The Art of Jamaican Sculpture

On September 4, 1975, an exhibition entitled Ten Jamaican Sculptors opened at the Commonwealth Institute Art Gallery in London. Guest curated by David Boxer – who later became the Director/Curator of the newly opened National Gallery of Jamaica – the exhibition was meant to showcase Jamaican sculptural traditions using the works inspired by, or otherwise contemporaneous with the Nationalist movements of the 1920s. The exhibition included seventy-five works, thirty of which were by Edna Manley, whose work was arguably used as a touchstone for the other nine artists exhibited.

Though also conceptualized using the social and political milieu of the 1920s as its initial point of departure, this significantly more modest but ambitiously titled exhibition, The Art of Jamaican Sculpture also looks at the artistic developments in the pre and post-Independence period in Jamaica. The influence of that groundbreaking 1975 exhibition can of course be seen in this more contemporary incarnation. Nine of the original ten artists are represented here at National Gallery West; with at least one work that had been in that exhibition. This of course speaks to the significance of the works exhibited in the Ten Jamaican Sculpture exhibition, as several of them were subsequently acquired by the National Gallery after 1975.

Sculptural traditions in Jamaica date back as far as the Taino period; but the modern expressions of these traditions coincide with the emergence of the nationalist movements – particularly during the late 1920s and early 1930s. The Black Nationalist rhetoric of Marcus Garvey, with its promotion of social and political self-actualization, is captured in the following quote from his newspaper the Blackman

 

At last the Negro has become aroused to the consciousness of his racial weakness through disunion, and is making the effort to so adjust himself as to leave no loop-hole through which the enemy may continue in the future to destroy him as they have done in the past. [i]

 

This ideology was in line with the intellectual debates about the “new negro” during the Harlem Renaissance and resonated particularly with the creolized Jamaican middle class during the 1930s and 1940s.[ii] Edna Manley’s sculpture Negro Aroused (1935) – the 1982 bronze is on display here – was arguably influenced by this. “Indeed it might be thought that Negro Aroused was both a response to [..] Garvey’s programme of black upliftment, embodied in his Universal Negro Improvement (founded in 1914) and a harbinger of the riots of 1938.” [iii] The work eventually became a symbol of the burgeoning Trade Union movement and “gave this fledgling cultural nationalist movement an icon and suggested new forms of cultural expression.”[iv]

Despite the emphasis on black intellectual engagement, Jamaica’s nationalist artistic imagery focused primarily on the physicality of the strong black worker; perhaps informed by the romanticized but still anthropological view of manual labourers which was mobilized during the 19th Century. Marriott’s exquisitely carved Banana Man/Banana Cutter (1955) represents the epitome of conventional masculinity and can be firmly placed in the category of genre sculpture, forming part of the pre-independence ideology within the circles around Edna Manley. Though created some twenty years later, Boxer in his introductory essay to Ten Jamaican Sculptors described Kay Sullivan’s Star Boy, (1972) as having “a naturalism based on the perusal of Jamaican types and attitudes”[v] and though stylistically different, the same might be said of Roy Lawrence’s Market Scene also completed in 1972. Both artists are not however, simply inheritors of pre-independence nationalist iconography; Lawrence’s work remains celebratory with regard to the reality of the working class Jamaican and his stylization captures the rhythm and movement of the marketplace. In contrast Sullivan’s emaciated, pleading Star Boy is evocative of the harsh reality of many black Jamaican youth in the 1970s.

This more sober viewpoint is also seen in Christopher Gonzales’ Man Arisen, (1966). Utilizing a comparably heroic visual language to that of Negro Aroused with its upturned head and strained musculature, Gonzales’ sculpture contrasts with Manley’s work, evoking a feeling of disempowerment with its seemingly bound arms and protruding ribcage.

There were of course alternative narratives that co-existed with Jamaican cultural nationalism in the pre-independence era; this is evidenced in the work of Ronald Moody and the Millers. Moody’s Tacet, 1938 was not a work directly connected with the almost pervasive cultural nationalism of the time; rather his “work reflected his interest in ancient and world ideas of metaphysics (the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space)”.[vi] David Miller Snr and David Miller Jnr both explored two branches of their own identities with the younger Miller focused on his African heritage using photographic representations of people who, in his estimation, exhibited features that were distinctly African – realized in his sculpture Head (1958) while his father’s imaginative sculpture Talisman (c. 1938) evokes East Indian spiritual beliefs through in its posture, form and multiple faces.

