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Jamaica's Biennial 2012 Closes With Insightful Artist Talks

Storm Saulter (right) discusses his short film 'Tied'. O'Neil Lawrence looks on

As the 2012 Jamaica National Biennial prepared to close, the National Gallery of Jamaica invited Hope Brooks, Jasmine Thomas-Girvan, Duane Allen and Storm Saulter, four of the artists whose works are featured in the exhibition, to participate in an extended tour and artist talks. The engaging and insightful talks meandered around a number of topics including the inspiration and process leading to the exhibited works as well as their beliefs about the role and nature of art.

 “It’s about finding an infinity of traces of things in the past that make us what we are," Thomas-Girvan told the gathering about her piece ‘Dreaming Backwards’. Thomas-Girvan copped the 2012 Aaron Matalon Award for her mixed media pieces ‘Dreaming Backwards’ and ‘Occupy (Alchemy of Promise)’.

She explained that her art is influenced by her training as a metal smith but that recently she has been increasingly inspired by literature including Olive Senior’s Gardening in the Tropics. ‘Dreaming Backwards’ was directly influenced by Octavio Paz’ ‘The Water Jar’ borrowing its name from a line in the poem.

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan beside her piece 'Dreaming Backwards'‘Dreaming Backwards’ combines both found pieces and a bronze sculpture. "When I collected these palm fronds they immediately said vessel," Thomas-Girvan explained speaking about the elements of the sculpture. She explained that she incorporated several elements to show movement, including the birds, feathers, and the outline of a parachute. When asked whether she had built the paddle herself, she revealed that it was one of the articles she picked in a market in her current home, Trinidad, as it is actually a tool for making roti.

Hope Brooks spoke about her multi-panel installation ‘Slavery Trilogy’. The mixed media on canvas installation comprises 44 panels.

“One work was never enough to say what I wanted to say, I would make many works to talk about the one thing," Brooks explained.  She also noted that elements of the work had been created with deliberate acknowledgement of 2011 as the UNESCO declared Year for People of African Descent. Remarking that the year had received little attention, Brooks explained that there needs to be greater numbers of people understanding themselves in a positive light, and that art was an important part of Hope Brooks talks about the inspiration for 'Slavery Trilogy'that.

Though the entire group could not go into the room with his installation ‘Entrapment’ Duane Allen also spoke about his work. Allen, one of the youngest exhibitors in the 2012 Biennial, was also the second-runner up for the Aaron Matalon Award. He explained that the installation had initially been inspired by an assignment about government surveillance.

According to Allen, the prevalence of surveillance cameras in modern cities inspire that feeling of being trapped which he conveyed through spiderwebs crafted from steel and nylon cloth, hung from the ceiling. Allen also pointed out that the installation, originally designed as his final year project for the Edna Manley College, reflects his interest in, and study of, architecture.

“For me I wanted to create an experience for the viewer going onto the space,” he explained. “It was also an experiment to see how I could play with shadows and shapes.”

(left) O'Neil Lawrence and (right) Duane AllenThe fourth artist of the morning, filmmaker, Storm Saulter, brought the morning to a close as he told the audience about the process which led to his art film Tied.

"Before I could make film I thought that the story, the arc of a story wasn't important," Saulter revealed. He explained that after he started making films he then started focusing on the story arc. Tied is his first experiment with a non-linear tale, and a heavy use of symbolism.

"I was dealing with the issue of memory," he explained. He combined this interest in evoking an experience buried in memory with shark footage he had made in the Bahamas.
"I knew I had to do something with memory, and I knew I had this insane footage with sharks," Saulter said.  A weekend trip to Negril later and the film coalesced.

The 6th National Biennial of Jamaica opened on December 9 and featured 126 works by over 87 artists.