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

Thursday, December 6, 2007

MISS JAMAICA: Khepera Oluyia Hatsheptwa

Khepera Oluyia Hatsheptwa, is a Jamaican artist, who has been active in the arts for several years since graduating from Edna Manley College a few years ago. She has exhibited in high profile shows such as Curator's Eye 2 and Under 40 Artist of the Year. She also has co-ordinated the Multicare Foundations, Summer on the Waterfront summer school for several years. She teaches art in the secondary school sytstem and recently gained a place by nomination on the prestigious International Visitors Leadership Programme as an ambassador for Jamaica. Khepera is an example of an artist who has managed to stay active in the fine arts, maintaining high standards in her work, while contributing to art education full-time. Khepera affectionately received the name 'Miss Jamaica' from fellow participants in the programme for the professional approach she brought to the experience. She answered some questions I had for her below.

Here is a bit about the programme.

It is called the International Visitors Leadership
It is funded by the United States Department Bureau of
Educational and Cultural Affairs.
The theme of the Programme is “Promoting Tolerance
Through the Arts.
It was arranged by Meridian International Center
There were 20 participants from 19 countries.
The name of the Countries are Bahrain (middle east),
Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire (African Country Ivory Coast), Cezech
Rep, India, Israel, Jamaica,Montenegro, Nepal,
Nigeria, Oman (middle east), Pakistan, Serbia, Sierra
Leone, Singapore, Turkey – this participant made it clear that he is Kurdish.

We went to six states: Washington DC, Philadelphia -
Pennsylvania,Austin - Texas, Seattle - Washington,Cincinnati - Ohio,
Louisville -
Kentucky, New York –New York.

How did you come to receive the offer to work in
I was nominated. It is a V.I.P programme and the local
embassy asked for nominations. Then those nominees have
to fill out an application and write an essay stating
how they will use the experience to help Jamaica. Then
one person from the list of nominees is selected.

How long were you there for?
I was there for three weeks 16th Oct – the 9 Nov. We
stayed in a state any where from 6 nights to 2 nights.
There was a group split and half of the group went to
Austin and the other half went to Seattle. Actually,
there were to be three groups initially but because of the fire
in San Diego that group of which I was a member, had to
be spilt in two and sent to Austin and Seattle. Hence
the two groups and not three.

What project did you work on while there?
They had organized a very tight schedule for us. This was aimed at
first understanding the government system as it
relates to the arts, tours of each city and meeting
with people from organizations that related to the
participants professional interests. So there was
hardly any time or place for painting.

However three of us, Dian (Cyprus) Lala (Bangladesh)
and myself came up with an idea to have everybody in
the group, all 20 of us, create two pieces of artwork on paper for
the people at Meridian to show our appreciation. On
the last day in New York at the end of the evaluation the
three of us presented it to the Programme Officers
from Meridian: Ms. Susan Lockwood, Ms. Meg Clifford,
Ms. Theresa Daily. They were very happy to recieve it.

How was the experience different from working in
Jamaica as an artist?

I was not working in the sense of painting. However I
can comment on how different it is in general. It was
quite different from Jamaica. The galleries, as expected
are really huge they are very secure and have mini-
cinemas with very helpful documentaries about the
artists and other issues relating to the exhibit. The service in the states we visited was impeccable. Hotel staff were always helpful and our our supervisors – went with us to all six states were very helpful. They also assisted us to see sites to see that were not on the schedule, whenever it was possible. It was truly a V.I.P tour!

How was your work received?
I did not take real pieces, but had taken a small
portfolio,images and newspaper clippings of my
work. I showed this in addition to
my web site and they were well received by the group
members and the Programme Officers.

What contacts were you able to make while in

I have made many contacts in all the six states. But
most of these contacts related more to my teaching job
here in Jamaica. You see, I was an ambassador for not only
arts but education and really the education more so
than the arts.

However I did make some art contacts as well in fact
two other group members are artists, Karma from Bhutan
and Stanley from Nigeria. I believe though that the
art contacts that I made in New York might be quite

How has the experience affected your work and energy
as an artist?