 

Of course, with the prevalence of spiritual beliefs grounded in Christianity, quite a few Jamaican sculptors have given this expression in their work. The Intuitive artists Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds with Adam and Eve (1967) and John ‘Doc’ Willamson with Sacrifice of Isaac (1980) almost faithfully depict aspects of the bible stories their works were inspired by, but like Namba Roy with his Accompong Madonna (c 1958), they have reimagined the biblical figures in more afro-centric guises. Osmond Watson’s Revival Kingdom (1969) on the other hand, could be seen as more of a documentation of observed spiritual practice; evoking and possibly critiquing the almost bacchanalian rites in Kapo’s own Revivalist worship ceremonies.

The monumental sculptural installation Goddess of Change (1993) by Laura Facey, belies the intimacy of its subject matter. The thin surreal figure emerges from the burnt background and cools below in an almost phoenix-like rebirth; it is in many ways a cathartic sculpture both in its iconography and its execution, documenting as well as enabling the healing process after the artists own battle to overcome anorexia nervosa.[vii] The theme of healing is continued in her more abstracted work Radiant Comb (2011) – a distinctly organic form which evokes an oversized comb meant to smooth out, untangle and transform the troubles of the viewers with its meditative presence. Similarly, the more abstracted works in this exhibition also tend to be more meditative. The elegant sweeping forms of Ted Williams’ Mahogany Form – Bass Solo (c2006) are not only a celebration of the material used, but with its rhythmic shapes and negative spaces is evocative of the movement of sound through a musical instrument, transmitting in some way a sense of harmony to those who view it.

An exhibition of this scale could never hope to be a survey of Jamaican sculptural art and there are many other artists and themes that could have been explored. We have instead selected works that will tease out particular themes and trends that demonstrate one part of the history and evolution of the art form in our island. It is our hope that this exhibition will not only contribute to, but also stimulate the dialogues surrounding sculpture in the Jamaican artistic narrative.

The works in this The Art of Jamaican Sculpture are primarily from the holdings of the National Gallery of Jamaica and are supplemented with generous loans from collectors in both Kingston and Montego Bay. The exhibition features critically acclaimed work by the following artists, Lawrence Edwards, Laura Facey, Christopher Gonzales, Fitz Harrack, Roy Lawrence, Edna Manley, Ronald Moody, Alvin Marriott, David Miller Snr, David Miller Jnr, Winston Patrick, Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds, Namba Roy, Kay Sullivan, Osmond Watson, Ted Williams and John ‘Doc’ Williamson.

O’Neil Lawrence

Senior Curator

[i]The Blackman: a Daily Newspaper Devoted to the Uplift of the Negro Race and the Good of Humanity. Kingston Jamaica, Saturday August 17, 1929
[ii] Archer-Straw, Petrine, “Black is Colour: Colour as Race” petrinearcher.com Web. 14 March, 2018
[iii] P.230, Clarke, Colin Decolonizing the Colonial City: Urbanization and Stratification in Kingston, Jamaica (Oxford Geographical and Environmental Studies Series)
[iv] Archer-Straw, Petrine, “Black is Colour: Colour as Race” petrinearcher.com Web. 14 March, 2018
[v] P7. Boxer, David Ten Jamaican Sculptors, National Gallery of Jamaica and Commonwealth Institute Art Gallery, 1975
[vi] P.10 Chambers, Eddie Black Artists in British Art: A History Since the 1950s, I.B.Tauris (October 2, 2014)
[vii] Interview with Laura Facey, February 27, 2018
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The Art of Jamaican Sculpture opens on March 18

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National Gallery West, the Montego Bay branch of the National Gallery of Jamaica, is pleased to present its latest exhibition: The Art of Jamaican Sculpture. This exhibition explores the rich tradition of Jamaican sculpture in the 20th and 21st Centuries. It will open on Sunday, March 18, 2018 at 4 pm, with opening remarks by the exhibition’s curator O’Neil Lawrence.

