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.