Throne for the Justice
Jamaican, b. 1958
Throne for the Justice, 1990
Solarized silver print
102.9 x 80 cm (40 1/2 x 31 1/2 inches)
Walter H. Kimball Fund 1997.64
(January 19 –March 25, 2001)
Albert Chong describes himself as “an artist using the tools of my ancestors to conjure their spirits for advice and protection.” His ancestors are African and Chinese. He grew up in Jamaica and has lived in the United States since 1977, making photographs that speak to issues of identity, cultural affirmation, and the practice of creating imagery for the camera.
One of Chong’s best-known bodies of work is his series Thrones for the Ancestors. Chong made the throne in this photograph for his father shortly after he died. His father was the Justice of the Peace in Kingston, Jamaica, and he was known simply as Justice. His father’s portrait is on the chair seat surrounded by cowrie shells, rocks, and dreadlocks. Chong has often used cowrie shells because of their connection to African and African American culture, including their use as currency in the Yoruba culture, their use as embellishments in African art, and their adoption by African Americans as an icon of Africa. The dreadlocks, referring to Albert Chong’s own hairstyle, make a personal connection to his father. When composing his thrones, Chong charts his own enigmatic world, blending altars from the Yoruba-derived Caribbean Santeria religion and many forms of East Asian ancestor veneration. As the art historian Kellie Jones has noted, Chong’s interest in creating thrones is related to his Jamaican background. Jamaica is a bastion of West Africa’s Akan culture, and the Ashanti, a group within that culture, use stools as altars.
The haunting quality of this spiritual portrait is heightened by Chong’s use of the Sabbatier effect (commonly known as solarization), a photographic process that causes a reversal of tones through exposing the negative or print to light during its development.