“throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.” ~ anais nin
above / gene pearson’s egg heads, bryan mcfarlane’s fragments of time, and cecil cooper’s Untitled 2016…
30 years ago… i think it was 30, almost 30, depending on how one counts ~ from the idea or the actuality, an imagined community, or a physical one. but 30 years ago i found jamaica. when i was 17 or was i 18 ~ I found it like you find your own self. one day it just happens upon you and your life begins to make sense. but i found jamaica through someone else. through my painting professor at the college of the holy cross ~ bryan mcfarlane ~ who taught me how to see. not just to see through oils and acrylics and form and strokes, but to see with my emotions, my mind, my intellect. he taught me how to feel, how to open up to those things that are beyond grasp, beyond thought ~ beyond that which is tangible. of course this searching seeking self had been instilled in me in the mountains of colorado a couple months later during summer break, reading for the first time kahlil gibran at poor richard’s, being exposed to kandinsky’s the spiritual in art, madame blavatsky, annie besant. much of this was theory and words ~ interpreted and understood, but to become real in front of your eyes, was something else completely. it was through bryan and sculpting pigment, forming it and feeling it, that i discovered an identity that through the years i might have called post-colonial, caribbean, nomadic and i may have applied it to others, to that which is out there, only to see my own self within that matrix of understanding. i would carry that knowledge of making and creating and continually sculpt a sense of “being” (literally and metaphorically) from my late teens in colorado springs and then reading england, upon graduation from Holy Cross onward to nyc and then venice, istanbul, santorini and london again, to end up in berkeley where i would focus once again on the triangulation of caribbean identity through studying jamaican art worlds in the caribbean diaspora.
i would go to kingston twice ~ for preliminary research in 1997 for 3 months and then again in 1998 through 1999/2000 when i would do the majority of my fieldwork. i would meet the iconic and inspirational scholar and choreographer rex nettleford, finally, after he wrote a letter of recommendation for me a decade before, to come to jamaica to study the arts through the University of the West Indies. i would not be awarded a Watson fellowship and be told that a proposal on development would have possibly made the cut, not the arts + cultural identity. so i would return as an anthropologist to write Jamaican Art Worlds ~ Encounters, Transformations, Metamorphoses that would become my final doctoral dissertation that would be “published” but never made into a book or exhibition.
i would think about that work on identity formation and the importance of cultural encounters and try to figure out how it could become something more than it was ~ how to take the idea of the thesis and make it real. i would become a fashion designer, a salonniere, make films and installations, and eventually return to the place of an anthropologist in the most unexpected of ways ~ studying culture in silicon valley. i would obsess over the power of interactions, the beauty of juxtapositions, and the inherent potential of every encounter between two people in a sacred space of a studio or museum, eating around a table in an atelier, or as a moveable feast anywhere… it would be in between spaces ~ a 3 month gap between being part of apple university and taking on a new position within apple that begins at the start of april, that i would hear about one of my mentors and primary informants whom i lived with ~ the sculptor gene pearson… and his passing on the ides of march. i would then hear of his ex-wife (and mother of his son azaia) lady jacqueline hussey’s passing only 2 days before, of cancer. i had lived with her as well, made her wedding gown that she would marry gene in. i would then find out of cecil cooper’s passing (in 2016) ~ who had looked after me when bryan would be gone from the island. and then there was seya parboosingh, who passed in 2010, guy mcintosh in 2011, david boxer last year… and, there were many others whom i spent time with, traveling through the island, cooking with, eating with, discovering different ways of living life ~ tony moses, gilou bauer, annie paul, charles campbell and nicholas morris, hugh dunphy, veerle poopeye (to name a few) who shaped me and inspired me… who i may never see again. and it wasn’t until the ides of march, that i realized this is the case. this is how life is. as in the opening of p.t. anderson’s magnolia… “i’m trying to think this is all only a matter of chance… this is not just something that happens… this was not just a matter of chance… these strange things happen all of the time …”
