The following is the curatorial introduction presented by NGJ Assistant Curator Monique Barnett-Davidson at the opening of the Anything with Nothing exhibition on May 25. Monique co-curated the exhibition.
I am here primarily to say a few words about my introduction, interest and love for Jamaican street art but in order for you to get a sense of how I view and admire these works, I must give a quick back story.
My home community is Whitehall Avenue. As a child I was taught to love the visual arts and soon discovered I had a talent for it. My first artists were not the ones of national repute but were the anonymous authors who decorated walls and shop fronts of Whitehall or ‘Gun Mouth’ as it was sometimes called. Whether I was going to school or going to buy banana chips or ‘suck-suck’, these would stand out to me. The one I admired the most was a large painted family portrait of a mother, father and child dressed and blinged in eighties hip-hop fashion. The words above it read “100% Black”
As a young adult attending art school, my fascination continued and though I had never tagged a wall, I greatly admired those that did, almost living vicariously through their exploits and supporting them where I could. Street art wasn’t a great part of my education as a Jamaican art student and in the environment that was School of Art, it didn’t seem to fit anyway. I theorized that it was another side of my artistic development and appreciation that seemed to function with more sincerity outside of an academic sphere.
In 2010, I finally got the opportunity to test that theory. I asked myself these questions: Why is the interrogation of Jamaican street art no more than a few sentences in the national canon when there are so many examples of its process and evolution evident? Can a museum or a gallery help to bring this to the fore in a realistic and meaningful way? Was that even a necessary action? By researching it, I challenged myself beyond my admiration of it, probing it as an established cultural phenomenon. Today, I am happy to see that ten of these artists and their supporters here today. As a member of NGJ’s curatorial team, I want to thank them for their contribution to Jamaican cultural identity and encourage on their various missions towards self-awareness and development as Jamaican artists.