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‘Dead Treez’ explores Jamaican dancehall subculture

Ebony G. Patterson, “Swag Swag Krew” (from the “Out and Bad” series) Installation view, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, 2011–14; cotton, velvet, lace, plastic and mixed media. Courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, IL. Photo: Courtesy John Michael Kohler Arts Center

By RACHEL ADAMS

Published January 19, 2017

“The seeing is what happens in social media, but the looking is what I’m asking you to do.”
Ebony Patterson, artist
“Dead Treez” exhibition

“Dead Treez,” Ebony G. Patterson’s exhibition of eye-popping floor tapestries and brightly covered male figures that explores Jamaica’s dancehall subculture, will be on view Feb. 9 through May 13 in the UB Art Gallery in the Center for the Arts, North Campus.

The opening reception will take place from 5-8 p.m. Feb. 9 in the gallery.

Patterson also will discuss her work with Lauren Haynes, curator of contemporary art at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, at 7 p.m. April 12 in the Black Box Theatre in the Center for the Arts. Haynes previously served as associate curator of the permanent collection at the Studio Museum in Harlem

“Dead Treez,” which originated at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, explores visibility regarding class, race and gender through the lens of Jamaica’s popular and controversial dancehall subculture. Patterson’s evocative work considers the paradoxical relationship between traditional gender codes and the bombastic aesthetics of dancehall pageantry.

Ebony G. Patterson, "The Passing" (Dead Daadi), 2013; hand-embellished tapestry, 90 x 68 inches

The Jamaican-born Patterson’s work attracts the eye with its highly embellished, illuminated imagery. And once captivated, the viewer is challenged to look beyond the mesmerizing surfaces for a deeper commentary.

The installation of 10 male mannequins is a meditation on dancehall fashion and culture, regarded as a celebration of the disenfranchised in postcolonial Jamaica. Although dancehall fashion has long employed a camp sensibility rooted in spectacle, the growing influence of male metrosexuality worldwide has encouraged a style that incorporates more feminine sensibilities. By camouflaging the body with textiles, Patterson isolates and highlights the gestures and postures often associated with machismo.

In her floor tapestries, Patterson borrows the flamboyant aspects of dancehall dress to draw attention to murder victims. Inspired by the images and reports of violent fatalities she sees circulated on social media, she creates visually compelling images of the deceased that seduce the viewer into bearing witness to the underreported and unacknowledged brutality experienced by those living on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.

Ebony G. Patterson, "Where We Found Them," 2014; cotton, plastic, lace, glitter, and mixed media.

“With this new body of work, I started thinking a lot about visibility and the Internet in terms of the bee-and-flower syndrome,” Patterson says. “The bee is attracted to the flower because of its coloring, because of its beauty, and it isn’t until he gets in that he discovers if the flower has the nectar that he wants. So you are attracted to the work because of its shininess, because of its prettiness, but it’s not until you get into the work that you start to realize that there’s something more.

“There is a challenge being made about seeing and looking,” she adds. “The seeing is what happens in social media, but the looking is what I’m asking you to do. The looking requires thought, it requires engagement, it requires awareness and it requires presence.”

The UB Art Gallery in the Center for the Arts is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 1-5 p.m. on Saturday.

Admission is free.