Wednesday, March 21, 2012

EMPHASIS: JAMAICA: Ebony Patterson




Ebony Patterson, Cultural Sylloquy, 2010













"Bleaching gangstas’? Ebony Patterson interrogates dancehall’s expressions of masculinity"

Mel Coke, writing for Jamaica’s Gleaner, looks at artist Ebony Patterson’s work on dancehall and gender representation.

Ebony G Patterson, whose work was included in the National Gallery’s recent Young Talent V Exhibition, would have been about five or six years old when Admiral Bailey’s ‘Della Move’ was the dance song rage in dancehall. Her two uncles taught her the dance move on Patterson’s visits to ‘country’ and she also visited the street dance in Stewart Town, Trelawny, when she was very young. However, she told The Sunday Gleaner that “I think I really started engaging dancehall when I started going to Convent of Mercy Alpha Academy. A lot of the girls that I thought were really interesting were from around Alpha – Vineyard Town, Rollington Town and so on. I thought dancehall was a way to understand who they were”.

Now Patterson is the one seeking to explain through dancehall. Her Artist’s Statement for Young Talent V says, in part: “Ebony’s latest body of work, under the general heading ‘Gangstas for Life’, is, at its core, a conversation about gender construction in the Jamaican Dancehall.

’Gangstas for Life’ started by exploring the fashionable practice of skin bleaching in the ‘gangsta’ culture, but the most recent work has included other fashionable exploits previously associated with the feminine, and the wider so-called ‘bling’ culture – the embracing of a feminised aesthetic, which stands in striking contrast with dancehall’s rhetorical homophobia”.

Patterson grinned as she said “I grew up uptown” (and, off the cuff, adds “I like saying that”). “I feel dancehall kind of allowed me to understand what has been called ‘the other side of Jamaica’.” Her observation of dancehall’s many contradictions began at Passa Passa, the Tivoli Gardens street dance which has not been held since the circumstances surrounding Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke’s extradition escalated into outright warfare. “When I was at Edna Manley (College for the Visual and Performing Arts) a couple of us went down. It was amazing, all the dancers with Bogle at the time were bleaching, were all clad in very bright colours, were very slim,” she said. It was all very contradictory to what was considered masculine, Patterson said. Then she remembered an article in The STAR, about men lightening their skins to confuse policemen.

The observation became very personal, though, in her experience with her best friend’s nephew who she had known from he was five years old. “Very beautiful boy, nice Somali features”. Patterson had not seen him for a while, then one night she went with her friend to where he was and there was no streetlight. “All you saw was the glow of the yellow face. I said ‘who was that?’. My friend hissed her teeth and said ‘no Peter’.”

“I am really interested in beauty and the grotesque, how people were using the grotesque act to achieve what they thought was beauty,” Patterson said.

David Boxer’s Curator’s Statement on Patterson for Young Talent V ends: “underlying the tongue-in-cheek approach is a serious examination of the elements of popular taste, the aesthetics of Kingston and Jamaica’s vast and torrid popular culture”. In examining this particular act of the grotesque, Patterson connected that glowing face to gangster culture and the article she had read, started researching bleaching, engaged with dancehall tracks about complexion such as Buju Banton’s Browning, and made connections with the perception that the light skin came with economic viability.

Then, on a local television programme, one man spoke about preparing his skin for an event in much the same way he prepared his clothing – he would get his clothes and then get the cream so that his skin looked OK for an upcoming dance.

A photo shoot with Peter, who was accompanied by a friend called ‘Stogie’, provided an opportunity for deeper conversation. “I asked them if they were not afraid people would say they are gay. They quite proudly said ‘a no b … man ting, a gangster ting,” Patterson said.

Her ‘Gangstas, Disciplez & the Boyz’ exhibition was put on at the Cag(e) Gallery, Edna Manley College, in 2009.

Still, although she is “always a dancehall fan”, Patterson says “some of what is going on now, I am not too keen on. There are a lot of things going on now that I am not keen on”.

