Sweater - Nari Ward
It’s been five decades since Jamaicans got royally tired of the British Empire’s foot trampling over them, giving them the boot out of their island paradise for good. While the withering dissolution of our worldwide watermark may bring tears to the eyes of twitchy nationalists, anyone with a healthy supply of oxygen to the head would agree it was about time to jet off.
While independence brought unchained politics to the country, it gave the arts more air to breathe as it burst from the seams of the country to the rest of the globe. Having said that, it still gave rise to plenty of cartoonish stereotypes that lives on to help sell cheap rum and bland table sauce on the telly, which makes you wonder whether Jamaican culture still gets the right kind of mainstream attention. I is Another at the New Arts Exchange, rather than unquestionably celebrate the fifty year freedom as a response instead rummages at what it really meant to make “Jamaican”.
The first things you’ll see as you enter are a path of towering monoliths, scattered across the ground floor galledry hall by the multi-talented Nari Ward. Nestled together in a strewn path around the room, the atmosphere they create is something like the battered and abandoned feel of a scrapyard. Look a little closer and you’ll see that each are punctured like huge domino, arranged like an obese Rude Goldberg machine.Each of the small numeral engravings are hollowed out and filled with bright fabrics and materials that betray each structure’s daunting presence.
Domino Men - Nari Ward
This sarcophagal imagery Ward sees as an allusion to the domino effect of releasing a country from prisms of oppression that brings an inevitable human cost. It’s a weirdly ephemeral and confrontational piece, the coldness of it hiding a personal and political message that is neither too obvious nor closeted.
He’s also provided two films, Sweater and Jaunt - the former, a 7 minute shot of the artist broiling under the sun while the other gorgeous shots of the Carribean ocean taken during a fishing trip. Both require some patience to appreciate (little happens in either) but they make it profoundly clear that Ward sees the struggle to cultural identity as something long, painful and tiring, as if he’s struggling with the certainty of its merit.
Back of a Boy - Marcia Michael
The highlight was a little more conspicuous however, hanging alongside the gallery’s staircase walls. Marcia Michael’s photography exhibit Study of Kin, evokes a more instinctive portrayal of Jamaican lifestyles with a string of gorgeously captured black and white portraits of her family. Everyone postures in the way that Victorian photographers used to record their encounters with native people as curiosities. Michael shoots with the same style but the light and dark captured in the cracks and wrinkles of her sitters’ face capture a life in them that settles strangely with their almost scientific poses, bridging the gap to its colonial ancestry.
What I is Another appears to ask is then is what really has changed since the 60s? Have things improved, how far has the country divorced itself from occupational rule or is that even the goal in establishing a unique identity? It’s something that will hopefully be explored as the exhibition continues with a follow up-show but this taster has turned out be much better than a quizzical introduction.