Well since I have been back I have not been painting –
lots of work to do at my teaching job as well as
some clearing up to do in my studio as I left shortly after
the opening of my first solo exhibition at the
Mutual Gallery. I can not
say yet how the trip will contribute to the physical
manifestation of my work. Before I left I was
preoccupied with having my audience interact more with
my work. To get rid of the taboo of not being able to
experience the work through touch. Experiences I have
had on the trip have triggered in my mind new ways to
make this possible. So I can hardly wait to see what
will happen in my studio. There will be a break from teaching job soon
and I am looking forward to that with great
anticipation – to get some artwork done.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Tricia Gordon-Johnston: Balancing commercial and fine art practice

Tricia Gordon-Johnston is a practicing fine artist and recent graduate of Edna Manley College. She has exhibited in integral shows such as Curator's Eye II at The National Gallery in 2006 and SuperPlus Under 40 Artist of the Year 2006 at The Mutual Gallery. She currently does digital and photographic commercial design work alongside her artistic practice- not unlike many Jamaican artists. Her studio work however has been rooted in the conceptual tradition of feminist art and the tactile modernist work of various Latin American artists. ART:Jamaica has asked her to share some of her experience with balancing what has traditionally been thought to be conflicting forms of art.
Q. How do you balance art practice with your commercial work?
A. I think there is always a duality between Fine Art and Commercial work. Finding the balance, or the key must be in viewing both as art practice and contributing to our work each day, it is after all a way of life, as Petrona Morrison and Cecil Cooper used to state to us at The Edna Manley Collage of the Visual and Performing Arts.

Q.How did art college prepare you for real world survival?
A.College prepared me for the real world by both teaching me and reminding me that our vision of the world is what informs what we see from any perspective, if it is all beautiful, then it is all art, it's also what we make it.

Before I studied at Edna Manley Collage, I studied Business and Marketing. Now, as a practicing artist, I incorporate all three. The target market is also the audience, each possibly willing to purchase our version of our identity, as we project it on to a canvas.

I think our creative headspace is a Conceptual Space and not confined to a box, perhaps three boxes. I suppose the three boxes would be The National Gallery, the Mutual Gallery and of late I have also been thinking about The Cage Gallery. We each, I think bring something powerful, meaningful and excuisite to the table.

Also, when I sit at any table, I look and listen for live performance, that is what always transitions, for me, a circular table into a square of open-ended possibilities. I have also sat at many tables around the world and what makes me Nationalistic is both the way we fit in and stand out, internationally. Our Cultural 'flavour', if you will, is like an energy wire that connects us with consistent threads.

The fine arts are much like the fine art of everything. It may be an acquired taste, but if it ages like fine wine, then our identity is what reminds us that we have already done the healing an life is our Ackee and Saltfish, for the enjoy-ing.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mastering Ritual/ Ceremony/ Performance

This post has been long overdue. I apologize, but I felt I had to take time to think about some of the things that were happening in art locally. For the first time in a long time you could hear people talking about an art event. The event was the opening of the new space at Institute of Jamaica (IOJ) as marked by the show Mastering Slavery. The show occurs in parts with one segment at The National Gallery and another at The Museums Division at IOJ and their newly renovated temporary exhibition space at the bottom of East Street. The opening event began with a lecture at IOJ and then guests were led around to the new spaces to see the work of local artists who had made a work to loosely commemorate the abolition of the Slave Trade. The whole event has been heard in whispers and is mostly remembered for the performance of a work by Christoper Irons. Irons an artist generally known for his shock factor did a performance and installation which has been called everything from animal sacrifice to kumina ceremony to performance art.

Irons was dressed as what I felt was a kind of shaman or mystic man in the manner reminiscent of Kapo or Joseph Beuys. Irons set up the space using drawings on the wall of the rustic ex-furniture factory, chicken pan grills, chicken carcasses, welded iron and programmes from his grandmothers funeral among other bits. The morning of the exhibition something like 13 chickens Irons raises himself, were led into the space and presented with a bakery style cake. The cake was of some age as I remember it from his work in the JCDC Festival. The chickens seemed to sense something in their present future as they all herded together and sat nestled and still until the performance. I left after that but I have heard many interpretations and explanations of the performance. If you were there and wish to describe your experience please post a comment.

