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Laura Facey’s work appeals to the collective conscience

Published:Sunday | June 10, 2018 | 12:00 AMOliver Hill
Their Spirits Gone Before Them by Laura Facey.
Walking Tree by Laura Facey.

Laura Facey is one of Jamaica's leading contemporary artists for good reason. Her work is rife with symbolism and metaphors that never fail to conjure emotions rooted in the past.

Facey's well-proportioned sculpture, Redemption Song, at Emancipation Park in New Kingston, made a stir for its audacity when it was unveiled in 2003, and her latest exhibit, running till June 10, at Harmony Hall Art Gallery in Tower Isle, St Mary, is no less provocative and just as personal.

The collection of work spans a decade of artistic output, a lifetime of emotions, and centuries of grief.

It's a reckoning of sorts for Facey, whose exhibit includes six-foot banners made from the old ledger found on her farm in St Ann to commemorate the 125 slaves who toiled the land a few centuries ago.

The enslaved Africans of Mount Plenty are depicted as miniatures in a dugout canoe in the piece 62 Men and 63 Women, which evokes the horrors of the Middle Passage and the dignity and perseverance of its victims. The dugout is an offshoot of her seminal work, Their Spirits Gone Before Them, exhibited at the Institute of Jamaica in October 2006 and then in 2014 at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, UK.

Also included in the exhibit was Oar For Ba, another sculpture symbolic of passage both personal and collective, from Facey's Propel series, originally shown at Melinda Brown's downtown art studio, Roktowa, in 2010.

Ba is a term for the soul borrowed from ancient Egypt. Its association with the oar evokes fluidity and transcendence, themes that form a common thread throughout the artist's body of work.

In her introduction at the opening reception for the Harmony Hall exhibit on March 31, fellow artist Melinda Brown drew a correlation between the enslavement of Africans in the new world and the ongoing oppression wrought through the hoarding of resources by the upper class.

Brown called on those gathered to take inspiration from the works before them to set Jamaica on a new course to overcome the debilitating crime and trauma the country has become accustomed to.

"Do we want to be set adrift without a rudder or raise the sails of social uplift as these pieces exhort us to do?" she said.

Transformation is such a pervasive undercurrent in Facey's work. She bestows freedom of movement even on the plants she sculpts. One of her Walking Trees found its way to the departure terminal at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston and another to the lawn at Harmony Hall as part of the ongoing exhibit. These majestic trees were given new life after being cut at Mount Plenty and their hollowed insides painted blood red.

Facey's work is on display alongside contemporary stylised fine art quilts by Jessica Ogden and work by Lynda Evans, Derval 'Junior' Johnson, Ras Dizzy, and Albert Artwell, among other local artists.