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J'can in We Have Met Before quartet

Published:Sunday | September 17, 2017 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small
Part of the artwork done on a wall in Kingston that Leasho Johnson is recreating for the We Have Met Before Exhibition at the National Gallery, Kingston.
Leasho Johnson

The next art exhibition to be presented at the National Gallery of Jamaica, Kingston, in partnership with the British Council, is named We Have Met Before.

Its purpose is to revisit the subject of Trans-Atlantic slavery and its afterlives, as seen through the eyes of four contemporary artists.

Scheduled for September 22 through November 4, 2017, the artists from across the globe were selected to bring a distinctive perspective with work that was created in different locales, with different media, and at different points in time.

We Have Met Before features Scottish artist Graham Fagen, Joscelyn Gardner from Barbados, Guyanese-born British artist Ingrid Pollard, and the youngest of the lot, Leasho Johnson from Jamaica.




Johnson presents a visual mix of history and contemporary popular culture, with strong references to dancehall.

"The challenge is that as an artist, you can't share it with your own local people, the audience that it's about. A lot of artists have evolved beyond spaces. We have to take our stuff out of our spaces," he said.

Johnson decided to place his work on public walls. His graffiti art, which appeared around Kingston last year, seems to be all the marketing Johnson needed for his National Gallery debut.

"Everyone knows what dancehall comes with ... .", he said, referencing the cartoon-like female and gender-ambivalent figures in various provocative poses in his work.

"We have to understand that every Jamaican experiences Jamaican life and you cannot eliminate dancehall out of it," he told The Gleaner.

We Have Met Before intends to invite viewers into a conversation about slavery and its legacy, where various perspectives can be expressed.

"Dancehall is a hybridisation. I always considered it to be something that was 'as a result of', because you can't just take the people without them taking parts of themselves. Dancehall is like a reinvention of something that existed before. It embodies our Africanism, our whole culture in that way - and has become something else, because we've become something else. I'm just trying add on top of that and speak about it in a way that we haven't spoken about it," Johnson said."

"I view Jamaica as a commodity. It was a destination for a particular thing. It wasn't for us ... . The whole reason we are here, we were supposed to produce fruits, vegetables and sugar cane. In a way, we're still kind of viewed as this tropical destination where these exotic things exist - including us," he explained.