National Biennial 2012: A Perspective from a Participating Artist, Charles Campbell

The following remarks were delivered by Charles Campbell at the opening function of the 2012 National Biennial. Charles was invited to speak to provide a perspective from a participating artist.


Ebony G. Patterson – Bush Cockerell “live sculpture” performance, pre-twentieth century galleries, NGJ, at the 2012 National Biennial opening – photo courtesy of Deborah M. Carroll Anzinger

“Welcome artists and art lovers. Welcome also to those dragged along reluctantly by their spouses. Welcome to residents of downtown and uptown Kingston and to those who’ve travelled from farther a-field. Welcome to the parents who’ve found yourselves in the unenviable position of having raised an aspiring artist. Especially welcome to those who can’t wait for the speeches to be over so they can look at some art. I promise to keep my comments brief.

At the exhibition opening - photo courtesy of Deborah M. Carroll Anzinger

At the exhibition opening – photo courtesy of Deborah M. Carroll Anzinger

Most of you are here as viewers and patrons of art. It’s my hope to give you a glimpse of what this exhibition might mean to the artists involved. I was first included in the National exhibition (then an annual event) in 1994 a year after graduating art school and shortly after my return to Jamaica. To this day it remains one of the major landmarks of my career. As a young artist there is no shortage of voices advising you of the folly of your chosen path but precious few encouraging you to go on. Getting that first acceptance letter from the National Gallery was undoubtedly one of the strongest and clearest of those encouraging voices.

Elliott, Michael - Yellow Cake_ Crossfire

Michael Elliott – Yellow Cake: Crossfire, acrylic on canvas, 60.9 x 78.7 cm

Of course it was no guarantee that I wouldn’t die starving in a garret with one ear only to have my work sell for millions after my death, Thank you mum, but being accepted by my peers as a peer bolstered my confidence and made a future as an artist seem possible.

In that light I would like to draw your attention to the recent graduates of the Edna Manley College who have been included in this exhibition for the first time. The transition from being an art school student to a practicing artist is neither easy nor certain. The confidence with which the following young people have taken their first steps along that road bodes well for the future of Jamaican art:  Duane Allen, Greg Baley, Robert “Krusha” Harriott, Kimani Taffarie Beckford, Alicia Brown, Esther Chin, Shediene Fletcher, Taj Francis, Mathew Henry, and Ottoa Wilson.

Shoshanna Weinberger - A Collection of Strangefruit, gouache and mixed media on paper, 18 panels, 51 x 42 cm

Shoshanna Weinberger – A Collection of Strangefruit, gouache and mixed media on paper, 18 panels, 51 x 42 cm

Lets give these young people a round of applause for their accomplishments.

Most of the people here will be aware of some of the groundbreaking young artists that were featured in the National Gallery’s last Young Talent exhibition. I for one am hugely encouraged that this show did not represent an isolated peak in the talent coming out of the Edna Manley College but that more promising young artists continue to emerge.

Kemar Swaby - The One, mixed media, 99.9 x 100.2 cm

Kemar Swaby – The One, mixed media, 99.9 x 100.2 cm

We often see the National Biennial as taking the pulse of the Jamaican art scene but I would like to offer a different view. In fact the National Gallery and Biennial are no passive observers of Jamaican art. This institution is a cultivator and instigator and the Biennial plays a large role in motivating the production of many artists.

Charles Campbell installing his work in the National Biennial 2012

Charles Campbell installing his work in the National Biennial 2012 – Photo: Ralph Heiner Heinke

For many of us it is an opportunity to dig deeper, work harder and challenge our selves. The work we produce for the National Biennial may be among our most ambitious projects.

And personally this is how I judge the exhibition – not exclusively on how “good” the work may be but as much on what risks are taken, where artists have stretched themselves who has pushed themselves beyond their comfort zone.

This Biennial scores extremely high by those criteria with both our younger artists and some of the more established challenging the limits of form and content.

