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A description of jamaica having produced an artist

Not a week goes by without some high-profile protest action or controversy and it appears that no major art museum is exempt. There have also been contentions about how art museums are governed and funded, such as the recent protest at the Metropolitan Museum led by artist Nan Goldin against the role in the opioid painkiller addiction crisis of the Sackler family, who made their fortune in the pharmaceutical industry and who are major donors to the Met.

On a more foundational level, these contentions have pertained to the ideological premises on which art museums operate, particularly their role in perpetuating dominant social, political and cultural interests and the manner in which this is reflected in the canons and narratives that such museums have produced and presented.

  • Within Jamaican art one will find all of these characteristics of the Afro-Caribbean art movements;
  • Petrine Eleanor Archer-Straw states;
  • Because they were poor and perhaps less fortunate, it was not even an option;
  • An overview with focus on fifty artists.

This is of course not, as such, new, since the canonical functions of art museums have been regularly questioned since the 1960s and earlier, if we count in the advent of modernism and movements such as Dadaism.

One such example is the Puerto Rican artist Rafael Ferrer, who dumped autumn leaves and other debris in the lobby of MoMA in the late 1960s, as a performative intervention that questioned the exclusion of artists like himself from the canons of modernism.

Another example is the Guerrilla Girls, a collective of feminist artists that was established in 1985 and that has questioned, through various pointed and witty public interventions, the role of art museums in perpetuating white male patriarchy.

Art Styles in Jamaica

The frequency and intensity of such controversies has however increased exponentially in recent years, as has the intensity and immediacy of the coverage a description of jamaica having produced an artist such actions in the conventional and social media. While the increasingly contentious and demanding relationship with stakeholders has made the leadership positions in museums far more demanding than they used to be, the effects on how museums operate have been generally beneficial, as it has forced museums to become more self-reflexive and to re-examine their ideological foundations.

This has, to varying degrees, resulted in more thoughtful and innovative approaches to exhibitions and programmes, which interrogate and challenge the very same canons and grand narratives such museums have historically produced and which invite conversation about them, rather than to impose them unilaterally and unquestioningly.

The Victoria and Albert in London comes to mind as a museum that has made interesting strides in interrogating its colonial foundations through its recent exhibitions and projects. I need to acknowledge at this point that I am the immediate past Executive Director of the National Gallery of Jamaica and have played a key role in its exhibitions and programmes up to three months ago.

The debates and new expectations that surround museums a description of jamaica having produced an artist in the world also apply here, however, and there needs to be frank critical discussion about the present moment in the Caribbean art world, at a time where criticality seems to have all but disappeared from the region.

I believe that I have a contribution to make to these conversations and so I am offering my perspective, while acknowledging my potential biases and personal interests, and my readers can decide whether I have risen to the occasion.

The National Gallery of Jamaica has been the fulcrum of the local culture wars since it was established in 1974 and it has always held an ambivalent position with regards to the production and promotion of art-historical canons. The preceding National Gallery West exhibition—a smaller version of the Spiritual Yards exhibition which had previously been shown at the National Gallery in Kingston—was slated to close on February 25 and I was, of course, interested to see what would come next.

The post showed a snippet of video footage of sculptures that had clearly just arrived at the gallery for installation and I glimpsed work by Ronald Moody, Christopher Gonzalez, Lawrence Edwards, Osmond Watson, and David Miller Senior. There was also a closure notice on Facebook on that day, which stated that the gallery would be closed until March 6 to facilitate the installation of The Art of Jamaican Sculpture, with a note that further information on this exhibition would be coming soon.

On the evening of March 10, three days into the run of the exhibition, an e-flyer which announced that the exhibition reception would be on March 18 was posted to social media, but again without any accompanying information on the exhibition itself.

Since I had to be in Montego Bay on March 13 for other reasons, I decided to have a look at the exhibition, which was indeed mounted and open, although there was not as yet any text a description of jamaica having produced an artist or signage, other than the usual identifying labels besides each work of art. I was again told that the supporting information was forthcoming but that the exhibition was organized around the themes of nationalism, spirituality and abstraction.

The essay was eventually posted on the day of the reception, March 18. The standard practice is that there will be press and social media advisories at least a week before the exhibition opens for viewing and that the public will be given a fair idea of what to expect in the exhibition, in terms of its scope and the artists featured.

I do not wish to be too uncharitable about this unusual radio silence, which may well have been caused by unavoidable practical challenges, but the delay in publishing this information also suggests that there were other problems with this exhibition.

Let me return to why I was piqued by the exhibition title. For a museum exhibition, a title is a promissory note and a statement of intent, which creates certain expectations in terms of what will be presented in the exhibition and also signals how the exhibition is being framed. Titling this exhibition The Art of Jamaican Sculpture may seem innocuous but it implies a lot. Unfortunately, there is no evidence in the exhibition of any such breadth of range or any critical interrogation of its canonical underpinnings.

The exhibition consists almost entirely of figurative sculpture—nineteen of the twenty-two sculptures on view are figurative, while three are abstract—and the majority of the sculptures are woodcarvings. Clearly, the operative definition of sculpture in this exhibition is a very narrow one and, on the technical front alone, it should be evident that there is a lot more to sculpture in Jamaica than carving and casting alone, especially in the contemporary practice, which is virtually absent from this exhibition.

And it is also worth noting that of the seventeen artists in the exhibition, only three are women, so there appears to have been an unconscious gender bias in the selection process a masculinist gender bias which was, by the way, also evident in the canonical hierarchies from which the exhibition draws.