The piece follows on another performance with the sacrifice of chickens done in Trinidad. To see a video of this performance on YouTube please visit this link:

I have to ask these questions however, if performance art happens abroad, should it happen here. Is it hypocrisy or censorship to allow some kinds of performance and not others? Does the killing of animals go over in Jamaica as art? Is there difficulty in absorbing a work that speaks about ritual without being reverent?
On the other hand I want to mention Khepera Oluyia Hatsheptwa’s work now on show at Mutual Gallery, which interestingly reminded me a lot of Christopher Irons’ work. The work is an installation in the middle of the gallery called ‘AmenRa’ and though evoking the human presence and culture of ritual and ceremony from our heritage uses objects. What do you think of the two works compared side by side as addressing ritual and ceremony?

Over at the National Gallery shortly after was one of the best openings I have been to in a while. The performances from Amina Blackwood-Meeks, Jesse Ripole Dancers and the Rasta Nation were really engaging.

The show had a large enough crowd and showed diversity of work from Renee Cox’s re-interpreted Last Supper to Marvin Bartley’s digital imagery to Charles Campbell’s really poetic paintings and Christopher Clare’s images. It is a very pleasing show which is almost overwhelming in its offerings and hope that you take the opportunity to experience it.

Keith Morrison, curator of the upcoming Curator’s Eye III at the National Gallery, today announced his exhibition theme. Coincidentally or not so much, it is ‘Ceremony, Ritual, Celebration ’. He invites all interested arts practitioners to think about and submit proposals for work to him in January when he next visits the island. Collaboration and cross-disciplinary work is encouraged. The idea is that the show has performance, multimedia, sculpture, paintings etc. that is ongoing and occurring at different times in during the exhibition. It is a very exciting time for art and artists so remember no to miss out.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Having seen two of the major juried shows this summer, the JCDC Fine Arts Festival and the Under 40, it is obvious that a handful of curators and arts administrators are really trying to reposition Jamaican art internationally by improving exhibition standards prevent the formation of a status quo and give it a swift jumpstart. The guest speaker at the opening of The SuperPlus Under 40 Artist of the Year Exhibition, Taynia Nethersole spoke of defending the reputation of Jamaican contemporary art. She mentioned the declaration of one collector in stating that art in Jamaica was stagnating. Imagine that. A breakaway from convention and focus on experimentation and cultural exploration as seen in the works of young artists such as Cleve Bowen, Kereina Changfatt, Paula Daley and Oya Tyehimba, being declared stagnant. Being a young artist myself that statement is a bit of a slap in the face signalling the loss of the faith in young artists that collectors of previous generations had. This is reconfirmed by one of Jamaica’s most prolific collectors, Wallace Campbell, in a recent interview stating that he rarely collected work from young artists however promising. Is this possibly why so few contemporary artists are barely able to earn a minimum from their work or curated contemporary art shows such as the Curator’s Eye receives a scanty amount of visitors or contemporary artists have to prove commercial viability before being able to book a show at top commercial galleries. Quite possibly, and it is a fact the art community has to live with and I suppose somehow we all get on with it. This resilience carries forth in the work that is out there in the galleries such as The Mutual Gallery and the The CAGE Gallery; the continued encouragement and growing quality of art coming from youth artists, self-taughts and art students by the Jamaica Development of Culture Commission.

I must say however that great encouragement comes from the publication of a very well designed and edited volume of The Jamaican entitled classically, ‘The Art Issue’. If my memory is right, it is the only publication to cover so wide a span of Jamaican art in a few years. It may be a bit pricy for the average student or struggling artist but is well worth it at a price of $850. It could just as well be entitled ‘The Intuitive Art Issue’ or ‘The National Gallery Companion’ as it does give the most space to a timeline similar to the curatorial schema of the National Gallery’s permanent collection and the idea of the Intuitive artist. The general avoidance of new directions in our contemporary art, concerns me a bit. I would have loved to have seen a bit more about artists working with printmaking, assemblage, video, photography. fibre arts, performance, drawing etc. Later in the volume however,features on Christopher Clare, who peeked our interest in The National Gallery’s, Curator’s Eye II and Laura Facey’s under-publicized Institute of Jamaica show were included.

Before closing, I am mentioning an item on my Christmas list for the Jamaican art scene: the renaming of the SuperPlus Under 40 Artist of the Year Exhibition/Competiton. Since it is modelled on the Turner Prize, which has since evolved into a brand partially because of its name which is now comparable to the Oscars and Tony’s, why not employ some of its publicity generating strategies. A brand-worthy name is priceless as evidenced by The Art Issue.

