Edna Manley’s Bogle

Edna Manley, Bogle (1965), photographed in 1970 by David Boxer

There has been much controversy, recently, about Edna Manley’s 1965 Paul Bogle monument, which was for nearly forty years located in front of the Morant Bay Court House, where it served as a monument to the Jamaican National Hero Paul Bogle and the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion.  The monument had been damaged by vandals and weakened by the 2007 Morant Bay Courthouse fire and was taken to Kingston for restoration. Stakeholders in the Morant Bay community have however opposed its return and demanded its replacement with another monument that would be a “true likeness” of Bogle, based on a presumed photograph of him. This request subsequently received the support of the St. Thomas Parish Council and the KSAC. The future location of Edna Manley’s Bogle Statue is currently under debate.

The current controversy is the third such episode around this monument: the first one occurred at the time of the unveiling in 1965 and the second in the early 1970s. The debate about  the Bogle monument is one of several controversies that have surrounded public monuments in Jamaica in the post-Independence period – the controversies about the  1983 Bob Marley statue by Christopher Gonzalez and the 2003 Redemption Song/Emancipation by Laura Facey are the two other main examples.

This post, which was written by NGJ Chief Curator David Boxer, is adapted from “Edna Manley’s Bogle: Creation of an Icon,” a  NGJ exhibition and publication in preparation, which will examine the creation of Edna Manley’s Bogle and the debates that have surrounded it.

In 1964 when Edna Manley was commissioned to do the statue of Paul Bogle in preparation for the commemoration of the centenary of the Morant Bay Rebellion, she was faced with a common problem that has faced countless artists who are required to make a representational image of a historic figure for which no true and acceptable likeness is available. For unlike the established image of George William Gordon, the other National Hero who was also executed in the aftermath of the Morant Bay rebellion, there was no accepted image of Bogle. A few years before she worked on the commission, an image had surfaced which was purported to be of Bogle but there were many who questioned its authenticity.

Edna Manley - Paul Bogle (1965), Photograph: Amador Packer

Among the doubters was Edna Manley. She didn’t sense what she knew of Bogle in the image and it seemed curiously at odds with the often quoted physical descriptions of Bogle. One of these had described Bogle as “very black, shiny of skin, heavy marks of smallpox on face, especially on nose…large mouth, red thick lips; about five feet eight inches tall, broad shoulders… no whiskers.” Not much to go on and she knew she would not be interested in the pock marks. She was after all creating a symbol of a hero and idealization would be expected. The one thing which this description gave her was the sculpture’s colour, its patina. It needed to be black. A rich shiny black.

There is a story that she sought out the descendents of Bogle and that she met his grandson. Is this apocryphal? Perhaps not. It is entirely logical that she would have made attempts to find the closest blood descendent. There are some drawings of a man’s head in one of her sketchbooks associated with the Bogle studies. He is bearded and his hair is long. Could these be of Bogle’s grandson?  This is being investigated as there is no mention of this grandson in her diaries.

She does however record meeting an old woman at Stony Gut who kept repeating the phrase “But Bogle was a BOLD man.” And she asks herself the question, “what does a BOLD man look like?”  Her answers would shape the form and head of her hero, and since no “portrait” could be achieved she would have to create a composite symbol of this bold black man. At first she allowed him to hold the machete with one hand. The other arm is pressed close to his side. She had doubts. He was stiff like a sentry on duty.

Edna Manley - Bogle Maquette I (1965), Collection: National Gallery of Jamaica

She visited the Morant Bay courthouse again and again. She carefully drew it and allowed its emanations to guide her imaginative spirit. The Courthouse’s modest but perfectly proportioned architecture was firmly imprinted on her imagination. Aesthetically sculpture and architecture needed to relate. She did a second maquette raising the elbows and giving to the sculpture a new commanding openness and a new bilateral symmetry that would allow it to be centrally placed in front of the fully bilaterally symmetrical architectural form.

The courthouse thus becomes an integral part of the complex composite symbol that was evolving. Key to the new conception was the implanting of another symbol on the sculpture: that of the Christian cross. Deacon Bogle, head of the Native Baptist Church in Stony Gut, was to be a bold Christian martyr. The machete, now centralized and establishing the cruciform, takes on the symbolism of the sword here imparting its traditional meanings as both a symbol of the administration of justice and the attribute of the Christian martyr. This is the sword of the spirit that Ephesians 6:17 urges on those who would be Christian Soldiers.

The head is somewhat flattened and proportionately enlarged allowing for its symbolic morphology to be more easily read.  Her earlier visionary heads of the Dying God series of the early forties and the more recent Brother Man drawings, taken from life, form the basis of this highly conceptual head. And perhaps there is the memory of Bogle’s grandson in it. The eyes are enlarged not into the fully blown “sun eyes” of her rising sun-gods, but suns nonetheless, brimming now not with the rage of the rebellion’s leader, but with the force and deep gaze of prophecy. The forehead is furrowed into an expansive knitted brow-scape of deep intellectual intensity and fiery determination. The other features, the nose, the mouth, the hair are emphatically black features. This was to be the first Jamaican monument to a black man and she would not shrink from her responsibility. This had to be the figure and head of a BOLD, BLACK, MAN …

The National Gallery is currently researching, and will be presenting a special exhibition Edna Manley’s Bogle: Creation of an Icon, which is expected to open shortly before Independence Day and to run until National Heroes week.

David Boxer

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3 thoughts on “Edna Manley’s Bogle

  1. Pingback: Manley’s Bogle – Making a Myth of the Man « MairImages.ca Blog

  2. Pingback: Edna Manley’s Bogle: A Contest of Icons – Tell Us What You Think! « National Gallery of Jamaica Blog

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