As has become customary for exhibitions of this nature, we will be posting the text panels and other short texts relevant to the Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality exhibition, which opens on Sunday, December 22. Here is the first installment:
The National Gallery’s new exhibition series, Explorations, was launched earlier in 2013 with the Natural Histories exhibition and seeks to offer a new exploratory and contextualized approach to the artistic history of Jamaica by focusing on major themes. The series serves as a platform for our curators to rethink how we exhibit our permanent collections and to test new exhibition strategies with our viewers, as we will be reinstalling our permanent exhibition of modern Jamaican art and intend to do so thematically rather than along the current chronological lines.
The second in the series, Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality, examines the themes of religion and spirituality in modern and contemporary Jamaican art and consists entirely of works of art from our collection – sixty-eight works, to be precise. The selection includes works that are part of the established canons of Jamaican art but presents these in a new interpretive context, which focuses on their social and cultural significance rather than on their status in the conventional art hierarchies. Natural Histories included various natural history artefacts that are not conventionally regarded as “art” and thereby also explored the art/artefact dynamic. Religion and Spirituality is less actively concerned with this issue, because doing so in a manner comparable to Natural Histories would have required us to include active sacred objects and images, which poses various practical and ethical problems. Several of the works in the exhibition – for instance, Everald Brown’s musical instrument or ritual staff – however represent a transitional area between sacred object and “museumized” work of art, which is another, equally important aspect of the art/artefact dynamic. While less explicitly counter-canonical than Natural Histories, Religion and Spirituality thus invites further discussion on the processes of canonization and its alternatives in contemporary art museum practice and art-historical narration.
As was done in Natural Histories, the explorations offered in Religion and Spirituality are organized around themes that provide a range of perspectives on the exhibition subject, with a separate gallery dedicated to each theme. In order of appearance in the exhibition, these are: “A Chapter a Day,” “Ancestral Memories,” “In Our Own Image,” “Spiritual Warriors,” “Prayer and Ritual” and “Death and Life Beyond.” While the present exhibition is thus more rigidly structured along these themes than the Natural Histories exhibition, most selected works could have been presented under more than one heading and we invite you to consider how each example could be understood in a number of thematic contexts.