Love & Responsibility

A new book Love & Responsibility celebrates the art of the Bahamas in the private collection of Dawn Davies. The book is a weighty 550 page tome that documents over 1,700 works in Davies' huge collection with scholarly essays by its editor Dr. Erica James. Love & Responsibility is a product of the region that will be appreciated not just in the Bahamas but throughout the Caribbean. Here, we have an audience with an appetite for art that does not rely on North American or European taste for its satisfaction. Dr. James' expert essays tell us a great deal about how this has been possible and why this sense of self-awareness in our art matters. But, her art historical findings  would not have been possible without the reference point of Dawn Davies' fine collection that spans the past century with remarkable historical and contemporary pieces. This book, in its size, scope and subject matter is a first for the region. It sets a precedent for all our collectors and institutions to respect and follow. We thank Dawn Davies for having the foresight, perseverance and a sense of responsibility to make this landmark publication happen.

Under the hammer...

Kudos goes to Hi Qo Gallery in Kingston who hosted the art auction A Selection of Jamaican Works last weekend. Jamaica's art market has been in the doldrums for the past few years, reeling from the depressed economic climate, failed ponsi schemes and a Jamaican dollar valued now at almost $90 - 1 $US.  This sale presented a timely test to see whether the hard times are easing. Organiser Susanne Fredericks selected more than 100 works from two death estates and other works that had come into the Gallery recently. The batch included pieces by significant names such as pioneers Manley, Kapo and Huie as well as younger talent like Khary Darby, and Oliver Myrie.

The event could have benefitted from a more experienced auctioneer who might have offered a more nuanced understanding of works and roused buyers to bid more competetively. Even so, more that 60% were sold successfully with the highest bid for the evening going to Carl Abrahams' Jesus's Miracles (c. 1980) at JA $715,000. Notably, other works around the million dollar mark, such as Huie's Port Henderson (c. 1975) and Edna Manley's Goat (c.1978) were withdrawn suggesting that buyers are still keeping their purse strings tight. Works offered at under JA $100,000 did best while the highpoint of the evening was the lively battle over Eric Cadien's Sleeping Figure (1960), the work shown here estimated at JA $90 – 100,000 that eventually sold for JA $170,000. Auction results suggest that the market is finally moving after a long period of decline but it still has a long way to go before it regains the momentum and values reached before the recession.

About Face

 

When the University of Florida's Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC) approached fellow art historian Claudia Hucke and myself about a show to celebrate Jamaica's 50th Anniversary of Independence, an online exhibition was a logical and exciting choice. We decided to re-examine Face of Jamaica, an exhibition that toured Europe in 1963-4 but was never viewed in Jamaica. Working with Dr. Hucke's research material, the support of dLOC's web designer and permissions from artists, we have been able to reconstruct much of the original exhibition in an interactive multi-media format. On the About Face website, viewers can see the show, look at the original pieces displayed, study its catalogues, and understand how the tour was recieved through newspaper clippings and reviews. Text panels, photography and multimedia such as music and video are all used to help re-envisage this exhibition. With a simple click, we can provide access to an event only previously experienced in Europe. We hope the About Face website can serve as a research tool for understanding how the visual arts supported new definitions of the Jamaican nation. The About Face exhibition remains online for the year of our celebration, after which its material will be archived in dLOC.

Claims to fame

In 2009, when Jamaican artist/photographer Peter Dean Rickards made this video about his discovery and reclaimation of British street artist Banksy's mural on Mona Road, it was a powerful statement about value and how art can be lost in translation from one culture to another. Now, Rickards has destroyed that work, including it in an assemblage created for I is AnOther  an exhibition at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham UK including other contemporary Jamaican artists such as Nari Ward, Storm Saulter, Hurvin Anderson and Ebony G Patterson. Rickard's deliberate destruction of Banksy's work and his 'outing' of the internationally enigmatic artist Banksy has solved a mystery, while also making an ironic statement about Rickard's own claims about fame. View more works in the show.

Too close to call....

 This year's Super Plus Under 40 Artist of the Year exhibition, judges are spoilt for choice with four finalists all showing competitive work at the Mutual Gallery in Kingston. Marvin Bartley and Leasho Johnson have both fulfilled their Young Talent promise presenting work that builds on that 2010 display but with a greater depth of sophistication and maturity. Like film director Woody Allen, Bartley works with a team of models, sensationalised because of their familiarity. He places them against backdrops with multiple writhing bodies that bring to mind renaissance lietmotifs and Caribbean bachanal. Leasho Johnson maintains his hot pink portraits with contemporary cannibalised forms shown here. Meanwhile the two women artists Olivia Mc Gilchrist and Berette Macauley (both trained outside Jamaica) show work that pushes the boundaries of the photography. Mc Gilchrist is the purist with images that are stunning for their colour and crispness, while Macauley is messy deliberately damaging images and obscuring them in lightboxes that add to their drama. That all four artists seem preoccupied with the digital processes, whether in the form of photography, graphic art, compositional manipulation of video-making is indicative of how that generation has absorbed new media into their art-making. Yet, even with all this reliance on technology, most of their works are up-close and personal, telling stories about themselves that are intimate and sometimes shocking. In an age when we can all be stars of our own Facebook pages, these artists raise the bar on portraiture and its presentation.

