Sunday, November 4, 2007

Darra Dance Works in Progress

Short Take:
Parce que l’artiste est de Côte d’Ivoire, j’écrit ce revue en français; jujustring ne parle pas les langues indigènes de Côte d’Ivoire, et l’anglais est peut-être la quatrieme langue de l’artiste, alors j’essais de le rencontre au milieux. English translation below.

Nouveau. Ca c’est le mot juste pour les danses de Michel Kouakou Darra. Il a eu trois pieces en progrès au Dance Theater Workshop le 18 et 19 d’Octobre. En les deux danses pour ensembles, “Breakthrough” et “Crazy Dog/Wouru Fato” il y avait des duets extraordinaire, très physicales, très énergetique. Sa choréographie ultlisé l’inspiration de la danse africaine, mais aussi de breakdancing, et bien sûr de la danse moderne. Les danceurs étaient bons, et ils travaillaient très dur, mais malheureusement le plus loin de moderne étaient les mouvements, les plus lourds les pieds des danseurs. Peut-être c’était parce qu’ils étaient très jeunes, ou parce qu’ils ont eu seulement deux semaines avec les pièces. Mais j’espère que la prochaine fois Darra aura des danseurs plus souples.

Le solo “Behind Me” était merveilleux. “Breakthrough” et “Crazy Dog/Wouru Fato” avait des tons légers, pourtant “Behind Me” etait serieux. Mais c’ étaient pas de tout pire pour ça! Darra est un maître des mouvements petits; pour les premiers minutes, il a fait des mouvements soulements avec les maîns…

Si vous avez l’occasion, soyez sûr de voir Darra Dance.

Since the artist is from the Ivory Coast, I originally wrote this review in French; jujustring doesn’t speak any of the other languages from Ivory Coast, and English is probably Darra’s fourth language, so I tried to meet him in the middle.

New. That’s the right word for Michel Kouakou Darra’s dances. He showed three works-in-progress at Dance Theater Workshop on 18 and 19 October. In the two group pieces, “Breakthrough” and “Crazy Dog/Wouru Fato”, there were extraordinary duets, which were very physical and very energetic. His choreography is inspired by traditional African dance, but also by breakdancing, and of course by modern dance. The dancers were good, and they certainly worked hard, but unfortunately the farther from modern the movements, the heavier the dancers feet. Maybe it was because they were very young, or maybe because they only had two weeks with the pieces. But I hope the next time Darra’s work is performed, he has more versatile performers.

The solo “Behind Me” was marvelous. “Breakthrough” and “Crazy Dog/Wouru Fato” had a light tone, but “Behind Me” was serious. But the latter was not at all the worse for it! Darra is a master of little movements; for the first several minutes, he only moved his hands…

If you have the chance, be sure to see Darra Dance.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The *Other* Caribbean Art Shows in Brooklyn

The other Caribbean exhibits: Caribbeance and
Mas’: From Process to Procession/Caribbean Carnival as Art Practice

Such attention that the NYC art world can spare for Caribbean art is going to the Brooklyn Museum show, and the attention for other art in Brooklyn goes, as usual, to Williamsburg and Red Hook. But two other group shows focusing on contemporary Caribbean art were up recently. It would be unfair to compare these shows, given that their host institutions have very different priorities (those discussed here are community galleries) and much smaller budgets that the Brooklyn Museum. But they are worth discussing on their own:

Caribbeance was shown at the Skylight Gallery, which is both housed within and a project of the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. As part of a community center, it was not surprising that the art was mostly straightforward and figurative. It is worth visiting community art galleries to be reminded how pleasurable well-done figurative work can be – and because they usually lack the uninviting attitude of Chelsea hotspots.

Memorable pieces include Gracie Xavier’s portrait “Joy,” a closeup of a woman’s delighted face surrounded by a black, white, and red headscarf. “Dreamers” by Stanwyck Cromwell plays with technicolor shapes, including a motif that resembles orange black-eyed peas, and has surprising energy. In David G. Wilson’s whimsical oil paintings “Caribbean Family,” “Caribbean Afrodite,” and “Ndebele,” each aspect of a person’s face and body are also a piece of a nostalgic Caribbean landscape: palm trees, boats, or brightly colored tropical fruits.

Curator Herbert Glenn Bennett - also the first artist-in-residence in the gallery - defined Caribbeance as “the quintessence of being Caribbean.” His choices focused on “natural” and “organic” daily experiences of life in the region. With that kind of directive, one would expect more stereotypical images of palm trees and dreadlocks than thankfully are on view.