Sculptural traditions in Jamaica date back as far as the Taino period, but the modern expressions in the island coincide with the emergence of the nationalist movements – particularly since the late 1930s – with its push towards social and political self-actualization. The art that was produced during this period became a critical component of the Jamaican artistic movement; Edna Manley’s 1935 work Negro Aroused for example became a symbol of the burgeoning Trade Union movement. While Jamaican identity continued to be a hallmark of sculptural work produced well into the post-independence era, the exhibition also contains work by artists who arguably operated outside of the concerns of the nationalist movements. These artists produced work that was either more introspective or focused on issues of spirituality, and there was also increased exploration into the genres of abstraction and surrealism.

The works in this exhibition are primarily from the holdings of the National Gallery of Jamaica and are supplemented with generous loans from collectors in Kingston and Montego Bay. The Art of Jamaican Sculpture features critically acclaimed work by the following artists, Lawrence Edwards, Laura Facey, Christopher Gonzales, Fitz Harrack, Roy Lawrence, Edna Manley, Ronald Moody, Alvin Marriott, David Miller Snr, David Miller Jnr, Winston Patrick, Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds, Namba Roy, Kay Sullivan, Osmond Watson, Ted Williams and John Doc Williamson.

The March 18 opening reception for The Art of Jamaican Sculpture at National Gallery West is free and open to the public and all are cordially invited to attend. The exhibition will continue until July 22, 2018. National Gallery West is located at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, Sam Sharpe Square. Opening hours are: Tuesdays to Sundays, from 9 am to 5 pm. Admission fees apply on regular days.

 

 

Spiritual Yards: Selections from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection Opens on December 10

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National Gallery West in Montego Bay is pleased to present Spiritual Yards, which features selected works of art and archival material from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection. The exhibition opens on Sunday, December 10, 2017, at 4 pm, with opening remarks by Wayne Cox. Spiritual Yards was originally shown at the National Gallery of Jamaica in Kingston and the exhibition at National Gallery West is an abridged version of the original.

Spiritual Yards explores how many of the self-taught, popular artists – or “Intuitives,” as they are now conventionally called in Jamaica – have their roots in religious and spiritual practices such as Revival and Rastafari. Several of these artists have produced or contributed to so-called “spiritual yards,” or sacred spaces that feature ritual and symbolic objects and images that are meant engage or represent the spirits, which was either the start of their artistic practice or remained as its main focus. As Wayne Cox has rightly argued, these spiritual yards are often their most outstanding works of art and their cultural significance in the Jamaican context warrants further exploration. Spiritual Yards features the work of ten such artists, namely Errol Lloyd “Powah” Atherton, Vincent Atherton, Everald Brown, Pastor Winston Brown, Leonard Daley, Reginald English, Elijah (Geneva Mais Jarrett), William “Woody” Joseph, Errol McKenzie, and Sylvester Stephens, along with photographs and video material on their life, work and spiritual yards from the Wayne and Myrene Cox archives.

 

Wayne Cox and his wife Myrene have collected and documented the work of Jamaica’s Intuitives for 30 years. Their homes in Port Maria and in Royal Palm Beach, Florida, serve as important repositories of the work of these artists. Works of the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection have been widely exhibited internationally and in Jamaica. Wayne has written exhibition catalogue essays for a number of exhibitions, including Intuitives III at the National Gallery of Jamaica. He has presented at symposiums including Taking the Road Less Traveled: Built Environments of Vernacular Artists at the Kohler Art Center and Uncommon Visions at the American Folk Art Museum in the United States. In 2005, Art and Antiques named the Coxes to their list of the “Top 100 Art Collectors in the United States.” The Spiritual Yards exhibition was suggested to the National Gallery by Wayne Cox, who co-curated the exhibition with the National Gallery Executive Director Veerle Poupeye and Senior Curator O’Neil Lawrence.

The December 10 exhibition opening reception for Spiritual Yards at National Gallery West is free and open to the public and all are cordially invited to attend. The exhibition will continue until February 25, 2018. National Gallery West is the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Montego Bay branch and is located at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, Sam Sharpe Square. Opening hours are: Tuesdays to Sundays, from 9 am to 5 pm. Admission fees apply on regular days.