Note: For artists who are not yet aware the National Biennial’s Juried section has been merged with the JCDC Fine Arts Festival so next summer presents an opportunity to enter work once more when the JCDC sends a call to artists.
Also remember to see the Under 40 show at the Mutual Gallery and vote for your favourite body of work. Their artists talk is Tuesday August 28th, 2007 at 6pm.

Because I am sure I have stepped on toes feel free to voice your opinion by posting your comments.

Link to a related article in The Sunday Gleaner:

Monday, June 25, 2007

Confronting Persona’s and Bodies

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.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Time-based Media?

What is Time-based Media? Why is 'time' an issue of importance in digital media and the contemporary artist? Why is it relevant to the arts and artists in Jamaica? What qualifies a medium to be placed in this category and is it specific to medium or is it more of an approach or aesthetic? How does it function in the fine arts as opposed to the commercial industry?What applications has it been previously used for and what potential does it have for our cultural industry? What about the creative process differs from using non-time-based media and does it allow for intuition and inventiveness? Should its value as a product be different from that of other media?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

New Media in Jamaican Art

What is new media, and how do you feel it can be used by Jamaican artists? What cultural interventions can occur through its use? Is it only for an elite set of privelaged techno-freaks? Does it deviate or dilute Fine Art or can it be used to assist the artistic process? Does it feel like a European or American import that is trendy at the moment or could there be more potential than we give it credit for? Should the artist using new media look to other mediums such as Painitng and Film to create value and determine aesthetics or does it require its own approach?

You are invited to discuss the above questions and raise your own.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


A week or so ago, I was in attendance at the CPTC free Film Festival to see ‘The Future of Food’. The documentary was in keeping with the activist sentiment of many of the other films. It could be gathered that the audience was deeply affected by the intermittent muffled cries of surprise and shock at the thought of food being used as a political tool in America’s pursuit for world dominance. Conspiracy theories abound and left many of us vowing never to eat any food derived from U.S. corn produce ( David Rubinson, the passionate festival organiser and CPTC for doing anything for free in our currently entrepreneur-driven Kingston and especially as it is something to benefit public awareness. Nevertheless what struck me about the festival was a statement made by Angela Patterson, CPTC’s CEO, before the screening: ‘We are about film’

CPTC is apparently seeking to secure its place in our still relatively untouched film industry. There is a lot of talk about film and Jamaica now particulary with the Brand Jamaica campaign which is active now. The idea of ‘Film’ and its related industry is cool, hip, seductive and perhaps for this reason connects with the image Jamaica presents to the world. What does it really mean to say we have a film industry? Which model will be employed in Jamaica: the Hollywood, Bollywood, Nollywood, European Avant-garde approach. Maybe it will be a new aesthetic related particularly to our culture. Will it have any bearing on artistic pursuit, fuelled and funded by political and state interests, or will it be replicas of imported genres? I suppose the point I am getting at is, what does it really mean to say in Jamaica that ‘We are about film’?

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Report: Rape, Rudeness and Renee Cox

The first research symposium at the Edna Manley College was held last week, with the highlight being the appearance and participation of controversial New York artist Renee Cox. Cox gave an artists talk to keen students and staff amongst book shelves and tables in the library. She was very animated in her delivery garnering frequent laughter from the audience. The level of intimacy achieved with the audience was such that students lacked no reserve in questioning and speaking to the artists. Foundation year students were moved to comment multiple times and a final year student made reference about the artists ego as being integral to his enjoyment of her work. Cox spoke about problems with how her pregnant body was viewed by the art world and society as being the driving influence behind the 'Yo Mama' series. She even provided a 'sneak peek' at new work which is inspired by 'Desperate Housewives' and the St. Andrew upperclass housewife set. The driving influence being the need to create images where black women are given the space to 'luxuriate in depression' . She also spoke of her controversial match with ex-Mayor Giuliani back in 1996, referring to the former mayor as a greasy-haired Italian with a bad comb-over who knew nothing about Photography. In another mouthful, ignorant ebonics-speaking black women were also reproached for missing the message in her work and the intention of it being made for 'them'. This made me think about the commitment that artists have to make in using racial material in their work. Are artists required to reflect the politics in their work in their speech and lives? Should they be held as responsible as 'regular citizens' for their viewpoints and how important is intention to how a work functions for its public? Omari Ra answers this in stating in his presentation that he believed artists had citizens rights and responsibilities only and not specifically a free pass to do as he or she pleases.

