Ebony G Patterson’s ornate night garden of toxic silk flowers and neo-baroque tapestries
It’s among the most enduring tales of deception: Eve and Adam’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit, the original sin. In Ebony G Patterson’s largest survey to date, the mixed media artist similarly lures viewers into her intricately composed ‘night garden’, where a bounteous display of glitter, lace, beads, fabric flowers, tassels, brooches, gold thread, costume jewellery and plastic ornaments belies the sombre themes planted within.
On view at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) until 5 May 2019, Patterson’s site-specific installation forms the spellbinding backdrop to 13 of the artist’s large-scale works that include video, drawings, and tapestries, nearly half of which are new commissions for the show. The mise en scène is endlessly detailed, from the twilight-hued cloth wallpaper to vegetal growths sprouting from the walls and silk leaves, flowers, and vines spilling from the ceiling and framing paintings.
...they stood in a time of unknowing... for those who bear/bare witness, 2018, by Ebony G Patterson. Courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago
‘For almost five years I’ve been exploring the idea of the garden as both real as imagined, acknowledging its relationship to post-colonial spaces. I am interested in how gardens operate as sites of social demarcation,’ states the Kingston-born artist. ‘I investigate their relationship to beauty, dress, class, race, the body, land, and death.’ Patterson’s neo-baroque works explore violence, black disenfranchised youth, masculinity, ‘bling’, visibility (and by extension invisibility) within the context of her native Jamaica.
In ...moments we cannot bury… (2018), a series of dense flowerbeds are covered entirely with silk replicas of entirely poisonous species including bird of paradise flowers, daffodils, lilies of the valley, and hyacinths. ‘She presents gardens as sites of splendour, danger, and burial,’ explains PAMM chief curator Tobias Ostrander ‘These artworks articulate protest and outrage, an ethical anger and critical lament regarding violence perpetuated against these bodies globally. Yet their ire is tempered by the artist’s use of floral patterning to bestow honour and dignity on her subjects, shrouding them in beauty.’
Patterson’s verdant creations caught the eye of designer Christian Louboutin, who is backing the PAMM exhibition (the artist created a tapestry for his boutique during Miami Art Week). Having almost become a landscape designer himself, Louboutin shares a special affinity for gardens with the artist and the Miami show is particularly resonating. ‘The dark [wallpaper] reinforces something which is associated to gardens and lush places: the smell,’ explains the French designer. ‘Smell is very important when you arrive in a place where you’re surrounded by plants, whether it’s rotten or incredibly fragrant – there is always this presence.’
Ebony G Patterson’s window installation for Christian Louboutin’s Miami boutique, displayed during Art Basel Miami Beach 2018
Patterson’s work, too, is preoccupied with fashion. Suspended from the ceiling at PAMM, …stars… (2018), a vast ‘cloud’ of hundreds of women’s shoes strewn in black glitter recalls footwear strung up high up on electrical wires – a common practice by gangs to mark out territories that the artist has regendered for the show. ‘She is the perfect example of someone who takes nature and manipulates it in her own way in order to create beautiful pieces,’ adds Louboutin. ‘Saying that, there is a different layer to her work – it’s also embedded with political messages, and the importance of community.’
Intended to be seen as the closing work of the show, Three Kings Weep (2016-17) depicts a trio of black men in front of a floral background, seemingly slowly dressing themselves in elaborate costumery. In fact, the video is being shown in reverse and the men are disrobing. The silence in the eight-minute video is peppered with the voice of a young man reciting lines from the 1919 poem If We Must Die by Jamaican poet Claude McKay. In the era of post-truth politics, Patterson’s exquisite lie is a bittersweet pill to swallow. §