Themes in “Religion and Spirituality”

Ebony G. Patterson - Di Real Big Man (2010), Collection: NGJ

Ebony G. Patterson – Di Real Big Man (2010), Collection: NGJ

Our inaugural exhibition, Religion and Spirituality in Jamaican Art opens officially on July 11 and will be available for public viewing from July 12 to August 3. The exhibition considers six overlapping themes:

A Chapter a Day explores the central role of the Bible in Jamaican life and appropriates its title from the saying “a chapter a day keeps the devil away.” In a good illustration that the Bible is not the exclusive province of mainstream Christianity, the saying has particular resonance in Rastafari culture and appears in several reggae songs, by Jacob Miller, Luciano and Junior Gong. Several works in this exhibition illustrate passages from the New and Old Testament, some of them more literal, such as Leslie Clerk’s Christ and the Apostles (Writing in the Sand) andCarl Abrahams’ Woman I Must Be about My Father’s Business, and others more imaginative, such as Everald Brown’s The Earth is the Lord.

Ancestral Memorieslooks at the way in which ancestral religious and spiritual practices have survived and have been imagined in Jamaican art, often in relation to modern identities. Osmond Watson’s Secret of the Arawaks (1977), for instance, ponders the foundational absence/presence of the aboriginal Taino, of whom evocative traces have survived in cave pictographs and other archaeological finds. Other works, such as Everald Brown’s Mystical Sign and Clinton Brown’s Drum, reflect Jamaica’s African heritage.

Installation view with EM Prayer

Installation view with Edna Manley’s Prayer (1937, Collection: NGJ)

In Our Own Image explores how “white” colonial religious representations, and the power structures these represent, have been implicitly and explicitly challenged in local religious and artistic practice, as is perhaps most eloquently illustrated in this exhibition by Osmond Watson’s magisterial Jah Lives and Albert Artwell’s 33 ½ Years Story of Christ. As can be seen in these examples, the prevalence of assertively Black religious imagery in Jamaican art is heavily indebted to the teachings of Marcus Mosiah Garveyand the emergence of Rastafari.

Spiritual Warriors reflects on the role of religion and spirituality in local resistance and liberation movements, especially during the colonial period, from the African-derived religious practices of the rebels against slavery to the role of the Baptists and other evangelical churches in the social activism of the post-Emancipation period – represented here by Michael Thompson’s tribute to Paul Bogle. Karl Parboosingh’s Ras Smoke I speaks to another form of spiritual rebellion: the provocative, anti-establishment politics of Rastafari.

Prayer and Ritual consists of various representations and evocations of prayer and ritual and, in doing so, also focuses on the performative nature of popular religions and spiritual practices, particularly the role of music and dance. Everald Brown’s fantastic Instrument for Four People, which is covered in mystical symbols,is a fine example. Edna Manley’s Prayer (1937), on the other hand, is represent prayer in a broader, metaphorical sense that goes beyond the religious per se: it elaborates on the emancipatory nationalist iconography of her famous Negro Aroused and presents a hopeful, dynamic vision of future potential for the Jamaican nation.

David Pottinger - Nine Night (1949), Collection: NGJ

David Pottinger – Nine Night (1949), Collection: NGJ

Death and Life Beyond: Most religious beliefs are crucially concerned with finding meaning in death and thus advance particular conceptions of life after death. Several works in this exhibition engage in various ways with these subjects, from the perspectives of mainstream Christianity and popular African-derived religion, as can be seen in Ralph Campbell’s Judgement and David Pottinger’s Nine Night, and for other metaphorical purposes, such as Eugene Hyde’s Good Friday, a scathing commentary on the political turmoil of the late 1970s.

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