maybe to you, and to others but the stranger coincidental things that happen to me are just that ~ overwhelming, and perplexing, take me aback, and make me pause… the silver lining in this little 3 month gap between focuses, is having that moment to be still ~ to remember, and to write…
“we write to taste life twice… in the moment, and in retrospect…” ~ anis nin
above / on a vaporetto with bryan mcfarlane who was in venice italy for my wedding to lloyd bernberg, september 2000, photo by lana bernberg (our first date was in jamaica when he came to visit me for 10 days in 1998); seya parboosingh’s sharing at the table 1999, gene pearson in his studio, at his wheel ~ a trio of images from The Gleaner’s feature by Keisha Hill ~ “putting spirit into clay”; gene with jaqueline hussey-pearson, ariane and azaia, reggae on the river 2003; gene with royal in 2013, and jacquie’s profile pic she posted in january 2018, of her wearing a cari borja ruffle duster…
this visual essay is both a meditation on the beauty of a moment and the conjuring of a time past that propelled me with a deep force into my future becoming and it is, quite literally, little snippets and excerpts from my doctoral dissertation of thoughts and observations from some of my favorite artists who helped me to form a holistic perspective and socio-cultural context that to this day still informs my thinking about the power of a city and experiencing it first hand, smelling its sweetness and anger, its history, its depth. like an urban flaneur, i walked the streets of kingston, boarding buses that spilled out into markets, feeling the crumbled fabrics that i would pin into gowns to wear to the little gatherings of artists i would host on jack’s hill. i remember the sounds of the dogs yapping through the night, the silence in red hills that would stop once gene awoke to begin his day at his potters wheel. i would awake to his footsteps outside my door, the smell of blue mountain coffee, the sound of a blender. this little collage of voices and images is from a moment in time somewhere around 1997 to 2000 ~ but it also highlights the role of artist as social critic and political activist and the malleability of creative powers that we have and that are constantly in flux, operating within and between worlds. indeed, tom waits quote that i came across a decade ago holds true 3 decades ago in the practice of everyday life in kingston ~ “the way you do anything, is the way you do everything.” i saw that first hand, and learning the patterns of behaviors that became a tacit part of my persona, in its continual reinvention of self that isn’t so much a reinvention as a continuation of a deeply held belief. even to this day i think of the transformative (and alchemical) flames in the kiln up on the hill that defined the space where each individual head and work of art came to be ~ the flaming footage that made the raku glaze that i would use a year later in 2001 for my first runway show “shedding skins”… the perfection of imperfection and the obsession compulsion to make things in ritual and out of necessity. this is my memory of gene that came through my clothes and repetitively obsessively sculpting fabric into shapes that were both different and the same, but with that force of urgency that continues throughout one’s life…. here is to that philosophy of being and becoming that instills itself in me every day. (to the left / 5 years ago, today, i was invited by my other art mentor, the art historian virginia raguin, to return to the college of the holy cross to present my work on the art of making + gathering, which stemmed from my work in jamaica; it was there that i also met fellow alumni charlotte eyerman who just became director and senior curator of JPMorgan art collection)…
Below, my “ABSTRACT” written in Fall 2001 that heads a 396 page dissertation entitles JAMICAN ART WORLDS: Encounters, Transformations, Metamorphoses… Following the summary, are snippets of images and some of my favorite passages from interviews with artists (part 2 will include other voices from the art world). Although my research included meeting with/interviewing and integrating within the art world centered around Kingston and conversations with close to 50 people, the snippets below are just that ~ little glimpses into my memory of one of the most transformative times in my life, that has left a mark on me and the things I have gone on to do, constantly recreating and reinventing my own self as clothesmaker, salonniere, artist, writer ~ and ultimately an anthropologist who sees the beauty in the art of gathering (and juxtaposing) people, ideas and worlds…