On the Thursday, when the symposium began with Cox as the keynote speaker, I arrived just in time to hear her tell students to do first and ask later before descending the podium. An audience member noted that it was a more reserved Cox that presented that morning, perhaps due to the setting as an official research symposium.
Panel 1 comprised of Taynia Nethersole, Clinton Hutton, Marcia Hextall and Kim Robinson-Walcott and was the most comprehensive in its scope. Taynia Nethersole spoke about the law in relation to censorship as being very subjective. The basic guideline being that the rights and freedoms of the individual should not infringe on the rights and freedom of others or the public interest. She also spoke about the law being used to label an artwork seen as having no artistic value as being obscene. Concerns raised are that often persons call to make judgements about the artistic value of something are often not qualified to do so. An individual judges what is in public interest and not a majority therefore rulings are often personal matters and not necessarily rooted in the

Clinton Hutton's take on the role of censorship in the arts in the Caribbean involved the cultural and religious censure of African slaves in plantation society. His vociferous quotations of ethnological texts was surely strategically placed to incite the black members of the audience to nod heads and cause the caucasian audience members to feel discomfort in their seats. His conclusion from his research was that whatever was considered white was beautiful and whatever was black was ugly. This ugliness and 'love of vice' was not curable by our own devices but had to be assisted through the colonizing powers thus the attempted erasure of African heritage.

Kim Robinson-Walcott gave a very entertaining talk which involved her doing a slow rap from the now popular Kiprich track mimicking Zebra and Tiger. She clearly stated that she enjoyed the beat of the music, calling it 'cute and catchy'. Her issue was not the catchiness but with a specific section of the song which described graphically and admittedly quite lyrically, the events of a possible rape. Her frustration then stemmed from attempts to have the song removed from the air waves to have the censured song re-appear with a beep at the last words of each line. This she did not find satisfying as any one could figure out the missing words. I say possible rape as a debate ensued about this. Was it rape or what Carolyn Cooper called a 'bait and switch'. Cooper was however quick to say that she was not defending slackness but looking at the possiblities of the song. Winston Campbell, who later presented on the Visual arts panel, chided Robinson-Walcott for taking the song out of the context of the mimicry of dancehall rivalry. This was countered with the general sentiment that context or not, a public description of a rape for entertainment purposes is never appropriate. This led her to her main area of Anthony Winkler's 'healthy sexual references'. Robinson-Walcott introduced a kind of binary system for measuring 'slackness' which perhaps could guide in the censorship process. 'Slackness' and obscenity could be 'fun' or harmful, meaningless or meaningful. Intention is apparently all. This again made me think of the issue of artistic license and freedom of speech. Does the title 'art' make slackness alright in society. Do artists use slackness and controversy as a poltical tool and what does that do to perceptions of art and artists?

On a last note Karl Fagan, a 2nd year student who presented a lengthy paper, must be commended for almost outshining several other presenters at the symposium. He obviously had an opinion and was not shy or rudimentary in his expression of it. Censorship functions within some of the very instituions who don a progressive self-image such as the Edna Manley College. Censorship of students for final year shows, censorship of certain ideas in certain courses and departments. To reference Winston Campbell, society seemingly cannot exist wtthout censorship as social groups do have rules and guidelines for appropriate behaviour. Is Censorship linked to power? Perhaps as Omari Ra suggests censorship is not linked to morality as such but political agenda. Do we judge the our popular culture, the dancehall, with the same code as, our high culture?

