did it in all areas of life, from food - using organs and other discarded animal parts for our meal - to clothing, music and many others.  I am simply doing this in the arts, I take what is abundant and useless such as discarded media information and discuss a history of a people that then once again becomes appealing to an audience.  

Read further about Gardner's recent exhibition below:
Exhibition Press Release
Morton Fine Art

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

ON THE SCENE: The School of Visual Art's Final Year Show

Ramone Johnson, BFA Painting
The annual School of Visual Arts Show opened on June 7th. I haven’t seen a final year show at The School of Visual Arts for at least six years due to being away from Jamaica. During that time however there have been so many reports of surprising and promising work being shown. Some of that work has even gained so much notice that graduating students have been able to transition directly into curated shows at The National Gallery, attract serious critical attention and overturn expectations from certain departments.  For example, Visual Communication students were making work which clearly was increasingly engaging with interdisciplinary practices and global art histories. Painting students were recalibrating what being a painting student means and Sculpture Department saw a growth in interest from incoming students thus building an energy once more.   
This week is the last week of Edna Manley College’s School of Visual Arts Final Year Show and if you haven’t seen it here are a few reasons why you should:

Ramone Johnson, BFA Painting
Ramone Johnson (Painting) -
This room is filled with walls of wood and glass boxes reminiscent of the stained glass of local Catholic and Anglican church architecture. On closer viewing, snippets of newspaper articles documenting Jamaica’s political and social problems.

Stephanie Channer, BFA, Visual Communication
Stephanie Channer (Visual Communication) -
This room is a quiet contemplative but cozy space dedicated to her creative brand ‘i&i’. The space is also lined with posters reflecting the philosophies of the brand.

Necon Bailey, BFA, Jewelry
Necon Bailey (Jewelry) -
This space feels like a side gallery in a small museum. There were several original remakings of classical stringed instruments. There was also a little table of items made as memory, documentation, altered tools from daily and traditional local culture eg. the machette etched with drawings on both blade and handle.

Natali Daley, BFA, Visual Communication
Natali Daley (Visual Communication) -
The work in this room while being large and commanding has a jewel-like surface with applications of various patterns to various religious iconography. The juxtaposition of the images is the trick to finding some of the more political meanings in the images.

Kareen Weir, BFA, Sculpture
Kareen Weir (Sculpture) -
Very daunting prospect to be in a room filled with contorted faces that are human size. They  don’t intimidate however but rather attract viewers. They are something very interesting to see.

Traci Wong, BFA, Sculpture
Traci Wong (Sculpture) -
Described by one visitor as a ‘beautiful room’, the metal wireframe sculptures are large yet delicate at the same time. They are like solid 3d drawings. This work is really about spatial relationships and play with materials.

Lowell Roger, BFA, Visual Communication
Lowell Roger (Visual Communication) -
A space made from plyboard but the interesting part is the charcoal drawings of mythical creatures engaged in battle. Tattoo design, fantasy film genre such as ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and Asian art all come to mind.

Yannick Pinnock, BFA, Visual Communication
Yannick Pinnock (Visual Communication) -
The artist, influenced by Matthew McCarthy's work of a year ago, uses graffiti, cartoon, street art as a platform. He developed fictional characters, ‘Lionz’, which go about daily life all over the city of Kingston.

I went to see the show on a Friday at mid-morning which perhaps explains the very quiet and almost deserted feeling of the building. Not many students were around to engage with and many rooms were closed or lights were off. A suggestion to the school to solve this is perhaps to assign a few students to act as docents for the whole show for visitors who may need information and assistance.

Don’t let this deter you however as what rooms I did see were on the most part impressive. The energy that I saw from many of the students mentioned is very promising. I think it indicates that more importantly than departmental divisions and trying to define a discipline anymore is earnest investigation, openness to multiple influences, cultures, practices and a commitment to honest exploration. A fresh crop of creative thinkers and practitioners is definitely something that Jamaica could use now.

The show runs from 11am-7pm during the week and 12-5pm on Saturdays. To find out more contact Edna Manley College’s Cage Gallery or email them at

Friday, June 6, 2014

ON THE SCENE: Diversity Spreads in the Kingston's Art Scene

Members of the JA Cosplayaz in character and costume.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have had the opportunity to attend a few of the art events happening in Kingston. From exhibitions featuring Hello Kitty to online events enabled by YouTube Live and Google Hangouts, there has been a range of experiences to be had. Our local art scene is not necessarily being compared with other more expansive and developed scenes overseas but it is being seen in its own context.