(For the original article go to http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20100808/arts/arts1.html)


HOW DOES THE WORK OF PATTERSON RELATE TO CLASS READINGS AND DISCUSSIONS OF POST-BLACK/POSTCOLONIALISM?

24 comments:

  1. She is relating her work to this group of 'gangstas' and gender roles. In this part of the article is where I started to see her work and where it was coming from. "Gangstas for Life’ started by exploring the fashionable practice of skin bleaching in the ‘gangsta’ culture, but the most recent work has included other fashionable exploits previously associated with the feminine, and the wider so-called ‘bling’ culture – the embracing of a feminised aesthetic, which stands in striking contrast with dancehall’s rhetorical homophobia” She is showing a situation in the world, that I am assuming that people are unsure what to say about this and what is happening in this community. This artist brings it to the forefront and confronts the viewer with it. She is discovering the word beauty, and what it means to people. She is observing and experiencing this, and has seen this happening in her community. How people act to it, this is how I think she relates her work to post-black/postcolonialism.

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  2. One way Patterson’s work relates to post-black/postcolonialism is her reference to the “gangstas” bleaching their skin. In a colonized world these people have grown to think that being white is better than being black. The article states that maybe this is to “confuse the policemen” or “economic viability.” Had it not been for the colonization they might be more prone to adhere to more of their cultural roots than outside influences. The post-black people should relate because they are always asking, “what’s black” so these dancehall kids, although black are making themselves white which is something that the post-black people go through because they “are not black enough.” Another thing that relates is the gender identity that the dancehall kids are taking. They are blurring the line of what a masculine black man is by whitening their skin, wearing tight clothes and slimming up. While here in the states wearing this kind of attire would get them labeled gay or weird there it makes them a part of the dancehall society. On a side note, one thing I wanted to point out about the article is the fact that it makes Patterson kind of look like a judgmental asshole. In the article it seems like she is saying “well I’m from uptown” and that’s what they do downtown, so I’m going to go watch them and judge them, like they are some kind of dog and pony show. Maybe I read it wrong but that’s how it seemed to me

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  3. I agree with Scott. Patterson's reference to the "gangstas" beaching their skin has to do with postcolonialism. Changing themselves to become white which can be considered the better race. She mentions how people used the grotesque to show what they thought was beauty. The act of bleaching their skin is, in fact, grotesque but they are doing it to achieve the 'beauty' that is associated with being white. Most of the artists we've discussed have used their art to confront cultural stereotypes. The dancehall males are doing just that by whitening their skin and being masculine while wearing bright colors and having a feminized look. Dancehall is simply addressing and confronting stereotypes much like the artists we have studied.

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  4. The work of Ebony Patterson relates to Post-Black and Post-Colonialism in many ways. Patterson's concepts revolve around the 21st century generation of Jamaican gangsters. She use's her experiences of the Jamaican dancehall and the Jamaican culture of bleaching and "bling" throughout her work. How Jamaicans use grotesque acts of bleaching their skin to achieve beauty and to avoid being hassled by police. The work of Patterson relates to Post-black/colonialism because she's using her experiences and background to share what it's like to be a person of Jamaican descents. An individual would see a lot of these same concepts in post-black artwork. Patterson isn't relying on the history of her Jamaican ancestors. She uses her own experiences and culture to create her artwork.

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  5. Ebony Patterson work references post-black/ postcolonialism by talking about the Jamaican cultural references that inspired her art. One aspect is the discussion of the bleaching of the skin to have what appears to be a lighter tone. The belief is that having lighter skin is better than that of a darker tone.Lighter skin is supposedly comes with "economic viability". The same belief can be traced back to the days of slavery when slaves were separated based on the color of their skin. Slaves with lighter pigmentation would work in the house versus those with more melanin in their skin working in the field. Another aspect of her work of art is referring to the "bling" sensation that has also become a trend in the dancehall genre. The men not only bleached their skin, but they also wore lots of flamboyant accessories and dressed themselves in brightly colored garbs. Their new look changed the stereotype of masculinity.

