Ebony Patterson, 'Untitled Venus'
Ebony Patterson is a Jamaican artist studying in St. Louis, Missouri. Her work
'Untitled Venus', is one of her works showing in Curator's Eye II at the National Gallery of Jamaica. Here she discusses her work with Dr. Jonathan Greenland, executive director of the National Gallery of Jamaica.
Jonathan Greenland: Describe one of your pieces in the exhibition.
Ebony Patterson: I'll take the simple one: The Venus piece. It is made up on four panels of the same image repeated but hung different ways up. They are prints using a process called Collagraphy. The image is a black and white representation of a female torso. There is no head. It is not just decapitated but also truncated because it has no arms or legs.
JG: That sounds very grisly
EB: In some kind of way it is grisly but I never thought of it in that way. Generally I'm interested in looking at the beauty inherent in objectification especially as it relates to the objectification of bodies. This particular work came out of looking at historical images of Venus.
JG: What do you mean?
EB: There are a few images of Venus I was interested in: The Venus of Willendorf, The Venus of Tan-Tan found in Morocco, and the Hottentot Venus. The Willendorf Venus is just one example of a type of figurine that dates from the earliest times made in prehistoric times by some of the earliest artists. They are effigies of women that have no recognisable facial features, no arms, no legs, just large breasts, stomach and genitals. People think they were fertility figures and were made by artists to be given to women or kept in houses as promoting fertility.
Now, the Hottentot Venus was a real person. Her name was Sarah Baartman and she was a young Khosian woman from Southern Africa. She was taken from her people in the late 1800s by a Frenchman and exhibited as a spectacle in freak shows in Europe. She had a very irregular bottom and elongated genitals. For a long time people thought that this was what all African women looked like.
To me the Venuses of Willendorf and the Hottentot have a lot in common: besides the same emphasis on breasts etc, I believe they have a lot to do with the way we perceive women's bodies now. Images of the body are fed to us. My own work is a response to this. My images have a lot to do with my own insecurities with my own body. We Venuses are all very similar.
JG: Your other work is called the Savillian Gaze. Is this a
reference to the British artist Jenny Saville?
EB: Yes, I developed an interest in looking at perceptions of self, specifically through women's bodies. Jenny Saville spoke to this visually. She makes very large, very intense self-portraits of her own body, often from unusual angles that accentuate the size of her body. It is very good work. With the Savillian Gaze, and all the other works of that series, I was making visualisations of people's perceptions of me. It was part of a large project. The struggles we women go through to conform to male aesthetics!
JG: I don't know you very well but I wouldn't have thought you were lacking in confidence.
EB: People always think I am very confident and sure of myself. People can't understand when I talk about these things, but a lot of my vulnerabilities come out in my painting. Like Jenny Saville. I thought Jenny Saville was critiquing notions of beauty in society, but her works are really a response to the pressures of conformity.
JG: What is your greatest artistic influence, and why?
EB: I don't know. Everything around me influences me in some way. But the single greatest influence has been the artist Keisha Castello. She has been a profound influence on me both artistically and personally.
JG: What do you think of the Jamaican art scene?
EB: There is room for a lot more involvement and a lot more improvement. Many artists leave art school and never create anything again. That is troubling. I am concerned for the next generation.
JG: Even though there are a lot in this show?
EB: True. But this is just a fraction of what exists in our society.
JG: What is your favourite work of Jamaican art? (Or it could be any art)
EB: Eugene Hyde's 'Resurrection', I think it is called, at the National Gallery. The figures just beam out of it.
JG: Where is your favourite place in Jamaica? (Or it could be elsewhere)
EB: My favourite place is not artistic at all! My favourite place is anywhere there is a party. I love to see the bodies interact: it is vulgarly interesting, vulgarly beautiful. Keisha Castello is always asking me where I come up with my ideas. I love our dancehall music, our curse words all of it is filled with objectification but the words are so rich and so potent. You just can't help saying them over and over again.
Curator's Eye II, Identity and History: Personal and Social Narratives in Art in Jamaica is curated by Dr. Eddie Chambers. The exhibition runs through 18 March, 2006. Please call the National Gallery at 922 1561 for more details or email us at email@example.com.