Monday, August 13, 2012

Mississauga art exhibit in spans 50 years of Jamaican creativity

Mississauga art exhibit in spans 50 years of Jamaican creativity

23 July 2012 No Comments

Celebrating Jamaica 50
Contemporary Jamaican Art, CIRCA 1962 | CIRCA 2012
Continues to September 8, 2012
By Anya Wassenberg
From nationalist expression to the more individualistic preoccupations of contemporary artists anywhere, like identity, gender and class, the Art Gallery of Mississauga’s summer show traces the evolution of Jamaican art in the 50 years since its independence as a nation.

Guest curated by Dr. Veerle Poupeye, Executive Director at the National Gallery of Jamaica, the work represented includes that of artists from the Jamaican Diaspora as well as those who continue to make Jamaica their home. It features a nice sampling of work by the artists now considered hugely influential in the period around Independence in 1962, juxtaposed with the work of the next generation of up and coming artists from the 21st century.

The show is lively and entertaining and includes sculpture, video and multimedia works along with paintings and photography.  It begins in the hallway with artists from the Nationalist Movement and those who were working just at the time of Independence — David Pottinger, Albert Huie, Barrington Watson, and others. Their works from the years 1959 to 1966 are largely figurative and realistic, and depict scenes of ordinary life. They helped define what it meant to be Jamaican in vibrant colours and in the simplified artistic vocabulary of modernism. Barrington Watson’s Washer Women (1966) uses bold, saturated colours and big shapes in a vibrant composition.

Eugene Hyde is an artist who straddled both the realistic and abstract worlds, and the show includes 1959’s captivating Banana Man along with his abstracted and expressionistic Standing Figure of 1964. Others, like Carl Abrahams’ Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah use a non-Western visual vocabulary in adaptations of the icons and forms of the African continent. The show also includes two Edna Manley sculptures, her figurative Bogle Maquette of 1965 and a regal terracotta Tyger (1963).
Left: Barrington Watson, Washer Women (1966), NGJ Collection. Right: Leasho Johnson, Territorial Fad, panel I (2010), from the collection of Storm Saulter

There are some interesting connections among the contemporary works represented. Both Ebony J. Patterson and Toronto-based Dionne Simpson work with fibres in intricate and compelling ways. In Dionne Simpson’s Under Construction, four self-portraits begin with string irregularly woven on a frame which is then then lacquered, then painted, then embedded with tiny images, words or commercial icons. The resulting images shimmer with layers of texture and meaning.

Likewise, the photo tapestries of Ebony J. Patterson, (in the show, Wi Oh So Clean from the Fambily Series revisited — 2012,) feature layers of materials. They begin with staged photography that is then woven into fabric. The result is embellished with jewels, pearls, glitter and paint, among other things. The images come from a preoccupation with the construction of male identity in dancehall culture and they’re quite stunning in their complexity. For both artists, a detailed process produces dazzling results.

Photography is an important element of Jamaican contemporary art and it’s used in diverse ways to explore both identity and physicality. In an image by artist Marlon James, Ebony J. Patterson is almost unrecognizable in hip hop guise. Toronto-based Michael Chambers’ image comes from his iconic The Box series, using the human body in the frame of a confined space that emphasizes its beauty. History is revisited in Marvin Bartley’s photographic composition The Great Rape (2011), depicting women draped like heroic fallen warriors over the arms of soldiers in 19th century neo-romantic style.

Other highlights include Petrona Morrison’s 5 channel video installation revolving around the violent riots of 2010 in Kingston which surrounded the extradition of Chris Coke to the United States on drug charges. Petrona, (whose first art education came at Hamilton’s McMaster University,) includes found images, news footage and text in a compelling display. A painting by Leasho Johnson – Territorial Fad (2010) – produces one of the show’s most vibrant images — that of two dogs at each other’s throats on a kinetic field of bright orange and green zigzags. It’s a study in dramatic composition and immediately draws the eye.

Posted QR codes feature access to interviews and lectures by the show’s artists, curator and others. The gallery is featuring a series of events designed to enhance the experience of the show that continues all summer long.

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