In fact, while traditional painting predominated, other media presented the Caribbeance theme from different perspectives. In Richie Richardson’s evocative, almost pixilated digital print “Tobago Heritage Dance,” the figures are barely legible, and the piece thus both reveals and conceals ritual. Pamela Allen’s richly textured mixed media pieces leaned towards the abstract. And Ramona Candy’s great collages “Marigot” and “Takai” capture humanity and landscape with a fresh approach – the pieces remind you of Jacob Lawrence, but with Caribbean flair.

The BRIC Rotunda Gallery is a nonprofit space in Brooklyn Heights whose mission is in part to “bridge the gap between the art world and global culture in Brooklyn.” Mas’ curator Claire Tacons seems to have taken a “something for everyone” approach to the small gallery, and it kind of works. Actual carnival costumes shown in the gallery were created by Laura Anderson Barbata and worn in Trinidad’s 2005 festival. They appeal to the child in all of us, with bright colors, animal shapes, and streamers that you can imagine dancing along with the masqueraders. Karyn Olivier’s “Moko Limbo” is exhibited near one of Barbata’s costumes. The difference is striking; Olivier’s piece consists of one lonely, bright blue stilt (Trinidadian stilt walkers are called moko jumbies), reminding of the absence of the dancer and how quickly carnival is abandoned when the festival is over.

A similar feeling is evoked in Stefan Flake’s dreamy digital projection “Moko Jumbies: The Dancing Spirits of Trinidad.” Since carnival is usually known for its frenetic energy, it was refreshing to see other emotions portrayed in that context.

The paintings of duo Superior Concept Monsters (Alex Kahn and Sophia Michahelles) were not impressive, but the fact that they were presented as large “lanterns” in the shape of coffins carried in New Orleans funeral processions made their installation resonate emotionally, obviously referencing the city trying to resurrect itself.

To the left and the back of the gallery the artwork veered further away from the masquerade theme. Marlon Griffith’s installation doesn’t explicitly reference masquerade, but the combination of shiny hanging mylar and sad bits cut out and left discarded on the floor has an effect similar to Olivier’s piece. Nicolás Dumit Estévez’ “Sketches for Performances Yet to Be Realized” is more overtly political – and more zany – than the other work. In these self-portraits he is either naked (but with strategically placed bananas) or in a fantastical costume. The presence of bananas, maps of the Caribbean, and references to Puerto Rico play with notions of exoticization, masculinity, and colonization.

Jujustring’s visit ended, appropriately, with the dvd “Mi Curaçao,” in which video vignettes combine performed poetry and imagery. The people in Caecilia Tripp’s pieces are young and old, fair and dark, and they speak in Papiamento and English. Similarly, the images in different pieces veer from documentary carnival footage to ethereal dream-like sequences. Tripp’s work exemplifies what Mas’ exhibit as a whole demonstrates: the diversity not only of the Caribbean region, but of the artwork inspired by the region and its carnivals.

For images, see:

Word has it that two large Caribbean contemporary art exhibitions will be coming to NYC in the next few years. Do you have any information about them? Let jujustring know!

Friday, September 21, 2007

First Look - "Infinite Island"

The Infinite Island publicity image is of “El Dorado.” It’s prickly – not a stereotypical sunset or dreadlocks, thank goodness, but not especially inviting either.

Thankfully, much of the art shown in the exhibit (up through January 2008), is actually both inviting and powerful. (Seen in person, Locke’s “El Dorado” is visually stunning.) My highlights during a first look were: “Creole Portraits” by Joscelyn Gardner, “T/HERE” by Deborah Jack, Ewan Atkinson’s prints, the film “Under Discussion,” Hew Locke’s “Vita, Veritas, Victory,” and Alex Burke’s “Spirit of the Caribbean.”

The lithographs in Gardner’s “Creole Portraits” brilliantly portray torture devices as hairstyles. The piece references slavery, 19th century portraiture, and beauty cultures in each delicate drawing.

“T/HERE” is a striking installation of color digital prints featuring images of the artist’s face and other parts of her body, as well as extreme close-ups of indoor and outdoor landscapes she has found herself in over the years.

Atkinson’s combination prints and mixed-media are sharp in all the ways a Caribbean person might use the word – they’re smart, funny, and visually arresting. The bottom half of each image consists of pages from old racist and sexist children’s books that the artist has drawn upon. The upper half features a digital print of the artist reimagining the storybook image starring himself – often in a little red dress.

“Under Discussion” by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla begins with the hilarity of a man overturning a large table and attaching a motor to it to create an instant boat. But it quickly becomes darker as the man steers towards the bomb shells and military structures on Vieques, the Puerto Rican island where the US military recently stopped conducting military exercises and experiments.