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  6. Ebony Patterson's work relates to post-black/post-colonialism. One way this is accomplished is through her referencing of skin bleaching. This gruesome process was used by Jamaican gangsters in the 21st century who believed that white skin was superior to and more beautiful than black. In addition these "gangstas" began wearing bright tight clothing and slimming down. This ultimately gave them a decidedly feminine look. In Patterson's works she portrays this revisal of the characteristic "masculine" stereotype. This confrontation of stereotypes represents the post-black/postcolonialism view.

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  7. Skin bleaching and gender roles definitely contribute to postcolonialism. The ironic part is they use a grotesque method to bleach their skin to achieve what they describe as "beauty" and demonstrate their masculinity through tight clothing and vibrant colors. These methods remind me of black face which all refer to stereotypes and that's what postcolonialism consists of. To me I feel sad for them.

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  8. Patterson's work relates to our discussions of post-black and postcolonialism because she raises the question: what is beautiful? Who said white is the skin color that is most attractive? Why are people of darker complexion bleaching their skin? This is something I will not understand. The most important message I get from her work is to be yourself. Never try to be something or someone that you are not. We must all see the beauty in our own culture and let that define who we are, what we look like and how we are perceived. We can not change our history, the environment we grew up in, or the world's often twisted representation of beauty, but we can embrace our own unique beauty and culture.

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  9. The debate in the 60s and 70s surrounding the notion of post-colonialism or post-blackness never truly resolved the definition of what it means to be “black.” The dancehall craze in Jamaica rose in the same era. As proved in the work of Patterson, post-Colonialism has global significance. One of the results of colonization is the imposition of ideas and standards (beauty, value, etc.) of the superior culture on subordinate cultures. 30 years ago, they called for acknowledgment of the oppression; today the debate of post-colonialism focuses more on reclaiming power and elevating the initial cultural values that existed before colonization.
    The artwork of Patterson explores these themes as displayed in the dancehall culture of Jamaica. She insinuates that she opposes some of these practices saying, “some of what is going on now, I am not too keen on”. However, it is as much a relevant issue to her as it is to her friend’s nephew and other dancehallers. It seems that by adopting a paler face, tighter clothing, etc. they are impersonating characteristics of other cultures and classes, specifically upper class white men, thus reflecting a skewed idea of beauty. To some, like Patterson, this is insulting or degrading. She calls practices to attain these perceptions of beauty “grotesque”. The feminizing qualities of bleaching and Patterson’s interpretations of dancehall ideas reminded me of the artwork shown in class of the African male head sculpture that was beautifully feminized (Congalaise ?). This bust is yet another take on the exploration of post-colonialism decades after the dialogue began.

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  10. I think that what Patterson says about gender is critical to understanding how this work relates to the concepts of "post-blackness" and postcolonialism. Just as post-black art deals with race as a social construct, this work seems to deal with gender as a social construct. Moreover, it, like post-black art, shows that people cannot be defined by their appearance. After all, the subjects' gender defies their appearance. Though they are (according the the article) homophobic, their appearance is, of course, feminine. It is interesting to note that postcolonialism often relates colonialism to a patriarchal system in which the colonizers are "masculine" and the colonized are "feminine." Colonizers are, in effect, seen as emasculating the colonized. The seeming feminization - or emasculation - of Patterson's subjects, then, could be interpreted as a powerful commentary on them having been colonized.

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  11. One way Patterson’s work relates to post colonialism/post black is her reference to the “gangstas” bleaching their skin. Due to the way society thinks, people are trained to believe that white skin is better than black. If we were not in a colonized world, than they would adhere to their cultural roots instead of the outside influences being forced upon them. All of the artists we have studied have used/are using their art to confront their stereotypes. The men in these dancehalls are doing just that. They may be doing it in a different context but they are still confronting the stereotypes which affect them. Just as they are bleaching their skin, having a feminized look, and being masculine while wearing bright colors it reminds me of the black face used in Bamboozled. I feel as though she is trying to tell us that it is okay to be ourselves. Everyone’s cultural is different and it is essential to see how beautiful each one is.

