Ebony Patterson: Jamaican artist asking tough questions


Artist Ebony G. Patterson had pretty much done what she set out to do in her art based on women’s bodies, James Chute writes in this article for utsandiego.com.

She had recently graduated from Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts in her hometown of Kingston, Jamaica, and had taken what were the explorations of a “young woman trying to figure things out” as far as she could.

“Essentially, undergrad (at Washington University in St. Louis) it was torsos; by the end of grad school, I was at vaginas, and a year after that I was at breasts,” said Patterson, soon after arriving from Kingston at Lux Art Institute, where she’ll be in residence through May 2.

Ebony G. Patterson

When: In residence through May 2; on exhibit through May 30

Where: Lux Art Institute, 1550 S. El Camino Real, Encinitas

Admission: $5

(760) 436-6611 or luxartinstitute.org

“It’s like I was thinking I solved whatever problems I was trying to figure out for myself through that body of work.”

As she was considering where to go from there, she came across a tabloid article about men lightening their skin to elude the police.

“While the police would be looking for a dark-skinned person, really what’s out there is a much lighter-skinned person,” she said. “With my prior interests in the female body and dialogues around beauty and the grotesque and the body, that article started to get me thinking in a slightly different direction.”

Skin lightening has a long history that goes back to the days of plantations, with the idea that the whiter a slave’s skin, the greater chance he or she would be employed in the “master’s house,” according to Patterson. The practice was later appropriated by the fashion industry.

“You flip through any Ebony Magazine during the 1960s and you’ll see the ads for skin bleaching creams alongside ads on how to do your hair,” said Patterson, who also teaches at the University of Kentucky (she divides her time between Lexington and Kingston).

She was fascinated that this practice associated with feminine beauty, which had also been taken up by gay men, was now used by gangsters, who were considered among the most macho elements of Jamaican society.

“Anything that happens on the female body, and then (you find it) happening on the male body, raises questions about the gender of the male,” she said.

She found an ideal space to study those questions in the vibrant, working-class dance hall culture in Jamaica, which has an indelible presence in her art.

In the dance hall, she found not only skin lightening, but men shaping their eyebrows and wearing bright, tight clothes, among other things.

“The dance hall space, very much like the hip-hop space, is a very patriarchal, a very macho space,” she said. “So then what does it mean to use these kinds of feminine gendered ways of manicuring the body on top of the male frame?”

That’s what she’s exploring in her shiny, brightly colored, bling-saturated mixed-media artworks. You can provide your own answers.

The work Ebony G. Patterson will be creating at Lux is part of her “Dead Treez” series, which incorporates pictures she’s found on social media sites that some may find inappropriate, including victims of shootings and accidents, which have become increasing popular on the Internet.

“I’m trying to implicate the viewer,” she said. “They are really beautiful, they are really shiny, just like the tapestries (on exhibit), but then you start to look a little further and you realize you are looking at something that maybe you shouldn’t be engaging in the way that you are.”

For the original report go to www.utsandiego.com/news/2015/apr/08/lux-art-institute-ebony-g-patterson/

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