art in all its forms

art in all its forms


Leasho Johnson on the male gaze and his new piece at the Jamaica Biennial

Leasho Johnson at Devon House. Photo by Andre Bagoo.
LEASHO Johnson, 32, has something to say, and he's wasting no time saying it. Hot on the heels of participating in Caribbean Queer Visualities last November; being featured at Fader in January; then mounting his debut solo exhibition at NLS last month, he's now making a splash at the Jamaica Biennial with In-a-the-Middle, an installation at Devon House which cooks up a scathing commentary on misogyny. Leasho takes a rare break to tell us, in his own words, about his latest work.

CCH Pounder checks out Leasho Johnson's In-a-the-Middle. (Courtesy the artist).
When it came to the title for this piece, I was thinking about ZJ Liquid's 'Inna the Middle'. I was also thinking about sweet potato pudding, a popular Jamaican dessert, and about our attitude to cooking more generally. Jamaicans love their cooking, especially their mom's cooking. We are very fond of sweet potato pudding, which we call hell a top, hell a bottom and hallelujah in the middle. I love the construction of this nickname and like to maintain elements of Jamaican patois in my work.

In-a-the-Middle is referring to the objectification of the female body in dancehall via the male gaze. I'm also referring to the idea of the female as the home-maker. I am trying to describe a kind of negative space that is misogynistic. It's also violent: a violent aftermath of something. What I'm describing is something I believe is commonplace in homes across Jamaica; as ubiquitous as rice and peas in a culture that deems women weak and that places men on a podium. Yes, dancehall is the centre stage of our culture, but everything happens in the home.

Digital sketch for In-a-the-Middle.

Devon House was part of the curating. I was transfixed by its aesthetic elements. I wanted to see if I could pull this piece off the way I saw it in my head and that involved its white walls.

This piece started after I created a piece with bottles for my solo exhibition called 'Cocktales and Pumpum'. In the course of researching that I came across an image of an outdoor kitchen made of rocks and firewood with large Dutch pots. It occurred to me that these pots were so familiar they were engrained in our culture. It made sense to do something using them.

The process of assembling this was nail-biting and I had given up a few times. This piece was brand new for me: new materials and a new space. But I had help from the National Gallery of Jamaica and fellow artists. Anything is possible when good people are behind you and for that I'm grateful.

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