If in 2010 we saw the rise of photo-based work, this year marks the step into new media and non-traditional mediums. The moving image has taken its place beside the still and bubble wrap and bird feathers are as legitimate as bronze and the brush. What is possible for Jamaican art is expanding.

For audiences this transition can be bewildering. I remember back in art school when my preconceptions of what art was and could be were exploded by a particular instructor who never seemed to get to the point never would tell me what it all meant. Eventually I learned to put aside my expectations and just listen to his long rambling stories about art and artists, to enjoy the journey and often find my own destination, deep inside myself.

Robert "Krusha" Harriott - OM, digital print, 122 x 81 cm

Robert “Krusha” Harriott – OM, digital print, 122 x 81 cm

The artists in this show have made you a profound offering. When you feel yourself unmoored standing in a room full of light and sound or challenged by a grid of 40 plus paintings with only minimal gestures, you can bet the artists themselves have braved much more in the way of uncertainty and self exploration to get here.

As an audience I ask you to respect that effort, to give the work time and put aside quick judgments. Take a moment to inhabit your own discomfort. You may be surprised what you find there.

So in conclusion I ask the question is the Jamaican arts scene healthy and thriving?

Perhaps you would deduce from my previous statements that the answer is a resounding yes. There is no shortage of talented artists willing to take risks and break new ground. But the talent, ability and potential of our artists is only one of the factors in a healthy art community. If we were to take the art scene’s pulse outside of the stimulation that the National Biennial provides we might find it considerably weaker. Could the most challenging work in this exhibition sit in one of our commercial galleries or any other space in Jamaica? What support can those same young artists from Edna Manley expect to continue their work? What writers are making the effort to investigate the difficult world of contemporary art or make it accessible to a broader public?

When we answer these questions honestly the picture doesn’t look quite so rosy.

But I am optimistic, optimistic that a seed has been planted. Optimistic that once creativity emerges it is very difficult to contain and that it will find it’s own path to survive and prosper. For me the hope lies not in the possibility that commercial galleries and collectors are suddenly going to embrace contemporary art or that funding is going to fall from the sky. My hope is that artists will create their own systems of support, that videos will be screened in your bedrooms and you verandas will become a performance spaces. It is up to us who have felt the power of art and been forever changed by how it has touched us to create space for it to happen.”


4 thoughts on “National Biennial 2012: A Perspective from a Participating Artist, Charles Campbell

  1. Thank you Charles for this very eloquent comment on the Biennial and the current art scene and as always, your clarity.

  2. Reblogged this on Sour Skittles and commented:
    Hey readers,
    It’s been a while… but SO much has been going on that’s it’s difficult to keep track of my thoughts for long enough to write an actual post. Though I do have about three drafts to work on that I’m sure you’ll find interesting. More anon!
    In the interim though, do take a look at what’s going on right now at the National Gallery of Jamaica 2012 Biennial exhibition, and if you’re going to be in Kingston at any time, head down there and take a look. I always enjoy going, and I plan to go and check it out myself along with Astro Saulter’s exhibition at another gallery in the area. I always look forward to Ebony Patterson’s work though. She’s quite a prolific young artist and she always pushes the envelope. I did a feature on her while working as a journalist at the Jamaica Observer, so those who don’t know her yet, do get familiar.–Ebony-G-Patterson_9476444
    You can read more on the amazing Astro Saulter here:

    I’m so excited to go see these exhibitions!

    Love and light, and have a great week!

  3. Although I am not part of this spectacular show and no stranger to it all in terms of being an artist/ past student. In light of all this 90 – 95% of the more experience artists and I went school same time and some before me.Ones of whom I shared same time and space with then:Michael Elliot ,Ebony G Patterson and etc.In deed what I have seen and know of their experience to be on that level of great master before us that we see or read in art history.Jamaica art scene I must say is far becoming a talk and a force to be challenge. I must say congrats to the new a comers who just graduated.

  4. Pingback: Kajuensemble Chats with the Intelligent, Talented & Confident, Mission Catwalk’s Fan Favourite, Theodore E. Sealy | kajuensemble

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s