“This ethnography of the jamaican art world is a study of the inter-relationship between artists, art objects, art writings and the corresponding art participants that constitute its existence. As such, it examines how art worlds make art, or rather how structures of the larger art world both reconstruct and renegotiate the art work itself. Centered around the city of Kingston, this study attempts to look at the circulation and transnational marketing of an identity that moves within and between the ambivalent spaces of the colonizer and the colonized, from Kingston to London, the United States and Europe, and then back to the homeland in Jamaica. This transnational continuum that links Jamaica with its diaspora communities abroad is the circuit in which the constitution of Jamaican identity is constantly re-inscribed in a fluid social field that is both socio-culturally and historically located. This dissertation examines and problematizes the power relations within and between transnational artistic discursive regimes that influence the choices made by Jamaican artists and art world players… The analysis of this art world, which takes as its focus the historically situated images, words, interactions encounters and dialogues of its participants, essentially juxtaposes and examines the processes and strategies artists utilize to elicit transformations of self in relation to the other. Thus, the very form of the ethnography itself provokes a conversation among an imagined community oF actors that constitutes these intersecting art worlds…”
In the Jamaica acknowledgement section (again, from 2001) I give a special thank you to the following people whom I spent time with and shared with me their stories, artwork, writings, and memories of making + being: “a special thank you to African, Petrine Archer-Straw, David Boxer, Hope Brooks, Peter Cave, Margaret Chen, Jerry Craig, Leonard Daley, Rex Dixon, Milton George, Milton Harley, Petrona Morrison, Clovis Nelson, Rex Nettleford, Veerle Poupeye, Pat Ramsey, Douglas Reid, Denny Repole, Juliette Robertson, Casey Shay, Stanford Watson, and Ted Williams. For their hospitality I would like to thank Hugh Dunply, Irina Leyva, David Morrison, David Pinto, Yvette Rowe, James Samuels, Evan Williams and Steve Woodham. For opening up their home and hearts to me as well as their thoughts, I would like to thank Sera Parboosingh, Cecil Cooper, Annie Paul and Gilou Bauer, Charles Campbell, Colin F. Ritula Frankel, Wayne Gallimore, Tony Moses, Nicholas Morris, Ayana Pearson, Tanya Pearson and Maxine Walters. For their friendship whilst in Jamaica I thank Guy MacIntosh, Suzanne Fenn, Rose Marie Murdock, Melissa Myles, Steve Ouditt. For his support throughout the years, in both Jamaica and the united States, I would like to thank Gene Pearson: and for allowing me into her family and looking after me while doing my fieldwork, I thank Jackie Hussey. I owe a very special thanks to my main inspiration for this dissertation ~ that stems from my undergraduate studies at the College of the Holy Cross from 1989-1993) ~ Bryan McFarlane, without whose words, thoughts and conversations over the past ten years this dissertation would not have been possible…”
~~~~~ FRAGMENTS ~~~~~
on art + being an artist ~
“alright, i think you want to revise or review the artist part of that. i mean, sometimes i dispel it totally and say i am not an artist ~ because i think artist is such an inadequate term or concept or part of an inadequate language… and it does estrange one form a holistic process of growth and development… art primordially wasn’t really an object of art, but an object of a ritual that would serve a higher purpose ~ a medium to a higher thing ~ multi-functional. And i guess it is this western idea of segregating things and breaking up things and storing things that sort of petrify the object and re-classify it and then estrange the creator from it so the creator can only view it from outside. so even your self-portrait, you have to stay outside and look at it – you know. then the role now, my role, would be part of a life role then, to recreate a certain ritual, probably something similar to voodoo or maybe even more powerful than voodoo, the voodoo around the time of the Haitian revolution, where it can be a more political and social cohesive kind of ritual. that can hold a society together and progress as a kind of vision.” ~ african, 1999
“mutabaruka has a song which says ~ him talk about the people who go dancehall ~ “and them dance to forget, and them dance for no fret” and this is based on ghetto culture and “them no have no money, them no have no food ~ but them find the money to get the clothes fi go dance; and when them go fi dance, them buy a one beer and them listen to the music and the music take them to another high and them dance and them chant and them sing because them forget the day them forget what tomorrow might bring because tomorrow is going to bring nothing more than nothingness” ~ you understand!? art fill that gap ~ art and culture fill that gap in the human spirit…” ~ juliette robinson, 2000
