Jamie Shovlin is a British conceptual artist born in 1978. Naomi V Jelish is the title for a body of work he produced over three years. It is a collection of newspaper cuttings, drawings, photographs, personal mementos and school reports, presented along with post-it notes on a gallery wall. The mementos were all collected from Niomi’s life, and together they tell her tragic story.
The story goes,
“in 1991, a few months after her father drowned, Naomi, then 13, her mother, and her four siblings mysteriously walked out of the family home in Gravesend, Kent, and despite extensive police inquiries, none of them has been seen or heard of again. A cutting from the Kent Messenger discloses that in September 1990 Naomi won “the prestigious North Kent Student Art Prize”.
In August the following year the paper reported that police were concerned because the family had vanished. Neighbours said the family seemed “cursed”. David Jelish, the head of the family and a road mender with Kent county council, had drowned while saving one of the children, another child had recently survived electrocution and Vanessa, the children’s mother, was suffering from a stress-related illness following the death of her youngest son in 1989.
A book accompanying the display at the Saatchi Gallery goes on to say that Naomi’s precocious drawings were recovered from the abandoned house some time later by the late John Ivesmail, a science teacher at Naomi’s school who had befriended the family. Though beguiled by her sketches, he waited until 1999 to show them in a small exhibition in Gravesend.
Soon after, he passed Naomi’s pictures to a friend, a young artist called Jamie Shovlin, who curated an exhibition of the drawings, along with all Jelish memorabilia recovered from their house and the newspaper cuttings.”
As moving as Niomi’s story is, that’s all it is, a story, a hoax. Jamie Shovlin spent the three years not collecting the resources but making them, he produced the drawings, the newspaper cuttings and the school reports. He said he did this to test the boundaries of ambiguity.
The work was brought for £25,000 by Charles Saatchi and It was only half way through the exhibition that Jamie Shovlin announced that the entire archive was fake, and that Naomi V Jelish is in fact an anagram of his own name. I find it remarkable at how believable he made the collection, and how he had everyone fooled.