The National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ) is pleased to present the Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality exhibition, which is scheduled to open on Sunday, December 22.
The exhibition is the second in the NGJ’s new Explorations series, which was launched earlier this year with the Natural Histories exhibition. The series explores major themes in Jamaican art, and in the National Art Collection, and aims to allow our curators and visitors to engage in new, more exploratory ways with the artistic and cultural history of Jamaica. Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality examines the themes of religion and spirituality in Jamaican art and comprises sixty-seven works from our collection. That we can mount such an exhibition without resorting to loans is in itself testimony to the central and pervasive role of religion and spirituality in almost all aspects of Jamaican history and life and, consequently, in Jamaican art.
Earlier this year the National Gallery launched a new exhibition series, Explorations, with the Natural Histories exhibition. The series explores major themes in Jamaican art, and in the National Gallery collection, and aims to allow our curators and our visitors to engage in new and more thoughtful ways with the artistic and cultural history of Jamaica. The series also serves as a platform for our curators to rethink how we exhibit our permanent collections, as we will soon be reinstalling our permanent modern Jamaican art exhibition and intend to do so along thematic lines. We are now presenting the second in the series, Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality, which will open on December 22, and several other editions are in planning for future showings.
Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality examines the themes of religion and spirituality in Jamaican art and will consist entirely of works from our collection. That we can mount such an exhibition without resorting to loans is in itself testimony to the pervasive role of religion and spirituality in almost all aspects of Jamaican history and life and, consequently, in Jamaican art. While predominantly Christian, Jamaica is also the birthplace of Rastafari and earlier African-derived forms – Revival and Kumina being two of the most well-known. Other world religions are also represented in Jamaica, namely Judaism, Hinduism and the Islam, albeit in small but at times influential minorities, who further add to the complex landscape of beliefs and religious practices found in the island. In these various incarnations, religious and spiritual practices and beliefs have played multiple social and cultural roles, as instruments of control and oppression in some instances and as tools for liberation and self-assertion in many others. Visual artistic forms have been an integral component of almost all religious practices on the island and many artists have been drawn to the subjects of religion and spirituality in their search for iconic Jamaica subject matter or, sometimes, as a target for critical or satirical commentary.
The Girl and the Magpie – installation view
We at the NGJ are committed to fostering critical dialogue and our exhibitions are designed to do just that. The current New Roots: 10 Emerging Artists exhibition is a perfect example and it has already elicited a variety of responses, informal and in writing – we welcome both. This morning we received the following comment from a George Blackwell to one of our posts on the exhibition:
The New Roots Exhibition at the National Gallery of Jamaica is interesting to take note of for several reasons. Firstly, ‘New Roots’, as the title suggests, betrays a desperate bid to get away from any serious discourse that foregrounds the black as the essential constituent in local identity matters. Therefore, the exhibition is insipidly curated to avoid this discussion.
Secondly, new routes are not really new. Videos, installations, animations and graffiti art have had enduring presence in Jamaican art. Nor are the directions and messages of the respective artists new. What is new, however, is the irrational extent to which the curators have gone to scrape the barrel to find people who have no skills or claims to the art making process regardless of the media or medium they choose to work with.
The short film by Saulter suffers from a lack of interesting camera angles and a powerful metaphor has been sacrificed to a gruffly overdone gabble posing as narrative. The other videos are for the most part jejune, the entertainment value and cultural schmaltz become part of the naked technological seduction, while artistic endeavor is absent.
Nile Saulter – Pillowman (2013), video still
Nor is the graffiti display new. What is new about it is that though most graffiti works display a competent level of intellectual finesse in their political charge and their artistic ambitions, in McCarthy’s case, one would have to dig deep into the dense layer of clichés to find any smidgen of such. This he compensated for by his PR teamwork and media savvy.
Matthew McCarty – I Took the Liberty of Designing One (2013)
Instead of asking what are people’s roots, we ought to think about what are their routes, the different points by which they have come to be now they are, in a sense, the sum of those differences. That, I think, is a different way of speaking than talking about multiple personalities or multiple identities as if they don’t have any relation to one another or that they are purely intentional. These routes hold us in places, but what they don’t do is hold us in the same place. We need to try to make sense of the connections with where we think we were then as compared to where we are now. That is what biography or the unfolding sense of the self or the stories we tell ourselves or the autobiographies we write are meant to do, to convince ourselves that these are not a series of leaps in the dark that we took, but they did have some logic, though it’s not the logic of time or cause or sequence. But there is a logic of connected meaning.
The New Roots exhibition features 10 emerging artists: Deborah Anzinger, Varun Baker, Camille Chedda, Gisele Gardner, Matthew McCarthy, Olivia McGilchrist, Astro Saulter, Nile Saulter, Ikem Smith and The Girl and the Magpie. These artists were selected by our curatorial team, which was headed by Nicole Smythe-Johnson, O’Neil Lawrence and myself, from our initial shortlist of over 30 artists under 40 years old who were either born in Jamaica or of Jamaican parentage or who are active here. We specifically looked for artists who had started exhibiting only recently, at least in Jamaica, and who had not previously been represented in National Gallery of Jamaica exhibitions of a similar nature, such as our Young Talent series. Final selections were made based on obvious practical considerations, such as the availability of work and feasibility of project proposals, but most of all we looked for work that suggested viable new directions in local contemporary art practice. And we found a lot that interested us: a strong focus on photographic reportage; provocative autobiographic reflections and social interventions; new interrogations of gender and the body; an at times unsparing realism but also a capacity for imaginative visual poetry; experimentation with video projection, animation and interactivity; and a growing disregard for conventional notions about the “art object” and the traditional, segregated artistic disciplines.
The Girl and the Magpie – Sponge (necklace, collection Fragile Jamaica) (2013) – work in progress
Nile Saulter – Pillowman (2013), video still
Nile Saulter is a cinematographer, director, editor, and founding member of New Caribbean Cinema. He graduated from the New York Film Academy at King’s College, London in 2004. His commercial clients include Pepsi, Gatorade, Red Bull, Digicel, PSI and Island Outpost. His short films have been exhibited at The British Museum in London and the Michael Werner Gallery in New York, and screened at festivals in Toronto, Nigeria, Trinidad, Barbados, Cuba, St Lucia, Jamaica, and London, where his short film Coast won the award for Best Cinematography at the Portobello Film Festival in 2011. He has directed and codirected music videos for Bounty Killer and Skygrass, in addition to creating video art. Nile recently returned from Senegal, where he conducted interviews and shot footage for the Puma-sponsored One People documentary project to commemorate Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary. He’s recently gotten into fashion film productions also, and has shot two for the Lubica and We Are Massiv brands respectively. Nile has just completed his first feature film script for which pre-production will begin in the summer of 2013.
Nile Saulter – Pillowman (2013), video still
National Gallery of Jamaica to Present New Roots: 10 Emerging Artists
The National Gallery of Jamaica is pleased to invite you to its summer show, New Roots: 10 Emerging Artists. The exhibition will open on Sunday July 28th and features work by Deborah Anzinger, Varun Baker, Camille Chedda, Gisele Gardner, The Girl and the Magpie, Matthew McCarthy, Olivia McGilchrist, Astro Saulter, Nile Saulter and Ikem Smith. Though some of these artists already have an exhibition history, locally or abroad, all are relatively new to the local art world and under 40 years old. In keeping with its mandate to identify and support new and young artists, the NGJ is excited to unveil a show that will surprise, challenge and hearten the arts community and broader society.