Religion and Spirituality

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