Selections from the National Collection: Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds

National Gallery West is pleased to present its latest exhibition Selections from the National Collection: Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, which will be on view until mid October 2017. The exhibition is the first in a series of exhibitions that feature aspects of the National Gallery of Jamaica’s collections, while the permanent galleries in Kingston are being refurbished.

The Jamaican artist and charismatic Revivalist Bishop Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds was born in 1911 in Byndloss, a rural St. Catherine community some thirty miles from Kingston. At age sixteen he received his first vision and started traveling the countryside preaching. In the early 1930s he made his way to Kingston and settled in Trench Town where he established his Zion Revival church, the St. Michael Tabernacle. He later relocated to the Olympic Gardens community in western Kingston.

In Trench Town in the mid-forties he began translating his visions and his imaginative transcriptions of biblical events into paintings. Most of these early works, it is said, were lost when they were confiscated by the police as evidence of Obeah practice. By 1950, he had begun to carve, first in stone and then in wood. His unique artistic talents were discovered and supported by several influential patrons, such as the later Prime Minister Edward Seaga, who conducted ethnographic research on Revivalism, and the hotelier John Pringle, who served as Jamaica’s first Director of Tourism and who was committed to asserting the cultural identity of Jamaica in the tourism industry. While he encountered significant prejudice during his early years, Kapo’s stature in the Jamaican art world rose rapidly in the 1960s and by the time of his death in 1989 he was recognized as one of the most significant Jamaican artists of the twentieth century, and a key exponent of the so-called Intuitive, or self-taught genre.

Many of Kapo’s paintings and sculptures depict his cultural milieu, including portraits of those around him and scenes from daily life. He was also a fine landscape painter and he was fond of depicting the environment of his childhood, the hills and valleys of St. Catherine’s interior. Other works are more spiritual in nature and were clearly inspired by his visions and practices as a Zion Revivalist leader. Some of his works have erotic overtones and joyfully celebrate the nude human body and sexuality.

This exhibition consists of important paintings and sculptures from the National Gallery of Jamaica collections, selected from the main collection and three special collections, namely the Larry Wirth Collection, the John Pringle Collection and the Aaron and Marjorie Matalon Collection. The Larry Wirth Collection was a major acquisition in 1982, when the collection of Kapo paintings and sculptures of the American hotelier Larry Wirth was acquired in its entirety by the Jamaican government. The other two collections were major donations to the National Gallery: the John Pringle Collection is a specialized collection of Kapo’s paintings which was received in 2011, and the Aaron and Marjorie Matalon Collection is a comprehensive collection of historical and modern Jamaican art which was received in 1999. Aaron Matalon served as the National Gallery’s Chairman for many years and was a major benefactor of the arts in Jamaica.

JAMAICA BIENNIAL 2017 AT NATIONAL GALLERY WEST FEATURES DAVID GUMBS’ XING WANG VIDEO INSTALLATION

2017-biennial-invitation-montego-bayThe Jamaica Biennial 2017, the National Gallery of Jamaica’s flagship exhibition, is shown at three locations, namely at the National Gallery and Devon House in Kingston and at National Gallery West in Montego Bay. At National Gallery West, which is located at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, Sam Sharpe Square, the Biennial will feature an interactive video installation by the Martinique-based David Gumbs. This exhibition will open to the public on Friday, February 24 at 7 pm. The guest speaker will be His Worship Homer Davis, the Mayor of Montego Bay, and the artist David Gumbs will be in attendance.

david-gumbs-dome-2David Gumbs is one of six specially invited international artists in the Jamaica Biennial 2017, who exhibit along with more than 80 artists from Jamaica and the Jamaican Diaspora, and the inclusion of these international artists is part of the National Gallery’s efforts to give the Biennial a stronger international outlook, with a focus on the Caribbean region. David Gumbs (1977, St Martin) studied at the Visual Arts School in Fort-de-France, Martinique, in 2001 and majored in interactive multimedia conception at Les Ateliers, L’ENSCI in Paris in 2002. His work has been shown nationally and internationally, including recently: Digital (2016), National Gallery of Jamaica; Video Islands (2015), Anthology Film Archives, New York; Transforming Spaces (2014), National Art Gallery of the Bahamas; Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (2014); and the Martinique Biennial (2013), Fort-de-France. Since 2009, Gumbs teaches multimedia, transmedia and motion design at the Visual Arts School in Fort-de-France, Martinique.

