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.
Though trained originally in the use of traditional painting techniques, Omari Ra’s use and forms of media have been developed throughout his career to include found objects, collages, assemblages and installation works. Ra is a fearless political artist – his images and iconography often challenging historical and contemporary issues associated with the raising of African black identity and consciousness.
He also offers unabashed social commentary on Jamaican and Caribbean state of affairs, for example, on incidents of political violence and the misdirection of Jamaican youths from goals of renewal and positive growth by dysfunctional cultural practices and on the crucial role of Haiti and its revolution in the African Diaspora. In the words of London based artist and writer, Godfried Donkor, “Omari Ra’s paintings are a reaction to Jamaica’s post-colonial culture which remains predominantly Eurocentric despite the fact that over ninety percent of the population is of African descent.” The disenfranchisement of Blacks, particularly within the Diaspora, is another major theme in his works. The overwhelming and fiercely confrontational depictions of these individuals are Ra’s ways of jarring the otherwise superficial appraisal of their reality and plight by other members of society.
Ra continues to be an active contributor to the visual arts as an educator. In his capacity as lecturer at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, Omari Ra has mentored and inspired many art students, encouraging them not to be frivolous and self-indulgent in their own artistic endeavours, but rather to create artworks from a well-informed understanding of various social contexts and their relationship as individuals and active participants to these contexts. Many of today’s known young Jamaican contemporary artists have gained critical acclaim through adherence to such principles. In his most recent capacity as the head of the Painting Department at the Edna Manley School of the Visual Arts, he continues to inspire and motivate new generations of contemporary Jamaican artists and, in the process, to shape the growth and development of Jamaican art.
For his contribution to Art and Art education the Council of the Institute of Jamaica is pleased to award Mr. Omari Sediki Ra the Silver Musgrave Medal for outstanding merit in the field.
Click here for additional reading on Omari Ra’s work.