Locke’s installation of black strung beads is in the shape of the British coat of arms, but features images from other cultures in South America and Africa. The piece is massive. You immediately notice both the intricate details and the menacing color, which hints at the horrors of colonialism.

The 47 dolls in “The Spirit of the Caribbean” are unified in their diversity. Each one has variously colored thread and fabrics wrapped around and stitched into it. The dolls represent the spirits of voudoun as well as those of individual and collective Caribbean people.

Unfortunately, Infinite Island includes one major disaster – the short films by Jamaican Storm Saulter. In “Inna di dance,” the music video maker clearly thinks that slowing down his footage of people dancing makes it art. Really it’s random scenes that manage to dehumanize the dancers by not showing their faces. And by focusing on men and a male perspective – including a scene in which a woman physically fights to push a man off of her – Saulter manages not to show any of the female agency that Jamaican scholar Carolyn Cooper and others have spent years revealing. His other film, “Waterboot,” is silly and poorly shot. Both films come off as not only bad art, but bad taste, the equivalent of terrible art house “Jamaica: No Problem” tourist ads. Maybe that was what the Museum was going for. Thank goodness most of the work in Infinite Island is technically and aesthetically accomplished, and does not deal in rough stereotypes.

Come back; in future postings I’ll write about other Caribbean art exhibits at Rotunda Gallery in downtown Brooklyn and the Skylight Gallery in Bedford-Stuyvesant. In the meantime, check out all of these exhibits yourself:

Before the First Look

In August and September the main problem with the new Infinite Island exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum was finding out about it.

The Caribbean art community in New York City and elsewhere has been buzzing about Infinite Island since the museum curators starting visiting artists’ studios. Of course, we had to wait to see the show to find out what the exhibit as a whole would look like. Then somebody heard about The Opening to take place August 30th. The date made sense; it was just before Labor Day and the huge West Indian Day Parade that passes in front of the BM. But then, a few weeks before the date, someone said the opening was cancelled. Someone else said it was postponed. Googling “opening Brooklyn Museum Infinite Island” led me to an official blog on the BM website ( The blogger, who was involved in installing the work, excitedly wrote that the opening was on, and that she was looking forward to “seeing you there.”

I promptly emailed this information to a half a dozen people. But something told me to double-check. I decided to go to the people who should know for sure, and I called the museum. But the people answering the general number said they didn’t know when the exhibit was opening. I was transferred to the voice mail of an assistant curator, who called me back to say that the show was opening “at 10 am on Friday” August 31st. Ok…so then I forwarded that information to a half a dozen people. No opening? everyone asked each other – and no events for Labor Day weekend???

In fact, not only was there no reception or fanfare for the first days of the exhibit, but there were also no First Saturday events. First Saturdays – officially known as Target First Saturdays – regularly attract hundreds of people to the BM on the first Saturday of every month for free events such as exhibit tours, film screenings, performances, and children’s events. It’s a great program – and as Brooklyners have lamented for the last several years, is increasingly crowded by Manhattanites who have discovered the Museum. No matter, we can share.

Anyway, there was no First Saturday for September 2007. The August First Saturday was and the October one will be focused on Caribbean culture, so let’s hope that in September museum staff just wanted to take a vacation. Still, it seems a huge shame that they shut down one of their most popular programs exactly when they were opening an exhibit on Caribbean art, and when they could have benefitted the most from citywide interest in Caribbean culture. Regardless of its reasoning, the museum’s decision is particularly ironic since the Infinite Island catalog is dedicated to Carlos Lezama, who died this year, and who is widely credited with starting the West Indian Day Parade.

But back to the saga of the opening/s. A few weeks later (in early September) I got a call from an out-of-town curator saying that the “VIP opening” was happening that night. It was for the “muckety-mucks,” she said, and they would be very strict about the invitations. No crashers of any kind, whether Caribbean critics, Brooklyn artists, or bloggers. Even some of the artists living outside of New York weren’t sent invitiations – though some surely would have come to network.

I DID, however, get a ticket from one of the artists in the show for the “general” opening. Why all of this confusion? Why delayed openings? It’s almost as though the BM doesn’t want people to come and see the show! But I couldn’t wait for a party to go to the exhibit…

Monday, September 10, 2007

what is jujustring?

what is jujustring?
juju is religion, it is semi-religion, it is anti-religion -
string connects, string ties, string leads and follows -
jujustring ties the juju onto the body;
jujustring brings the black magic of art, culture, and ideas into the string theory of cyberspace.