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Gumbs in 2016 participated in a Davidoff Initiative residency in Beijing, China, and his contribution to the Jamaica Biennial 2017 consists of an interactive video installation titled Xing Wang (Blossoms), which he developed during that residence. The video consists of five synchronized projections, four on a lace cube structure that stands on the gallery floor and one into the dome of National Gallery West. The mesmerizing, constantly moving abstracted video imagery is, as the title suggests, drawn from patterns in nature and will be sound-activated. This will be done in two ways: one is by capturing the sounds of the city of Montego Bay, which will be done live with an external microphone; the other is by means of a sensor built into a conch shell which is mounted in the middle of the installation, in which visitors can blow to activate the imagery.

david-gumbs-cube-2The Jamaica Biennial 2017 opening event at National Gallery West on February 24 is free and open to the public. The main opening event of the Jamaica Biennial 2017 will take place two days later, on February 26 at 1:30 pm, at the National Gallery of Jamaica in Kingston, and is also free and open to the public. The Biennial will be on view at all locations until May 28, 2017.

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“Marcia Biggs: Impressions of Life” Opens on December 18, 2016

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The National Gallery of Jamaica is pleased to announce the Marcia Biggs: Impressions of Life exhibition, which will open at National Gallery West at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre on Sam Sharpe Square on Sunday, December 18, 2016. The exhibition explores the work of the popular Montego Bay-based artist Marcia Biggs, through examples borrowed mainly from private and corporate collections in Western Jamaica.

Marcia Biggs was born in 1960 in Montego Bay, where she was based for most of her life. She was trained at the Mico Teachers’ College, and she was tutored by Cecil Cooper and served as an apprentice with Barrington Watson. She taught art at the Herbert Morrison High School from 1983 to 1987, after which she became a full-time artist. She participated in several of the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Annual National exhibitions and had noted solo exhibitions at the Bay Gallery in Montego Bay and the Bolivar Gallery in Kingston. Marcia Biggs was also a long-standing member of the Western Jamaica Society of Fine Arts.

Marcia Biggs —or Biggs, as she was affectionately known—died unexpectedly at age 38 in 1998 but left behind a significant and diverse body of realist oil paintings, watercolours and drawings. Most of her subjects were fairly conventional, and included garden scenes and flowers, architectural details, landscapes, still lifes, and portraits—many of them inspired by the Montego Bay environment—but she also produced more daring male and female nudes and erotica. While she was a technically proficient oil painter and watercolourist, Biggs’ drawing skills were truly exceptional, especially when applied to the human form.

The exhibition opening of Marcia Biggs: Impressions of Life on December 18, 2016 will be from 4 to 6 pm and the artist’s sister, Dr Grace-Ann Biggs-Allen, will be the guest speaker. The opening function is free and open to the public and an illustrated catalogue will be available for sale. Marcia Biggs: Impressions of Life will continue at National Gallery West until February 11, 2017.

“Caribbean in Motion” To Be Shown at National Gallery West

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National Gallery West, the Montego Bay branch of the National Gallery of Jamaica, is pleased to present the Caribbean in Motion: Improving Lives through Artistry and Animation, an exhibition of work by Caribbean animators, which is presented in Jamaica in association with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Caribbean in Motion will be on view at National Gallery West from October 2 to November 20, 2016.