Send for the connoisseurs....

The recent exhibition of Taino artifacts has set the Jamaican art and archeological world buzzing and split opinions about their authenticity. The cache, unusual in scale and content, makes it difficult to see how they could have escaped the attention of archeologists and researchers worldwide. In fact, Jamaican relics are so rare, that work on this scale would be of national significance and even subject to international cultural patrimony laws. That these pieces have slipped under the radar may be intentional and part of a process of validation. Mounting a display at a swanky hotel, publishing a scholarly sounding article about their origins, and having a VIP open the show are all ways to legitimize them in the eyes of the viewing (and purchasing) public. If radio-carbon testing for stone artifacts is impossible, perhaps its time for one of our leading Taino experts to make a statement about what's real and what's not...?

What lies beneath....?

 

An exhibition of Taino artifacts Treasures of the Ancestral Spirits closes today after a brief six-day display at the Spanish Court Hotel here in Kingston. The private collection of just thirty-five pieces of carved work provides fresh insight into the culture and creativity of Jamaica's original inhabitants and reminds us of how short our occupancy of this island has been since the advent of slavery and colonialism. The Taino's lived here in relative peace, long before the Spanish, British, African slaves, Middle Eastern merchants and indentured Asians created a new and more volotile society here. These native indians, indigenous to the Caribbean and larger continents of North, South and Central America lived close to the land as well as the sea. Their relationship to the spirit world and natural environment is revealed in their intricately carved stonework such as the three ceremonial bowls shown here. Prior to this, displays of Taino work had been limited to mainly woodwork in the collections of the Institute and National Gallery of Jamaica and the contentious zemes held by the British Museum. These pieces from the past, said to be excavated from areas around Dallas Mountain, Yallahs Valley and Port Maria demonstrate that there is a lot more of this culture to be discovered, if we have the resources to dig deeper. Let's hope that the appropriate research and funding can be found to validate their authenticity.

Reggae exhibition raggamuffin style...

Congratulations to Israeli graphic designer Alon Braier winner of the First International Reggae Poster Contest that drew hundreds of participants from around the world. Braier's poster along with nearly 100 more are on show at the National Gallery of Jamaica in an exhibition that organiser Michael Thompson hopes will drum up support for a Reggae Hall of Fame and the Alpha Boys School that has fueled the talents of many of Jamaica's reggae musicians. Braier's poster is a blend of pop art forms and tributes to producers/selectors like Lee Scratch Perry who have done so much to make reggae a global sound. The success of this first venture with participants from eighty countries seems to match the spread of this music form's popularity. Meanwhile, Alon Braier's pleasure at being voted the winner and being present at the exhibition's opening was evident in his words: “As the full list was published I suddenly realized how big this thing is, since then I was really anxious to see what others will come up with....”

The competition was stiff. It's easy to see why the judging of winners was controversial because of the varied poster ideas and the quality of work on display. From the more predictable images of Bob Marley to the use of optics and Rasta color designs, all the posters seemed to reflect reggae's innovative qualities and the music forms ability to cross boundaries. Created online, printed locally and hung inexpensively with bull-dog clips the show shares all of reggae's raggamuffin restiveness and global cool. No doubt, this is a competition to watch and an exhibition that will have currency worldwide. 

Promised land

 

Today, Rex Dixon's abstract paintings are full of Trinidad 'joie de vivre' so different from his brooding, graffiti covered surfaces when he first came to the Caribbean almost 30 years ago. These are effervescent, lava-like, hot colour canvases that reflect little of his earlier experiences in places with trauma and internal strife. His first home in the region was Jamaica where his naughts, crosses and bloody symbols inspired by Belfast and Northern Ireland's civil war found parallels with the political violence in Kingston during that time. This week, Dixon returns to Belfast with art work at the James Wray Gallery that shows how much life and his mood have changed in the past three decades. These brilliant canvases seem to have come full circle returning to Rex's pop art origins: they brim with optimism and a hope for better times.

Race and Representation

 

The sudden postponement of Susan Alexander's exhibition Painted People: The Omo People of Ethiopia is not surprising. It is hoped that organisers will use this time to consider the issues raised by her portraits of young highly decorated African girls. Since the 19th century westerners have been fascinated by the beauty of Omo women. Google them and you will see that capturing them in film and photography has been a preoccupation of ethnographers and anthropologists even as Omo customs have changed in response to modern life. Susan Alexander's paintings are even more capricious since it seems she did not work from live models and because her embellishing is consistent with her use of decoration in Jamaican portraiture. One would have hoped that after living in Jamaica for so many years, Alexander would have been more sensitive to the issues of race and representation that this type of exoticized imagery provokes. The sponsorship and endorsements this exhibition has recieved demonstrates that these are not Alexander's failings alone, but also indicative of a mindset in the art world that supports her.