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  12. Patterson's work relates to the class discussion and the post black/post colonialism movement because the people of the Dancehall in Jamaica are setting trends that correlate to European behavior. Bleaching the skin so that they appear lighter skin toned is not a very popular thing to do on the "gangster" scene in Dancehall. Men are also now wearing " bling" which is not very masculine and goes against their once preconceived notions of social behavior in Dancehall. One man said that the lighter skin helps them not stand out to cops but Patterson believes this is a widespread social trend that she says is very grotesque. They are emulating western behavior and are losing their some of their original culture.

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  13. Patterson's work is related to Post black/post colonialism because her history is a strong key to her pieces. She reffers back to the Jamaican culture and uses it to her advantage. The way she refferences to post black/post colonialism is said on the "gangstas" bleaching their skin. This is a great example of how the world is living in a colonialized style. Following up on several comments, while people use the grotesque to show beauty- who actually came up with what is considered beauty? While today racism has quieted down compared to the past, people are changing themselves to become "better". Bone skinny models as a dream image, plastic surgery, lipo, the list goes on to define the society's definition of "beauty". As in the blog it quotes, "... article in The STAR, about men lightening their skins to confuse policemen." Some were changing their skin color just to be considered innocent, which I consider a relation to postcolonialism.

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  14. A way that Patterson's work relates to our post-colonial and post-black discussions and readings is through her representation of the way certain jamaican "gangstas" have altered their appearance whether drastically or gradually. I think in many ways she is past post-colonialism because she gives focuses mostly on the way these gangsters have feminized their appearance as opposed to Europeanizing in. Colonialization is no longer being discussed, she has moved on to a discussion of gender with the figures she represents. In pictorial tradition females are portrayed with lighter skin than males, and so it can be interpreted as an embracing of feminine appearance that these men die their faces. They also begin to wear lighter, brighter colors which traditionally are more commonly worn by women, and also "bling" which is essentially jewelry. When discussing these issues in terms of gender, not race Patterson takes us past post-colonialism to another topic altogether.

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  15. Ebony Patterson's artwork relates to the readings and discussions we have had about post colonialism. In this article, written by Mel Coke, he explores Petterson's artwork and how it relates to dancehall and gender representation. Petterson has developed a fascination for understanding why these young men in Jamaica are bleaching their skin. Her work has moved on to also display, "other fashionable exploits previously associated with the feminine, and wider so called 'bling' culture..". Petterson wonders why these men are making these decisions as well as why it seems that they are presenting themselves as more feminine rather than masculine. This all relates to post colonialism because these men are taking their culture for granted. Peterson is using her life experiences to share what is going on in Jamaica.

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  16. Patterson's work focuses on the present, as opposed to viewing things from an old European standpoint. She doesn't quite deal with race as something in the past, but how it's affecting people now (ex: how some see light skin equaling economic viability, going as far as bleaching their skin). This has some dealings with race, but from a more modern and personal standpoint--Patterson is seeing this in her life. She also expands her focus to different cultures--gangsta, bling-- and what is considered feminine and masculine. These ideas seem to intertwined with the ideas of what one considers beauty and can possibly be linked to the bleaching of skin.

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  17. I think Patterson's work shows signs of post-colonization because she was dealing with people who identified themselves as "gangsters". Due to the fact that black folk seem to be the scapegoat in various situations, bleaching their skin to confuse to the law enforcement seems to be the main objective that proves my point. White people are seen as privilaged compared to black people. As far as the gender indentification goes, I am not so sure what to categorized that as. The way the article puts things, it seems somewhat metrosexual. She mentioned how one of the men would lay out his clothes then get his bleaching cream to make sure his outift looked okay. It is just fine to want to look nice for an event but why would he need the cream to accompany his outfit for a night with his friends?

