Journeying home in the works of Jamilah Sabur

Lauren Gee |  Ed Clare Deal  | 29 May 2020

Jamilah Sabur. Un chemin escarpé / A steep path, 2018. Five-channel video installation; colour, sound,10 min., 27 sec. Installation view from the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, 2019. Permanent collection of the New Orleans Museum of Art. Courtesy of the Artist and Nina Johnson, Miami. Photo: Jeff McLane

In uttering the words ‘any means necessary’, Sabur frees her practice from ties to any single medium. This is why her immersive installations, integrating performance, film and sculpture, are so hard to categorise. This is why they yield such instinctive and visceral appeal.

Sabur’s works look towards temporal existences, memories and immaterial realms as points of departure from the corporeal, creating transcendent experiences for the viewer. 

Born in Jamaica and now based in Miami, much of her work explores localities through recurrent motifs and images across places and times. Her art distorts and blurs boundaries between countries, challenging notions of belonging, in her ability to transform and make a spectacle out of the gallery space.

Film and performance are able to capture Sabur’s concern with temporality and the fleeting moment, in their consolidating of memory, reaching back to past moments and places and immortalising them on screen. Noting the pluralities that make up any single experience, Sabur’s five-channel installation Un chemin escarpé / A steep path (one of her most recent exhibitions), describes the multiple junctures that comprise any passing moment in time. 

© Courtesy of the artist and @collecteurs

Sabur’s background in sculpture is a prominent aspect of her films and installations. In A steep Path, shape plays an integral role, as she continually returns to the rhombus throughout the piece. The rhombus, which she jokingly regards as ‘an obsession’, is inspired by tales from her mother of her own childhood home in Jamaica. The lattice structure which extended across the façade of her house (a typical trope of Caribbean architecture) built an association for Sabur between this particular shape and the home. The rhombus becomes a point of entry, a keyhole or portal. It is these strikingly personal motifs that punctuate Sabur’s practice, connecting projects across her vast body of work with intimate filmic gestures.

Video art acts as a vehicle to transport the viewer, traversing geography and time to recreate spaces that are characteristic of her family as well as her own identity. Her films often inspire a sense of the sublime, figures (sometimes the artist herself) in vast deserted landscapes performing ritualistic practices depicting Sabur as much a shaman as an artist. In this respect, Sabur follows other great video artists such as Joseph Beuys, who also utilised ritualistic practices within his work.

Jamilah Sabur, Untitled (rhombus: cradling Mars west of the Sargasso Sea), 2017. 2-channel video. Cornell Fine Arts Museum. Courtesy of the artist and Nina Johnson Gallery.

Recently named as one of the fifty-one artists to be included in the 2020 international contemporary art triennial by Prospect New Orleans, Sabur’s work will tour art and cultural sites across New Orleans up until January 24, 2021.

About the Artist

Born in 1987, in Jamaica, Jamilah Sabur is a multidisciplinary artist who works in performance, video, and installation. She frequently references her Jamaican heritage, as well as geography and geology in her pieces, which explore the temporary nature of our world and of our fleeting presence in it, a fact that connects us all. She uses language and landscape to depict the relationship between memory and community. Hammer Projects: Jamilah Sabur was featured at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, in 2019. Several galleries and institutions have exhibited her work, such as Nina Johnson, Miami; Pérez Art Museum, Miami; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit, among others. Sabur earned a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore (2009), and an MFA from the University of California, San Diego (2014). She works in Miami, USA. Sabur is represented by Nina Johnson Gallery.

Past Shows and Fair Booths

Solo Shows

2019 Hammer Projects: Jamilah Sabur, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

Group shows

2019 The Other Side of Now : Foresight in Contemporary Caribbean Art, Pérez Art Museum Miami, Miami, FL, USA

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