Caribbean in Motion was organized as a partnership between the IDB and the Animae Caribe Caribbean Animation Festival and earlier this year shown at the IDB Cultural Center in Washington, DC. The exhibition highlights some of the most captivating and imaginative animation and illustration in the Caribbean today, including works by Makesi Aquan, Danielle Blaize, Mathew Hudson, Alison Latchman, Anieph Latchman, Wendell McShine, Khia Poitier, Ansar Sattar, Steven Schmid and Marlo Scott. Caribbean in Motion explores the multifaceted social and economic benefits generated by the animation industry, underscoring the importance of nurturing a vibrant creative economy. Animation, the art of illustrating video sequences, has huge potential as both a business and an art form that supports sustainable social and economic development in the Caribbean. While the IDB has organized and hosted several exhibitions of Caribbean art over the years, Caribbean in Motion is the first such exhibition to be toured in the Caribbean region. The exhibition was curated was produced by the IDB’s Office of External Relations, which seeks to leverage creativity and the creative industries to futher the IDB’s mission of improving lives. The IDB’s curator will be leading curatorial tours of the exhibition on its first day, October 2.

Caribbean in Motion will be on view at National Gallery West during FOROMIC, Latin America and the Caribbean’s most important annual event on microfinance and entrepreneurship, which will take place at the Montego Bay Convention Centre from October 24 to 26, 2016.  FOROMIC is a space for business and financial innovations, and in particular a platform for microfinance, which has demonstrated that serving low-income households and small businesses is possible, sustainable and profitable.  The cultural industries are an important area of focus at FOROMIC. FOROMIC is supported by the IDB and staged in association between the IDB Multilateral Investment Fund and the Jamaican Ministry of Finance and the Public Service. (more…)

Jamaica Biennial 2017: Call for Submissions – Juried Section

National Gallery of Jamaica Blog

Jamaica Biennial 2016 - Call for submissions

The National Gallery of Jamaica is pleased to invite submissions for the juried section of upcoming Jamaica Biennial, which will now be held from February 26 to May 28, 2017 and will thus be the 2017 Jamaica Biennial.

The Jamaica Biennial, previously known as the National Biennial, is the National Gallery’s flagship biennial exhibition. Designed to encourage the development of art in Jamaica and its local and international exposure, the Jamaica Biennial includes works of art in all media and genres by a wide variety of artists who enter the exhibition through the jury system or by special invitation. The juried section is open to all artists resident in Jamaica and of immediate Jamaican descent, irrespective of residence. While thus mainly focused on the Jamaican and Jamaican Diaspora artists, the exhibition now also includes a select number of specially invited Caribbean and other international artists. The exhibition will…

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Michael Lester: A Montego Bay Artist Opens on July 24

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The National Gallery of Jamaica is pleased to present the Michael Lester: A Montego Bay Artist exhibition, which will open at National Gallery West at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre on Sunday, July 24.
The exhibition comprises work by the Polish-born artist Michael Lester, who lived and worked in Montego Bay from 1953 until his death in 1972. He made the city, its people and its environs his main subject, in lyrical expressionist paintings that celebrated the beauty and unique character of Jamaica. Lester, whose birth name was Leszczynski, was a popular figure in the Montego Bay community and along with his wife Peggy ran the Lester Gallery, one of the first art galleries in the city. His work was supported by local art lovers and tourist visitors alike and is represented in many private, corporate and public collections, including the collection of the National Gallery of Jamaica. The exhibition is the first in an open-ended series of National Gallery West exhibitions that will explore the artistic life in Western Jamaica.
Michael Lester: A Montego Bay Artist is curated by the National Gallery of Jamaica’s senior curator O’Neil Lawrence. The National Gallery of Jamaica had in 2006 organized another, larger exhibition titled Michael Lester: Picturing Paradise, which was staged on the occasion of the centenary of Lester’s birth. While there is some overlap between the two exhibitions, Michael Lester: A Montego Bay Artist also features works from Montego Bay collections that had not been exhibited before. An illustrated catalogue will be published and will be available for purchase at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre.
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Michael Lester – Hanover (1958), Private Collection

The Montego Bay Attorney-at-Law Nathan Robb will be the guest speaker at the July 24 opening function of Michael Lester: A Montego Bay Artist, which will start at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre at 4 pm. This event is preceded by Classics on the Cobblestone, a programme that features music and dance by ensembles from the Montego Bay community. Both events are free and open to the public.
The Michael Lester: A Montego Bay Artist” exhibition will continue at National Gallery West until September 18. National Gallery West is located at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, Sam Sharpe Square, Montego Bay.