In Retrospect – Section 4: ALTERNATE TRAJECTORIES

Hyde - Colonization II - for web

Eugene Hyde – Colonization II (1960, Collection: NGJ)

Here is the fourth major text panel from the present In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica exhibition, along with the more detailed text panels from the Ceramics and Photography sections.

This section explores some of the alternatives to and departures from the art-historical narrative and artistic hierarchies the National Gallery articulated in its early years. Some were readily accommodated by the Gallery, or actually came from within, while others came about as a result of external challenges but these course corrections have all added to the dynamic and diverse picture presented by the National Gallery’s collections and exhibitions today.

The hierarchies of Jamaican art had already been challenged before the National Gallery was established. The Contemporary Jamaican Artists Association (1964-74), which was established by Barrington Watson, Karl Parboosingh and Eugene Hyde, presented a challenge to the tenets and dominance of the nationalist school and advocated the professionalization of art and the development of individual and corporate art patronage. Most importantly, they wanted to be recognized as artists first, and as Jamaican artists second. While the National Gallery included these artists and others who similarly departed from the conventions of the nationalist school in its exhibitions and acquisitions from early on—a Parboosingh retrospective was for instance staged in 1975, the year he died—the ideas about art the Gallery articulated existed in lingering tension with those advocated by these artists, as was illustrated by the Intuitives controversy which was discussed in the previous section.

Petrona Morrison - Altarpiece 1 & 2 (1991, Collection: NGJ)

Petrona Morrison – Altarpiece 1 & 2 (1991, Collection: NGJ)

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Saturday Art Time Resumes on September 20

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The National Gallery of Jamaica is delighted to announce the resumption of its innovative child art programme, Saturday Art Time, on Saturday September 20, 2014.

The programme, which has been active since September 2009, consists of a range of gallery-based art workshops for children from ages 8 to 15 years old. Participants are taught a variety of art-making techniques such as drawing, painting, assemblage and collage. Additionally, these workshops provide an opportunity to learn about Jamaican culture and history through the Gallery’s permanent collection and exhibitions.

Co-ordinated by the gallery’s Education Department, the programme has been highly subscribed by youngsters and their families as well as school groups from a variety of social backgrounds. As a result of the effectiveness of the workshops and the enthusiastic participation of the children, the gallery was able to inaugurate its biennial child art exhibition series, Art’iT. The exhibition was first held in 2011 and again in 2013, receiving very positive reviews.

The workshops, funded by the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education fund (CHASE), will be held every Saturday morning from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the National Gallery. The workshops are free of cost but space is limited so applicants are encouraged to register as soon as possible.

Registration forms are available at the National Gallery. For more information, contact the National Gallery’s Education Department at 922-1561 /-3 (Lime landline) or 618-0654 /-5 (Digicel fixed line) or via e-mail at

In Retrospect: Section 3 – JAMAICAN ART 1922-1982

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Here is the third sectional text panel in the In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica exhibition, which continues until November 15.

The Jamaican Art 1922-1982 exhibition, which was a collaboration between the National Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, was the first and most ambitious survey of Jamaican art to tour internationally. The exhibition, which was curated by David Boxer and Vera Hyatt, consisted of 76 paintings and sculptures, many of which came from the NGJ Collection, although there were also loans from private and corporate collections. Between 1983 and 1985, it was shown at 11 venues in the USA, including the Inter-American Development Bank Gallery in Washington D.C., where it premiered, and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. It was also shown at the Hart House Gallery at the University of Toronto in Canada and the National Museum of Port-au-Prince in Haiti. The exhibition had its final showing at the National Gallery in 1986, on its return to the island.

As the title suggested, the exhibition provided an overview of sixty years of modern Jamaican art and it was accompanied by a catalogue with an introductory essay by David Boxer, which provided an overview of Jamaican art from the Taino to the early 1980s. This essay represented the culmination of the art-historical narrative the National Gallery had been articulating since its establishment in 1974 and remains as a standard text today. It covers most major aspects of Jamaican art history, the narrative rests on two pillars, both of which have been controversial: one is the pivotal role of Edna Manley’s 1922 arrival in the island as the symbolic start date of ‘true’ Jamaican art; the other is the central role given to the Intuitives, with John Dunkley (whose Banana Plantation (c1945) was featured on the catalogue cover and also serves as the lead image for this present exhibition) and Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds who were both given equal prominence to Edna Manley. Continue reading

In Retrospect – Section 2: SEMINAL EXHIBITIONS

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Here is the second sectional text panel from the In Retrospect: 4o Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica exhibition:

In the years following its establishment, the National Gallery staged three exhibitions that were instrumental in articulating a Jamaican art history:

Five Centuries of Art in Jamaica (1976) was the first major survey exhibition organized by the National Gallery, and included art from the 16th to the 20th century, in a first major departure from the Gallery’s original mandate to focus on the nationalist art that emerged from the 1938 uprising. The pre-twentieth century section of the exhibition did not include Taino art, because of the unavailability of significant artifacts in Jamaica at that time. It consisted entirely of colonial art, with no reference to any African-derived art forms from that period. This bolstered the underlying thesis, namely that Jamaican art had a longer history but that modern Jamaican art represented a necessary, nationalist reaction against the cultural repression of the colonial period.

