Thursday, 28 April 2016

SCREEN GEMS: The National Gallery’s ‘Digital’ showcase pays testament to the changing visual art landscape

SPACES AND PLACES: Henri Tauliat's "Flying Parade," one of the featured works in the show.

The National Gallery of Jamaica consistently raises the bar and pushes the boundaries with each new blockbuster exhibition that they mount. They’ve managed to do just that once again with their latest showcase, Digital, an engrossing celebration of how digital media and technologies are revolutionizing the contemporary visual art landscape.

Populated by over 50 works, it’s full of compelling concepts, powerful imagery and unique stories delivered by artists rapidly ascending to the height of their creative powers (Olivia McGilchrist, Oneika Russell) and some on-the-rise talents (Richard Nattoo, Jik-Reuben Pringle) who are blessed with fascinating ways of seeing.

Overall, it’s a mixed bunch of entrants – Jamaican, Caribbean Diaspora reps and a handful of international voices – but there’s an undeniable sense of genius in all of them.

For us, the filmmakers make the most lingering impression. Among our favourites: Trinidad’s Patricia Mohammed won us over with “Seventeen Colours and a Sitar,” her well-made musician-and-artist-in-conversation short (35 minutes) which, at its core, is an exploration of artistic sensibilities, delving into the techniques and approaches of two masters of their respective crafts. Of a lighter complexion, Mohammed’s “Coolie Pink and Green” explores Trini tradition (dance in particular) and natural beauty yielding some breathtaking results.

Known for his mojo behind the camera, Nile Saulter delivers the seven-minute-long triumph “Everblessed,” which examines the increasingly blurred line between dancehall and the church in Jamaica, the sacred and the profane. Pringle admirably tackles single fatherhood with the strongly acted “Day One.”

Elsewhere inside the sprawling gallery, you find a feast of diversity and dynamism. Prize-winning author Jacqueline Bishop (also an artist of some repute) submitted the nostalgic photographic video “Bodies of Water”, dedicated to her grandmother. Sheena Rose turned to GIF animation for her pieces “History”, “Mr. Fox and She” and “Diamond and the Artist” – all full-bodied statements about her experiences as a Caribbean woman coming of age in Barbados. In every room there’s something to engage the senses and provoke thought, conceived in a variety of digitally-inflected media (collages and illustrations, GIF animation, digital prints, photographic videos and video installations, etc.)

“Digital media has arguably been the fastest growing field in contemporary visual art and has been an area of major innovation and experimentation,” the gallery’s executive director Veerle Poupeye explains. “While traditional art media, such as painting and sculpture, continue to flourish and receive significant support in the Caribbean, there is now strong focus on digital technologies in contemporary art. This has led to new and very productive dialogues and exchanges of which this present exhibition is in fact a product.”

What’s more, ‘Digital’ marks a first for the National Gallery. “This is the first submission-based exhibition at the National Gallery that was open to the Caribbean and the Caribbean Diaspora, and we also received entries from Jamaicans living in other parts of the world,” Poupeye tells TALLAWAH. “So it’s almost a global exhibition, and we are very happy about that.”

> ‘Digital’ is on view at the National Gallery of Jamaica, Downtown Kingston, from April 24 to July 4, 2016.

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