Sento-kun character inside the exhibition 'Japan: Kingdom of Characters'
The local micro-culture of youth involvement and and admiration of Japanese Manga and Anime would have been sated by ‘Japan: Kingdom of Characters’ now on at The National Gallery of Jamaica. The event even featured the budding society of teenage and college-age cosplayers who perform under the name JA Cosplayaz. The pop culture of Japan has obviously hit a nerve with them as their Facebook  group has 1,746 members and has found endorsement from the Japanese Embassy in Kingston. In addition the opening featured the newly formed local alternative Reggae band, The Sky is Broken, performed several songs from Anime sources in its original language. The exhibition itself demonstrated for the beginner a general survey of the history of Anime and Manga in Japan from the 1950’s and 60’s to the contemporary period. The objects, materials and audio-visual titles on display cover large toy collector’s figures such as Mobile Suit Gundam, life-size plushy suits of regional characters such as the city of Nara’s beloved character Sento-kun, miniature anime dolls, video projections of contemporary satirical animations like those made popular by Zuiyo Studios. This exhibition runs until June 14th.

Installation view of 'Canopy Guild' at NLS 

Leasho Johnson's reworking of Rodell Warner's imagery
In contrast to the scope of the show at The National Gallery, NLS currently features in their micro-gallery the results of a collaboration between local and overseas artists exploring the work of their resident artist, Rodell WarnerThe exhibition, Canopy Guild, started with an opening event on May 9th and runs until June 28th. The public may view the show by making an appointmentWarner began his residency by visiting various sites in Kingston to photograph aspects of the landscape such as tree formations and leaf clusters. The photos were then processed and reworked via Photoshop and became new imagery for digitally printing on fabric and applying by hand patterns to paper. This imagery and the source photographs also became raw material for the other artists to make garments, video, sound and paintings. One of the most interesting things about the show is how Warner’s work seems to encapsulate the space and draws you in by folding and crumpling the paper to form three-dimensional wall structures.

Booths setup on the grounds of The Chinese Benevolent Association

Andranique Morgan's ceramic works at The Liguanea Art Fair
Leaving from the contemporary art nucleus which the NLS show presents, the Liguanea Art Fair was open at the Chinese Benevolent Centre on June 1st for one day. The fair showcased dozens of artists and creatives who sometimes fall outside of the contemporary art scene in Kingston for various reasons such as geographic location, differing markets and tastes. There were also various artists who have connections with the Edna Manley College of the Visual & Performing Arts as Alumni or as Faculty. The scene was lively but relaxed with food, music and outdoor and indoor booths. The work on display ranged from hand-made instruments, to large colourful canvases, garments, miniature objects made from found materials and various eye-catching displays of hand-made local jewelry. 

Megan McKain's Jewelry Collection
It is a shame that this is only a one day event. It would be good if some kind of regular event could be organized for all kinds of creative pursuits to be made available to the public on a regular basis. The Liguanea Art Fair curates submissions as they seem to be distinguishing between what they want to offer and local craft market-style products. They do now have a Twitter account and Facebook page.

Documentation photo courtesy of Motza Motza (Facebook User) via Invisible Presence: Bling Memories Facebook Event page
NLS’s art radio’s last broadcast of the IN series discussed Ebony G. Patterson’s protest/ art happening staged behind the procession of the bands at the Jamaica Carnival parade. The Carnival’s Grand March happened simultaneously with the flash-style performance on April 27th. Planning and gathering of participants as well as the making of the coffin-shaped objects began months before the actual event. The performance proved successful in its shock-oriented strategy as local entertainment and newspaper style sections  gave air-time and page space to feature the happening. The effect is reminiscent of the unsettling feeling of the New Orleans funeral parade particularly of the scene from Live & Let Die. Apart from the flash aesthetic of the work with its multi-patterned coffins mounted vertically on poles transported by costumed participants, the effect conveys more serious intent. The artist talked about wanting to bring attention to the over 73 persons killed during the 2010 Tivoli Gardens Unrest in Kingston. The performance I would imagine, matched the brightness of the main parade as well as taking onlookers outside the Carnival experience.

Art events are ongoing in Kingston, particularly in the mid-Summer. We can look forward to the opening of the Edna Manley College of the Visual & Performing Arts’ Final Year Show on June 7th @ 6:30pm. Kingston Art on the Edge-fuelled exhibition ‘Social Atrocities’ is also coming up at Olympia Art Gallery on June 26th and. Did you attend any of these events or other? What did you think?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

ON THE SCENE: Theatre tackles Science in 'HeLa'

Adura Onashile performs solo in  HeLa
The HeLa cell has been a major component driving the major scientific research and advancement in the last sixty three years. The particular qualities of the cell to grow rapidly and it’s resilience has made it an invaluable component in over 90% of scientific labs worldwide. If we think about the scale of which the HeLa cell has had an impact we can think of research in the HIV vaccine, In vitro fertilization, prescription pharmaceuticals, genetics and cloning. This is however a list of facts which you could find in any search engine a few clicks away. We often think about and even more importantly hear about Science in this way.

