Jamaican Biennial: Cocktails With Renée Cox

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This interview with performance artist and activist Renée Cox appeared in Jamaica’s Observer.

The award-winning provocateur Renée Cox popped into the island, last week, for her Jamaica Biennial 2014 solo exhibition Sacred Geometry, which is now on view at the new Second City extension of the National Gallery of Jamaica, National Gallery West. The Rock-born New York photographer, curator, performance artist and political activist enjoyed a languid respite in the historic eastern capital of Port Antonio, where SO engaged her, over spicy sips of ginger beer, on matters concerning her second love (her first being French-born banker hubby Nicolas Chareton); social engagement; and her unapologetic affinity for the lush, off-the-beaten-track tourist magnet that is Portie.

What kind of day are you having?

Fabulous rainy day in beautiful Port Antonio.

What are your beauty essentials?

Lip balm and insect repellent.

Describe your personal style.

Afro-futurist.

Who does your hair?

I do.

Who does your nails?

Soho Nails & Spa in Manhattan, New York City.

LBD or Jeans?

Jeans.

Flats or stilettos?

Flats.

What perfume are you spritzing?

Chanel No 5.

If you could go back in time, which pioneering photography great would you love to apprentice with and why?

I guess there are two, one would be Deborah Turbeville and the other, Richard Avedon. I really admire their visual styles and that they were able to push the limits of fashion photography in their time and do inventive things.

As a political activist, what’s your take on the tumultous racial atmosphere currently inciting discussion in the States at the moment.

What’s interesting to me is that I did a piece 21 years ago called The Pietà — inspired by Michelangelo’s work of the same name — that addresses these same concerns and issues surrounding the African-American male in American society. At the time, The New York Times also ran the photograph in conjunction with a film that I’m featured in called Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People which investigates African-American photography since the beginning of photography. These situations were happening 21 years ago and unfortunately haven’t changed. But thanks to the proliferation of social media we now hear about these cases and no longer have to mine through books in a library to find out these statistics.

How does the cosmopolitan New Yorker Cox maintain her connection to her Jamaican roots?

One, staying in touch with friends and family, and returning to The Rock as much as I can. Two, I can always be found perusing shops in Brooklyn, on the hunt for ackee and breadfruit. I make a very mean salt fish and ackee; giving you all the African liberation colours of the red, the yellow and the green reflected in the peppers that are used in the dish.

What has been the legacy of arguably your most controversial piece Yo Mama’s Last Supper?

I don’t think nudity is a big deal. I don’t think so now and I didn’t think so then, but obviously for some people, they find it offensive. And since there has already been a precedent set with pieces such as my work, it gives emerging artists greater artistic licence to be able to express themselves the way they see fit. In my youth, I attended Catholic school and the message that I got was we are all created in the likeness of God and so when they took offence to me playing that role, I think it was a slap in the face not only for black folk but also for women.

Is the Christmas spirit something you give yourself over to or do you interrogate its relevance?

I think the thing that I hate about it is the commercialism. However, I do like the opportunity for family to come together.

What does the current staging of the Jamaica Biennial 2014 say about the state of Jamaican art?

I have to say I was very excited by and very pleased with the Biennial. It was very well done by Veerle Poupeye and O’Neil Lawrence. I felt a lot of positive energy coming from the show; a lot good work; and talented artists. It was top-notch — rivalling anything that I’ve seen globally in terms of biennials.

What is your inspiration?

The universe.

Where do you go to unwind?

Port Antonio.

What’s your idea of the perfect man?

My husband.

What’s your idea of the perfect date?

Nicolas and I enjoy inviting friends over for dinner and entertaining at home. Being married for as long as we have, since 1980, we’re beyond dating (laughs).

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

On top of the world.

HANDBAG ESSENTIALS

Wallet

Lip balm

Afro pick

Apple MacBook

Sunglasses

Canon PowerShot G15

Apple iPhone 6

For the original report go to http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/lifestyle/Cocktails-With-Renee_18123090

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