|AN INTERVIEW WITH RANI CARSON
November 26, 2005
Special for THE NEW TIMES HOLLER!
© Amir Bey, 2007
Rani Carson, a prolific humanistic painter with a spiritual perspective, will have an exhibition of her work titled WORKS OF HOMAGE at Prince Street Gallery, 535 West 25th Street, 4th floor, (212) 230-0246, from November 29 to December 28, 2005; the opening reception will be held on Saturday, December 3, from 3-6 PM.
Carson's global perspective as revealed in her most recent works is important during a time when America's foreign policies and American citizens' role in the world is in question. Carson lives both on Long Island and in Jamaica, traveling there several times a year, where she paints and researches subject matter that she finds personally enriching.
WORKS OF HOMAGE will include paintings that are tributes to Jamaica's Rastafarian community, whom she has developed deep bonds with; this body of work is testimony to the righteousness, justice, and the "peace and love" of their everyday life. She will also present works interpreting the ordered refinements of the traditional Japanese esthetic, along with newly-inspired images of the people of Afghanistan, and a painting of Sierra Leone.
The following is an interview conducted by The New Times Holler! with Carson at her studio last month.
THE HOLLER!: While visiting your studio, I have the feeling that some of your paintings that deal with Jamaica suggest "energies" lying underneath, indicating that you are working with subtleties beyond figurative representation.
CARSON: It is true and I am so glad that you picked that up. What I have always felt in Jamaica is closeness to spirit. Bob Marley's "natural mystic" describes it. I once actually saw light energy emanating from someone in Jamaica, and I painted those energies in several paintings.
Also when I paint Rasta, I feel I am painting people who are taking a serious stand for truth, for righteousness, for justice, and
for culture against colonialism. So yes, I definitely want my work to speak for those energies.
THE HOLLER!: How much are you interacting with artists in Jamaica?
CARSON: I have many friends in Jamaica who are artists and for the last several years my work has been included in annual and biennial exhibitions in the National Gallery of Art in Kingston. I have also taught at the Edna Manley School for the Visual and Performing Arts, and I know many of the artists who teach there. Also several of my former students are now showing their work in galleries in Jamaica.
THE HOLLER!: What is the art scene like there -how are artists showing their work?
CARSON: Well, they often show their work at the National Gallery of Art, in the annuals, and now the biennials and other special exhibitions. But there are also many galleries in Kingston, as well as several in Montego Bay, and one near Ocho Rios called Harmony Hall where I had my first exhibition in Jamaica, and where I still show some paintings from time to time. Actually Jamaican art varies from Intuitive, to representational landscapes, flowers and nature studies, to market scenes and genre scenes, to collages, assemblages, abstraction, installation. Getting to know the range and brilliance of Jamaican art has been a real education for me.
THE HOLLER!: What trends do you see in Jamaican Art?
CARSON: All these different currents in Jamaican art seem to be developing almost independently, and becoming richer and deeper in the process. In general though, I do see more of an interest in installation art developing.
THE HOLLER: When you talk of Japanese influences and inspiration from Japan, are you speaking of contemporary or traditional work?
CARSON: Traditional, most definitely. I have been deeply affected by Japanese woodblock prints, but also more recently, I was amazed to find an affinity with the 16th century Japanese Oribe screens as well.
THE HOLLER!: In your exhibit Works of Homage, your work will bring together two different cultures and experiences, Jamaica and Japan; is there a commonality in that work, or will you be presenting two different areas of focus?
CARSON: Actually I am only showing 4 paintings from my trip to Japan, and two of them are of Afghanistan. Let me explain. While I was in Japan, at the party after the opening of the exhibition I was in at the Meguro Museum of Art, I heard that the U.S. had launched an attack on Afghanistan. Although I was aware that this was probably imminent, and had been dreading this news, it still hit me very hard. I went back to my hotel and turned on the news, and photographed what I saw on TV. I then did two paintings based on this TV coverage of the invasion. It was a very painful irony to be in a country then upon which the U.S. had perpetrated the worst act of terrorism ever committed, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The posturing and falsity of the aggression against Afghanistan was very transparent in a Japanese setting.
THE HOLLER!: You've created an extensive series of paintings devoted to dolls. Is there a parallel between your exploration in dolls and some of the work being shown in "Works of Homage"?
CARSON: Yes, one of the paintings relates to an experience I had in Japan. I had wanted to go to the Gion district in Kyoto where I had heard I might catch a glimpse of a geisha. I did manage to see one, and did a painting of her after I returned. I was wondering why I was doing the painting, as it was so different from my other work, until I realized that in some ways geisha was the ultimate doll. The costume was even more elaborate and refined than the nineteenth century dolls I used to paint. Also in reading about geisha, I discovered that the women were often sold by their parents into the life of a geisha, that they had no choice, and were exploited and oppressed. Even when I was painting 19th Century Victorian dolls, I was reading Simone de Beauvoir and thinking about women as object, as plaything, as anything but autonomous.
THE HOLLER!: America's image abroad is changing. What kinds of experiences if any are you having in Jamaica that are related to that? Do you feel that your role and activities there are being somehow modified or changed by that?
CARSON: Many expatriate Americans live in Jamaica. Many have rejected much of the materialism and racism of American culture long before this most recent shift in world opinion. No, I do not feel that this has affected my role or activities at all.