An Interview with Olivia McGilchrist


Clelia Coussonnet interviews Jamaican artist Olivia McGilchrist for Uprising News (news on contemporary Caribbean art), underlining the multicultural background and experiences that inform her work. Here are excerpts:

As an introduction, could you briefly present yourself?  Born in Kingston (Jamaica) in 1981 to a French mother and a Jamaican father and educated in France and the U.K., I moved back to Jamaica in 2011 after completing a Photography M.A. at the London College of Communication (2009-2010). Since this sudden return, my current practice has incorporated my body, remapping it within the tropical picturesque through photographic tableaux and multi-layered videos. I have indulged my alter-ego Whitey in her appropriation of this space of utter difference; Jamaica; by exploring trans-location and physical expressions of emotional states in the search for my cultural identity.

The character Whitey is central in your three last series, my dear daddy, Ernestine and me and Sudden White. Why have you created such a masked alter ego of yourself?  Whitey is what they call me, Olivia, on the streets of Kingston. Mainly playing on certain stereotypes of Caribbean people’s perception of ‘whiteness’; I become the ‘uptown girl’, the ‘insider-outsider’, and a confused ‘yardie’, etc. But this is more than just about my skin tone. This character which I have named Whitey, re-appropriates the long lost family home and ‘exotic’ landscapes alongside collaged images of my late father, grand-father and his parents. They hover in the space they once inhabited, as I re-compose my personal archive. [. . .]

How do you deconstruct the stereotypes on race, gender or identity in your artworks? They integrate a lot of your personal narratives, family memories and your own experiences as a white young woman in Jamaica. [. . .] Since returning to live in Jamaica, most of my photographs and videos have been questioning the shifting spaces in which Whitey belongs. Whitey has become my alter-ego, a character created for the project entitled ‘my dear daddy’, as a coping mechanism to portray uncomfortable feelings as a returning female Jamaican resident of white complexion. The performative aspect within the work traverses two strands of personal experience which Whitey embodies with varying degrees of engagement: the female body in a post-modern space and white post-colonial creole identity. [. . .]

You are both of French and Jamaican heritage, and grew up in France and the UK. Since 2011, you have been working in Kingston. Did you feel you needed to go back to Jamaica and/or reconnect with your cultural background there?  The longer I stay in Jamaica, the more I realize how French I am, even though I have always taken issue with the French side of me. France is where I grew up, watched cartoons on TV, went to high-school and became an adult. However I also spent ten very formative years in London, which were instrumental in shaping my creative voice.

Initially, my coming back was related to a family house, and I was rather unaware of the level of questioning that being here would trigger on such a deep level. I had always considered coming back at some point and in 2011 everything fell into place organically, prompting me to discover and define myself as a Jamaican.

For full interview, see

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