On the occasion of our special issue dedicated to the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo, we asked artist Ebony G. Patterson to share with our readers her artist’s perspective on the São Paulo Biennale and her experience of being part of it.
Ebony is among the 81 participating artists of this edition and she’s currently working on the commissioned project that will be unveiled on September 10th, the official opening day of the Biennial which will run until December 11th. The project she’s developing is an attempt to draw parallels between the socio-cultural contexts of Brazil and Jamaica and it follows the curatorial guidelines of 32nd Bienal de São Paulo which aim to reflect on the current conditions of life and on the strategies offered by contemporary art to harbor or inhabit uncertainty.
Carla Ingrasciotta: Let’s start with your participation at the Biennial. This year’s selection of invited artists is characterised by a strong presence of artists born after 1970 and of women. What is it like being part of such a selection? What are your hopes and expectations for this experience?
Ebony Patterson: It’s an honour and privilege to be included in this year’s Biennale! I have always wanted to be able to participate in this event. To represent my country, Jamaica, is truly an honour! I’m looking forward to seeing the works of other artists in the Biennale, seeing Sao Paulo, visiting as many art institiutions as possible and also, most of all, collecting new materials during my time there to take back to the studio.
C.I.: The theme you’re exploring for the Biennale is violence committed against young people of colour and the exclusionary systems in which they are essentially imprisoned. How are you developing this project and in what way does it follow the curatorial guidelines of “providing strategies and speculations on how to live with uncertainty”?
E.P.: The body of work that I am showing comes from an ongoing project. Some of the earlier work from this project was shown at the Studio Museum in Harlem in a solo exhibit in March 2016 ‘…..when they grow up ….’. Because of the nature of the themes in the Biennale the curatorial team thought this work could lead to a meaningful discussion in Brazil. The work not only examines the above-mentioned issues but it also examines the issue of class, which is closely tied to our colonial experience. When we think about the not so distant events that resulted in the killing of 5 young boys, travelling in a vehicle, by police in Rio de Janeiro – including Carlos Eduardo da Silva Souza, 16, and Cleiton Correa de Souza,18; or the killing, molesting and dumping of young girls from working class communities in Jamaica, who are made to seem like sexual predators – (for example Santoya Campbell 14); or the killing of a young boy playing with a toy gun in the US, Tamir Rice, 12. In all of these instances, these children were no longer seen as children, but as adults. Deprived of the possibility of innocence because of their social and racial standing. We should ask ourselves about the inheritance of these perceptions by way of colonialism, and whether or not we are willing to shift them.
C.I.: Your art focuses on Jamaican dancehall culture, a topic that raises questions about beauty, race, stereotyping and conventional gender roles. Could you tell us more about this recurrent theme and how it is translated in your artwork?
E. P.: My work actually uses the symbols associated with dancehall culture as a way to understand the need for visibility, or rather, the activation of visibility by persons who are deemed ‘unvisible’ or ‘invisible’. I have been increasingly concerned with ideas around ‘visibility’ and ‘invisibility’ – the way that popular cultural spaces and archetypes, such as social media, have created new spaces for the disenfranchised to be visible in a digital space. Partnered with this new visibility, I have also considered ‘bling’ and its relationship to light, as a device of illumination. Creating a moment of importance for someone who may be deemed otherwise unimportant, due to their social, economic or political status, or location. The work therefore examines these considerations while raising questions about beauty, race, stereotyping and gender.
C.I.: The artwork used as the main featured image of the website, “…when they grow up…” 2016 deals with street culture and the extremely violent contexts of several communities in Kingston, Jamaica. Could you tell us something more about the artwork, the process of creation of this specific work and what’s behind the use of such diverse material (tapestry, jewelry, toys…)?
E.P.: The body of work “..when we grow up..” is not about Kingston, Jamaica, but rather it is about the shared experiences of children of colour, particularly children of African descent in post-colonial societies, including Brazil. Epidephobia is the fear of youth. When watching the news reports where youth of colour are often victims of violent killings, these children are often described as adults. Their blackness renders them ‘victimless’ and incapable of innocence. The black body has always been a site of contention, it is feared, policed, restricted in public spaces. This body of work pictures black youth in an attempt to confront the viewer with these projected stereotypes, while being made to recognise and realise that they are children too, filled with the same sense of optimism, play, insecurities, curiosities and pain as other children Through these works the viewer is being asked to question the way in which these projections affect the way they see and experience children of colour. While creating a moment of sainthood and innocence for black children
C.I.: What is your impression of the art scene in Sao Paulo? Do you think the city is a stimulating place for an artist?
E.P.: Brazil has a very vibrant and active art community and is an important global art centre. This will be my first time traveling to Brazil and I am looking forward to experiencing and learning as much as I can during my visit. Although I do already feel that my first trip will be waaaaayyy too short! So I am already looking forward to my second trip!