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, January 16, 2016


Happy New Year to All. 

This open letter to you has been a while coming. ART:Jamaica as a venture has been great and put me in contact with so many interesting people. In 2006 when I launched this blog as a place for my art students at Edna Manley College, I had no idea it would become a place where I was doing most of the writing. I am not a naturally enthusiastic or great writer or art administrator so you can imagine how hard a task this has been. I am happy however that curators etc. internationally have used the site as a research tool on the contemporary arts scene in Jamaica. The writing has dwindled to nothing over the last year as I have become a full time teacher and am also undertaking more ambitious  projects for my art practice. Due to this, I have regrettably had to turn down so many requests to do reviews etc. that I feel to be fair to all it is now time to wrap things up and acknowledge when the time has come to move on. In addition, a few other sites now function in similar ways to ART:Jamaica and have also even chosen to share the same name.

I am therefore formally announcing that I am closing the activities of The ART:Jamaica blog and leaving it to remain as an archive online. There is an active Facebook group and a Facebook page which I am proud of being a part of and I will keep it as place where we can share things about this art interest of ours.

Thanks so much and best to you all in your ventures this year and going forward and hope you will continue to support future projects.
See you around the internet or IRL.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Biennial Notes: Thread

Katrina Coombs, Absence
The 2014 Jamaica Biennial is now coming to a close on Sunday March 15th with artists talks planned to talk about new practices and directions.  At major exhibitions there is always a highlight on the biggest most glamorous, glaring or loud practices. High politics, high shine, high rhetoric, high tech is trendy. Within art scenes, markets and circles this is all of course to serves its purpose to ensure that the event is remembered and thus able to enjoy continuity and growth in the eyes of the organizers. Sometimes however some work which is more reflective and less locally explosive and assertive can get overlooked. I wanted to just put together a few thoughts to call attention to the work of three artists from this other side where I can see connections. The work that struck me includes the exhibits by Katrina Coombs, Judith Salmon and Miriam Smith.

Katrina Coombs
Coombs’ work strikes me as kind of woven hood without the remaining parts of the shirt for me to qualify it as a ‘hooded’ item of clothing. I suppose I am seeking to make the connection with her work because of the relevance of the hoodie or hooded figures in visual culture and international affairs. In the UK, the minority working class teens who don the repurposed athletic wear are literally called just ‘hoodies’ as a way of referring to the imminent social threat they pose. We are also now quite familiar with the story from the U.S. of the black teenager who was seen as a threat because of the hood which he wore. As we are reminded by countless films the hood also spelled danger for blacks in the southern states of the U.S. during much of the last century’s history. The one which comes most to mind is ‘O Brother Where Art Thou?’. Nevertheless Coombs has only suggested this hooded sweatshirt and gown which is so prominent and perhaps this is the actual intrigue of the work. There are actually two hoods in the work that appear to be and inner hood and an outer hood. She reflects on this when we talk to her as she speaks about ‘The Other’ or the other and her interest in perceptions of threat and isolation. The woven hood in her work in the Biennial also becomes a woven womb in other recent work seen in The Edna Manley College’s recent staff show and thus extends the links we make to the form.

Miriam Hinds
Justice Denied...1600 and Still Counting (detail), Source:NGJ Catalogue

Miriam Smiths’ work involves canvases mounted stained, scraped or printed monochrome with patches and groupings of a thick off-white thread or cord. White thread is sewn down by red thread; cocoons and tufts of white thread dangle by a single red thread and  white thread becomes scars on canvas which are sewn up or sewn down by the red thread. The wounds, pods, eggs and other symbols feel like abstract tales of birth, transformation, healing and pain. When asked about the use of red in the work she doesn’t point to any one meaning but talks about using it for all its potential symbolism. What does red mean? fertility, love, anger, good fortune and any other more personal significance. Coombs also talks about red as a powerful colour filled with diverse information attached. There is also a look about the work which reminds of smaller revised versions of Robert Motherwell’s canvases with ovoid shapes and horizons.

Judith Salmon, Palimsests for life
Judith Salmon continues this play between thread and its use to join and make connections. She says that thread can be used to repair things, to put things together or rather hold things together. As we travel from one artists’ work to the other the thread gets looser and looser and thinner and thinner. Coombs’ proto-hood is tightly woven and neat in its appearance while Smiths’ thread is ravelled, hanging and winding around forms and suppressed by other things. Salmon’s thread however is more like remains or cast-off. It is one of the bits and pieces from personal items or things we encounter in life that are suspended or float in the hardened wax. Her work is somehow less referential or conceptual than Coombs’ work and feels less vigorous or dictated than Smith’s work. These shallow wax rectangles are more like reflective traces of life. They present some kind of evidence that is very personal but relatable. We all have these bits floating around.

Judith Salmon, Palimsests for life (detail)
Aesthetically and materially they show linkages in their work but I think what interests me is how I am understanding something about how different each artist’s use of the materials is. This is expected as each artist has a very different set of generational and educational experiences. There are on the other hand so many similarities however as all have connections as staff or as alumni of Edna Manley College and both Coombs and Smith have involvement in the Textiles Department there. I could make the comparison that all three are women but it is arguably the thing which ties them all together or just a background fact. They are artists who show work which traces concerns with feminist thought, body politics, conceptual Art and the list goes on. I don’t know what specifically accounts for similarities in aesthetics and concerns in artistic practice. Certain places will definitely produce certain head spaces. Places as small as Jamaica are bound to do that as the pool of interests and ideas bounces from one artist to the other in constant dialogue and metamorphosis.  It makes me wish that all three artists could work together on a project or show to unearth further the potential energy of their ideas.

