Dr. Margaret Vendryes had ten of her African Diva Paintings on display on Jamaica Avenue for the month of November. Photo Credit: Margaret Vendryes
By Danielle Cruz
Dr. Margaret Vendryes, the chair of the performing and fine arts department, had her artwork displayed on Jamaica Avenue throughout the month of November.
The artwork, which depicted ten different African Divas from Vendryes’ African Diva Project, was shown on the digital displays located on both sides of Jamaica Avenue from Sutphin Boulevard to 168th Street.
The displays are a part of A Better Jamaica’s collaboration with the Department Of Transportation (DOT) as they work together to offer artwork and material to showcase on the various digital displays located in the Jamaica area.
Vendryes says that her artwork was displayed after Greg Mays, the director of A Better Jamaica, reached out to her at a reception for an exhibition and asked for permission to use her African Divas in the digital displays.
“I know Greg Mays and I saw him at a reception for an exhibition and he said ‘you know your work would look really good in the displays, what do you say you give us permission to do that,’” said Vendryes.
“So I gave them ten of my African Diva Project paintings in digital form and they programmed it to fit the digital display cases,” said Vendryes.
The digital displays intermittently showcases Vendryes’ artwork alongside the artwork of an illustrator and the various information provided by the DOT that is specific to the Jamaica area.
“It’s kind of fun because you don’t know when they’re going to show up in the rotation of information that they have,” said Vendryes. “There is also another artist’s work that also pops up every once and a while… so I’m even surprised by them.”
Vendryes hopes that the work done by A Better Jamaica will help to create an art watching audience in the Jamaica area, especially as Jamaica continues to experience a commercial and business growth, a growth that Vendryes hopes will include art.
“We need to create art audiences,” said Vendryes. “With all this commercial growth that’s happening around this area with all this building and business growth. I’m hoping that A Better Jamaica is sort of the voice of making sure that the art is included in this growth, it can’t all be about commerce.”
Vendryes hopes that her display of the African Divas will create an art audience by capturing the attention of those who frequent the Jamaica area and cause them to stop and ponder the meaning behind her art.
The African Divas show an image of a beautiful body dressed in gowns and other elegant clothing that highlight the contrast it has to the African masks worn by the figures. Not only does Vendryes want to show such a contrast but she also wants to raise awareness to the performative nature of masking in African culture.
“People like my art because there is kind of this disjuncture between a beautiful body that’s dressed in a gown and this african masks that’s on the face. There is always that what happened and what does that mean,” said Vendryes. “A lot of people don’t know much about the performative nature of masking in general but masking in africa. Most mask are worn to be performed.”
Many people are used to African mask being displayed in museums or simply hung on the wall but Vendryes wants her art to remind people that masks are meant to be a part of a performance and not just looked at.
“A mask is meant to move,” said Vendryes. “It is meant to present a narrative about whatever. Sometimes it’s very spiritual and sometimes it’s entertainment but it’s not meant to be just looked at.”
Her artwork also has a genderbending agenda as the mask worn by the women in her portraits are typically worn by men in Africa despite the fact the masks are used to represent female deities.
“It has a lot to do with the power structure and control,” said Vendreys. “Men believe that they are the masters of their universe and therefore they would not want women to take on the power of these unseen beings.”
This is not the first time that Vendryes has had her artwork on display in the Jamaica area. Back in 2014 Vendryes and photographer Dominique Sindayiganza had their artwork displayed on temporary kiosks next to the entrance of the Jamaica Center stop for the E and J train on Parsons Boulevard.
“I think then it was four or five of them (African Divas) but they didn’t flash there was no digital component to it,” said Vendryes. “Those structures were temporary… so it’s like a travelling exhibition. Someone from the DOT saw my work and though that it would be a great way to embellish that sort of heavy traffic area by the Jamaica Center stop.”
While the digital displays will not display Vendryes’ artwork anymore, it will showcase a different artist every month. On Jan. 7 Vendryes will be installing life-size African Divas in the lawn of the Jamaica Center for Performing Arts located at 153-10 Jamaica Ave.