Sunday, March 4, 2007


The question of freedom of expression in the arts is currently receiving a lot of attention in many parts of the world. While many artists are pushing the limits of the acceptable, with deliberately provocative works, the public exhibition and support of their work has resulted in many controversies, fueled by new, or renewed, political and religious sensibilities and the enhanced exposure provided by the media. This debate has special significance in the postcolonial world, where the arts have conventionally been seen as crucial to the development of a more equitable society, or nation-building, and a confident sense of cultural self. This is evident in state-sponsored, independent and explicitly dissident artistic expressions alike. In the Caribbean, this moral-political imperative exists in uneasy tension with a well-established tradition of freedom of expression within the artistic community and subversive tendencies within the popular culture.
There have been several incidents recently in Jamaica that have given particular urgency to the subjects of freedom of expression and censorship and the arts. For instance, the controversy about a new Emancipation monument – Laura Facey’s Redemption Song (2003) in New Kingston – mainly concerned the nudity of the two central figures and its appropriateness to the subject. This resulted in vigorous debate in the local media about what is and what is not acceptable in public art, who should decide on how subjects of collective interest are publicly represented in the arts, and whether this differs from the fine arts in other, more private contexts. The provocative music, dance style and fashion of Jamaican Dancehall culture, on the other hand, have not only become dominant in the local popular culture but have spread throughout the Caribbean and its Diaspora in North America and Europe. This Dancehall culture is seen by its critics as socially counterproductive and therefore rightfully subject to censorship. Jamaican-style “Passa Passa” street parties have been banned by authorities in Barbados, Grenada and Guyana and there have been calls, locally, to curtail the use of indecent or abusive language, which is in any case illegal in Jamaica, and provocative, potentially physically hazardous dance moves such as the “Dutty Wine” at Dancehall events. Several popular Jamaican Dancehall artistes have also become internationally controversial because of their violently homophobic lyrics and this has led to the cancellation of some of their concerts in North America and Europe. Advocates of Dancehall culture have argued, in contrast, that it deliberately challenges middle class moral norms and is held by its critics to more restrictive moral standards than Caribbean “high culture”, such as the fine arts and theatre, where provocative content is more likely to be tolerated in the name of artistic freedom.
These Jamaican examples well illustrate that the subject of freedom of expression and its relation to the social role of the arts is central to the debates that shape the arts in the Caribbean and must be taken seriously by Caribbean artists, cultural institutions, the media and audiences alike. While the subject is receiving intermittent attention in the regional media and in some of the critical writing about contemporary Caribbean culture, there has been insufficient structured debate thus far that confronts the full range of viewpoints and the issues that arise in the different areas of cultural production. Nor has sufficient attention been paid to its significant implications for arts education in the region. The Edna Manley College, as the main tertiary educational institution dedicated to the visual and performing arts in the Anglophone Caribbean, has thus decided to make it the subject of its emerging research, public discussion and publication programme.
The “Censorship and the Arts in the Caribbean” project has two key components. The first is the staging of two symposiums on the subject. The first such symposium will be a full-day event held on March 22, 2007. This event will consist of a keynote address by Renee Cox, a prominent Jamaican-American photographer and performance artist who has personally encountered major controversy and efforts at censorship in response to her often very provocative work. The keynote presentation will be followed by three panel discussions, one in the morning and two in the afternoon, that will explore various positions on the issues at hand and allow for audience interventions. This will be followed by an open discussion at the end of the day. Each panel will have four panelists and a moderator, selected from Edna Manley College faculty and students and other artists, cultural administrators, media practitioners, religious spokespersons and cultural critics based in Jamaica. In selecting these panelists, care will be taken to represent a broad range of perspectives and issues relevant to the Caribbean and its Diaspora.
The second symposium will be a half-day event and will be held in October 2007, on a date yet to be determined. The main purpose of the second event is to revisit and reflect on the issues raised in the first symposium and to create an opportunity for the presentation of responses and alternate views. It will consist of a keynote presentation and at least one panel. Persons from the local or regional media, the academy, the art world, and the Church will be considered as keynote speakers or panelists. The discussion panel(s) will, as before, consist of four panelists and a moderator and will be selected from the same categories as the first panels.
In terms of audiences, the symposiums are mainly directed at the Edna Manley College faculty and students but, given the subject, should attract more widespread attention and participation. The symposiums will be free and open to the public and will be well-publicized in the local media.
The second component of the project is the publication of the papers presented at the symposiums which will serve as a resource for further debate on the subject. This will be done in a specially-themed edition of the Edna Manley College’s new arts journal, which will become an annual or biennial publication. This publication will mainly be circulated in Jamaica, for the benefit of the cultural, educational and academic communities here but the journal should also be available to overseas interests. It will be sold at an affordable, cost-based price to facilitate broad access. Distribution arrangements are to be worked out and may involve a local publisher or printed matter distributor.
- post contributed by Veerle Poupeye

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Could 'Negroamor' happen in Jamaica?

