Ebony G. Patterson’s paintings, installations, videos and sculptures traverse the complexities of race, gender, class and violence with a sophistication that belies their sumptuous, festive facade. Fresh off a recent move to Chicago and high-profile museum exhibitions in Baltimore and Miami, Patterson presents ten works (all 2018) in her fourth solo exhibition at Monique Meloche that considers gardens as the unambiguous site of race, class and power in a postcolonial world.
Whether memorializing victims caught in the crossfire of violent crime or exploring standards of beauty and skin-lightening practices in her native Jamaica and beyond, Patterson’s works encourage viewers to look beyond the surface. The eye-popping installations that comprise the enigmatically titled “…for those who bear/bare witness…” are no exception, their bright colors, textured embellishments and careful composition demonstrating the rigor and commitment to craft for which Patterson has come to be known. To create the tapestries, which are installed against a newly artist-designed night garden wallpaper, Patterson worked with a Jamaican tailor to fashion garments using luxurious fabrics such as jacquard and brocade. She photographed models wearing the flamboyant clothing against a colorful backdrop. The photos, which became the basis for the tapestry designs, were fabricated by a commercial weaver. After receiving the completed tapestries, Patterson added embellishments to the fabric and cut them by hand to create the new works, a process echoing their multilayered, complex visual effect.
Many of Patterson’s works use signifiers of beauty, pageantry, luxury and decadence, an homage to the aspirations of the marginalized people who are often the subject of her work and long to achieve a sense of equity. Since 2013, she has explored the garden as a place where achieving such equity might be possible. Decorative gardens have stood as symbols of wealth and leisure around the world since colonial times and that association continues today, as having access to space to grow plants and flowers remains limited for the poor. In the works, flora and fauna appear to burst out of the tapestries, emerging from their rococo confines alongside fragmented bodies—an apt metaphor for the shifting social relationships of postcolonial societies and the tensions therein. People who can sacrifice valuable land to create beautiful landscape designs rather than grow food continue to be whiter and wealthier, typically, than those who worked to maintain and care for these magnificent and nourishing spaces. As headless and limbless torsos adorned in fine clothing peek through the plants and flowers, glitter and beads, Patterson asks us to acknowledge the sordid reality that upholds the veneer of beauty and recognize the dissonance required to maintain it.
While Patterson’s imagery and materials encourage viewers to confront the discomfort that comes with examining issues of race and class, her choice of artwork titles pushes this notion further. Adding additional text such as “dignity,” or the phrase, “she saw things she shouldn’t have,” or wordplay such as the homophones “bear/bare” to the exhibition title highlights the power imbalances and the people who are diminished by them at the core of her striking visual displays. In this latest exhibition, Patterson creates a world providing clues to where mourning might end and healing, life and rebirth might begin. (Lee Ann Norman)
Ebony G. Patterson’s “…for those who bear/bare witness…” shows through December 22 at Monique Meloche, 451 North Paulina.