Jamaica Biennial 2017 – Guide to the Devon House Interventions

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We present additional information on the Jamaica Biennial 2017 exhibition at Devon House. This document will also be available as a free handout at Devon House. Opening hours there are Mo-Fri 9:30 to 4:30 and on the last Sundays of the month from 11 to 4. Admission rates apply. All Jamaica Biennial exhibitions continue until May 28.
Introduction
As was first done in 2014, the Jamaica Biennial 2017 is shown at more than one location. In addition to the National Gallery itself, where the main exhibition is held, parts of the exhibition are shown at Devon House, which was the National Gallery’s original home in 1974, and at National Gallery West in Montego Bay.
For Devon House, we selected five interventions by artists whose work resonates with the history and context of Devon House, particularly its dual connection to Jamaica’s plantation heritage and to social change, as the great house was built in 1881 by Jamaica’s first black millionaire. The selected work is by Andrea Chung, Laura Facey, Jasmine Thomas-Girvan, Sharon Norwood, Deborah Anzinger and Leasho Johnson. All are displayed in the Devon House interior. Some of these interventions are immediately and provocatively visible, while the others are more subtle and may at first be mistaken as being part of the original furnishings. This makes the process of discovery and engagement involved in viewing the Jamaica Biennial 2016 exhibition at Devon House all the more exciting.

Leasho Johnson, In-a-the-Middle
Location: The Palm Hall
In-a-the-Middle is a mixed-media sculptural floor piece that parodies a dancehall party, or more specifically, a “daggering session.” It is comprised of locally made metal ‘dutch’ pots, cast from scrap metal, fluorescent red paint with papier mâchè and ceramic castings of speakers and legs. The title is a derivative of a dancehall song, Inna The Middle performed by ZJ Liquid, which in the local context is referred to as a “gyal song” – that is, a song that speaks mainly to female party-goers. The “dutch” pot in Jamaican culture is a multi-purpose item and is commonly found in most Jamaican homes.
In-a-the-Middle explores female objectification and the male gaze within dancehall culture, compared with a perspective of the woman as nourishment giver, bread winner and home maker, symbolized in part by the use of the “dutch pot.” He states, “I was trying to describe a kind of negative space that is misogynistic [and] that surrounds a female described space… women becoming the weak default of a culture that puts its men on the podium of social ideals”.
(Photo: Randy Richards)

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan, The Table (Parallel Realities Dwelling in the Heartland of My People)
Location: The Dining Room
Awarded the Aaron Matalon Award
The Table (Parallel Realities Dwelling in the Heartland of My People) presents an account of the social, historical and cultural realities of slavery, using various materials and objects. It is set up with a sharp juxtaposition between the indigenous world of Nature, Veve and Taino, against that of Empire with all its assumptions of beauty and civilized behaviour. The Tea Table is laid with fineries like crystal, silverware and China. It lays bare notions of civility in harmony with plunder, murder, rape and genocide, as in the case of the Parsley Massacre in the Dominican Republic in 1937 with its dismembered figures and pools of blood. Historically, the establishment of this Euro-centric status quo has been challenged. This is symbolized in the use of the ‘abeng’, a symbol of subversion by the Maroons as a counter narrative force which disrupts and displaces the genteel setting, celebrating the human capacity for resilience and survival.”


Jasmine Thomas-Girvan, The Real Princess
Location: The Sewing Room
Awarded the Aaron Matalon Award
The Real Princess adorned with a crown from the Mende people with the body like that of a Taino Zemi. On her head, she is accompanied by a bird facing backwards – the symbol of ‘sankofa’, looking backwards to move forward. This real princess challenges the European fairytale, ‘The Princess and the Pea,“ wherein a true princess shows her pedigree by feeling even the smallest discomfort intensely. But the Caribbean Princess story must acknowledge the deep grief of our colonial history. Each drawer represents different moments of this complex history, using poetry, artifacts and imagery to represent the plunder, pillage, genocide various atrocities: the 1937 Parsley Massacre, the Belgian Congo, the Middle Passage etc”.
Sharon Norwood, The Root of the Matter
Location: The Tea Room
“My work often deals with issues of identity where I use hair as a medium to explore complex relationships. My current work, aims to create a dialogue that speak in nuanced ways to issues of race, gender and class. The work interrogates the line which forms the basis of a lot of my work. The curly line at time is a metaphor for the black body while at other times it is the kinky hair. The line serves dually as simple gestural mark making and as racial markers for curly kinky hair. My works are largely experimental as I work intuitively with ideas that inform my process and choice of material; as such, the work exist as paintings, drawings, sculptural forms, digital collages, animation and site specific installations. Oftentimes there is a tendency towards historical objects and narratives that seek to question power structures.”

Deborah Anzinger, A Piercing Void Where We Meet
Location: The Ballroom
“This installation creates the experience of walking into a surreal representation of a female body-landscape. A hole or entry point that is reminiscent of a mouth is rimmed with live Aloe Vera, and has a black tongue-like protrusion flowing from it. At the end of the tongue and surrounding it are mirrors in liquid-like forms.  The installation is bordered and interspersed with Afro-type black hair. “
“Painting, sculpture, environmental art, feminist and race dialectic all meet to raise questions of power, value and existential concerns of the human experience.  How do you occupy space?  Are the body and mind spaces there to be penetrated socially and physically, and/or are they that which we penetrate space with?  How do our perceptions of gender and race influence the answers we come up with?”
(Photo: Randy Richards)

Andrea Chung, Pure
Location: The Master Bedroom and Master Bathroom
Awarded the Dawn Scott Memorial Award
“On a research trip visit to Jamaica in 2013, I collected archival materials, such as midwifery legislation records and birthing records, and interviewed and photographed nana midwives, mothers, and children birthed by nana midwives. I also documented local plants and traditions significant to midwifery. I noted that some of these plants and birthing practices were retentions brought to Jamaica by enslaved Africans.”
“In Pure, I was interested in the misconception that nanas are ‘backwards’ and ‘dirty,’ a description that is rooted in the colonized mind. I casted hands out of black soap and red raspberry tea and these hands are displayed alongside a dry sink.”

Laura Facey, Bumpy Top Desk and Mirror
Location: The Young Girl’s Bedroom
“This piece was inspired by the bumpy mountains in the central region of Jamaica called the Cockpit Country, which was also referred to as ‘The Land of Look Behind.’ This was because, in the 1800s, horsemen, who ventured into this region, were said to have ridden two to a mount, the second rider facing to the rear to keep a precautionary watch against ambush from hostile escaped slaves. The addition of the mirror happened by accident — it took three versions of carving the bumpy top to get it ‘right’. The mirror was the second discarded version!”