“i think there is a certain kind of political radicalism that the bourgeoisie and the people who have had that kind of influence in society are afraid of and they shutter from it; because marcus garvey for instance ~ he didn’t get any support from the bourgeoisie, because the bourgeoisie was still mesmerized by the european approach to things ~ eurocentricity ~ their values were european and so on so here is this little country boy ~ a really black boy from st andrew who talking about black pride and self-worth and self-value and respecting self, loving self and so on and they couldn’t deal with that because you see the blackness was always something that they frown on so garvey was really a known voice in the wilderness, albeit in a global sense. but the thing about it is that people like manley and bustamante never really dealt with that whole business of race. manley was a classical statesman and he tried to do things through the legislative process but didn’t understand that if you had a constitution it should represent the people (and the laws were meant to protect the privileged). but i have always wondered why we haven’t embraced a strong afro-centric position and tried to run with it. in fact i think that the real tragedy even today ~ after garvey and marley and martin luther king, fanon ~ and after all of that we have not really come to terms with our blackness. and we are not going to go anywhere as a people until we get to that point. and we still are a far ways from coming to terms with it…” ~ cecil cooper, 2000
“i just see them as a sense of people in spirit at the beach in congregation and just the quiet of being together. for a long time they never had any faces. i just finally put them in… all i know is it was a very energetic thing just moving through it. when i get into the figures then i can think more, get involved with the person…” ~ seya parboosingh, 1999
on identity + encounters
“i always say to myself why are people surprised because i just feel that whatever you are painting it is you. it is just that there is so much in our characters and who we are that constitutes us. we like to think of ourselves as this one solid person, but we really have absolutely no limit. we have many different thought processes going on and i can move very easily, from one place to another for the rest of my lifetime. i really trust and believe in what i feel when i paint and i move and i go to the place ~ if it’s turkey, if it’s brazil, if it’s africa… i’ll go and that’s me.” ~ bryan mcfarlane, 2000
“ i think my revolution is more gradual and more about myself too. it is more about tone black man being transformed and healed in his lifetime and hopefully doing some sort of good and spreading that positive energy onto others. i have been much more political in how i have been able to direct my students and really transform them…my work is political from the standpoint that i believe in a strong form of multiculturalism ~ that different nations, race, people should be together and is a way by going to these places affirms to me and it is part of my participation and willingness to be part of these other “other” as it were … so for me my politics is more subtle and less revolutionary ~ it is much more about the revolution of my own spirit and how that transformation affects others, as i encounter people in different cultures, places, spaces, time and spirit and i think a lot of transformation takes place in me and them in those encounters… hopefully, that is political in and of itself…” ~ bryan mcfarlane, 2001
“all of these encounters are valid encounters ~ and i don’t think that any one of them is the primary arena for the “happening” of art. my concerns are with what is happening at my studio, with my facing the canvas, with the primary encounter which is an encounter with myself ~ and speaking of primary not in terms of importance, but primary in terms of the first temporally. this is the first sort of physical act carried out which is supposed to set this whole thing in motion,. my coming face to face with the canvas is what i enjoy the most ~ because it is about coming face to face with absolutely everything about yourself all at once, because you set yourself up to make an object and you have absolute freedom where this object is concerned… you make a very specific set of decisions about what you are going to do ~ such basic things as calling yourself a painter and deciding is this going to be a painting, is this going to be flat on canvas, is this going to be three dimensional, what colors am i going to use, what forms am i going to use. how am i going to relate to an image, do i need an image ~ and all of these questions which throw the entire history of human culture into question, are happening every time anyone picks up an implement to make a mark on a surface and somehow these decisions actually get made, and realizing what is happening while i am doing this is an amazingly satisfying and pleasing process ~ because you question all of humanity at once and you reaffirm all of humanity at the same time through these enormous tremendous decisions that need to be made…” ~ nicholas morris, 1999
