Kingston

Michaella Garrick, Aye, Black Girl (detail), 2022, sugarcane, wood, wire, digital prints, 96 × 96 × 4". From “Sighting Black Girlhood,” 2022.

Michaella Garrick, Aye, Black Girl (detail), 2022, sugarcane, wood, wire, digital prints, 96 × 96 × 4". From “Sighting Black Girlhood,” 2022.

“Sighting Black Girlhood”

The exhibition “Sighting Black Girlhood” opened with two life-size painted portraits of Black women who commanded assembly and set the tone for the show. Tishana Fisher’s Yes, I am BLACK, 2022, portrayed a deep-brown-skinned art student, Ashtaina Stewart, in a purple ombré dress, slumped in a dresser chair in front of a rust-orange sheet. Unpoised and unbossed, she holds a brush to her hair with a limp wrist. On a nearby wall, Camille Chedda’s Portrait of a Young Artist (Abigail Sweeney), 2022, showed another Black beauty, painted in grisaille, standing tall in ripped jeans with her Rapunzel braids cascading down her back, her face lit by her smile—the brightest detail of the painting. In the same scene, a sign reads, I LOVE THE WOMAN IVE BECOME! I FOUGHT FOR HER!

“Sighting Black Girlhood” was an international collaboration presented by New Local Space (NLS), a contemporary visual-art initiative founded by artist Deborah Anzinger in partnership with the Center for Experimental Ethnography at the University of Pennsylvania and the Centre for the Study of Race, Gender & Class at the University of Johannesburg. For the project, Anzinger commissioned Chedda and Fisher, as well as Michaella Garrick, Sasha-Kay Nicole Hinds, Oneika Russell, and Abigail Sweeney, to each work cooperatively over the course of several months with a Jamaican-born girl or young woman in their life. Their subjects could be of any socioeconomic background, but they share the experience of living in Jamaica.

In Russell’s animated film made from twenty-four drawings of her chosen collaborator, Garrick, Michaella at 22, 2022, colors, patterns, and backgrounds vary, but the subject remains reclining in a state of repose, wrapped in a throw blanket. Adrift in her own stream of consciousness, she shows little if any response to outside pressures. Adjacent to Russell’s animation was Garrick’s own installation, Aye, Black Girl, 2022, a floor-to-ceiling wall-mounted structure made of woven sugarcane; a photograph of a schoolgirl is repeated like a wallpaper pattern in the triangular and rhomboid windows of a potential home and haven. Garrick’s experience growing up semi-independently in the precarious housing of Monymusk—one of the oldest plantations on the island that is still involved in sugar and rum manufacture—surely informed the attention to detail evident in the work’s every facet.

Hinds—like Fisher, a recent graduate of Kingston’s Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts—chose to portray her peer Kamala Krishana Nakeisha Davis. She Black N Nice EE I and She Black N Nice EE II, both 2022, are two large photographic collages on textured tan paper respectively portraying Davis with a loose Afro and a protective hairstyle decorated with cowrie beads. Davis’ brown complexion has been digitally made darker to become comparable to the night sky: an emphasizing affirmation of her Blackness. This composition is likely in homage to renowned South African artist Zanele Muholi’s self-portrait series “Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness,” 2014–17. In Jamaica, a sixty-year-old postcolonial nation that remains subject to American and British cultural imperialism, rampant colorism might be more accurately understood as a hallmark of pigmentocracy. The reconstruction of selfhood by darker-skinned Black girls such as Hinds and Davis, who are talking back while looking forward, is a brave rebelliousness beyond the ken of most adults.

The spirit of “Sighting Black Girlhood” quietly but forcefully continued the cultural work undertaken by initiatives such as Sistren Theatre Collective, an independent women’s cultural organization established in Kingston in 1977 to facilitate basic work training for women. The group also produced original stage plays, silk-screen designs, and a quarterly women’s magazine. In the epilogue to their only printed book, poet Honor-Ford Smith, the collective’s former artistic director, shares the group’s motivation: “to the daughters and mothers of all the Caribbean and the vision their struggles will set free.” Likewise, with “Sighting Black Girlhood,” NLS and Anzinger have furthered the creative potential of Black girls who are committed to their own artistic intuition and self-representation.