Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2004
Birmingham, Ikon Gallery, reporting back, September - November 2013, pp. 48-49, illustrated in colour
This effect is entirely characteristic of a series whose primary aim is to confront the legacy of colonialism in the Caribbean. Its subject derives from a visit that Anderson made to Trinidad in the early 2000s. Upon visiting, the artist experienced a sense of dislocation: despite his having never been there before, people assumed he was a local. This dichotomy of belonging and displacement is reflected in many of his paintings from this period, as it provided a neat parallel to the status of black people in the Caribbean during the colonial era. However, it was in the literal construction of barriers in Trinidad that Anderson found his most effective visual representation of this pervasive feeling. As he wandered through the towns, he was struck by the ornate grilles that blocked every doorway. Ostensibly decorative, there is no ambiguity regarding their true purpose. Through these grilles the interiors become caged entities, confined and threatened. The viewer looks through the bars of this cage as he would in a zoo, the women on the walls objectified, the scene presented as an exhibit. In doing so he becomes complicit in the othering process that is inherent in colonial discourse, the observer of an involuntary subject.
This heightened awareness of the roles of viewer and subject mirrors the pioneering works of Anderson’s American contemporary Kerry James Marshall, whose paintings depict real or fictionalised scenes from African American history in an attempt to rewrite a whitewashed history of art. In both cases, the viewer is forced to confront the role of a dominant white narrative in art criticism and appreciation. Anderson thus creates a psychological barrier to entry for the viewer in addition to the literal barrier of the grille itself, which in turn echoes the work of his former teacher, Peter Doig, whose Concrete Cabins see Le Corbusier’s utopian Unité d’Habitation slip in and out of view behind a screen of tree trunks. The effect of this is disorienting and unsettling – the viewer cannot fully view the subject of the picture. Thus the ironic ‘welcome’ written on the bars that block both viewer and pedestrian, take on a subsequent meaning, as the interior is subdivided and confined for the pleasure of a viewer who is prevented from taking it in. The colonial legacy of widespread crime is evident here as well. As Jennifer Higgie notes in her introductory text for Anderson’s vital survey exhibition at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham in 2013, when she first saw these paintings she “read the starbursts as targets, as if the blood-red cracks were created by a gun-shot” (Jennifer Higgie, ‘Another word for feeling’, in: ibid., p. 13). In the present work, the bars are both protection and threat, but in both cases have an intrusive and disquieting effect. As the artist observed, “When you paint the grilles, you feel like you’re cutting into the landscape, a sacred thing. They are not supposed to be there” (Hurvin Anderson cited in: ibid., p. 13).
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