The Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality exhibition, which opens today, is organized around six broad, overlapping themes, with a gallery dedicated to each theme. Here is the text panel for the first gallery, titled “A Chapter A Day”:
The works in this gallery explore the central role of the Bible in Jamaican life and appropriates its title from the saying “a chapter a day keeps the devil away.” In a good illustration that the Bible is not the exclusive province of mainstream Christianity, the saying has particular resonance in Rastafari culture and appears in several reggae songs, by Jacob Miller, Luciano and Junior Gong.
The theme is anchored by Osmond Watson’s The Lawd Is My Shepard (1969), which depicts a market vendor in her stall with a Bible in her lap, in a very deliberate position which is also the geometric and symbolic centre of the image – a potent illustration of the Bible-centeredness of Jamaican popular culture. This iconic painting, which is one of the most popular works in our collection, is surrounded by twelve other paintings and sculptures that represent various Old and New Testament episodes and personalities, in a range of styles and from a variety of religious and ideological perspectives. These paintings represent but a sample of how Biblical themes have been interpreted by Jamaican artists and the common appearance of such themes and Biblical knowledge displayed by the artists further illustrates the important role of the Bible in Jamaican culture.
Several works in this gallery interpret Old Testament stories in innovative and at times eccentric ways, starting with a rather humorous depiction of the original sin in Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds’ Adam and Eve, in which the original couple’s innocent embrace is framed by a looming (and rather phallic) snake. The New Testament scenes reflect more concern with established Christian iconographies, as these have evolved in the Western art canons, although there is significant formal and thematic interpretation and an effort to make the subject relatable to Jamaican audiences in almost all examples. Parboosingh’s Flight into Egypt (1974), for instance, uses a minimalist formal language related to ancient African and Native American pictographs, while Carl Abrahams applies his unique, quirky illustrative style to add emotional depth to the moving Women I Must Be About My Father’s Business (1977) and Boy in Temple (1977).
Most of the works in this gallery represent the grand, defining moments in the Bible but the works by the self-taught Intuitive Everald Brown and John “ Doc” Williamson focuses on its morality tales, which seem to have particular appeal in the popular culture, as can be seen in John “Doc” Williamson’s Sacrifice of Isaac (1980) and Brown’s Zacheus (1998) and, more eccentrically, in Brown’s The Earth is the Lord (1969), which interprets Psalm 24:1 in a modern geopolitical context and turns it into a parable of global unity amongst hostile nations.