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, 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.