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Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

 
Star Girl sculpture. A silvery-grey wooden sculpture of a human head. Incised suggestion of eyes, nose, mouth and ears

Star Girl
Woody Joseph, 1991
Jamaica
1994.173


"Woody Joseph was a self-taught artist, central to Jamaica's intuitive art movement. Inspired by nature he carved Star Girl from cedar roots. Star Girl has a named maker, yet so many objects do not. How can we find the people behind these currently anonymous objects, and make their voices heard?"

- Annie Tomkins


A Maker's Name

Woody Joseph (1919-1998) was a formative artist in the Jamaican Intuitive art movement. He started sculpting around 1965 with home-made implements. Entirely self-taught, he was inspired by the spiritual connections he found in nature, depicting humans and animals influenced by African-Jamaican religious and cultural traditions. He used the natural form of cedar roots to guide the shape of each sculpture.

I am captivated by Star Girl. Opening her box in the museum store, you are greeted by the smell of sweet sap and the desire to really, truly look. The dynamism and physicality of this sculpture excites me: the ability to see a new angle, to interact with shadows. With tree rings on her base she feels grounded, firmly planted, but retains a vibrant natural wonder, the ability to change, being and evolving.

 

In carving, something is subtracted to create a whole, the innate qualities of the wood remain; a spiritual connection between nature and the viewer provoked. The simplicity of detail and trust in natural form evokes great emotional depth. Her afro-textured hair is curved and notched, yet also cracked along the grain conveying movement and life. The natural colour of the wood has been stained black, perhaps referencing a night sky. Star Girl’s features are subtle and fluid. I wonder what it would be like to trace and touch the lines of eyes, ears, nose, and mouth; it might feel like drawing in wood.

Working with objects you feel the presence of human connection. Every object in material culture is an object made; ascribed meaning by a person or people. Yet who has the authority to do so?

I chose Star Girl, not only for her emotional resonance but because I wanted to highlight the importance of contemporary ethical collecting; the explicit provenance of having a named maker; who can consent, inform and empower.

Explore this object further:

https://collections.maa.cam.ac.uk/objects/509730

Explore the full collections database:

https://collections.maa.cam.ac.uk


Annie Tomkins - Collections Assistant (Stores Move)

 

Annie has a background in Art History and museum engagement, with an interest in the accessibility of collections. In her current role she is documenting, photographing and packing collections at MAA’s off-site stores, ready for the move to the new Centre of Material Culture. She has previously worked in conservation and collections care, as well as contemporary art spaces.

Two million years of human history. One million artefacts. Countless astonishing stories.