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National Gallery of Jamaica Crackles with Young Talent 2015
Once again the downstairs galleries of the National Gallery of Jamaica in downtown Kingston are crackling with the vibrant energies of ten of Jamaica’s emerging artists. Young Talent 2015 opened on Sunday, August 30, 2015, to the buoyant sounds of Jah9 whose energetic performance laid down the right vibrations for the exhibition opening. Coming in the wake of the inspiring and energetic New Roots (2013), these ten young artists had impressive shoes to fill, and though their art takes a decidedly less political bend, they tread boldly and well in the footprints left behind. These ten young artists are ready to graffiti their names on to Jamaica's artistic landscape.
Jamaica’s art scene continues to go through a fecund period and the works exhibited in Young Talent 2015 signify that it is not yet ready to pause. The exhibition features works by Greg Bailey, Alicia Brown, Katrina Coombs, Di-Andre Caprice Davis, Monique Gilpin, Domanie Hong, Howard Myrie, Richard Nattoo, Avagay Osborne and Cosmo Whyte.
Though many of the artists interrogate personal rather than social politics, Greg Bailey’s pieces dominating the main gallery are among those which focus on the society.
Bailey explores a landscape of psychological imprisonment built from the past. Several of the pieces are marked by black and white stripes pulled from prison uniforms of yesteryear. These stripes often form the background to the image such as with the haunting ‘Recruits’ highlighting how children are groomed into violence. The stripes also make a more understated appearance on the necktie of the evidently corrupt ‘Boasy Slave’.
Bailey’s ‘No Blue Skies in the Land of Sunshine’ is also gripping. The self-portrait which presents a darker, angrier side of the artist that is nowhere evident in his smiling demeanor, is a little disturbing to look at.
In his artist statement, Bailey explains that he is interested in exploring the “[r]ealities of deception, the cultivation of decadence, self-hate, self-glorification as well as the lack of vision to identify with and combat the recurrence of past atrocities.”
Richard Nattoo’s illustrations represent the other end of the spectrum. With no obvious political statements, personal or otherwise, Nattoo’s pieces are striking because of their imaginative flamboyance which urges you to dive into the story each piece tells. They are marvelous pieces of magical realism, with emphasis on the magical.
Working largely with pen and ink on paper, or on glass, Nattoo’s pieces are evocative of the fantastical, creating whole worlds you want to slip into. They present a fabulous journey into the rabbit hole of the artist’s imagination. Approach with caution, you might not want to leave.
Domanie Hong and Avagay Osborne both explore personal trauma, though through different media. Hong combines printmaking with glass to create stirring images of self-reflection. The pieces are presented in three series: The Water Series, The Red Series and The Desert and Textured Series.
Osborne employs fabric and mixed media for her text-based assemblages which she describes as a process of “self-recovery”. The tattered, disjointed and bold words draped down the walls speak about pain and abuse.
In both cases, although the pieces are intensely personal, they hold within them larger meanings that extend beyond the artist. Hong’s is particularly intriguing because of the viewer the opportunity to actually step into the work.
Cosmo Whyte’s installation is particularly notable for the multiple media and the interplay between them, especially that between ‘Punch Drunk Love’ (a found object piece using a shipping rope, soaked in rum, sugar bowl and rum) which is in the foreground of ‘YOU Know WE Can’t Swim Right?’, a photograph. Together the pieces make interesting statements about colonial history, the sea and contemporary realities.
Whyte’s Diptych ‘The Ginal’ an interpretation of the iconic photo shoot of Ivanhoe ‘Rhygin’ Martin in The Harder They Come is also rather striking, turning the quintessential ‘rudebwoi’ into the spider trickster figure and therefore highlighting the similarities between the two.
Though she takes up far less wall space, Alicia Brown’s portraits are equally evocative. Brown uses portraiture to explore issues of identity with particular focus on hair and race. Through her character series, she uses hair as a marker of identity in the face of imitation of other cultures.
Interestingly, unlike previous Young Talent exhibitions, the participating artists were selected after an open call for submissions and the results suggest it was a wise move by the NGJ. Young Talent 2015 offers up a diverse display of talents. Whether these ten young artists are engaged in examining themselves or reflecting and interrogating the society, their artistic fruits demand examination.
Young Talent 2015 continues through to November 14, 2015, at the National Gallery of Jamaica, Ocean Boulevard, Kingston.