In 1985, Jamaica hosted the International Youth Conference and the World Youth Festival of Arts, which was known locally as JAMFEST 85, a project chaired by then Senator Olivia “Babsy” Grange, who is now the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture. As part of this programme, the NGJ staged an exhibition called Young Talent 85, which featured the work of the young Jamaican artists Petrine Archer, Tony Bag, Larry Brown, Colin Christ, Omari Ra, Valentine Fairclough, Livingston Lewin, Hylton Plummer, Khalfani Ra, Basil Watson and Jan Watson. Young Talent 85 was an exciting exhibition which exposed a moment of significant energy and innovation in contemporary Jamaican art, especially the new expressionist painting that emerged in the mid 1980s.
That exhibition’s curator, Dr. David Boxer wrote in the catalogue: “Young Talent 85 […] inaugurates a series (whether it becomes an annual, biennial or a triennial remains to be seen) where young artists at the beginning or in the early stages of their careers will be able to exhibit a larger body of works than is possible in the Annual National or Festival exhibitions. Hopefully, this method will provide a forum for a more meaningful dialogue between young artists and the public.” The series indeed supports an important aspect of the NGJ’s mandate, which is to actively encourage new developments in Jamaican art and to support the work of young and emerging artists – a mandate which sets the NGJ apart from more conventional national galleries, which focus on collecting, exhibiting and documenting what is already well established.
While the Young Talent exhibitions were never placed on any fixed schedule, other editions were held in 1989, 1995 and 2002 and now again in 2010. The Young Talent exhibitions have been scheduled whenever the NGJ curators felt that a sufficiently large cohort of promising young artists had emerged to make a strong statement about new directions in Jamaican art. Now is undeniably one such moment, with exciting and provocative new art that responds actively to the present socio-cultural moment and challenges much of what was previously taken for granted in the Jamaican art world.
Of the 14 young artists selected for this exhibition, 12 are graduates of the Edna Manley College, which continues to be the main engine of artistic development in Jamaica, and Phillip Thomas, Ebony Patterson, Keisha Castello, Caroline Sardine and Oneika Russell have also completed postgraduate studies abroad and have lived, or still live, outside of Jamaica, which adds to the transnational dynamic that also fuels contemporary Jamaican art. The two self-taught artists in the group, Christopher Harris and Sand, give new life to the NGJ’s concept of Intuitive art and illustrate that such artists have gained a legitimate place in contemporary art.
Each participating artist was selected on his or her individual merit, and surely has a distinctive artistic identity, but common interests are evident in the work of several, such as a critical, interrogatory thematic concern with gender, the body, sexuality, violence, history and current affairs, and several actually collaborate extensively with each other, adding a new ethos of collectivity to contemporary Jamaican art. New media, such as digital photography and video animation, feature prominently and are explored productively, although more conventional abstract and representational painting are also well represented, be it in new ways that assert the relevance of traditional art media in contemporary art.
Dr. Boxer and I, who co-curated this exhibition with much-appreciated support from O’Neil Lawrence, are confident that we are presenting an exhibition which contributes meaningfully to the development of contemporary Jamaican art and we thank all who have contributed to this project.Veerle Poupeye Executive Director