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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

TAJS - Invite (2)

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.

 

 

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.

Gumbs, David - Dome_02.jpg

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.

gumbs-david-square

Michael Lester: A Montego Bay Artist Opens on July 24

Michael Lester Invitation 3.5x8-01
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.
Michael Lester 1

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.