Last Sundays: March 30, 2014, featuring TRIAD and Religion and Spirituality

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The National Gallery of Jamaica’s Last Sundays programme for March 2014 is scheduled for Sunday, March 30, from 11 am to 4 pm.

Visitors will also have the opportunity to view the National Gallery’s acclaimed Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality exhibition, which explores the role of religion and spirituality in Jamaican culture and history, by means of 68 works from the NGJ collections, some of them well known and others only rarely exhibited. The exhibition, which continues until April 27, includes work by artists such as Osmond Watson, Edna Manley, Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, Carl Abrahams, Everald and Clinton Brown, Renee Cox, Ebony G. Patterson, Gloria Escoffery, Norma Rodney-Harrack and Omari Ra.

The featured performance for the day, which starts at 1:30 pm, will be an excerpt from the dance production TRIAD, which was choreographed by Kim-Lee Campbell, a full-time dancer and choreographer and a final year student in the BFA programme in Dance Performance and Choreography at the Edna Manley College. Campbell is the first recipient of the Institute of Jamaica’s Rex Nettleford Memorial Scholarship Award (2013) and her works have been featured in Jamaica Dance Umbrella, the annual University Dance Society Season of Dance and Danceworks. She is also the Project Director for a performing arts community development programme Yaad Arts in the August Town community.

TRIAD, which will be performed by Sophia McKain, Simone Harris and Nneka Staple, explores the similarities between three women who face sexuality-based discrimination, because of their style of dress. The three women take the audience on a journey through movement; exposing issues of love, their fears, anger, frustrations, anxiety and the many emotions that surface within the minds of the discriminated. The dance implores us to remember that we are all humans. Focused on understanding the body, mind and spirit connection; this piece is a holistic interrogation. The movement vocabulary for TRIAD evolves from a base of hatha yoga postures, abstracted and fused with Caribbean folk nuances, and encompasses a contemporary modern style. The movement writes to unique percussion soundscapes layered with the vocals of Sweet Honey in the Rock and poetry. TRIAD is a final year production that will be performed in full at the School of Dance, Edna Manley College on May 9, 2014.

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Presently on View: Selections from our International Collection

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Whenever our central and mezzanine galleries are not in use for our formal exhibitions, we mount selections of our permanent collection. We have just updated the display with selections from our International Collection, with a special focus on a group of works from the London Group. Here is the text panel for the London Group section of this temporary exhibit, which includes works which have not been on view for more than twenty years.

The London Group

These early London Group works were brought to Jamaica for exhibition by Edna Manley in 1937. Established in 1913 to contest the dominance of the Royal Academy and its conservative view on art, the London Group is one of the world’s oldest continuing artists’ collectives and continues to promote the work of contemporary artists working outside of institutional settings.

The London Group was an influential resource for Manley and a strong connection can be seen between the painting styles of its early members and the “Institute Group”, the collection of Jamaican artists that Manley herself was instrumental in cultivating. Manley joined the London Group in 1930, the same year as British sculptor Henry Moore. Both the Group’s representational approach and interest in Modernism made it a good fit for the Jamaican nationalist school as it looked for ways to picture a forward looking and confident nation.

Frank Bowling, whose large abstract work Maverick is also shown in this gallery, is a current member of the Group, having joined in 1963. Ronald Moody’s 1938 sculptural head Tacet is from the same period as many of the London Group works shown here. Though not a member of the Group, the Jamaican born Moody lived and worked in London since the 1920′s and it is there he became a sculptor of note.

SOUND AND VISION: MUSIC AND SOUND IN THE WORK OF KAPO, EVERALD BROWN AND WOODY JOSEPH – Part III

Everald Brown - Niabinghi Hour (1969), Collection: NGJ

Everald Brown – Niabinghi Hour (1969), Collection: NGJ

Here is the third and final of a three-part blog post series based on a lecture presented by NGJ Executive Director, Dr Veerle Poupeye, at the Jamaica Music Museum’s Grounation programme of February 16, 2014.

