Religion and Spirituality

#TBT | The Inaugural Exhibition: Religion and Spirituality in Jamaican Art

Our inaugural National Gallery West exhibition, “Religion and Spirituality in Jamaican Art”, opened as part of the Centre’s official opening function on July 11 2014. Religion and Spirituality in Jamaican Art was an abridged version of the acclaimed Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality exhibition which was shown at the National Gallery of Jamaica in Kingston from December 22, 2013 to April 27, 2014.

Some of the art in this exhibition was intended as religious art by its makers and includes some of its main exponents – such as Kapo, Osmond Watson, Carl Abrahams and Everald Brown – but artists have also been drawn to the subjects of religion and spirituality from a more secular point of view, for instance as part of the search for iconic Jamaican subject matter. The exhibition also included examples of work that uses religious iconography as a metaphor to address other non-religious issues, whether personal or social. Given the hegemonic and counter-hegemonic roles of religions and spirituality in Jamaican history and life, it is indeed impossible to separate religious, spiritual and secular concerns and much of the art in this exhibition was deeply political, in that it questions and actively challenges racial hierarchies and power dynamics, including those that obtain in the dominant religions.

Other featured artists in this exhibition included Ebony G. Patterson, Edna Manley, Ralph Campbell, Albert Artwell and Eugene Hyde.

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#TBT | Spiritual Yard – Elijah (Geneva Mais Jarrett)

It’s International Women’s Month and we are dedicated to highlighting women in art for the month of March in our #Throwback Thursday series and once per week in our Insta Stories.

Today’s throwback features works by intuitive artist, Elijah (Geneva Mais Jarrett) from the ‘Spiritual Yards’ Exhibition, a selection from the Wayne & Myrene Cox Collection. 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. 

Geneva Mais Jarrett became ‘Elijah’ when she was baptized as a young adult. Elijah took on the role of preacher and prophetess, creating the Elijah Tabernacle in her home in the community of Rose Town, Kingston. She consecrated the area by painting most of the outside surfaces of the building, gate and zinc fencing with mural scenes of angels and events of the bible. She consecrated the area by painting most of the outside surfaces of the building, gate and zinc fencing with mural scenes of angels and events of the bible. She also hung painted banners and seals, as well as set up revival basins. Her yard became a safe haven in tough times.

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Left: The Angels of Deliverance and Light, 1996

Right: Elijah – Noah Warns the Nation of the Coming of God (1996), Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection

Elijah – The Conquering Lion Shall Loose Every Chain (1996), Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection.

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. (more…)

Introduction: Religion and Spirituality

Clinton Brown - Drum (c1975), Collection: NGJ

Clinton Brown – Drum (c1975), Collection: NGJ

Here is the first of the two text panels in the exhibition:

Religion and spirituality play a pervasive role in virtually all aspects of Jamaican history and life and are, not surprising, a prominent theme and source of inspiration in Jamaican art. While predominantly Christian, with a large number of traditional and non-traditional denominations, Jamaica is also the birthplace of Rastafari and earlier African-derived forms –

Revival and Kumina being two of the best known.  Other world religions are also represented in Jamaica, namely Judaism, Hinduism and the Islam, as small but at times influential minorities, and there are also traditional and new spiritual beliefs and practices that do not fit any of these labels.

Religion has at times served as an instrument of social control and oppression, especially during the colonial period, but the diverse religious and spiritual practices found in Jamaica have also served as potent tools for liberation and self-assertion. These counterhegemonic roles have greatly contributed to the richness, diversity and ideological assertiveness of the associated cultural production, as is most evident in Jamaican music but also in dance and in the visual culture. Visual expressions have been an integral part of many religious and spiritual practices on the island and this has in itself produced some of the most outstanding examples of Jamaican art. The work of artists such as Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds and Everald Brown was, for instance, directly linked to their role as religious leaders, in Zion Revival and religious Rastafari, respectively, and included the production of sacred objects and images.

Mallica "Kapo" Reynolds - Be Still (1970), Larry Wirth Collection, NGJ

Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds – Be Still (1970), Larry Wirth Collection, NGJ