Akeem Smith debuts ‘No Gyal Can Test’

Nelson King (Caribbean Life) writes about Jamaican artist Akeem Smith and the debut of his first solo installation “No Gyal Can Test,” now on view at Red Bull Arts, located at 220 West 18th Street in (Manhattan) New York.

As his first solo presentation-cum-retrospective, Jamaican-born, Brooklyn resident Akeem Smith debuts an installation of new works at New York’s Red Bull Arts centered on his extensive archive accumulated over the last decade as a monument to the promise and legacy of dancehall music.

Traversing the slippages between memory, the archive and history, “No Gyal Can Test”, according to Red Bull Arts, excavates the personal photographs and videos entrusted to Smith over the past decade by family members, friends and prominent figures at the heart of Kingston, Jamaica’s dancehall community. Pulling its title from a hand-written note scrawled on the back of a photo sent to his father, Red Bull Arts told Caribbean Life that the exhibition “draws upon Smith’s experience growing up between New York and Kingston in an attempt to record a collective memory that exists at the edges of the artist’s own.”

In his first solo exhibition, an homage to the women who raised him, Red Bull Arts said Smith presents two video installations and a series of large-scale multimedia interventions formed from salvaged architectural remnants transplanted from Kingston. “Carefully housed within these vessels like relics, the archival photographs, videos, ephemera and period artifacts coalesce as a lyrical reconstitution of a social world gone but not yet forgotten,” Red Bull Arts said. Largely absent from institutional archives, it said documentation of Jamaica’s popular movements is still commonly seen in the eyes of Jamaica’s socio-economic elite as “unwanted clutter rather than treasured national heritage.”

Red Bull Arts said Smith counters this through the construction of “monumental reliquaries, which house these corroding testaments within the material landscape of corrugated zinc, tarp, repurposed wood and breeze blocks from which they came.”

“Composed of the marked, residual traces of a former life, these structures are also ruin in reverse, and the possibilities once envisioned within them are rejuvenated with renewed hope,” Red Bull Arts said.

Falling into the abstract time of memories and dreams, it said Smith places the viewer somewhere between “formerly imagined (and now remembered) utopias and a distant, nostalgic future both entropic and far away.”

Red Bull Arts said this exhibition would not have been possible without the trust of innumerable members of the dancehall community and their faith in Smith’s artistic vision. [. . .]

For full article, see https://www.caribbeanlifenews.com/jamaican-artist-akeem-smith-debuts-no-gyal-can-test/

[Akeem Smith’s “No Gyal Can Test” installation at Red Bull Arts New York, 2020. Photo by Dario Lasagni.]

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