Njelle Hamilton sat down with Department of Art professor, Cosmo Whyte, and acclaimed author, Marlon James to discuss their experiences as Caribbean artists in diaspora.
“Born in Jamaica twelve years apart before migrating to the U.S in the 2000s, visual and performance artist Cosmo Whyte and novelist Marlon James might seem at first glance to have little in common beyond their native island. But both artists craft border-crossing, multimodal works that upend generic form, as well as gender and identity. In pieces such as “The Expat” and “Nkisi,” Whyte’s own body is transformed by marine and sartorial decorations, not merely a marker of queer fashioning but as a present archive of black trauma and death that can only be salvaged through the body, the performative, the visual. James’ oeuvre is replete with shape-shifting characters, gender-norm bending long before he writes his African fantasy Black Leopard, Red Wolf. The music, popular culture and history of Jamaica and the wider Caribbean also infuse both Whyte’s and James’ work. James’ Booker-winning epic, A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014), spirals outward from the 1976 assassination attempt on reggae superstar Bob Marley. Marley is there too in Whyte’s artwork (in the title of the 2019 “Get Up Stand Up” exhibition), as is Jimmy Cliff as Ivanhoe ‘Rhygin’ Martin in the iconic film The Harder They Come (see the piece “Shotta,” in the Playing Mas collection), and sound system speakers (in “Sole Imperial” from the Mother’s Tongue installation).
In this wide-ranging conversation, the two artists think together about their overlapping journeys and their craft, and the ways their Jamaican roots inform their work and complicate their sense of identity even as they navigate life in the fraught racial climate of the U.S.” –Nijelle Hamilton