Monday, 29 December 2014

BODY OF WORK: The 2014 Jamaica Biennial overflows with kaleidoscopic visuals and boundary-pushing concepts

PRIMARY COLOURS: This year's engrossing exhibit includes hypervivid artworks like "Freedom of Expression" by Andre Woolery and (below) Cosmo Whyte's "Head Boy."

To anyone making the trip down to the National Gallery of Jamaica on Ocean Boulevard to view the works on display at the Jamaica Biennial, "Otherness," Olivia McGilchrist's curiously titled video installation is a must-see. Clocking in at seven months, the clip stars renowned actress-playwright Jean Small and the artist herself exploring a fascinating older woman-younger woman dynamic in non-speaking roles.

The two women, clad in theatrical black, employ graceful gestures as they interact, make eye contact and attempt to deepen what appears to be a freshly developing bond. It's an affecting, stylishly executed piece that dually reflects a spirit of existentialism and ideas ranging from longing and forbidden love to race and womanhood.

"Otherness" is just one of numerous highlights in the blockbuster showcase that's a visual spectacle and a feast for the senses. To say the least, this year's Biennial bounty brims with delightful surprises, edgy eye-openers and provocative statement works that stop you in your tracks. To wit, Philip Thomas' oil on canvas "IMF (u***d)" is an arresting wall piece, emblazoned with dozens of Jamaican one thousand dollar bills and striking human figures, that speaks to the country's precarious dealings with the international money-lending agency.

Then there's Omari Ra's imposing "Woman A Come: The Ascent of Biology and the First Woman"; Trinidadian Richard Mark Rawlins' ingenious acrylic/graphite/chalk piece #DidYouHearYourself; Ramone Johnson's stunning mixed-media glass installation; and Camille Chedda's 'scandalous' "Wholesale Biodegradables" all terrific pieces that find common ground in their near-seamless blend of technique and poignant commentary.
What has always set the Jamaica Biennial apart from other local exhibitions is not just the sizeable scale of the show but the incredible range of works, the eclectic styles and distinctively Jamaican voices that it captures. And this year's presentation is just as deeply engrossing as the ones in years past. 

Visceral wall art, attention-grabbing sculpture, avant-garde photography and hypervivid paintings all vie for your precious minutes, each contributing something meaningful to a conversation spanning religion, sexuality, politics, race, class and history. 

> The Biennial exhibition, rated PG-16, is on view at the National Gallery, Downtown Kingston, through March 15, 2015, with complementary shows running simultaneously at Hope Road's Devon House and the National Gallery West in Montego Bay.

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