National Biennial 2012 – Musgrave Tributes: Omari S. Ra (Silver, 2011)

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Omari S. Ra – Self-Portrait (2012)

Omari S. Ra was awarded the Institute of Jamaica’s Silver Musgrave medal in 2011 and, as has become customary, is honoured with a small tribute exhibition in the 2012 National Biennial. The following is the citation that was read as the Musgrave Award Ceremony at the Institute in 2011:

The Institute of Jamaica recognizes Omari Sediki Ra for outstanding merit in the field of Art.

Omari Sediki Ra (also known as “Afrikan”) was born in Kingston, 1960. He studied painting at the Jamaica School of Art (now the Edna Manley School of the Visual Arts) and graduated in 1983. More recently, he completed his Master of Fine Arts studies at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth. Omari Ra’s exhibition repertoire is quite extensive beginning with his 1983 graduation group exhibition at the Jamaica School of Art and the first Young Talent exhibition at the National Gallery of Jamaica in 1985. That same year, Ra held his first solo exhibition at the Suti Gallery in Berne, Switzerland. Ra continues to be a regular participant in major Jamaican exhibitions such as Curator’s Eye I and the National Biennial – where, for the latter, he was awarded the prestigious Aaron Matalon Award in 2004. Ra has continually maintained his international presence, exhibiting throughout Europe and the Americas. Important international exhibitions include the 1986 and 1994 Havana Biennale and the 1995 Johannesburg Biennale.

Omari S. Ra - Jesus Christ (1986), mixed media on paper

Omari S. Ra – Jesus Christ (1986), mixed media on canvas, Collection: NGJ (Guy McIntosh Donation)

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Omari S. Ra – Afrikan (b. 1960)

Omari Ra – Figure with Mask, 1987, private collection

This post focuses on one of the major figures in contemporary Jamaican art, Omari S. Ra. His work also provides an interesting perspective on the symbolic significance of Haiti in the African Diaspora, which has new poignancy in the aftermath of the devastating Haiti earthquake and which has motivated the timing of this post. The text is adapted from the doctoral dissertation of Veerle Poupeye, the NGJ’s Executive Director.

Omari Ra, also known as Afrikan, is one of the most significant artists to emerge from the 1980s and his work has helped to define the course of contemporary Jamaican art in the last twenty-five years. He was born in Kingston in 1960 as Robert Cookhorne but later changed his name to the Afrocentric Omari S. Ra. He graduated in 1983 from what was then the Jamaica School of Art (now Edna Manley College) and has more recently completed MFA studies at the University in Massachusetts in Dartmouth. Informed by his radical African Nationalist politics, Omari Ra’s work provides provocative, satirical commentaries on the historical and contemporary issues that have shaped the African Diaspora. Ra was originally a painter, who worked mainly in mixed media and collage on paper, but his recent work includes three-dimensional objects and installations and large drawings on fabric. Ra has exhibited regularly at the National Gallery, including the National Biennials, where he won the prestigious Aaron Matalon Award in 2004, and Curator’s Eye I (2004), which was curated by Lowery Stokes-Simms, then Director of the Studio Museum in Harlem. His overseas exhibitions include the 1986 and 1994 Havana Biennale and the 1995 Johannesburg Biennale. He lectures in Painting at the Edna Manley College, where he currently also heads the Painting Department.

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