Detail from Ebony G. Patterson's The Counting Money HaHa (Counting Lesson Revisited) (2010); mixed media. (Courtesy CRB/NGJ).
"The consensus is that the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Young Talent V survey was a resounding success, marking a decisive shift in artistic ground, not unlike the infamous 1997 Saatchi show Sensation that launched the career of the Young British Artists. "
That is the opening sentence of Annie Paul's review, recently published by the online journal Caribbean Review of Books, of "the latest in a series of exhibitions curated by the National Gallery (of Jamaica) whenever a quorum of noteworthy new talent is aggregated".
The first Young Talent was held in 1985, followed by exhibitions in 1989, 1995, and 2002: "As the catalogue states: “The Young Talent exhibitions have been scheduled whenever the NGJ curators felt that a sufficiently large cohort of promising young artists had emerged to make a strong statement about new directions in Jamaican art." An image gallery on the CRB's new website gives us a glimpse at some of the incredible work in the show and goes a long way to supporting the opening sentence of Paul's review.
But, as a friend of mine who recently checked out the show noted, it also makes one begin to wonder: what exactly is going on in the contemporary art scene in Trinidad and Tobago? Where is our 'Young Talent' series? (I am discounting our annual and often productive student shows). In fact, where is our space for contemporary art, period? Jamaica's per capita GDP is US$4,700, Trinidad's is US$18,864--yet the possibility of a show like Young Talent V happening here this decade at the moment seems...out there.
Don't get me wrong, we have young artists. We have people here doing stuff. But where is it? Out there. Somewhere. Where are the institutions to encourage and display and provoke criticism and discourse? What, exactly, is our National Musuem--which, when it's not moonlighting as a possible administrative headquarters for the Shanghai Construction Group, is often at the mercy of shifting administrations--doing?
In contrast, in Jamaica, judging from Paul's review, they even have room for things like debates about hegemonic artistic classifications into categories like "intuitives":
One drawback of the National Gallery’s conceptualisation of Young Talent is that it allows little room for the inclusion of artists who are neither art school graduates nor sufficiently marooned from art historical “knowledge” to fall into the benighted “intuitive” category. A survey of young talent that overlooks the formidable self-taught polymath Peter Dean Rickards, whose contribution to the visual culture of Jamaica cannot be overemphasised, is missing something crucial, unique, and beyond the rigid scaffolding of traditional art categories. Likewise, I would have expanded the “intuitive” category by including the “sobolious” L.A. Lewis, whose semi-literate graffiti accompanied by his famous tag mark the Kingston landscape as effectively as a male dog marking territory.
It appears as though the Jamaican artists are also embracing the idea of collaboration, something which is not unheard of here, but certainly not common enough:
The artists themselves deserve applause for abandoning the twentieth century preoccupation with “heroic,” individualistic art-making that has such a firm grip on the Jamaican art scene, and engaging in lively conversation with each other. As Poupeye points out in the catalogue, the collaborative approach demonstrated by several artists in the show is unprecedented. This is a group of young artists literally posing for one another, often physically visible in each other’s work, working together instead of against or in spite of each other. Their creativity and productivity are also a tribute to the Edna Manley School of Art, where much of this artistic talent was nurtured.
Artistic talent "nurtured"? "Edna Manley School of Art"? Would be great to have some of that in Trinidad and Tobago. Paul ends her robust review on a thoughtful note:
With their deliberate focus on “the careful craft of showcasing and presenting certain bodies” (shades of L.A. Lewis) — that is, the neglected black body, whether abjectly naked or hyper-accessorised in baroque splendour — artists such as Patterson and Bartley are adeptly shaping a new politics of visibility for the often overlooked or disregarded Caribbean subject.
Some might argue that in Trinidad the artists, themselves "often overlooked or disregarded", must take satisfaction in the sad fact that their marginalisation becomes metaphor for their already marginalised subjects.
READ full review at the Caribbean Review of Books here.