Katrina Coombs will form part of the artist talk panels at the closing event at The National Gallery of Jamaica at 1:30pm on Sunday March 15th, 2015. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

An Impression of Marlon James' 'King Yellowman'

Marlon James, detail of 'King Yellowman', Source: The 2014 Jamaica Biennial Catalogue, The National Gallery of Jamaica
When the British Broadcasting Service [BBC]was first set up in 1927 its mission was to 'educate, inform and entertain'. Successful Art institutions such as Tate Modern, [currently the most visited Modern Art museum in the world ] might subscribe to something similar because viewing Art has become big business with entertainment seen as very much central to that project.  But Art in the past was called upon to do a great deal more, such as to illuminate and  inspire, glorify and celebrate, also to move and sometimes, to redeem.  How useful are any of these criteria for looking at Art today when relevance to the contemporary moment,  as articulated by a culturally diverse and globally connected world, is so overwhelmingly prized?

Such thoughts were circulating on a recent visit to the Jamaica Biennial where I was struck by a work which supremely fulfills many of the above mentioned criteria. Hanging in the central hall under the stairs, it is approached without warning or fanfare and were it not so distinguished, might easily be overlooked.  The work itself shows the head and torso of a man sunk in stygian gloom apparently standing in a room but gazing beyond it,  engrossed in his own thoughts, and lit only by a tiny crack of light on a narrow strip of his shoulder, neck and hat.  A stray speck of light somehow creeps round to the other side of his head and catches the pale eyelashes of his left eye but this is about all the light that is permitted in a drastically subdued tonal register.

Marlon James, King Yellowman, Source: The 2014 Jamaica Biennial Catalogue, The National Gallery of Jamaica
No one looking at this portrait could mistake its mood for anything less than deeply lugubrious and this impression is enhanced by the subfusc tones of the man's clothing, which is rakishly respectable, and of the space itself, where the air feels heavy, and still.  The sober brown palette simultaneously endorses and effaces the personality before us.  It's impossible to tell whether a doorway, dimly visible behind him offers any way out.

The truly remarkable thing about this work by Marlon James is its severe restraint.  James has granted us precious little visual excitement and only the minimum of information as to the man's identity except of course in the title of the piece, 'King Yellowman'. It is a mark of the work's universality however that we are in no need of any more information in order to bring our own sympathies to bear on the immense sorrow before us.  Nothing extraneous has been allowed to intrude or distract us from this overwhelming quality, there is nowhere to go and nowhere to hide.  Within this hermetic space we are forced to confront the limits of our own compassion and in doing so summon up from ourselves our own equivalences of kind and degree. Surely only the stony-hearted could turn away from such a work unaffected. 

James is known for his many remarkable portraits, often of the troubled, disaffected or marginal among us. Typically these photographs are made, not taken, and involve complex transactions and negotiations between artist and subject which leave their trace in the resulting image.  This latest example is no exception, its introspection, resignation and inner despair, glimpsed and intuited, is undeniably of the moment. Whilst it bears no superficial resemblance to the typical celebrity portrait it offers more than a hint of the strains, insecurities and perils suffered by many who inhabit them, whose public and private image frequently diverge. A glance at Yellowman's biography would reveal that he has experienced more than his fair share of life's vicissitudes. In this work, James has managed to convey most of them with the utmost circumspection and skill.

- Prudence Lovell

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Virtual Curation & Alternative Biennials

Since last summer, Kathryn Buford, editor/ curator of, and myself have been speaking about the art culture in Jamaica with the aim to collaborate on a project together. I had the chance to work with Kathryn previously when she interviewed me for one of her online articles. With the upcoming Jamaica Biennial we hit on the idea of presenting together a sort of alternative biennial via this blog with Kathryn making the major curatorial choices.
She has assembled a group of artists who she feel have a dialogue and sympathy with issues tackled in Jamaican Art. These artists however are situated in a different cultural space. In a sense she has not curated a show which highlights who was excluded from amongst local artists but rather who else could have been included using a different curatorial eye. This repeats the endgame of the Jamaica Biennial but I think of it more as making connections between the local and the global. For the alternative biennial that has been curated please visit this link. Until the Biennial closes in March there will also be shorter more focused discussions on specific artists or groups of artists being published on this blog.You are welcome to join in the conversation.

Other Articles of Interest

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Time-based Media @ THE 2014 JAMAICA BIENNIAL

Courtesy of The National Gallery of Jamaica, Renee Cox – Zulu Man Tree (from Sacred Geometry), digital photograph
I am currently facilitating a course at Edna Manley College called 'Time-based Media'. It is one of three Media Art courses I developed under the guidance of Annie Hamilton, Hope Brooks and Petrona Morrison back in 2006. I had just finished my MA in Interactive Media in the UK and had many ideas about how to integrate the things I had learned as well as the pathway my artistic practice was taking down the road of hybridizing traditional art method and media with new media. I only taught the course for one year before leaving to study in Asia but after returning have been teaching it for the past year.

 Many things have changed. The Jamaica Biennial now has numerous multimedia works on show and in most but not in all cases there is a sense that artists who work with new media are allowed to inhabit the same privileged gallery space as artists using traditional media. I asked my first year students taking the Time-based Media course to visit the Biennial and in particular to engage with the work of artists such as Renee Cox, Petrona Morrison, Sheena Rose, Olivia Mc Gilchrist, Di-Andre C Davis and Storm Saulter as well as other less locally known artists using new media. Often work using new media can feel perplexing to audiences as it may be less familiar as an art medium for them. I asked the students to think about:

- The design of the work (images as well as physical placement of equipment)
- The equipment and physical parts used in actualizing the work
-  The images and technique used in the work
- and finally to ponder what concepts and sensations emerge in the work when they look at it.

You are also invited to visit the Biennial and discuss these and other questions about the new media work on show.

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.