The HeLa cell in its very name carries with it a more personal but troubling story. It is this story which British-based performer Adura Onashile gave a powerful treatment in her one woman play, HeLa. The name HeLa comes from the hospital lab’s abbreviation of the name Henrietta Lacks. Lacks was an African American woman who was diagnosed with cancer at a hospital in 1961. The other part of her story is that a cell sample was taken from her during her treatment without permission thus beginning the story of the HeLa cells in scientific research. From that moment, even though the course of modern science was set on a path of rapid and highly innovative discoveries enabled by the HeLa cell, the family of Henrietta Lacks was set on another. Onashile in her composed and convincing portrayal of Henrietta’s daughter, Henrietta, The Narrator, The Lab Technician and other characters, relayed how the family have constantly questioned and sought to protect and reclaim the ‘spirit’ of Henrietta as she lives on in some form through HeLa cells worldwide. At one point, we realise via one of the characters that Henrietta Lacks is the only human to ever have more cells outside her body than inside it.  

The dramatic imagery  & sound of 'HeLa'
Various questions of the ethics in conflict with the ambition of the field of Science come in to play. Onashile’s voicing of Henrietta’s daughter finds her thinking about the cells as pieces of her mother who was exploited by her own doctors. In other segments of the performance we see images and video projected of the various Nobel Prize winners whose research and scientific discoveries depended on the use of this immortal cell line. Many of the issues raised are not new questions, as those of us paying attention to worldwide news would be familiar with the issues of ethics involved in the manipulation of nature involved with scientific research such as Stem-cell research. What ‘HeLa’ presents is an argument for humanizing and reconsideration of how Science’s race towards advancement occurs.

The history of The HeLa cell line is delivered to the audience
The performance was pared down with elements of multimedia, dance and the set working to present a sometimes abstract and sensory and at times clinical experience. Onashile managed to step back and forth between place and time notably by her use of various regional accents and use of a small number of props such as a large chalkboard recounting the names of scientists benefitting from the Henrietta’s cell line. The performance was followed by a Q & A session which left audience members with the beginning of a dialogue about the issues. Eventually though you ask the question, is it ok that the HeLa cell was taken because of what it has contributed; or does the greater good of scientific advancement trump individual rights? 

The play was sponsored by The Jamaica Cancer Society and staged at Edna Manley College of the Visual & Performing Arts. It was directed by Graham Eatough and inspired by ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rebecca Skloot.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

INTRODUCING: Christina Leslie’s Portraits

Christina Leslie, The Video Hoe Vixen

Curated art site, Wondereur’s most recently selected artist to watch is Christina Leslie. Leslie creates using photography and African and Jamaican art collector/ curator Kenneth Montague describes her work as having ‘a deep poignant message around multiculturalism’ with ‘a terrible beauty’. Leslie has connections to Jamaica but lives and works in Canada. A selection from her series of recent double portraits can now be viewed. Each work uses two versions of the same person placed next to each other. The automatic impulse is to search for the relationship between the images or to compare them. In one of the double portraits, the close-up frontal photograph of a young black woman’s face is placed beside another photograph of the same woman in  blackface and a blond wig. The work’s title, The Video Hoe Vixen is what readily reveals how each image informs the other.

Christina Leslie, Calcutta Curry Boy
Her work offers two representations of the young woman and asks us to choose, to reflect, to think and associate these with certain realities and experiences. She asks friends and family to recall their own personal experiences with racial issues and assumptions about their identity. These stories apparently influence the images she decides to makes. Other works such as Geisha The China Doll, Calcutta Curry Boy and Bollywood Beauty present similar stereotypes which minorities in North America  may have experienced. With each of the double portraits, each individual goes through a transformation via masking of their faces and bodies with makeup and costumes which reflects the racist imagery concerning their ethnicity. “I might be opening up old wounds’ she says ‘but it’s not about throwing salt into them. It’s about opening up a conversation.”

Olivia McGilchrist, Red Dress 3

This conversation about racially problematic imagery is one which finds a connection with the various dialogues, voices and viewpoints in various contemporary art practices in the Caribbean. In 2009, Leslie showed work alongside other artists, including myself at the Rockstone & Bootheel exhibition at Real Art Ways in Connecticut. The show featured the work of artists connected to the Caribbean who were exploring various complex layers of Caribbean identity and experience. In particular there is a connection with the concerns of Renee Cox, Ebony Patterson and Marlon Griffith. In that exhibition the artists were involved in re-contextuazlising and thinking about identities via photography. Charles Landvreugd and Olivia McGilchrist’s work presented in other forums relates to this visual language of reclaiming and taking on stereotypes by using masking and cloaking of the body in reference to popular culture and thought.

