Lua Ribeira: Noises in the Blood / Reviewed by Camilla Brown / 20.04.18
Lua Ribeira’s current exhibition Noises in the Blood is a view into Jamaican Dancehall culture. Although the work fits loosely in the documentary tradition, Ribeira’s approach is far from fly-on-the-wall in style. The photographs were recreated scenes staged with the participants’ collaboration, therefore we share glimpses into constructed scenes of the women set against their domestic lives.
Walking into the Argentea Gallery space there was a variety of work in a range of print sizes with white frames hung on white walls. Further down a spiral staircase to the basement gallery the dark grey walls held two large colour prints, adhered directly onto the wall. A range of other framed photographs were hung around the space, and in a side space a video work was projected onto the wall, showing extracts of moving image footage of a dance competition played alongside Flamenco music. The Spanish artist felt this switch of music fitted, as indeed it did, the rhythms of dancehall.
Through use of flash, the colours in the prints are heightened and the scenes flattened, a technique used to a very effective impact by the artist to create disorientating scenarios. One large image near the front of the space showed a woman adorned with jewellery head to toe and an intriguing headdress with an all-seeing eye in it. She appeared to lie – although perhaps she stood – with her eyes closed. Placed on a white sheet, she seemed to almost float in a disembodied way in the image. It was like looking at a Jamaican version of a laid out Egyptian Mummy; certainly this woman looked regal. This stands well next to the artist’s statement that what drew her to this subject was an interest in:
“Mythological powers, the concept of female divinity and sacredness in Afro-Caribbean culture.”
The artist, with a strong Basque lilt in her voice, was no insider to this culture or scene. Yet, through persistence, she was more than tolerated by the women. This scene itself in urban culture is quite underground and often misunderstood, especially from a feminist perspective. Although not avoiding the very physical and sexual nature of the dancing, Ribeira’s work deftly avoids disempowering the women here. Instead it is the men who seem side lined. There is one image of a man, sat with his glasses on in the dark, with a tray in front of him, at home. The women take central stage. It is of little surprise that Susan Meiselas has previously noticed and applauded Ribeira’s work. She, too, found ways to work with women and display them without exploiting them.
Elsewhere in the show Ribeira includes images of tropical plants alongside her portraits which bring more colour and nod to exoticism. She was interested in the colonial history of bringing plants from other cultures to gardens here in the UK. Other images include blonde wigs, part of the transformation process for the women relating back to the notion of carnival and masquerade. Another haunting image shows a lady in white lace, wearing pale make up, reminiscent of the day of the dead festivals. There are many layers of meaning in these strong images throughout the exhibition.
On the first floor, around a corner, an image of a pregnant woman displayed perfectly her Linea Nigra. This line is a sign of the changes and transformations a woman’s body makes when carrying a child, and yet it is so rarely seen or displayed with such pride and beauty. It symbolises fertility, transformation and the transition of a woman’s body when she is at her most fertile. It is a powerful image of the ability to give life. Any viewer of this show would be left in no doubt that this scene is not about the subjugation of women, but instead that these women are formidable symbols of female power.
– reviewed by Camilla Brown
Lua Ribeira: Noises in the blood continues at Argentea Gallery, 28 St Paul’s Square, Birmingham, B3 1RB until 12th May 2018. This project was produced by GRAIN Projects in conjunction with Argentea Gallery.
Argentea Gallery, 28 St Paul's Square, Birmingham B3 1RB