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

ngj_Sunday_Opening_feb_23_2014_2-01-1

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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Stuart Hall (1932-2014)

Photo courtesy of Annie Paul

Stuart Hall in Jamaica, 1998 (Photo courtesy of Annie Paul)

We are deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Stuart Hall. Our Chief Curator, Charles Campbell, has penned the following tribute:

“Jamaican born sociologist and cultural theorist Stuart Hall died today at the age of 82. A leading intellectual and one of the founders of Cultural Studies in Britain, Hall was part of the so called Windrush generation that moved from Jamaica to England after the Second World War.

Hall is one of the most influential thinkers of his generation. The impact of his work has been felt across academic disciplines and filtered into popular discourse through both his writing and regular appearances on British television and radio. Known for his work on race, gender, identity and sexuality he also made significant contributions to the examination of the visual arts with specific regard for the work of Black British and Caribbean artists.

Hall presented a nuanced understanding of culture as something constantly in formation, always changing and never static. While pushing against essentializing black subjectivity he never shied away from acknowledging how race and ethnicity often set the context in which an artwork was viewed and determined its readings. He was also an advocated of a strong critical discourse, one that looked both at the context of the work being produced and the works own merits.

In his writings on art he sought to undo the binary structure of centre and periphery, showing ‘Modernity and its “Others”‘ to be closely intertwined. He was fascinated by the complexity of the visual image and the many ways in which they could be read and supported the notion of images that interrogated their viewer, asking questions and giving information but perhaps not answers.

Hall’s legacy lives on through the work of the many thinkers, writers, artists and academics he influenced. As per the name of John Akomfrahs biographic video installation about Stuart Hall, his life was an unfinished conversation.”

We have also received the following statement from the Centre for Caribbean Thought:

“Stuart Hall, Caribbean Thought and the World We Live In.

There have been many tributes to the Jamaican born thinker Stuart Hall. We at the Centre  for Caribbean Thought  remember the 2004 conference , ‘Culture , Politics , Race and Diaspora: The Thought of Stuart Hall,’ where  with  mesmerizing eloquence Hall addressed  ideas about  thinking, activism, the Caribbean  Diaspora , politics and  the  complex relationships between culture , race, class and power. When we invited Hall in 2003  and informed him that his work would be the subject of a ‘Caribbean Reasonings Conference’ his initial response,  typical of his character  was that he had not written much on the Caribbean ; that  his work was not  of the kind like that of Lamming , or CLR James . Yet in a lecture delivered at the 50th anniversary of the University of West Indies, Hall had noted that the 1998 event occurred at the same time as the 50th anniversary of the docking of the SS Empire Windrush in the UK. That landing began a new history of post war Caribbean migration to the UK.

Hall arrived in the UK as a Rhodes Scholar in 1951. His life was a Caribbean life away, a diasporic life in which the new meanings of home were constructed while retaining  echoes of the former home. How could one forget the 1991 seven part documentary series which he narrated, Redemption Song that deeply explored the past and present of the Caribbean? Hall was a Caribbean intellectual, one who was part and parcel of the post war Afro- Caribbean migration experience.  That he did not  return   ‘home’ like others,  George Lamming,  or Sylvia Wynter (who returned for a while) and others did not mean that he was not Caribbean. What it meant was that the Caribbean was now working through a different geographical and cultural location. He himself noted: ‘The fate of the Caribbean people living in the UK, the USA or Canada is no more “external” to Caribbean history than the Empire was “external” to the so called domestic history of Britain.’

Living at the heart of the British colonial empire in its dying days and on the cusp of regional political independence was both a formidable intellectual and political challenge for Hall.  These challenges remained with him for a long time and as he said in an interview in 2012, ‘I am not quite English.’ Hall’s preoccupation with Diaspora and race emerged out of this conundrum which he navigated. There is profound connection between Hall’s life and his writings and thinking about Diaspora and race for as he once said in a debate with a conservative political figure in London. ‘You cannot have at the back of your head what I have in mine. You once owned me on a plantation.’

When Hall became involved in British left politics it was at a moment when orthodox Marxism was reeling from the exposures and revelations of the brutalities of Stalinism. If in 1956, another Caribbean figure, Aime Cesaire resigned  from the French Communist Party stating that not only the bodies  murdered by Stalin  were an eloquent testimony to the negative practices of  orthodox communism but that the colonial  and race problems  required new and different readings of  how societies were constituted, Hall along with others in 1960 founded the New Left Review  as one attempt to construct a new left politics. This desire to construct a different left politics which was not a distant cousin of orthodox Marxism (what he would call in 1986 in an article on ideology, ‘Marxism without guarantees’) was critical to Hall’s intellectual and political life. Indeed his work as the central founder of the field of Cultural Studies at Birmingham University was not so much about a study of the popular but more about thinking around the relationships between power and culture. It was to understand culture as a complex phenomenon which was always contested but importantly he believed  that one could not think politically without grappling with the yeast of culture. It was this  understanding which  made it possible for him to coin the term ‘Thatcherism’ as a hegemonic cluster of ideas which were not just political but deeply rooted in  the cultural and social history of Britain.

Hall’s political thinking in recent years was to grapple with the ideas inaugurated by Thatcher and others  and what he called a year ago the ‘neo-liberal revolution.’ He reminds us that Thatcher once said, ‘the object is to change the soul.’ In grappling with this new ideological configuration, Hall posited two sets of ideas amongst many which might be in part legacies for us today. The first is the notion of contingency. The idea that social and political life is not fixed, that there is no formal closure and therefore there is fluidity in what seems fixed and frozen. It is an important idea because it always means that in the darkest of times there are always ‘points of light.’  The second is one which he took from the Italian political thinker, Antonio Gramsci — the idea of ‘common sense.’ His challenge to us was that we should understand how common sense gets  formed.  In  an  article written by himself and Alan O‘Shea  in December 2013, he argued that  the ‘assumption that everyone is obviously going to agree with what is being proposed is in fact a means of securing that agreement.’   He also noted that the idea that ‘we all share common sense values … is a powerful legitimation strategy.’

That months before his death  Hall and others worked on the Kilburn Manifesto a document about the possibilities of renewing  the left in Britain is indicative of a force field of determination. But perhaps even more so it was indicative of   his deep desire to confront the world as we know it and challenge its assumptions. In London, Hall’s contribution to visual culture is well known particularly his work with the group of Black Photographers and the establishment of Rivington Place. Hall had that rare gift of discerning the contours of the world in which we live. With unmatched generosity he worked across generations. He was open to the future and to the possibilities of a different world as he practiced a form of engaged listening and dialogue. For those of us at the Centre for Caribbean Thought he is a seminal figure and thinker of the 20thcentury.”

Brian Meeks, Professor of Social and Political Change, Director SALISES, The University of the West Indies, Mona
Anthony Bogues, Lyn Crost Professor of Social Sciences and Critical Theory ,
Professor of Africana Studies, Director, Center for the Study of Slavery & Justice, Brown University
Rupert Lewis, Professor Emeritus of Political Thought, The University of the West Indies, Mona
 
Updated: February 22, 2014