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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In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica – Minister Lisa Hanna’s Opening Speech

Minister Hanna (center) tours the exhibition with senior curator O'Neil Lawrence (right) and assistant curator Monique Barnett-Davidson (left) (Photo courtesy of Oliver Watt)

Minister Hanna (center) tours the exhibition with senior curator O’Neil Lawrence (right) and assistant curator Monique Barnett-Davidson (left) (Photo courtesy of Oliver Watt)

On Sunday, August 31, the Hon. Lisa Hanna, M.P., Minister of Youth and Culture, was the guest speaker at the opening of In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica, our 40th anniversary exhibition. the Minister’s opening remarks are below.

“We have come a far way.  Often in our haste to get on with the business of creating a better world, we do not take the time to just pause for a minute and to see the changes around us and the progress we have made as a government and as a people.”

“This year, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the National Gallery of Jamaica.  When this Gallery began in November, 1974 it was the English-speaking Caribbean’s first national gallery.  Today is it the region’s oldest and largest national art museum.  The recent addition of National Gallery West in Montego Bay has further added to the Gallery’s reach and size.  That is progress!”

“Over its 40 years, the National Gallery has used art to tell the story of our people — how we see ourselves, how we project ourselves and how we understand ourselves.  It is interesting to see how our artists have captured and interpreted the ways in which our ideas have evolved with modernity and the enhancing our national confidence over the years.  That is also progress!”

“We will use this anniversary as an occasion to look back at progress. We will examine the outstanding developments in Jamaican art over the years — and the role that the Gallery has played in the shaping of the unique Jamaican art character.”

“This exhibition, which I have the duty and honour to open today, consists of 131 works of art — only a fraction of the collection that we’ve built up in 40 years — but these works provide a wide panorama of Jamaican art history, spanning four centuries.”

Karl Parboosingh - Cement Company (1966, AD Scott Collection, NGJ)

Karl Parboosingh – Cement Company (1966, AD Scott Collection, NGJ)

The exhibition features works from artists as diverse as Edna Manley, Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds, Albert Huie, Barrington Watson, Karl Parboosingh, Carl Abrahams, Oneika Russell, Laura Facey, Maria LaYacona, Omari Ra, Cecil Baugh, Norma Rodney Harrack and David Boxer.

“I am very sorry that David Boxer wasn’t able to be with us today, but I especially wish to pay tribute to him.  The National Gallery owes a special debt to Dr Boxer who was our Chief Curator for several years and who served the organisation for thirty-seven years in all. Without any fear of contradiction whatsoever, I will say that no one has been as instrumental to the development of the National Gallery as Dr Boxer and we thank him for his service.”

“Dr Boxer continues to serve.  For the last year and a half he has been working on a special assignment at the Institute of Jamaica chronicling the development of Jamaican art.  We expect that his publication, when completed, will become one of the seminal pieces on Jamaica art which will inform and influence generations to come.”

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Call for Entries: New Dates for the 2014 Jamaica Biennial

Patterson, Ebony - Bush Cockerels - small

Ebony G. Patterson – The Observation (Bush Cockerel) — A fictitious History, video installation (detail), National Biennial 2012

The National Gallery of Jamaica wishes to announce the new dates for the 2014 Jamaica Biennial.

The Jamaica Biennial, previously known as the National Biennial, is the National Gallery’s flagship biennial exhibition. Designed to encourage the development of art in Jamaica and its local and international exposure, the Biennial It includes work in all media and genres by a wide variety of artists who enter the exhibition through the jury system or by special invitation. The juried section is open to all artists resident in Jamaica and of immediate Jamaican descent, irrespective of residence. While thus mainly focused on the Jamaican and Jamaican Diaspora artists, the exhibition now also includes a select number of specially invited Caribbean and other international artists. As another new feature, there is also a call for special Biennial project proposals for National Gallery West at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre.