The Formative Years: Art in Jamaica 1922-1940 (1978) documented the pioneers of the nationalist school. It was the first exhibition in which 1922 was used as the start date of modern Jamaican art—the three earliest art works included, Edna Manley’s Beadseller, Wisdom and Ape, each dated from that year—and the first to use the term Intuitive. In The Formative Years, David Boxer also refined his position on the relationship between pre-twentieth and modern Jamaican art and he wrote in the catalogue:

There is no painter, there is no sculptor from [before the twentieth century] we can point to and say: “This is a Jamaican artist; this is someone painting Jamaica and her people through Jamaican eyes.” Indeed, the true Jamaican artist is a product of the 20th century.

Five Centuries and The Formative Years also departed from the Gallery’s original narrow focus on ‘fine art,’ as in painting and sculpture, and included a few examples of photography, furniture design and, in Five Centuries, also ceramics. Continue reading

In Retrospect – Section 1: FOUNDATIONS

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We continue the publication of the text panels in In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica, with the text panel for the first section of the exhibition, which looks at the earliest beginnings of our collection:

When the National Gallery opened its doors in 1974, a significant part of the Institute of Jamaica’s art collection was transferred to the new organization. According to our records, this comprised 237 paintings and drawings and 25 sculptures which thus became the Gallery’s foundational collection.The initial transfer consisted of modern Jamaican art only, starting with Edna Manley’s Negro Aroused (1935), but a group of pre-twentieth century works was later also transferred, in 1976, which now forms the core of the National Gallery’s historical collection.

The artworks that were transferred to the National Gallery in 1974 not only says a lot about how the Institute of Jamaica went about its exhibitions and acquisitions—and most acquisitions were from exhibitions that were held at the Institute—but also helps to explain how the early National Gallery was conceptualized. Negro Aroused (1935) had been acquired by public subscription in 1937 as the first modern work of art to enter the Institute’s collection—its acquisition can be seen as the symbolic beginning of what later became the National Gallery. Before that, the Institute had acquired art mainly for its historical value, for instance for their portrait gallery, and furthermore made those decisions from a decidedly colonial perspective. This was challenged by the nationalist intelligentsia in the late 1930s, who pressured the Institute of Jamaica to become receptive to the emerging modern Jamaican school, and it is the resulting change in policy direction which generated the art collection that was eventually transferred to the National Gallery. The articles of association of the National Gallery mandated it to exhibit and collect the art that had come out of the 1938 uprising, which was a narrow and ultimately untenable mandate that was, as we will see in the next section, quickly challenged and expanded by its Director/Curator David Boxer, but it was consistent with the context in which its core collection had come about.

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In Retrospect: 40 Years of the NGJ – Introduction

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As has become customary for all our exhibitions, we are publishing the text panels in the In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica exhibition. Here is the introduction:

When the National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ) opened its doors on November 14, 1974 it was the English-speaking Caribbean’s first national gallery, and forty years later it is the region’s oldest and largest national art museum. The recent addition of National Gallery West at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, has further added to its reach and size. Since 1974, the NGJ has held over one hundred and thirty exhibitions and established an encyclopaedic collection of Jamaican art. Through the process of amassing and exhibiting the art of Jamaica it has done more than preserve and display Jamaica’s artistic heritage. What the NGJ has truly excelled at is telling a story (‘the’ story, the NGJ has at times claimed) of Jamaican art, crafting the raw material of artists, artworks and anecdotes into a coherent narrative that resonates with how Jamaicans see and understand themselves in the world.

When the original two-hundred and sixty-two paintings and sculptures from the Institute collection arrived in 1974, the NGJ inherited a set of artworks but not a cohesive art history and its new Director/Curator, David Boxer, who joined the staff in 1975, embarked on articulating such an art history. What we now know about Jamaican art has been the product of dedicated research and, at times, fortuitous discovery, but still the process of compiling facts and perspectives into history is a storyteller’s art. This story has been told through our exhibitions and publications, through major donations, and even through the controversies that have swirled around the NGJ from its earliest years. It is a story about personalities, about nation building and competing interests and perspectives, and about articulating who Jamaicans are as a people.

The task we have set ourselves with In Retrospect: Forty Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica is to tell the story of that story, examining with a critical eye the role the NGJ has played in establishing how Jamaican art is understood. Since our acquisitions are an integral part of that story, the exhibition consists mainly of works from our collection, supplemented with a few loans and works that are presently in acquisition. For our examination of the NGJ’s history to be manageable, decisions had to be made about what to include and what to leave out. We do not claim that this exhibition provides an exhaustive overview of the NGJ’s history—this story, too, could have been told in a number of different ways—but we have sought to represent what we consider to be key events and developments.

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