Monday, October 7, 2013

Joscelyn Gardner Dares Explore the Secret Lives of 18thc. Creole Women

My fellow printmakers, you know there come some instances when you look at a person’s artwork and it either bores you, or it blows you out of the room. The latter is the case with the work of Caribbean artist Joscelyn Gardner. The discovery of this person’s powerful and thought-provoking work has been nothing less than a revelation and reinforces the idea that the printed image can communicate an informative message, but also transcend to a level of enlightenment.
On the tiny island of Barbados, from whence Gardner hales, this artist has sought some acknowledgement of her culture’s ancestry and ultimately has disclosed the darker side of women’s existence and survival in the 18th and 19th century when slavery and brutality against women were as common as drinking one’s afternoon tea.

A self-professed feminist, Gardner looks back at the women from this island’s past and recreates personages of African descent through iconic and symbolic representations of women’s braided hair, slave ‘collars’ (shackles and instruments of torture) and botanical plants indigenous to the island. That may seem a strange combination of symbols but they are intertwined into the consciousness of this culture and its descendants’ legacies. In her Bleeding & Breeding series, and her Creole Portraits III suite, Gardner exhibits a body of work which focuses on Creole women’s secret use of exotic tropical plants on 18th century Caribbean plantations to induce abortion, the iron slave ‘collars’ were used to punish women slaves when they conducted abortions.
Each image’s braided hair takes on a woven design and pattern. We see them from the back of the woman’s head as though it is laid out before us like a curious specimen on display. They hover above the circular collar devices; their prickly, metallic edges visible, and below these collars are plants, hanging downward. The plants are the only colored part of these prints. Gardner’s rendering of these images is tightly analytic. They look like botanical prints from a distance until you get closer and realize there are other components that carry the proverbial wallop.
In another project, White Skin, Black Kin, Gardner addresses the Caribbean’s history of varying shades of blackness and whiteness as their Creole ancestry has intermingled since the 18th c. She seeks to address the history of black and white Creole women’s lives from the time of the Great Plantations. She “re-creates” her own vision of the past to expose shared realities of Creole women and Caribbean culture.
These works are strong and speak to a period of time most would like to brush past, but Gardner, holds our attention, commands it, and expects us to confront it. Like the messy slavery heritage the 18thc .and 19thc. United States would like to ‘move forward and forget’, this work directly confronts our past and makes is deal with the seriousness of it, the pathos, albeit through cold, clinical analyzation. The scale of these prints are life-sized which also sends a slightly uncomfortable ‘twinge’ up the back of our spines. How this all could happen is not the point. It did happen, and we can’t ignore it any longer.
What is assured is that Gardner’s prints are sparking dialogue and discussions about women from this period and show that they were masters of their own domain, so to speak, in that they refused to be enslaved further to care for children that were a product of rape, or driving up the slave population, nor would they let their bodies be used as slave birthing machines. It was a difficult period, but it was also a period where women still made choices in the face of an existence with no visible freedoms. I applaud Gardner’s honesty in bringing these works to the world. We need more artists who have the guts and conviction to tell the truth. We need more artists like Joscelyn Gardner.
Gardner is recognized internationally as a Caribbean artist.Born in Barbados in 1961 to a family that has been resident on the island since the 17thc., Gardner also spent time in South America and West Africa. She taught art at the Barbados Community College (1987-1999), founded and directed the Art Foundry galleries (1996-1999), and worked actively on many committees. She moved to Canada in 2000 and currently teaches in the School of Contemporary Media at Fanshawe College, London, Ontario.

Spain, USA, Canada, and the Caribbean. Europe and Latin America
22nd and 23rd Sao Paulo Biennials
XXXI Biennial de Pontevedra, Spain
Art Basel, Miami, FL
museums in France and Puerto Rico
Brooklyn Museum, New York
Canadian Impressions, Washington, DC
Harrington Art Center, Kolkata, India

Grand Prize - 7th International Contemporary Printmaking Biennial, Trois-Rivieres, Quebec (2011)
PUMA Creative Mobility Award (2010)
Canada Council for the Arts international residency grant at Caribbean Contemporary Arts, Trinidad (2005)

MFA - University of Western Ontario
BFA (Printmaking) & BA (Film) - Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario.

Permanent Collections:
Museum of Contemporary Art in Puerto Rico,
the Barbados National Gallery,
US Embassies Collection,
Museo TEOR/éTica in Costa Rica,
Fondacion Clemente in Dominican Republic,
and numerous corporate and private collections

Gardner’s work can be viewed at

No comments:

Post a Comment