The Biennial will now be open to the public from Sunday, December 7, 2014, with the opening reception on Sunday, December 14, 2014. The new deadline for submissions by juried artists is now Friday, October 17, 2014 and for the invited artists, the new deadline is Friday, November 7, 2014. Letters to the invited artists are being dispatched.

Relevant documents can be downloaded here: The Biennial Guidelines Brochure 2014, The Call for Proposals for National Gallery West , and the Jamaica biennial 2014 – Entry Form. Please email <> or call (876) 922-1561 or -3 if you have any questions or need to discuss your submission.


Duane Allen – Entrapment (2012), mixed media installation – National Biennial 2012

“In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica” Opens on August 31

Final E-Invite for In Retrospect 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica -01

The National Gallery of Jamaica is pleased to present the In Retrospect: Forty Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica exhibition, which is opening on Sunday, August 31, 2014 and marks the beginning of the Gallery’s fortieth anniversary programme.

It is indeed forty years ago this year, on November 14, 1974 to be precise, that the National Gallery opened its doors at Devon House and the institution, which in 1982 moved to the Roy West Building on the Kingston Waterfront, has grown significantly since then. As it presently stands the National Gallery of Jamaica is the oldest and largest national art museum in the Anglophone Caribbean and its reach and size was further expanded recently with the opening of National Gallery West at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre.

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The National Gallery at Forty

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The National Gallery of Jamaica is the oldest and largest public art museum in the English-speaking Caribbean and opened its doors, originally at historic Devon House, on November 14, 1974 and the Gallery will thus be celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year. Much has happened since the Gallery first opened and the fortieth anniversary provides us with an opportunity to remember and celebrate; to reflect on what has been achieved, and what is left to be done; and in doing all of this, to plot the most productive future trajectories.

Devon House was a beautiful and popular location but the National Gallery quickly outgrew these premises, because of its expanding collections and exhibition programme. The Gallery thus moved to its present, much larger and modern premises on the Kingston Waterfront in 1982 and while there have been plans for a new National Gallery building, our present location has become our de facto long term home. We are about to start a programme to develop our present building to current museum standards and recently, we have also added an extension in Montego Bay: National Gallery West, which opened on July 11 at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre on Sam Sharpe Square.

The National Gallery’s early exhibitions focused mainly on mapping out the story of Jamaican art, as was done in the first major survey of Jamaican art, Five Centuries of Art in Jamaica (1976), and the even more influential Jamaican Art 1922-1982 exhibition, a more definitive survey of Jamaican art history which was organized with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and which toured the USA, Canada and Haiti from 1983 to 1985. The process of articulating the stories of Jamaican art continues today, for instance by organizing retrospective exhibitions to honour major artists, such as Barrington Watson in 2012, although the curatorial emphasis has shifted to include exhibitions that provide exposure to young and emerging artists, for instance in the Young Talent exhibition series, the most recent of which was Young Talent V (2010) and last year’s New Roots exhibition. Initially focused on the traditional “fine arts” – painting and sculpture – the Gallery has also widened its interests to include a variety of other media and art forms, including installation art, video, performance, graphic design, popular visual culture, and, most recently, street art in the Anything with Nothing: Art from the Streets of Urban Jamaica exhibition.

This widening scope has also been evident in the development of the National Gallery’s collections, which started with two hundred paintings and thirty sculptures that were transferred from the Institute of Jamaica Collection. Today, the collection comprises just over two thousand works of art in a wide variety of media and genres. Most of it is arguably Jamaican, in the sense that it is made by artists who have been active in Jamaica or who have lived elsewhere but are of immediate Jamaican descent, and a significant part of it addresses themes that are directly relevant to Jamaican history and culture. Over the years, the National Gallery has depended heavily on donations to develop its collections and these have come from artists, collectors and corporations. Some of the most significant donations have been: the A.D. Scott Collection, the Edna Manley Memorial Collection (to which several individual and corporate donors contributed), the Aaron and Marjorie Matalon Collection, and, most recently, the Guy McIntosh Donation.

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