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This review has been a long time coming.

Jamaican artist Ebony J Patterson held an exhibition entitled Out and Bad at the Bermuda National Gallery almost a year ago to the day.  It was such an outstanding show, we felt we could not afford to overlook it in spite of the lapse of time.  The delay in our review can largely be attributed to the same fate that befell this review of William Collieson's work, in that we were afraid the moratorium which the Gallery has in place with regard to the taking of photographs, coupled with the dearth of official photographs of the exhibition available for publication, meant we would fail to do the show justice.

Patterson, a professor at the University of Kentucky, has been exploring the interplay between popular music, dance and fashion within Jamaican culture for the better part of a decade and with it, issues of gender identity and duality.  The title of the exhibition has a double meaning: on the one hand it refers to a Jamaican expression of joy or satisfaction, while on the other it is a colloquial term for someone who has come out of the closet as a homosexual.  The concept of Out and Bad was developed over a period of three years with Patterson reusing clothing from earlier photo-based projects.  Split into three areas: a shop, a central group of mannequins and a series of four tapestries situated around the perimeter, the saturated colours, glitter, embellishments and patterns make Patterson's work visually stunning.

The floral tapestries hung behind mannequins whose features were obscured in such a manner as to cause them to fade into the background.  The tapestries were set up as shrines of sorts grounded with liquor, money, flowers, bars of soap and skin whitening creams - items which are fairly commonplace in the Caribbean but which were distorted and embellished enough to give the familiar a surreal flavour.  The tapestry installations also had a three-dimensional quality with the leaves and flowers of the tapestries spilling on to the floor in front of the onlooker, drawing them into the scene.  Another set of mannequins exhibited on a plinth slightly elevated above the main floor of the gallery were clustered in a central group peering down at the audience.  These mannequins were covered in fabric intended to be a subtle reference to the popular acts of tattooing and skin bleaching.

The main crux of Patterson's show was to question the strict interpretation of what is masculine and what is feminine within a particular culture.  The juxtaposition of the traditionally conservative wallpaper and tapestries with the vibrancy of the youth-culture which is the dancehall scene in Jamaica was startling and effective.

Image Courtesy the Bermuda National Gallery 

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