Making Sense of a Clashing Anglo-Jamaican Upbringing Through Art

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A report by Andrew Nunes for The Creators’ Project.

Although currently based in London, Hurvin Anderson possesses an inherent cultural duality, coming from an entirely Jamaican family but growing up in Birmingham, an Afro-Caribbean hub in the UK in the 1970s. Piecing together his disparate cultural identity has been a main theme of the artist’s work, and his ongoing exhibition Foreign Body, currently on view at New York’s Michael Werner Gallery, is no exception.

Presenting a series of works that fuse figurative painting with abstraction, Anderson incorporates references to nature, civil and human rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and even images of Bob Marley in his typically enormous canvases. In other moments in Foreign Body, the artist downsizes his scale greatly and even jumps from painting to photographic assemblage, as seen in Studio Drawing 22, although no matter the medium or size, his themes and references remain within the same realm.

Though not immediately apparent, the works in Foreign Body relate to Anderson’s personal history and vivid memories from his childhood. Anderson was “the last of eight siblings born to a Jamaican family. All my elder siblings were born in Jamaica, while I was born in the UK. This fact has always created a kind of tension for me and raised many questions,” the artist reveals to The Creators Project. “However, my practice is no longer just about personal exploration, but also about the meeting of two ideas or ways of being.”

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An anecdote from growing up in Birmingham poetically ties the works together: “For the past two-to-three years, I have been examining two main ideas. One is the family story of my brother, who would go scrumping for apples in Birmingham. The other is my experience of seeing young boys scrumping for mangoes in Jamaica on one of my early visits there,” Anderson says.

“The parallels with my own brother were clear, and it became a preoccupation of mine: the idea of my brother somehow existing out of time or place, and the notion of time travel. The two images became intrinsically linked for me, and a lot of these works are dealing with the overlaps, crossovers, and divergences of the two realities,” he says.

Suddenly, the recurring images of fruit-bearing trees in many of Anderson’s works begin to make sense. They are ways of exploring differences and similarities between cultural viewpoints and overarching themes of human synchronicity: how very similar realities incarnate slightly differently throughout the world. The artist’s memories and family stories become larger lenses through which to examine the cultural nuances of the world-at-large.

Foreign Body is on view at Michael Werner Gallery until January 14, 2017.

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