Brasil has an exhibition/ community initiative where simple but large images of the city's under-represented persons of African descent are projected or printed unto the architecture. It is to promote negroamor or black/self-love. The response to it as you can imagine is two-sided. Some privileged persons termed 'white' have objected to being bombarded by the images while it has reportedly promoted self-awareness among blacks in Bahia, Brasil. There is a very engaging website which accompanies the project. Please check it out at
Granted, it isn't in English but it is more about the sound and beautiful images. This project makes me wonder if something like this would ever be possible in Jamaica and more specifically Kingston with its multiplicity of oppressed and politically controlled areas, skin-bleaching culture, corruption and beuaracracy. This sounds harsh but Jamaica has developed a way of covering its neglected underbelly and exposing the sweet images of one-love Jamaica. Could a project which uses our artists to transform the environment also help transform our mindset?
- thanks to Tracey-Anne Clarke for providing reference information

National Biennial 06 Artists' Talk

The National Gallery's artists' talks are always inciteful and informative and sometimes controversial. These events allow the public a further understanding of the works they loved, hated or were indifferent to. These talks are rarely recorded and so are often the only opportunity we have to interact with artists in these major exhibitions. The gallery is also one of the few institutions in Jamaica to consistently host these forums.
The talk takes place on March 1st, 2007 at 1:30pm at The National Gallery. The artists featured this year are not necessarily the same ones featured on the poster. The artists speaking are Omari Ra, Michael Elliott, Heather Sutherland Wade, Michael Layne and Franz Marzouca. The Biennial closes on March 10, 2007.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Perverseness, Painting and Dante's Inferno:Interview with Marvin Bartley

This was a very bold thing for yourself and Camille Chedda to enter the National Biennial while still students. What were reactions to to this?
Well the reactions were varied but the underlying issues that aroused from the reactions of friends was that we should go for it, we all had our doubts and inhibitions as to whether or not we would get in. However it was generally all good.

You started off painting images on canvas but now you use digital photography, why the switch and how was it recieved?
Let me start by saying its acceptance was not great at all because of the value systems that people around me are used to. Example your expected to paint in a painting department so anything contrary such the photographs i now produce is unacceptable, i was even advised by many to paint the images that i produced through my photomanipulated processes. The images for them never really seemed complete in their photogrphic state. The reason why i switched media was the fact that my photograps were way more developed for my ideas that my classical painting methods ever were. Also it was for me a way of callenging the value system that has been set up by the society with regards to the value of painting over that of photographs and finally to engage myself in a much newer medium than paint.

You mentioned deriving some of your imagery from classic European artistic sources such as Dante's Inferno. How did you, as a young Caribbean art student, become attached to these sources?
Thats something i myself would like to know the answer for. Just kidding. I became very interested in classical imagery and literature in 2003 after seeing works from contemporary realist painters Philip Thomas and Andre Green who were just leaving and preparing to leave the college. There works dealth in a serious way with the classical techniques. Ive always had great respect for formalism and thats why i chose to look at classical references for my inspiration being that classical art is the backbone of formalism.

How do you feel your work which is now digital, sits within the kind of academic representational painterly tradition that has been coming out of the art school in the last few years? I am referencing of course young male artists such as Khary Darby, Phillip Thomas and Andrae Green.
Well I first of all think that it sits quite fine among their works with respect to the contemperary treatment of the image however it sits alone with respect to the process and finish. Khary, Phillip and Andrae all to me challenge simillar technical and formal issues that men have struggled for centuaries with, now i questioned myself as to why i would want to do te same thing when i have new media that i can challenge to gain new ways and approaches, so for me photo-manipultion is my main stay. Rest assured i have not abandoned painting with paint.

Being the first Edna Manley college student expected to mount a final year show wholly in digital prints, how do you think you will be recieved by the major collectors of representational paintings?
I wont try to predict responces but i can say this you'll all have one big surprise when you see what i now have.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Biennial 07: Invitation to Discuss

This biennial is a particularly important exhibition for various reasons. It stands out as being one of the first years where on can think of a set of artists being shown who utilise digital media and processes. Renee Cox, controversial New York-based artist is exhibiting several photographs and students from Edna Manley College are exhibiting alongside seasoned practitioners. There are many more questions that could be asked and discussed in response to the Biennial and I invite you to do so here. It is remarkable also that I have not seen as much publicity for such an immense exhibition. Which artists stood out for you? What does a show like this say about Jamaican culture and its industries? How does this show affect audiences? etc.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Black scandal bag: Camille Chedda speaks about her work

Where does working with the black scandal bag come from?
It started in my third year where I was using images of my face to create works about how we (or just myself) mask our identities as Jamaicans. It was also about being unable to speak and being trapped. I decided to use the black scandal bag because it garnered many interpretations based on its everyday uses. It contains, and I was containing my words. It covers, and I was hiding my ugliness, my truth, my identity. It protects, I was being shielded from people's words, abuse, pressure etc. It preserves and I was trying to preserve my sanity.

