UB Center for the Arts exhibit speaks of death, dancehall
Dead Treez exhibit explores gender roles through glitz and glam
Ebony G. Patterson uses glamorous accents such as glitter and sparkles to draw viewers into the ideas of gender and death.
Patterson, a Jamaican-born artist, created Dead Treez, an intricate exhibit that draws in viewers through lustrous, vivid hues. Patterson’s work opened on Thursday evening in the first floor wing of the UB Art Gallery in the Center for the Arts. The exhibit’s artwork is inspired by Jamaican-style dancehalls.
Jamaica’s brightness and fluidity is exemplified in the gallery with the piece “Swag Swag Krew.”In a room plastered with green floral wallpaper, textured mannequins pose upon a square platform.
“Swag Swag Krew” taps into the exuberance of dancehall clothing. Multi-colored garb and a myriad of chains are all on display. The mannequin platform features everything from alcoholic beverages to a small child driving a dazzling toy truck.
Patterson was not present at the opening but expanded on the meaning of “Swag Swag Krew” in a recent interview with Karen Patterson, the exhibition curator at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. She said the piece isn’t dependent on the gender of the viewer but rather how he or she interprets the poses and gestures of the mannequins.
Rachel Adams, senior curator of exhibitions at the UB Art Galleries, takes interest in Patterson’s work and its consideration for gender, masculinity, the body and the black body.
“I think Ebony is really talking about fluidity and sort-of making the invisible, visible and the fact that adorning yourself in some sort of way is totally fine as well as not adorning yourself,” Adams said. “She comes from a culture that is very much into fashion and dancehall. It’s loud, colorful and bright.”
Patterson wants her artwork to make viewers think about how gender defines clothing. She removed gender labels associated with certain types of clothing, making it more difficult to determine what type of clothing is meant for each gender.
She attributes her inspiration to her home in Jamaica, where tattooing and skin bleaching has recently become more popular. Her work symbolizes how skin color is another dimension of fashion.
Joseph Frank, a graduate student in the Master in Fine Arts program, is a gallery intern at the UB Art Gallery. Frank assisted in preparing Dead Treez and helped dress the mannequins as part of the “Swag Swag Krew” piece.
“There’s definitely a lot of commentary in this show being made about fashion as well as gender,” Frank said. “Oddly enough, seeing that gave me some sort of insight into that being a part of the set-up.”
Dead Treez is the first show that Frank helped set up. He finds it an unusual show, seeing as Patterson uses sculptural work as opposed to two-dimensional work.
“Personally, I appreciate this approach. It’s colorful, bright, funny looking and there’s nothing too literal going on. The artist is addressing material that otherwise might be a lot harder for people to confront,” Frank said.
Aside from “Swag Swag Krew,” Patterson also represents death through tapestry-based floor pieces.
“Wilted Rosez” is a set of three tapestries where unclear images of figures appear in opulent garments. The piece is located on the gallery’s floor and is reminiscent of a funeral. Sewn-together black roses cover the tapestry’s “dead” characters, which lay lifelessly amongst the patterns.
Other tapestries, like “Root and Shrub” and “Root and Shrubz,” make similar representative waves. They portray the death of young people amongst unaccompanied toys like hula-hoops and trucks.
The beauty of the tapestry, along with others in Dead Treez, shows viewers how death and violence is represented in social media.
The artist mentioned in a past interview that the murder of a three-year old in tenement housing inspired her. She said the way people share a bystander’s photos on social media is “very strange.”
Patterson recognizes a dilemma in the strangeness and adds that without social media, “these people, these invisibles, would not be visible.”
Patterson then started to think about “visibility and the Internet,” similar to the way bees view flowers.
“The bee is attracted to the flower because of its coloring, because of its beauty and it isn’t until he gets in that he discovers if [it’s] the flower he wants,” Patterson said. “So you are attracted to the work because of its shininess, because of its prettiness, but it’s not until you get into the work that you start to realize that there’s something more.”
Students who attended the opening admired the multiple pieces lying on the gallery’s floor.
Emilee Yang, a sophomore pharmacy major, came to the gallery for the first time after her friends invited her.
“I think the exhibit is pretty unique and I’m not really an art person so it’s new to me,” Yang said. “I definitely like the roses, flowers and glitter. It just goes nicely together. The mannequins are colorful and pleasant to look at. It’s a great way to showcase it in a way.”
Adams hopes Dead Treez will speak to Buffalo residents.
“We have a pretty varied community in Buffalo and have a really big refugee population,” Adams said. “Ebony is from Jamaica and she lives in the United States now, but obviously this work is very close to her home culture. As a global campus, it’s something to really be aware of in bringing international artists to our campus and being able to showcase what they’re doing.”
In addition to Patterson’s display on the first floor of the CFA, she will be visiting the building’s Black Box Theatre on April 12. Patterson will be speaking about her artwork alongside contemporary art curator Lauren Haynes.
Dead Treez will continue to be on display in the UB Art Gallery through May 13.
Benjamin Blanchet is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org