Everald Brown, to turn to my last and main case study, was born in Mado District, deep rural St Ann in 1917 and died in New York City in 2003, where he was visiting with one of his children. In another example of rural to urban migration, Brother Brown, who was a carpenter by trade, and his young wife Jenny moved to West Kingston in 1947. They settled at 82 ½ Spanish Town Road, at a yard which also housed a Zion Revival band and a Kumina community. The 1940s and 50s were a period of Rastafarian ferment in West Kingston and Brother Brown was attracted by the teachings of Joseph Hibbert, a pioneering exponent who emphasized the mystical, religious aspects of Rastafari. Like many religious Rastafari, Brother Brown found inspiration in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, as the authentic Christian church from the African Zion and around 1960 Brother Brown established an informal mission of the EOC, which he named the Assembly of the Living. Brother Brown and his family were baptised in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church when this denomination was formally established in Jamaica in 1970 and he was initially an active member, who for instance constructed the EOC cathedral’s Ark of the Covenant, but his beliefs and practices were far from orthodox, and combined elements of Rastafari, Revival, Kumina, and Freemasonry – all of which are also evident in his artistic work. The question thus arises whether Brother Brown can be labelled as a Rastafarian artist. As I wrote in the 2004 Everald Brown retrospective catalogue:

I believe that to insist that Brother Brown was a Rastafarian artist, in any narrow sense, would be as short-sighted and incorrect as to suggest that he wasn’t. First of all, it is inappropriate to impose any narrow, rigid definitions on Rastafari itself, a religious and political belief system that is, except for a few groups, devoid of the dogmatism that characterizes organized religion and allows for significant personal interpretation. While many Rastafarians have been critical of traditional Afro-Jamaican religious and magical beliefs and practices, especially Obeah, there is in fact considerable cultural and religious continuity between Rastafari and Revival and Kumina. Furthermore, religious Rastafari does not necessarily exist in opposition to Christianity but often incorporates it, hence the attraction to elements of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Inevitably, there are tensions and contradictions in such syncretic beliefs—the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, for instance, does not recognize the divinity of Haile Selassie I and no doubt takes a dim view of Jamaican spiritualism—but these are an integral and legitimate part of cultural and ideological dynamics of these beliefs. It is therefore more productive to think of Jamaican Rastafarian culture as a broad, fluid and open-ended cultural spectrum or sphere, which overlaps and interacts with other local and transnational cultural spheres, such as those of the traditional Afro-Jamaican religions. If approached from that perspective, it becomes a lot less problematic to define Brother Brown’s work as ‘Rastafarian art.’

Brother Brown’s small, self-built church on Spanish Town Road was decorated with paintings and Brown also produced various ritual objects and musical instruments which were used by his church community, which consisted mainly of his own extended family. He was discovered as an artist in the late 1960s, by Janet Grant-Woodham, who was Folklore Research Officer at the Institute of Jamaica, and some of the radical young intellectuals at the University of the West Indies, such as Timothy Callender, Edward Kamau Brathwaite and Eleanor Wint, who brokered his first exhibition at the Creative Arts Centre in 1969. Brother Brown started exhibiting regularly since then, in the 1970s often jointly with his young son Clinton Brown, who also painted and produced musical instruments.

Everald Brown surrounded by his work at the Assembly of the Living, c1971

Everald Brown surrounded by his work at the Assembly of the Living, c1971

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SOUND AND VISION: MUSIC AND SOUND IN THE WORK OF KAPO, EVERALD BROWN AND WOODY JOSEPH – Part II

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We now present the second of a three-part blog post series based on a lecture presented by NGJ Executive Director, Dr Veerle Poupeye, at the Jamaica Music Museum’s Grounation programme of February 16, 2014.

But let me now turn to the more specific instance of music and art in Jamaica. Music plays a pivotal role in Jamaican culture and this is predictably and prominently reflected in the country’s visual art. Much of this has to do with the performative character of popular, African-derived religions in Jamaica, which make very active ritual use of music and dance. The three artists who are the focus of this presentation – Kapo, Everald Brown, and Woody – all came from such context. Pioneering research was done by Olive Lewin, Janet Grant-Woodham and others on the music produced by the church communities of Kapo and Everald Brown. Not being a music specialist myself, I have little to add to the research on their music and my focus is instead on the represented and implied music in their work. Everald Brown was also an instrument-maker and his instruments qualify as works of art in their own right, so I am also discussing these in this presentation.

Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds was born in 1911 in Byndloss, St Catherine and died in 1989. He received his first vision at age 16 and started preaching in the country side. Like many young rural men and women of his generation, Kapo soon moved to Kingston in search of opportunity and settled in Trench Town, where he established his Zion Revival Church, the St Michael Tabernacle. Kapo started painting and sculpting in the 1940s and 50s and rose to local and international prominence as a major artist and cultural icon in the 1960s, aided by the support he received from Edward Seaga and also from others, such as the first Tourism Director John Pringle and the American art impresario Selden Rodman.

