Diasporan artists explore identity, power and fantasy

Curated by Kathryn Buford & Oneika Russell

Read the Editor's intro to Pendulum

 Pendulum features international and multi-generational artists of various genres to explore identity, power and fantasy in a world in which their lived experiences and art are not always recognized by leading authorities and institutions in the art world. The recent biennial at Jamaica's National Gallery can be seen as a mega-exhibition showcasing several local artists to an international crowd made primarily of art critics, galerists and elite enthusiasts. Recently the National Gallery has been on a drive to become more internationally reflective and edgy or 'contemporary' in the work it shows. However, there remains an element of exclusivity in their selection. Galerist Nicole Smythe-Johnson posed the question as to who the biennial serves in terms of the artists featured and the artists asking, "Is this about showing 'local art' to 'internationals,' or showing 'international art' to 'locals'? And to what end?" The question events like biennials seems to always raise is: "Who is on display for whom?" In this sense, Pendulum is a response to the biennial. The artists featured here are primarily self-starters who have built organic followings and a growing online presence. Although most of these artists have participated in physical exhibitions, in keeping with the ways in which these artists have used the Internet as a strategic tool to connect with and grow their audience, Pendulum is a virtual exhibition.

The works of Pendulum featured artists speak to the lives of the unreconciled; to the passions, dreams, pleasure and pain of those misconstrued and unheard in the art world and society at large. Photographers like Delphine Diallo have made this clear in her artist statement and emphasis on women and people of African descent and mixed heritage in her work. She intends to make her models iconic and classic through an emphasis on portraiture and the inherent timelessness of black and white photography. The artists in Pendulum share an interest in representing their own lived experiences as they relate to broader collective experiences of women and people of African descent. Mixed media artists like Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe uses mixed media installation to explore her Jamaican grandfather's childhood separation from his mother. Others are founding members of larger social initiatives like Michael Thompson, graphic designer and creator of the International Reggae Poster Contest, which aims to establish a Reggae Hall of Fame and performance arts center in Kingston to support the creative economy and Jamaican artists. Ivorian artist, Paul Sika, communicates a similar visionary quality through cinematic imagery that combines photography and film-making, to tell thoughtful stories of young African men and women exploring romantic love, joy in the face of struggle and spiritual growth.

In this exhibition, pendulum can be considered a double entendre. The pendulum metaphor is often used to explain the connection between diversity and unity and matter and spirit. In this sense, Pendulum combines artists of various backgrounds and mediums who share common experiences and aims as storytellers. The exhibition can also be seen as a critique of the back and forth nature of a pendulum, referencing how fads go in and out of style. While the perspectives and objectives of National Gallery authorities may change, these artists works are primarily at the effect of external and internal waves and shifts, within themselves and society at large, not solely within the arts scene. 
- Kathryn Buford 

The work selected for Pendulum can be seen below.

Delphine Diallo - www.delphinediallo.com

Michael Thompson - http://freestylee.net/

Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe -  www.malaikabsl.com


Brianna McCarthy - www.briannamccarthy.com

Dawn Okoro - www.dawnokoro.com

Paul Sika - www.paulsika.com

Afua Richardson - www.afuarichardson.com

Kathryn Buford is a writer, curator and scholar. In 2012 she partnered with
International Reggae Poster Contest, VP Records, Big Magazine and Alpha Boys’
School of Jamaica to host one of the most highly attended exhibitions at the Embassy
of Jamaica in Washington, DC. She was also a co-curator and copywriter for “30
Women Creators We Love/#30WCR8,” in partnership Afro and Afro-Diaspora Art
Talks and TheNuBlk.

Kathryn co-founded Live Unchained, an international arts organization providing in-
depth written features and events showcasing artists across the African diaspora,
emphasizing women. Kathryn also helped design, facilitate and curate an art
initiative at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to raise funds for a
Live Unchained awards ceremony honoring Somali poet, Warsan Shire. Over 100
artists from more than 16 countries have been featured at www.liveunchained.com,
including exclusive interviews with Ava DuVernay, director of Selma and Whippa
Wiley of Fear & Fancy and Janelle Monáe’s Wondaland Arts Society.
Her writings on art and culture have appeared in TRUE, Good, Afropunk and various
other outlets.

She is currently a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Maryland,
College Park. Her dissertation explores how black women cultural entrepreneurs
define success and is chaired by Dr. Patricia Hill-Collins.


  1. Fascinating. thanks. some of the artists you feature are really good. and the idea of a digital counter-biennial is a good one.

  2. Thank You Annie, We are hoping Pendulum can become something else as well.


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