Most of the works are well-known and frequently exhibited at the National Gallery of Jamaica and a few have even been shown at National Gallery West before. I was also delighted to see the work of two Montego Bay artists, Roy Lawrence and Ted Williams, since these are two artists who had thus far not received a lot of attention or recognition from the National Gallery of Jamaica, although Roy Lawrence was included in the Masculinities exhibition in 2015-16.

But canons are not substantially challenged or questioned by simply adding a name or two, no matter how underrated these artists may be, and the work of Lawrence and Williams furthermore fits quite comfortably within the aesthetic, iconographic and technical premises that inform this exhibition.

If anything, their inclusion reinforces the uncritical canonical aspirations of the exhibition. Putting together a collection of strong works of art by artists of obvious merit and presenting it in an aesthetically pleasing manner an issue to which I will return in a bit does not necessarily make for a compelling and meaningful exhibition.

  • Through group exhibitions such as the Caribbean biennials and other regional shows, they are connecting with creatives from other islands and establishing their commonality and unique identity;
  • There is no doubt in my mind that the curatorial and education staff of the National Gallery of Jamaica and National Gallery West is more than capable, technically and intellectually, of responding to these challenges;
  • During the 1960's, the unity of message in the fledgling art movement began to fray;
  • The Contemporary Trends in Jamaica The development of the visual arts in Jamaica throughout the last century has brought a plethora of trends and styles and has been made into a mass of creativity and concepts of boundless potential;
  • Towards the independence year of 1962, Jamaican creatives received formal training in Britain through various scholarships, which led to a new era of artwork production more closely related to traditional tastes in Europe and movements like Cubism, Realism and Post-Impressionism;
  • Because they were poor and perhaps less fortunate, it was not even an option.

The public deserves more than that from a museum exhibition and a well-curated exhibition needs to be more than the sum-total of the works of art therein: The Art of Jamaican Sculpture fails to deliver in terms of producing such surplus value. This, in turn, may be an implied admission that its premises are indeed problematic and it may well be that the exhibition was titled, selected and mounted before its conceptual underpinnings were fully articulated. And that, of course, would amount to putting the cart before the curatorial horse.

I also need to say something about the exhibition installation. A description of jamaica having produced an artist any exhibition that consists purely of sculpture is a technically and conceptually challenging undertaking, especially in the sort of small and open exhibition space as is available at National Gallery West. The installation has its moments: But overall, I found the installation to be rather dull and unimaginative and it was too crowded in most sections, with bulky sculptures competing for space and attention in ways that actually inhibit the hoped-for artistic dialogues.

All sculptures are positioned against the gallery walls, even though several would have benefited from being seen in the round. There is much to be enjoyed in The Art of Jamaican Sculpture but it is an inadequately framed exhibition. Part of its problem is its grandiose but self-defeating title, which may have been decided on too hastily and over-determines the exhibition concept. The selection does not even gesture at the wide range of what could be defined as sculpture that has been produced in Jamaica in the twentieth and twenty-first century.

But even with the narrow selection, the exhibition is a missed opportunity: It could have engaged with the reasons why wood-carving and the stylistic and iconographic conventions that are privileged in the exhibition were given a central position in the Jamaican national canons, and why there appears to be a masculinist bias in that canon.

It could also have asked how this sort of art is seen today and why woodcarving and conventional sculpture have, with a few notable exceptions, practically disappeared from the contemporary art practice in Jamaica.

This sort of questioning is unfortunately not evident in the exhibition. My fundamental concern with that is that it appears that the National Gallery of Jamaica is, consciously or unconsciously, engaging in a reactionary re-inscription of its old canons, definitions and curatorial approaches. Such turf wars are really quite unnecessary, since for the art world to thrive, there needs to be room for artistic, curatorial and critical diversity and openness to change and new ideas.

There is ample scope for potentially very productive dialogues between the older approaches and the newer developments.

The Art of Jamaican Sculpture is not the only reason why I have that concern: This gallery had been temporarily closed in early 2017, to make room for the unusually large Jamaica Biennial 2017 and a selection of the Kapo paintings and sculptures that are normally on view in that gallery was, later in 2017, shown at National Gallery West. Other than some cosmetic changes, there is nothing in that gallery, or in the educational programme that was staged on February 10 to accompany the reopening, that reflects any new scholarship or any new thinking on what Kapo represents today—artistically, culturally and, for that matter, politically—that goes beyond what was already known and established in the early 1980s, when the Kapo Gallery first opened.

A revision of this narrative is now well overdue. The Caribbean, given its historical position in the global dynamics of cultural representation, has a special responsibility to contribute actively to the new self-reflexivity and critical curatorship that is revolutionizing many art museums, globally.

Institutions such as the National Gallery of Jamaica also have an obligation to contribute new scholarship and ideas about the art they are mandated to represent and to be on the cutting edge of A description of jamaica having produced an artist curatorial and art-historical practice, with thoughtful, relevant and innovative exhibitions, research, programmes and publications. The National Gallery cannot afford to rest on its laurels or to be defensive or even ignorant about the nature and implications of the canons and narratives it generated thirty- and forty-odd years ago.

The current, hyper-critical cultural environment may be challenging for museums and curators but it presents many exciting new opportunities. While I have also articulated concerns about how this exhibition and the related communications and publications appear to have been handled, I wrote this extended commentary mainly to contribute a much-needed critical perspective on the premises that appear to underpin the exhibition.

I hope that this will help to trigger further conversation and reflection about where things are going, or need to be going, in terms of the curatorial and art-historical direction of the National Gallery of Jamaica. And I do hope that there will be educational programming to accompany the exhibition that adds further opportunity for public dialogue. There is no doubt in my mind that the curatorial and education staff of the National Gallery of Jamaica and National Gallery West is more than capable, technically and intellectually, of responding to these challenges.