Alice Thorson (Kansas City Star) reviews Ebony Patterson’s latest exhibit “Dy/nas/ty: Ebony G. Patterson” at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art saying that the artist probes beneath the surface of Jamaica’s dancehall culture [see previous post dy/nas/ty • Ebony G. Patterson exhibit]. “Dy/nas/ty: Ebony G. Patterson” continues at Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College, 12345 College Boulevard Overland Park, Kansas, through June 15, 2014. Here are excerpts of Thorson’s review with a link to the full article below:
In the camp and pageantry of her country’s dancehall culture, Jamaican-born artist Ebony Patterson sees much more than spectacle. For Patterson, dancehall is both a window onto working-class Jamaican society and a crucible of vexing social issues and problems.
Gangsters and politicians, macho violence and homophobia, poverty and sexism all occupy a place in these outdoor mass music and dance events. Yet they also serve as a source of empowerment and identity — not to mention a showcase of style — for Jamaica’s economically disadvantaged urban youth.
“Dancehall is ultimately a celebration of the disenfranchised selves in post-colonial Jamaica,” writes leading dancehall scholar Sonjah Stanley-Niaah.
“Young lives in the Caribbean remain under siege, deprived, devalued and even expendable,” Trinidad-based artist Christopher Cozier writes in an essay about Patterson’s work.
Patterson tackles all of these aspects of the dancehall in her exhibit “Dy/nas/ty: Ebony G. Patterson” at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art. The spirit and personalities of these gatherings come alive in her riotously colored and patterned photo tapestries and a tableau-style installation.
Dancehall culture’s “strong gender-bending aspect” fascinates Patterson. It’s always been macho, she said in a recent interview at the Nerman, but the look changed when the metrosexual trend landed in Jamaica in the early 2000s. Before that, “it was problematic for men to be associated with pretty things,” she said. Now “working-class gangs adopt garbs that confound traditional masculinity.”
Her installation of 10 lifesize male mannequins on a chest-high platform covered with floral fabric crackles with this contradiction. Their poses emit challenge and confidence, but it’s their outfits that grab the eye. All is pattern, flowers and rhinestones.
[. . .] The earliest work, “Entourage” from 2010, is a digital photograph printed on a nylon banner; the others are lavishly embellished photo tapestries. All are part of her “Fambily” series. Their topic is the role of the gang as a surrogate family, but the models are all people Patterson knows. Now based in Lexington, Kentucky, where she teaches in the painting department at the University of Kentucky, Patterson was raised in Kingston.
[. . .] “I’m using dancehall signage to talk about something more complex,” she said. “I’m interested in looking at the structure in which masculinity and ideas of maleness are learned.” That structure is the gang. As Patterson observed, in a culture often lacking a male paternity figure, the gang leader becomes a surrogate father.
[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this article to our attention.]