Jamilah Sabur’s “DADA Holdings”

[Many thanks to Auro Fraser for bringing this item to our attention.] The full title of this article by Melissa Smith (Artnet) is “How an Aluminum Mine in Jamaica Became the Conceptual Core of Breakout Artist Jamilah Sabur’s New Miami Show.” Smith spoke with the Jamaican artist on the occasion of her latest exhibition “DADA Holdings,” on view until January 8, 2022, at Nina Johnson gallery (6315 NW 2nd Avenue, Miami, Florida).

Jamilah Sabur approaches her artistic practice the same way a mathematician solves an unproven theorem: through a slow, methodical “long exploration,” as she calls it, done over many years. Since her time as an undergrad, “it feels like I’ve been working through the same thing,” Sabur says. “It’s like this one, continuous [line where] everything folds into itself.” And it will take her “50 or 60 years,” she guesses, to really make sense of what that thing is. So at the age of 34, the artist is only just getting started.

Given the depth of Sabur’s conceptual preoccupations, it is no surprise that she refuses to confine herself to one medium. She once said she has “an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach,” putting “every damn thing in there like a mind map.”

Early in her career—around the time she was working on an MFA degree at UC San Diego— she was dabbling in experimental filmmaking, but Sabur refuses to be hogtied to the genre. Two years after her debut solo show at Miami-based Nina Johnson Gallery, which featured a series of sculptural wall pieces, her latest exhibition there, “DADA Holdings,” focuses on paintings and should be considered in tandem with Bulk Pangaea, Sabur’s video installation in this year’s edition of Prospect New Orleans. Her work has also been included in “The Willfulness of Objects,” a group show featuring works by an all-star line-up of artists from the Bass Collection in Miami Beach.

Given the back-to-back culmination of these projects, Sabur admits to feeling a bit frazzled; she feels like she’s now “deep underwater.” The reference seems fitting given how strongly geology factors into her practice. Sabur often uses science as an entry point for examinations into the social, political, and climate conditions throughout history of any given place. And according to Sabur, her latest projects—the paintings and the video installation—are about “the relationship between colonial and postcolonial extraction.”

For her installation at Prospect, Sabur, who was born in Jamaica in 1987, started by asking herself, “Well, what is the geology of New Orleans?” That simple query set off a series of discoveries that tied New Orleans to Jamaica—and incorporated Belgium through the image of an escarpment (a cliff or steep slope), which the the Duke of Wellington once used to defeat Napoleon, just as escaped African slaves living in Jamaica had against the British almost a century early.

Sabur’s explorations started with the Michaud fault, a geological formation that runs underneath the eastern part of New Orleans. Through her research, Sabur then learned that NASA builds their rockets in a manufacturing facility located directly on the fault. And what are the rockets made from? Aluminum. Wondering where the aluminum came from, Sabur found out that it was partially supplied from Jamaica, where she lived until she was 4 years old.

Sabur then traveled to Jamaica to film the aluminum mine, the mountainous rainforest surrounding it—where enslaved workers once attempted to escape from British and Spanish colonizers—and the ship that exports the natural resource to Louisiana.

Converting stills from Bulk Pangaea into stereoscopic images, Sabur’s paintings and text works in “DADA Holdings” are an “object-base[d] exploration,” she says, of the same themes. The works reference the Jamaican mining act of 1950, which cemented the island’s role as the major supplier of aluminum to North America. Continuing her deep dives into “networks of extraction across the planet,” she explained in an email, Sabur feels as though “the actual sites of extraction are just the shadows of what has already happened.”

To that end, this work is, for one, “a commentary on how this extraction of natural resources is very similar to the colonization of certain spaces, and her thinking about the impact of both extraction and colonization on indigenous people” Erin Christovale, the Hammer Museum curator who organized her first major solo museum presentation in 2019, told Artnet News.

Clicking Into Place

Sabur’s exhibition at the Hammer was her breakout moment. Familiar with her work since visiting her 2014 thesis show at UC San Diego, Christovale felt like Sabur’s films “always needed to branch out, to be multi-dimensional and function more as an installation or an environment.” So the curator let Sabur take over the Hammer’s project space with Un chemin escarpé (“a steep path”), an immersive, five-channel video installation.

The work is something that viewers “can really inhabit,” Sabur said, rather than simply just watch, and the videos mainly show landscape images, with no linear narrative or dialogue, only a score the artist herself composed. The installation is also a sort of precursor to Bulk Pangaea now on view at Prospect, mining “geographical spaces as a way to think through colonization, environmental justice, and the politics of immigration,” as Christovale noted in her announcement of the show on Instagram.

Prospect curator Diana Nawi has been following the evolution of Sabur’s practice for nearly a decade. Of late, she feels as though “Jamilah has landed on forms and ideas that I think can really carry her through her practice for a long time,” she said. “They’re timeless but also so relevant to our moment.” [. . .]

[Photo of Jamilah Sabur above by Terence Price II.]

For full article, see https://news.artnet.com/art-world/jamilah-sabur-profile-2039994

Also see https://ninajohnson.com/exhibitions/dada-holdings/ or contact the gallery at info@ninajohnson.com, +1 305 571 228

More on the artist here: https://www.copperfieldgallery.com/jamilahsabur.html

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