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  18. I believe Patterson's work reflects what we have discussed in class on post-colonial/black because it is very similar to black-facing technique and the other trends, like "bling," which have re-defined stereotypes. These trends, especially bleaching and black-face, all go against what their culture is, and in that kind of breaking the mold. All of these type of trends are completely post-colonial ideas, but I do agree with Patterson in that its "grotesque."

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  19. Patterson’s approach seems to engage the Postcolonial sentiment, in that she identifies the bleaching process as grotesque. However, she does not confine herself to the Postcolonial framework because her portrayal of dancehall is still largely celebratory. I am curious what the Postcolonial school would say about Patterson’s work, if only because she is not completely disregarding an institution that is steeped in Colonialism. It is intriguing to think about where the “bling” culture falls in relation to Postcolonialism. While it successfully functions as a culture of resistance inside the system of white supremacy, it also is thoroughly invested in Western tradition. Furthermore, the demarcations of Patterson’s style extend beyond the Postcolonial boundaries because she is exploring gender in her work. The motifs of sexism and homophobia in the dancehall community that Patterson approaches are not necessarily dissonant with Postcolonialism, but the complicate the issue in new ways.

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  20. Patterson's work parallels what we talk about in class greatly because she was a witness to the bleaching process and was disgusted with it. It shows signs of post colonialization as they are trying to act as if there white to trick the law and get away with more making even more evident that white people get away with more than black people. She exploits the se "gangsters" in Jamaica and how they have not moved forward in post colonization.

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  21. Patterson addresses the questions: What is beautiful? What is masculine? What represents economic viability? This relates to our discussions because in a post-colonial society, blacks would not be bleaching their skin to try and seem more "uptown." In other ways, however, these young Jamaicans are actually asserting their identity, by wearing the tight clothing and being so slim. They have come up with their own definition of what it means to be a black Jamaican in modern times. Patterson, while seeming a bit snooty about it, asks some interesting questions in her work.

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  22. Patterson's work goes with what we discussed in class on Post-colonial/post-black because of the use of the "white-face" or rather the bleached skin. She speaks on being intrigued it what people see as beauty, and the measures they take to achieve (such as the lightening of the skin). This goes well with our discussion because post-colonial artist refer to a more western influence, such as the people she is portraying in her work.

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  23. Patterson's work dealing with skin bleaching and the stigmas associated with lighter skin can be tied to post colonialism. One rarely saw a lighter skinned slave working in the fields. They were domestic workers in the house. This hierarchy in value related to skin pigment can be seen worldwide. People with lighter skin are considered more valued and "better" than darker skinned people. Economic wealth and status within a community can be directly tied to skin pigment. It is of no surprise that the trend of skin bleaching among the gangsta culture of Jamaica is popular. Its a way to get ahead, to get rich, to evade attention from police. This Western standard of value and beauty has permeated today's culture and negatively affects the lives of those beneath the status quo in such a way that they are willing to alter their appearance to be able to pass in this "white world."

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  24. The post black and post colonialism connection with Patterson's work is very exaggerated in style. He took accessories, like the rhinestones, and modern ideas of what is "normal" in an African American's life, such the skin bleaching, and exploited them to a level that displays their overly unnecessary nature, yet they are accepted when in context. When driving around town, one might see a few brightly painted cars with special features, but the add-odds don't determine whether or not the car starts, same for the skin. It doesn't matter how light or dark one's skin is, whether or not we wake up each day is not determined by our skin color nor does it determine the importance of any individual, but America's unforgivable past has created the spawn of ideas that these are contributing factors for peoples' ways of life. Norms begin to be created throughout time, and from my own research, mothers are bleaching their children's skin to create a better living platform for them- and that to me is so sad because these children are being raised not knowing any better. The products are made to look like harmless tubes of lotion, and kids are thinking that they're just putting on lotion like their mom told them. Thankfully these types of unnecessary issues are being addressed and tackled more and more as time passes.

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