Religion and Spirituality: Spiritual Warriors

Renee Cox - The Red Coat (2004), Collection: NGJ

Renee Cox – The Red Coat (2004), Collection: NGJ

The current Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality exhibition is organized around six broad, overlapping themes, with a gallery dedicated to each theme. Here is the text panel for the fourth gallery, titled “Spiritual Warriors”:

The work in this gallery reflects on the role of religion and spirituality in local resistance and liberation movements, especially during the colonial period.

Religion and spirituality played a critical role in the fight against slavery throughout the Americas. In Jamaica, Nanny of the Maroons, had charismatic spiritual powers which she used to empower her followers in guerrilla warfare against the colonial authorities. Similarly, Tacky, the leader of the 1760 rebellion, was an Obeah Man and it is worth noting that Boukman Dutty, who presided over the Vodou ceremony at Bois Cayman that marked the start of the Haitian Revolution in 1791, was from Jamaica. These rebel leaders are symbolically represented in this exhibition by Renee Cox’s The Red Coat, which provides a contemporary interpretation of the figure of Nanny, in which the artist herself adopts Nanny’s persona and in a poignant act of defiance, wears the red coat of the colonial militia.

Kapo - Bogle - small

Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds – Paul Bogle (1952), Larry Wirth Collection, NGJ

In the late 18th century, the Baptist, Methodist and Moravian Church established missions in Jamaica and became actively involved in the Abolitionist movement. These new religious movements gained significant popular support and interacted with African-derived religious traditions. Out of this came several resistance leaders, such as Sam Sharpe, the leader of the 1831 Christmas Rebellion in western Jamaica, and in the post-slavery area, Paul Bogle, the leader of the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion. Both were Deacons in the Baptist Church. Bogle is represented in this exhibition by a 1952 carving by Kapo, who opted to represent him as one “who threw a stone at the establishment,” the final maquette of Edna Manley’s controversial Bogle monument (1965) and a 2010 poster by Michael Thompson, who represents Bogle as a modern revolutionary.

This conflation of the spiritual, the religious and the political is also evident in modern nationalist movements, to the point where several of its leaders have been compared to Biblical figures such as Moses and Joshua, of which Edna Manley’s drawing Moses (1954) is a reminder. While he was a secular leader, Marcus Garvey was also directly influential on religious representation in modern Jamaica – as could be seen in the previous gallery, titled In Our Own Image – and his teachings are foundational to the main political-religious movement that emerged in modern Jamaica: Rastafari. These dynamics are illustrated here by Edna Manley’s Prophet (1935), which is conceptually and stylistically related to her nationalist icon Negro Aroused (1935) and alludes to the prophetic role of visionary Black leaders such as Garvey, and in Carl Abrahams’ Visionary World of Marcus Garvey (1976), although this painting represents Garvey’s influence on Rastafari through that artist’s uniquely irreverent caricatural lens.

Carl Abrahams - The Visionary World of Marcus Garvey (1976), AD Scott Collection, NGJ

Carl Abrahams – The Visionary World of Marcus Garvey (1976), AD Scott Collection, NGJ

The conflation between religious and political militancy is however most obvious in the Rastafari movement and its fundamental challenges of the social and racial establishment. The Rastafari movement has brought this militant spirit to its cultural production, as can be seen in the examples by Neville Garrick and Clinton Brown, both of which adopt Ethiopian religious iconography, and Parboosingh’s Ras Smoke I, in which the sacramental chalice is wielded defiantly, almost like the machete in Renee Cox’s nearby The Red Coat.


3 thoughts on “Religion and Spirituality: Spiritual Warriors

  1. Pingback: National Gallery of Jamaica “Spiritual Warriors” | Repeating Islands

  2. I look on this for a few seconds and it says so much to me, I see these people in my dreams as if saying to me, “Present”. Don’t be surprised now at the idea of a Jamaican spiritual leader at world level who is none less than the genuine Messiah of God himself. A lot of claims have been made on the identity of the Messiah but the issue is still open. Some have long since said that our island will play a central role in the kingdom of God in the Earth, they must base their arguments on something prophetic, there is no reason why Jamaica cannot be blessed as the Holy Land and birthplace of the sacred world spiritual leader, a lot of people see Jesus as an important prophet but do not agree that he is the Messiah and look to the arrival of someone else.

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