In­ter­sect­ing gen­der in the arts

Jamaica Gleaner - - ARTS & EDUCATION - Keino Se­nior Con­trib­u­tor

IN 2018, the United Na­tions part­nered with the Edna Man­ley Col­lege of the Vis­ual and Per­form­ing Arts (EMCVPA) to mount a vis­ual art com­pe­ti­tion on the oc­ca­sion of the 70th An­niver­sary of the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights.

Two of the top three awards in this com­pe­ti­tion went to Sashoy Bewry and Sasha Kay Hinds, while the third went to Kobi Bai­ley. What can we in­fer from this as we con­tinue to ex­plore the in­ter­sect­ing role of gen­der in both hu­man rights and the arts?

A pre­vail­ing dis­course, for ex­am­ple, is that bal­let and classical mu­sic, as two pop­u­lar art forms gen­er­ally char­ac­terised as fem­i­nine, po­si­tion male dancers and classical vo­cal­ists as be­ing dis­ad­van­taged with at­ten­dant stereo­typ­ing and dis­crim­i­na­tion.

On the con­trary, male ex­po­nents of dance­hall and reg­gae mu­sic are revered.

In­deed, it can be ar­gued that gen­der stereo­typ­ing af­fects all the vis­ual and per­form­ing arts. In Caribbean so­ci­eties, gen­der con­tin­ues to be treated as a bi­nary con­struc­tion which is fixed as ei­ther mas­cu­line or fem­i­nine, not­with­stand­ing in­ter­ven­tions to re­con­struct the ide­o­log­i­cal frame­work that bol­sters this view. At odds with the in­ter­ven­tions, some of them made by fem­i­nist groups, is the dom­i­nant pa­tri­ar­chal sys­tem which con­tin­ues to flour­ish and re­in­force the power re­la­tion­ships be­tween male and fe­male.

Two very im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal fac­tors that in­flu­ence gen­der in the arts in the Caribbean are slav­ery and in­den­ture­ship. Both the plan­ta­tion sys­tem and in­den­ture­ship had sig­nif­i­cant de­mar­ca­tion of gen­der roles made more com­plex by the nexus with race. This legacy im­pacts the un­der­stand­ing of Ja­maican and Caribbean aes­thet­ics and the con­fig­u­ra­tion of the prac­tice of the arts in per­va­sive ways. Yet, reengi­neer­ing this out­look is crit­i­cal to the ac­com­plish­ment of Vi­sion 2030, Ja­maica’s na­tional de­vel­op­ment plan.

At the EMCVPA, gen­der is main­streamed in its cur­ricu­lum and bol­stered through the host­ing of an an­nual gen­der and de­vel­op­ment lec­ture dur­ing the an­nual Founders’ Week (in March), gen­der jus­tice ad­vo­cacy and out­reach/col­lab­o­ra­tion, and the of­fer­ing of di­rect cour­ses in gen­der stud­ies or in­di­rect cour­ses that use gen­der as an in­ter­sec­tion­al­ity.


The re­sult is in the in­cor­po­ra­tion of gen­der the­o­ries in the stu­dio prac­tice and in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised works of stu­dents and grad­u­ates of the col­lege. For ex­am­ple, San­dra Green, a 2013 EMCVPA grad­u­ate, in her fi­nal-year School of Vis­ual Arts ex­hi­bi­tion en­gaged the mo­tif and vis­ual rhetoric of fe­male sex­u­al­ity, sen­su­al­ity, and sen­si­bil­ity.

Her work ex­plored the is­sues of fe­male sex­u­al­ity in the con­text of a het­ero­sex­ual space. At the same time, Green skil­fully used fem­i­nine sym­bol­ism and metaphor­i­cal em­blems to high­light ways in which fe­male sex­u­al­ity is con­trolled and op­pressed by Caribbean pa­tri­ar­chal ide­olo­gies.

An­other ex­am­ple of gen­der be­ing in­ter­sected in the arts was seen in the 2012 fi­nal-year pre­sen­ta­tion of School of Drama grad­u­ate Web­ster McDonald. In it, he utilised a biomyth method­ol­ogy to in­ter­ro­gate mas­culin­i­ties.

For gen­der in the arts to be main­streamed na­tion­ally, how­ever, its treat­ment, even with in­clu­sion in pol­icy doc­u­ments, needs to move from a mi­cro level to a na­tional con­cern.

All arts or­gan­i­sa­tions and in­sti­tu­tions need to ad­vance gen­der main­stream­ing as an in­te­gral com­po­nent of not only gov­ern­ing poli­cies and pro­grammes, but also their ac­tiv­i­ties and pro­duc­tions.

The ul­ti­mate re­sult of this would be to re­lease the full po­ten­tial and range of ex­pres­sion of the artist cur­rently re­stricted by stereo­typ­ing. The con­se­quent im­pact on the holis­tic de­vel­op­ment of the artist as an in­di­vid­ual could very well be seen in an ex­plo­sion of cre­ativ­ity that cat­a­pults the cul­tural and cre­ative in­dus­tries to lev­els of which we cur­rently dream.

Keino Se­nior, PhD, is the dean of the School of Arts Man­age­ment and Hu­man­i­ties at the Edna Man­ley Col­lege of the Vis­ual and Per­form­ing Arts and edi­tor of the ‘Jonkonnu Arts Jour­nal’. Send your com­ments to prin­ci­[email protected]


Pi­anist El­jay Reid, fourth-year per­for­mance ma­jor at the School of Mu­sic, plays a tune.


Mod­els wear de­signs cre­ated by a stu­dent from the School of Vis­ual Art.

Janoy John­son, dance ed­u­ca­tion stu­dent, School of Dance, re­hearses a move.

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