on her (curating) first exhibition “wonderland” ~
“my exhibition did three things for me. it showed me if you ask an artist to paint something totally different on a certain time scale, that it is possible for them to do it. and it gave me a thrill to see how excited they were, because they were (finally) doing something different. it gave me recognition and experience. and the third thing was it made people stand up and actually listen to what i was saying, and pay attention ~ that i am serious about what i am doing. i am not here just for a couple of months to try out an idea…” (jacquelyne hussey-pearson, 2000)
on meaning + energy ~
“the meaning is generating the good spirit, the good energy. it’s not just about the face or something ~ you look in the face and you see beyond that face, and i am with you, ya know…. but the drive is the feeling that i get when i see the reaction, when i have a show or somebody come and buy a piece, because it is the piece that grabs them: and the way they react to it ~ that is the incentive to work…” ~ gene pearson, 2000
“…all walks of life… different types of people from different societies like my work ~ because it is spread out all around the world. i produce a lot… i produce like four artists’ work, ya know? busy, busy and i don’t look like i am busy, right? i produce so much and the thing that is wonderful about them is that i don’t get to keep them ~ they are all gone out there, and i feel some people feel good with them because they come back for more than one piece ~ they have a collection. It’s that energy that feed back to me that give me the drive to go out and work in cold california. because those people, they also need my energy and choose it through the works, so, even when i go to california and it is cold the day before i get there, when i get there it’s warm-up. that has been my experience over the years, so it’s like the energy walk around with me ~ the energy of the caribbean…” ~ gene pearson, 1999
“…life is one big road with lots of signs. so when you riding through the ruts, don’t complicate your mind. flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don’t bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. wake up and live.” ~ bob marley
RIP my dearest gene and jaquelyne (and cecil and seya and guy) ~ i leave this parting song ~ kronos quartet’s flugufrelfrelsarinn (sigur ros)… which i recall so vividly played by kronos 13 years ago, in a barn, under the moonlight in bolinas at a friend’s 50th….
post-script / upon realizing that one week ago ~ the ides of march, when gene passed, it was also the opening of bryan mcfarlane’s largest solo show in jamaica he’s had in many years…
above / one week ago, bryan’s opening at Olympia Gallery in Kingston; Gene with his sculpted pots; and tonight, at my new desk in my new home with my favorite piece ~
“there is spirit within the work ~ a sense of religion, an overall spirit and feeling of reverence in his work… Pearson is a combination of emotion and intellect, coming together almost all the time… most of his work is very staid… his faces ~ subtle ~ a playful image within the staid face. but even though he repeats the same basic form each one is different ~ very very subtle ~ but there is an overall discipline and order within the pieces….” ~a collector, commenting on gene’s pieces, 2000
“my canvas has a way of being a kind of ongoing dialectic, a kind of window that moves into me kind of understanding the world a lot and at times it becomes also a mirror because when i am not working i can look at what is there ~ it just speaks back to me in a very profound way and tells me a lot about myself and things i normally won’t necessity learn from another human being. the work itself provides that for me ~ it brings you to other places…” ~ bryan mcfarlane
“we travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” ~ anais nin
Cari, thank you for this kind and thoughtful sublimated articulation that is needed for this special moment in time as our friends travel to and become star dust in the celestial heavens.
Cari, thank you for this kind and thoughtful sublimated articulation that is needed for this special moment in time as our friends travel to and become star dust in the celestial heavens.