The juxtaposition in Leslie’s work does play on the ideas of dual truths about individuals. How we see ourselves and how we are seen is a major point emerging from the work. The work holds two striking yet opposing points in that perhaps stereotypes do hold a version of a truth after all; and revealing that all images are constructed for desired effect. Leslie says about her work that “If one less person laughs at one less racist joke, I’m still doing my part in it.” These issues cannot be expected to be directly transplantable in the Caribbean. While we do speak about imagery and representation I don’t know that racism can be understood in the Caribbean in the same way as that which the artist attempts to counter.  Her dialogue is clearly aimed at the particular atmosphere in Canada and the U.S. but it finds kinship with the kind of work other artists are doing regionally.

See the full photo-journal story on Christina Leslie’s process and work at Wondereur

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Importance of Social Art Spaces

Students of the Time-based Media course at Edna Manley College participate in a studio visit at NLS
Over the past three weeks I have had the opportunity to engage in different ways with the new local space, NLS. The space has been active for about a year and is run by Deborah Caroll Anzinger and a small team of volunteers. With each visit a new opportunity presented itself to the various hats I wear as contemporary artist, art educator and arts writer among other things. On my first visit I had the chance to meet the newly arrived artist participating in the residency programme, Rodell Warner.  There was also the chance to present my work to visiting curators and catch-up with other artists.

Local artist, Leasho Johnson talks about branding, sexuality and identity in his current work
On the next visit there, just a week after, myself and other artists had the chance to have discussions about trends in art, the local art scene and look at each others work. The interesting part for me was that even though as local artists we were familiar with each others work, this more intimate, personal and social setting was a rarity. There was the realization that as artists we mostly ever saw each other's work when it was already smoothly projecting the aura of 'Art' after being mounted in national and international exhibitions. We never had public chances to see the developmental stages and phases or to listen to the background and ideas of the work. What occurred to me was that we mostly understood each others work as exhibition items or tools to win curatorial, institutional and public favour and notice. This second visit to NLS made me ask the question as to why local artists didn't meet to discuss and show their work to each other more often. If like our Tourism industry we only ever maintain links with the external purveyor of our 'goods' then an element of non-sustainability and risk of exploitation may creep in. 

Visiting artist, Rodell Warner, explains development and technical processes in his work to students
 That visit pushed me to make an appointment to have my current class of Time-based Media students from Edna Manley College make a studio visit with Warner. This past week the students took an approximately twenty minute walk over from Edna Manley College to NLS at Mountain View Avenue to listen to Warner's presentation. The proprietor, Anzinger began by introducing students to the micro-gallery/ studio and outdoor yard which form NLS. We heard about the yearly curatorial programme and open-call submissions from artists as well as the local and global initiatives being encouraged. The presentation once again fueled questions as to how the art scene and creative industry locally and regionally would be affected if more little hubs of small but active local spaces like NLS were to start-up. It is encouraging as Gallery 178 downtown has also recently had its first committee meeting so good things should be in store. There are undoubtedly many more local spaces and groups but the interconnectedness with each other and public awareness is thin and thus makes these spaces sometimes difficult to access. It can only create a healthier cultural environment if multiple independent spaces, encouraging social interaction and supporting creative practice were operating. The result might lead to the much needed diversity and counter-balance to often all-encompassing and sometimes exclusive state-initiatives for creative industries and The Arts.

Have you interacted with NLS or are involved with another independent initiative which facilitates local creative practices?


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Stefan Clarke :Artist Talk's at Edna Manley College

Stefan Clarke explains his work during an artist talk at Edna Manley College

Edna Manley College's School of Visual Arts (SVA) has a semester long programme of talks designed to stimulate both members of the art community and students alike. On select Thursday afternoons from 2pm to 3pm, a selection of SVA's faculty will be presenting their work and engaging in dialogue with the audience. Last Thursday's talk showcased Stefan Clarke's work which uses a combination of labour intensive processes involving Sculpture and Photography.

He spoke passionately about the sweet spot of his work lying in planning, staging and construction of his spaces, body armor and image-making.  He also described his constant involvement in both public commercial work and commissions and its importance to funding his more personal conceptual projects. His involvement in the design and installation of spaces for major local party and session events are equally as important to his practice as his metal work fashion pieces and digital photography.

Clarke, a particularly society-challenging artist, facilitated discussions which encouraged students to take more interdisciplinary approaches, self-teach dying techniques and to constantly stay curious and excited about creative practice. One of the issues he bemoaned was the constraints of finding models open to participate in the creation of his photographic images in a conventional society like Jamaica.

Upcoming talks will feature The Sculpture Department's Jeff Menzies. To find out more about this series you may get in touch with co-ordinator Katrina Coombs.