artist / participant
Donald Rodney is showing five new pieces of work at the South London Gallery in his first solo exhibition in the capital since 1989. He first came to the attention of the art world in the 1980s, and his work has been seen widely outside London both nationally and internationally. Venues have included the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, the Arnolfini in Bristol, the international TWSA Four Cities Project (1990), the Institute of Contemporary Art (London and New York), the Chisenhale Gallery and the Barbican.
Nine Night in Eldorado marks an important stage in the development of his work. The exhibition contains new installation, sculpture and photographic pieces, and has a more meditative quality than his earlier work.
‘Nine Night’ is a traditional Jamaican event that takes place after the death of a member of the family. The family meet to eat, drink, play cards and reminisce over a period of nine nights. The ‘Eldorado’ of the title recalls his father’s favourite film, and evokes the mythical city of gold symbolic of the ‘land of milk and honey’ that Rodney’s father believed he would find when travelling to Britain in the 1950s. The souring of such hopes is represented in the artist’s large scale sculpture filled with strata of milk, honey and copper coins that have curdled and bled into one another with passing time. This exhibition is the ‘Nine Night’ that Donald Rodney was unable to attend after the death of his father.
Rodney’s Pygmalion consists of an illuminated automata figure like those once popular in seaside arcades and illustrated postcards. Over the carved features of the head is a rough blacked-up mask of pop singer Michael Jackson, a symbol of ambivalence between black and white identity. Also in the exhibition is a sculptural piece that includes a cast of an entire set of the Children’s Encyclopedia Britannica and the Arts Council Collection catalogue of 1984. The catalogue is significant as coming from the first year in which the Arts Council bought a work by a black artist, Keith Piper’s Black Assassin Saints.
Donald Rodney has suffered from sickle cell anaemia from infancy. His physical condition is present in his work as a metaphor for issues of society and cultural identity.
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Nine Night in Eldorado