Thursday, 5 June 2014

GETTING HER DUE: Jamaican women artists resume the quest for recognition and respect

SHOW YOUR COLOURS: Patterson's 2013 work Strange Fruitz appearing on the April cover of Frieze.

For its April 2014 cover, Frieze, one of the world’s leading magazines dedicated to contemporary art and culture, featured the work of a Jamaican artist for the first time – a strikingly visceral image by Ebony G. Patterson, whose work, incidentally, also graces the latest Jamaica Journal cover. For noted art critic and scholar Nicole Smyth Johnson, the coup “marks a significant achievement and indicates the extent to which art in the region is gaining international attention.” 

In another crucial respect, Patterson’s accomplishment represents a major boon for Jamaica’s women artists who’ve long struggled to match the kind of lofty recognition usually accorded their male counterparts in the post-Edna Manley era. Still, though the Jamaican art world remains a largely male-dominated territory, our women artists continue to shine, contributing soundly to the national conversation. 

“I think Jamaican women artists have more of a voice now than we did yesterday,” observes painter Pam Hunt-Bromfield, who was among the more than 74 artists on show at Sunday’s Liguanea Art Festival at the Chinese Benevolent Association in St. Andrew. Of that number, roughly 35 booths were run exclusively by women artists. 

“In terms of the support level for men as opposed to women in Jamaica, Hunt-Bromfield continues, "I don’t see much of a difference today. What I find that matters is whether you have a name already established in the business. If not, then it becomes a bit harder to gain recognition. So you have to be careful how you price your work and stuff like that.” 

Fresh-out-of-college talent and newbie art teacher Tamarra Kirkpatrick, who was making her debut at the festival on Sunday, hums a slightly different tune with a more global strain. “I still don’t think us women get the recognition we deserve, even in this day and age,” the 22-year-old Columbus College of Art and Design grad argues. “When I was away at college, I took a feminist course and they talked about how even the big museums like MoMa [The Museum of Modern Art] still carries only a small percentage of women artists while the majority are white males. So it’s not just a Jamaican thing. It’s a reality everywhere.” 

In spite of the myriad challenges that the local art community on a whole is grappling with, Katrina Abrahams-Clarke remains optimistic, pointing out that young and emerging talents like herself are determined to show that the road ahead for Jamaican art is bright, and increasingly so thanks to the attention and opportunities afforded them by such platforms as the annual Liguanea Fest, the JCDC National Visual Arts Competition and the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Biennial, to name only a few. 

As for the women eyeing their big break, she says they need only look to the icons who’ve been paving the way. “Say, for example, Seya Parboosingh, she’s just as celebrated as her husband [Karl] and artists like P.J. Stewart are well-supported as well,” Abrahams-Clarke notes. “As a young artist I feel very well-supported. My pieces are already in collections internationally, and I’m encouraged by that.”  

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