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SOUND AND VISION: MUSIC AND SOUND IN THE WORK OF KAPO, EVERALD BROWN AND WOODY JOSEPH – Part I

Everald Brown - Bush Have Ears (1976), Collection: NGJ

Everald Brown – Bush Have Ears (1976), Collection: NGJ

This is the first of a three-part blog post series based on a lecture presented by NGJ Executive Director, Dr Veerle Poupeye, at the Jamaica Music Museum’s Grounation programme of February 16, 2014. The lecture’s topic is relevant to the current Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality Exhibition, which continues until April 27, 2014.

The theme of this year’s Grounation series is “seeing sounds and hearing images” and my presentation invites you to do just that. I will not use sound in my presentation, but I will appeal to your imagination, to “see the sounds” and “hear the images” in the work of three major Jamaican artists: the painter and sculptor Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, who was a Revival leader; the painter, sculptor and musical instrument-maker Everald Brown, who was a religious Rastafari leader and a pioneer of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church; and the sculptor William “Woody” Joseph, who had no specific religious affiliation but was part of the cultural sphere of Revival. Everald Brown is an artist I have focused on in my original research, writing, and curatorial work since the mid-1980s and I curated his retrospective for the National Gallery in 2004, so he will be my main case study in this presentation.

Everald Brown - Everlasting King (1987), Collection: NGJ

Everald Brown – Everlasting King (198), Collection: NGJ

At first sight – and the pun is intentional – visual art may seem to speak an exclusively visual language. Yet we all know that to be untrue. Art arguably appeals to all the senses, most obviously also to touch but potentially also to taste, smell and, for that matter, hearing. Those who work in art museums and galleries know how difficult it is prevent visitors from touching the art on view, because it powerfully appeals to the sense of touch, and anybody who has spent some time in an artist’s studio must be familiar with the distinctive smells of various art materials. Most works of art are as such mute but there is a powerful connection between sound and vision which has played a major role in the development of art and music alike and from time immemorial. A 2008 Science Daily article asserted that music played an important role in the ritual production and use of ancient cave art and that early musical instruments, such as bone flutes, are therefore often found in close proximity to ancient cave paintings. The relationship between art and music and the capacity of one to support the other has also been a major preoccupation in modern art, for instance in the work of the Swiss artist Paul Klee, whose abstract paintings were often based on musical interpretation. Music and the visual are also closely intertwined in the popular music industry, in the production of record covers, posters, concert backdrops, fashions and other visual materials, and the association between reggae and graphic design has played an important role in the development of Jamaican visual culture, with several major local designers such as Neville Garrick emerging. More recently, with the development of video and digital art, actual sound has become part of many works of art and sound and music have thereby entered the conventionally hushed environment of the art museum and gallery. It is now a trend for galleries and museums to have a resident deejay to create soundscapes for the museum environment, as was recently done at the Tate Modern and, even, the venerable Metropolitan Museum. Continue reading

Last Sundays, February 23, 2014: Featuring Chrome and Religion and Spirituality

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The National Gallery of Jamaica’s Last Sundays programme for February 2014 is scheduled for Sunday, February 23, from 11 am to 4 pm.

The Last Sundays performance, which will exceptionally start at 1 pm, will be by the steel band Chrome. Chrome presents steel pan music at its most pure, using very minimal percussive enhancement, and lets you truly hear and enjoy the beauty and versatility of the steel pan. The group is less than a year old and has performed for weddings, corporate and private events. All the members of Chrome are seasoned members of UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra, of which Chrome is a spin-off project. A uniquely Caribbean instrument type and musical genre, steel pan music is most closely associated with Trinidad Carnival, and it is in this spirit that we decided to invite Chrome at this time of the year.

Visitors will also have the opportunity to view the National Gallery’s acclaimed Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality exhibition, which explores the role of religion and spirituality in Jamaican culture and history, by means of 68 works from the NGJ collections, some of them well known and others only rarely exhibited. The exhibition includes work by artists such as Osmond Watson, Edna Manley, Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, Carl Abrahams, Everald and Clinton Brown, Renee Cox, Ebony G. Patterson, Gloria Escoffery, Norma Rodney-Harrack and Omari Ra. The exhibition is part of a new series that explores important themes in Jamaican art and the National Art Collection and the first edition was Explorations I: Natural Histories, which was staged in April to June 2013.

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