Rockstone and Bootheel: Contempory West Indian Art Reviewed

The Hartford Advocate has reviewed Rockstone and Boothell: Contemporary West Indian Art, an art wxhibit in Hartford, Connecticut. Here are some excerpts:

In a stream-of-consciousness game, what would pop into your head upon hearing the words “West Indies”? Blue oceans, beaches, and rum cocktails? Agricultural exports such as sugar, pineapple and Blue Mountain coffee? Or does your memory land you smack dab in Jamaica, with Marcus Garvey, the Rastafarians and the music of Bob Marley?

In Rockstone and Bootheel, the title of which comes from a colloquial expression that means “taking a journey,” Real Art Ways transports us to the English-speaking islands of Jamaica, Bahamas, Barbados, Tobago and Trinidad; specifically, a realm of sights and sounds bearing imprints from America and Africa, much like reggae music that blends indigenous traditions with American pop and African influences.

This multimedia exultation of contemporary West Indian Art is seemingly all-inclusive, even over-indulgent. Jamaican-born curators Kristina Newman-Scot and Yona Backer have enthusiastically gathered representative examples of work by 38 artists with black Carib roots — nearly all were born and raised there — ranging in age from fresh-out-of-art-school 20s to mid-50s. The show marks the U.S. debuts of more than half.

. . .

 Among the most arresting pieces are portraits created in series. Joscelyn Gardner’s color lithographs on frosted mylar are intriguing if overwrought double depictions of flora and the backs of women’s heads with elaborately woven hair. In three roughly life-sized portraits of “gangsta” teenage boys in white tees and jeans who lighten their God-given dark faces, Ebony Patterson plays with notions of masculinity and Christian iconography, mixing photography with other paper media (doilies, floral wall paper, fake flower petals, and gold-painted tampons) and glitter. Selections from photographer Marlon Griffith’s “Powder Box” series focus on teenage girls in school uniforms whose upper chests and throats are stenciled with baby powder — in one instance, the logo of the luxury brand Louis Vuitton, in others, abstract designs. (The chorus to Outkast’s “So Fresh, So Clean” fixed itself in my brain upon seeing them.)

If political grandstanding excites you, there’s plenty. The most vibrant and acerbic work comes from Lawrence Graham-Brown, who tackles homophobia and slave and agricultural labor, among other topics, in his assemblages incorporating fabric — a military shirt, a coffee bean sack — and historic imagery and ephemera, including paper money and coins, and political campaign buttons.

Through March 14, 2010, Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor St., Hartford,  (860) 232-1006, (860) 232-1006, realartways.org; Gallery hours: Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday, 2-9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 2-10 p.m.

For the complete review go to http://www.hartfordadvocate.com/article.cfm?aid=15985

Image: “Re-Identified III,” by O’Neil Lawrence

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