If there’s any good news to report from Kingston its from the cultural scene which has been galvanized into action for the second year in a row by KOTE (Kingston on the Edge), an ‘urban art festival’. Titled ‘This is Art’ and dedicated to Chaos, a founding member who checked out prematurely last December, KOTE delivered “visual art shows, movie showings, plays, concerts, an art auction, open houses, digital/multimedia shows and anything else anyone can think of”.
Curiously ‘Galvanize’ was the name of a similar venture in Trinidad and Tobago which took place almost two years ago. Built around a core of nine artists’ projects titled “Visibly Absent”, Galvanize debuted in late 2006 with the aim of becoming an annual or biennial festival. “The ultimate aim of Galvanize is the establishment of a regular (annual or biennial?) series of arts programmes based in Port of Spain…bringing artists, critics, and audiences into fruitful conversations. The presence of several hundred artists and arts administrators in Trinidad in September 2006 for Carifesta IX is the stimulus for starting this project–you could say we’ve been galvanised into action by the resurrection of Carifesta–but this project is best thought of as an independent effort aimed at addressing precisely those questions that Carifesta, with its ‘Independence moment’ origins, seems blind to.”
Likewise KOTE was designed to address: “The relative lack, in Kingston, of outlets for creative and innovative artists” which “combined with the huge surfeit of talent and ideas, means that this Festival is both necessary and inevitable.” Remarkable, isn’t it that two such cultural junctures have been reached in two different outposts of the Caribbean at roughly the same time? Clearly the younger generations have decided that its high time they stake their claim on the culture pie. In years to come its possible to imagine both these events collaborating, creating a chain of creative activity across the region.
Meanwhile Carifesta X is slated to take place in Georgetown, Guyana this August and it is feared will feature the usual, by now graying suspects, patting each other on the back and clapping vigorously at the all too familiar output. Yes, vintage stuff, but unlike wine culture doesn’t always age too well, particularly when it lacks new input.
I went to most of the visual-arts related events offered by KOTE; for a brief moment in time we were treated to the kind of vibrant effervescent atmosphere we ought legitimately to expect from a well-connected and functioning art scene. For years the norm has been for each aesthetic field to operate in mutually exclusive spheres hence you rarely see visual artists at musical, theatrical or literary events and the latter are also visibly absent from visual art events.
For a week KOTE changed all that. On Monday the 23rd there were openings of art shows accompanied by multimedia performances at four of Kingston’s galleries. A small but landmark exhibit at Gallery 128 featured the photographs of the Afflicted One or Peter Dean Rickards, the innovative writer, photographer and editor of First who set off a new wave in image-making some years ago. His former protégé, Observer photographer Marlon ‘Biggy Bigz’ Reid, showcased his award-deserving photograph of the moments after a patron was shot at the British Link Up dance at La Roose some months ago.
Sunday saw the soft opening of The Rock Tower Project with a show called Artists without Borders at the Old Red Stripe Brewery downtown, an awe-inspiringly ambitious venture proposed by sculptor Melinda Brown, who moved her studio from the meat-packing district of NYC to downtown Kingston about three years ago. Following the by now classic model of renovation and resuscitation of abandoned downtown and waterfront areas by visual artists Rock Tower has the potential to intervene creatively and sustainably into the chronic decay and systematic decline of historic downtown Kingston.
Brown, originally from Australia, worked with a group of potters from Rosetown (a community near Trenchtown, Tivoli and other such locations) to produce a host of what she calls ‘Guardians’—terracotta figures displaying a blend of African, Mayan, Chinese and even Etruscan influences—made with clay from Trenchtown and nearby areas. Previously these potters produced flowerpots, which are available by the roadside in various parts of uptown Kingston.
The Rock Tower Project involves the creation of an indoor (as well as outdoor) forest of indigenous medicinal plants as a living sculpture installation. Signaling organic methods of healing and renewal the proposed transformation of abandoned, decomposing spaces into vibrant, green living areas encapsulates one solution to the myriad problems facing Jamaica. The symbolism of literally taking the masses of organic waste from nearby Coronation Market and using it as mulch and compost for the medicinal forest cannot but graphically point in the direction of a much needed regeneration and renewal of society in general.
Thursday the 25th saw the launch at the Art Centre Gallery (formerly the Olympia art centre started by A.D. Scott) of a provocative show curated by Ebony Patterson called “Taboo Identities: Race, Sexuality and the Body—A Jamaican Context”. Featuring a number of younger artists such as Ainsworth Case, Camille Chedda, Sean Gyshen Fennell, Patterson herself and Andrene Lord, the exhibit signaled the arrival of a new generation of visual artists in Jamaica and not a moment too soon. Noteworthy were Fennell’s innovative sewn canvas portraits and Chedda’s playful two-dimensional revisions of Laura Facey’s Emancipation Monument. In one you gradually notice the presence of two penises instead of one, the figures’ heads almost touching each other in what seems like a kiss, a blasphemous idea, considering that this is Kingston, ground zero of homophobes as it were.
Well, i’m fast approaching my self-imposed outer limit of a thousand words so I must draw brakes now and curtail this blog. The next thing looming on the agenda like a veritable tsunami is the Crossroads 2008 conference taking place at the University of the West Indies, Mona, next week. Check it out. Till soon!