Intersecting gender in the arts
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, re-engineering 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.
Incorporation of Gender Theories
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.