How do you connect the use of this material/object to references from your ownbackground(race, class, identity, experience) as well as Jamaican culture, society and politics? The bag has many uses among Jamaicans. People buy groceries and the items are placed in these bags. Some people use it to protect themselves and objects from getting wet. It acts as an agent that protects while being a very dangerous material. As children we are warned not to put our heads in scandal bags because we could suffocate. There are many stories of babies being found in scandal bags after being disposed of by their mothers. Murderers wrap their victims' bodies in garbage bags. Weed, guns and bullets are other things found in these bags. There is also the saying that some women should bag their heads because they're unattractive (facially). These are some of the things that have influenced my work.

How do you feel about your work being shown in the Biennial due to controversial issues that have been spoken about in various articles and reports as well as the fact that you are still a student?
t seems like people are questioning if my work is 'art', because of the materials I use. I didn't know how people would react to it because I never thought of it as controversial. This is the first time Marvin and I are exhibiting works in the National Gallery. It's an achievement for me to know that we're in an exhibition with other great Jamaican artists and we're still studying.

How does something like digital media/video become a part of your Black Scandal bag work?
I needed another outlet that painting and photographs wouldn't allow. I think the video communicated my feelings best because it was straight forward, something I couldn't achieve with any other medium.

Lastly, what ideas and artists do you associate yourself with?
I did some research on scandal/garbage bags. Surprisingly though, I didn't know about the Abu Ghraib situation until I saw it in your(Oneika Russell) solo exhibition! I knew that people were being tortured but had never seen the images. That added more context to my work. I had been dealing with the body, so I looked at Ana Mendieta and Kiki Smith's work and how they understood the body. I also used Marcus Garvey's words, writings on the body, transatlantic slavery, newspaper articles, and relations with my peers, family and people in society as some references for my works.

Monday, February 5, 2007

The legacy of tourism:

The 'Dangerously Close to Tourist Art' Lecture given on the 2nd of this month touched on a few points that have been up for discussion for quite a while now. What kind of art can bear the 'intuitive' label? What separates the gallery intuitive from the craft market intuitive? What role does the tourism industry play in the formation of the arts in Jamaica? Another issue raised was that of how much do we have to give in order to gain from tourism?
This is the moment to ask these questions about the relationship between tourism and art as with the restructuring of government art & culture now fall under the Tourism ministry. This strikes me as an odd placement as tourism sells a product. It is interested in Jamaica as a commodity. This may ultimately influence the development of the arts in Jamaica either through new cultural policies, 'Brand Jamaica' strategies or other product-oriented ideas. What are your views?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Travelling Exhibitions and National Art:

At present there seems to be a shortage of travelling exhibitions in Jamaica. For reasons perhaps such as budget restrictions and shortage of the kind of space required before being allowed to host one of these exhibitions. This does something however: it keeps the gallery circuit and the art community closed. The National Gallery with its Biennial and Curator's Eye seeks to invite international curator's and artists to exhibit alongside local artists but the context seems to be innately about Jamaica and its cultural output, from the diaspora or not. Somehow leading to a kind of nationalism in art. It is true that this is one of the main roles of national art museums and galleries but what of privately run galleries?

On the other hand, if you think about the UK and its Young British Artists promotional strategies, the U.S. and its National Endowment for the Arts and Canada and its National Film Board, it seems that the national voice in art is a common policy or strategy. How does this sit with the idea of crossing boundaries and merging of cultures that is popular with theorists today. How can the Jamaican art community find a middle ground or is it a matter of government policy?

There is also the issue that I am even referring to art produced by persons culturally, geographically or historically associated with Jamaica as 'Jamaican' art. Is that valid to even search for the 'Jamaican' element in the equation?