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Jasmine Thomas-Girvan Snags Second Aaron Matalon Award

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan wins her second Aaron Matalon Award Jamaican Biennial 2017

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan made art history, by being the first artist to win the Jamaica Biennial’s Aaron Matalon Award, twice. Thomas-Girvan scooped up the award for her two installations at Devon House - Parallel Realities, Dwelling in the Heartland of My People and The Real Princess. The award was announced at the National Gallery of Jamaica in downtown Kingston, on February 26, 2017. 

The Jamaica Biennial now boasts two awards, with the Dawn Scott Memorial Award introduced in 2014. This year, the award was split three ways, earned by Jamaican artists Greg Bailey (Colonial Legacies) and Alicia Brown (Exchange) and American Andrea Chung (Pure). 

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan's installation is multi-layered visual poetryParallel Realities, Dwelling in the Heartland of My People dominates the living room at Devon House. A piece of rich, visual poetry, the work moves from the far wall, stretches length of the dining table, crops ups on the sideboards and even dives into the drawers of these sideboards. The work raises intense questions about colonial legacy as it disrupts the narrative of civility, bending them back in on themselves and creating whole new narratives as it does so. 

While the large portrait of Col. Peter Beckford stares down at the table laid before him, he appears unmoved, but the audience present cannot remain so. Thomas-Girvan’s work bears testimony about history, not in the stark way of a court of law, but the way testimony is given in church, to get to the deeper meaning of a terrible experience and move all who hearing to a place of greater understanding. In this work, a silver fork is simultaneously transformed into a whip and the devil’s fork, a small head is served up like a skewered meatball, and black hands stretch up and out from silver serving plate covers. 

The Real Princess sits in the sewing room. The work combines a self portrait and a dresser from which hands spill forth and drawers are lined with images of slave ships. The audience is forced to get closer as quotes are written in such fine print that to see them you cannot stand at a distance. Your involvement is invited even further as quotes are printed on the side, on mirrors, and to read them, you must engage in self-reflection.

Parallel Realities is revealing and disturbingParallel Realities, Dwellign in the Heartland of My People has enough strength to add a bitter taste to the sweetness usually attached to Devon House. You may never look at the building the same again, but most importantly, it should enrich your understanding of history. 

The Aaron Matalon Award comes with a J$100,000 purse while the Dawn Scott Memorial Award comes with a US$700.00 prize funded by the award’s creator, art critic Edward M. Gómez and Scott’s daughter, Tsehai "Spoogie" Scott. 

Gómez praised the skill of the three awardees. He noted that both Bailey and Brown exhibit great draughtsmanship in their portraits. 

“...Greg Bailey creates psychologically probing portraits of contemporary figures – usually young, urban, Jamaican men – that make us wonder: What's on the minds of these subjects? What motivates them? When it comes to the issue of identity, just who do they think they are?”  Gómez said. 

His praise of Alicia Brown was also exuberant. “[Exchange] offers an image of its subject that is as penetrating in its precision as it is compelling, poetic and empathetic in its character and aura,” Gómez said.Jasmine Thomas-Girvan (left) explains the art to Prof Carolyn Cooper

Of the three awardees, Andrea Chung was the only one to use mixed-media as she created sculptures of hands from coloured soap.

“In Pure, Andrea Chung uses handmade, coloured soap to mould vividly accurate sculptures of the outwardly extended, beseeching, comfort-offering hands of elderly women,” Gómez said.

Jasmine Thoma-Girvan first won the Aaron Matalon Award in 2012. Other winners of the award include Omari Ra, Renee Cox, Norma Rodney Harrack, Phillip Thomas, Laura Facey, and Ebony G. Patterson. 

The Jamaica Biennial 2017 continues through until May 28, 2017. It comprises installations at Devon House, the National Gallery West, and the main exhibition at the National Gallery of Jamaica in downtown Kingston.