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 fifth gallery, titled “Prayer and Ritual”:
The work in this gallery consists of various representations and evocations of prayer and ritual and, in doing so, also focuses on the performative nature of popular religions and spiritual practices, particularly the role of music and dance.
Revival religion features prominently in this section, for instance Osmond Watson’s celebratory Revival Kingdom (1969) and Day of the Pentecost (1971) or, in a more satirical vein, in Carl Abrahams’ Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah (c1965) and Backyard Preacher (c1975). The same exuberant spirit of Revival is also evident in the examples by Revival leader Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, particularly his Revival Baptism Ceremony (1972) and Allan “Zion” Johnson’s Giving Praise to the Lord (1972), although Kapo is also represented with a more restrained work, Be Still (1970), which represents another side of his spiritual work, namely managing the battle against good and evil and, specifically, the exorcism of evil spirits.
The immensely important role of Rastafari in Jamaican music is symbolically represented by Everald Brown’s spectacular Instrument of Four People (1986), which combines a guitar, harp, rhumba box and drum. Music played an important role in the self-appointed mission of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Brother Brown had established around 1960 and the musical instruments he produced were actively used but, with their unusual sculptural forms and painted and carved decorations also became a full-fledged part of his artistic practice, culminated in masterworks such as the Instrument of Four People, the first of several such hybrid instruments. The instrument-building tradition is continued by his family today.
This gallery also includes two works that reflect on the sacrament and rituals of marriage: the autobiographical Rainbow Triptych (1978) by Osmond Watson, which uses the visual language of another traditional religious art form, stained glass, and Zacchaeus Powell’s carved Marriage Staff.
Several examples in this gallery, finally, represent prayer and ritual in a broader, metaphorical sense that goes beyond the religious per se. Edna Manley’s Prayer (1937), for instance, elaborates on the emancipatory nationalist iconography of her Negro Aroused and presents a hopeful, dynamic vision of future potential, while Petrona Morrison’s starkly meditative Altarpiece I & II, which is made from humble recuperated materials, speaks poetically about healing and reconnection, on a personal and collective level. The supplicant figures in Henry Daley’s The Petitioner (1945), Vera Cummings’ Supplication (1945) and Osmond Watson’s Who Shall I Turn To, similarly use prayer in a more personal context, as expressions of despair and hope for recovery.