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DISTINGUISHED WOMEN IN Arts

Gabrielle Blackwood

Gabrielle Blackwood

Thirty-one-year-old Gabrielle Blackwood, is the current President of the Jamaica Film and Television Association (JAFTA) and an award-winning director and cinematographer. She is known for pushing the boundaries with unusual and unconventional subjects.

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Gabrielle Blackwood Profile

Gabrielle Blackwood

Thirty-one-year-old Gabrielle Blackwood always knew that she would be directing films. At just eight years old, she was writing and producing her own made-up plays, recreating moments from the Pantomime and the Olympics opening ceremony with her neighbours. She designed her own stage with just the right props and relived the glory of Olympics in her home-made stadium.

By virtue of being a bookworm, she found interest in story development and began watching and critiquing films. At a tender age, Blackwood took her creative energy seriously and worked towards developing it.

Blackwood said that her film journey officially began nine years ago, before heading off to read for her master's degree, having already earned a bachelors of arts in media and communication. She worked as a volunteer crew member on numerous productions in varying capacities. Since then, she has been running her own business where she directs and shoots films, documentaries, commercials, and music videos. " It didn't start easy and motivating myself in an industry that, at the time, wasn't very inclusive, was very small, was very unpredictable and very male-oriented, took a lot of backbone and was extremely difficult."

She continued: "It has been extremely challenging having people accept me as a director of photography/cinematographer or anything related to lifting heavy cameras or lighting a set, etc.," said Blackwood as she spoke about the trials she faced being a female in a male-oriented industry. She further stated that even negotiations over payment were difficult.

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Renee I. McDonald

Renee I. McDonald

Renee McDonald is a Jamaican choreographer, dancer and photographer. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Marketing and a Bachelor of Laws with first class honors from the University of the West Indies.

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Renee I. McDonald Profile

Renee I. McDonald

Seamlessly shifting from delivering show-stopping performances on stage to building the blueprint behind the scenes is a journey worth sharing.

The story of young choreographer, dancer and photographer Renee McDonald hit high gear at age seven, when she began her dance training with the Tony Wilson School of Modern Dance in Kingston. She would go on to perform with The Company Dance Theatre for 12 years, progressing to rehearsal mistress for five of those years.

She captured hearts with captivating, thought-provoking and deeply moving narrative. While her fan base grew in number, she wasn't so sure of the direction. "The truth is, I struggled with an inferiority complex for years when it came to performing. I felt inadequate because I did not look like other dancers and I was not as flexible. I eventually realised that my negative thoughts and insecurity were taking a real toll on my mental health. Nothing compares to the feeling of being on stage, but the truth is, it just stopped being worth it," she confessed.

So, in 2016, McDonald traded in centre stage for choreographic storytelling, creating masterpieces for companies locally, regionally and internationally. Her biggest influence: artistic director and choreographer of The Company Dance Theatre, Tony Wilson. "Mr Wilson is, hands down, my biggest choreographic influence and inspiration. My style is a direct result of training with him and performing his style of choreography. He has also encouraged me since I started choreography, and as I grow, he continues to support me every step of the way. I am a resident choreographer of The Company Dance Theatre now and many of my opportunities arose from CDT performances. I will always be grateful to him for giving me the chance to create over and over again."

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Lesli-Ann Belnavis

Lesli-Ann Belnavis

Working at Caribbean Tots and Teens, Belnavis deals with children and adolescents with physical disabilities to overcome their struggles through art therapy - a combination of art and psychology.

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Lesli-Ann Belnavis Profile

Lesli-Ann Belnavis

"When you discover what your passion is, always remember to carry these life-lesson gems in your pocket - perseverance (drive), endurance, patience, faith (with a tups of prayer), and support with a splash of laughter. These aren't taught in school. When the journey feels difficult, remember to pick a gem from your pocket to guide you." This is the advice of Art Therapist and Photographer Lesli-Ann Belnavis.

Surrounded by varying forms of creativity from a young age, it was only natural for Belnavis to follow her fate all the way to fine arts. "I used to dance, sing, and perform in a church youth group coordinated by my mother, and later performed with different dance troupes and in the Jamaica Junior Theatre Company where we did Broadway shows like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast." While attending St Hugh's High School, her interest grew and she developed a passion for the visual arts. Before completing 11th grade, she told her parents that she did not want to continue to upper sixth form, but wanted to pursue studies in art in the United States. "My family was extremely supportive, which led to my completing a Bachelor of Science Degree in Studio Art from Florida State University," she revealed.

NEXTSTEP

Armed with her qualifications, she questioned her next step. Struggling with the fear of returning home only to fall into the stereotype of becoming a starving artist, she sought an alternative route. After a conversation with some friends, she took an unlikely turn, which led to the most interesting destination yet - art therapy.

Florida State University offered Art Therapy as a Master's Degree, she did her research, took an introductory course in Art Therapy where her eyes were opened to the art form, revealing how ignorant she was.

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