In Retrospect – Section 2: SEMINAL EXHIBITIONS

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Here is the second sectional text panel from the In Retrospect: 4o Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica exhibition:

In the years following its establishment, the National Gallery staged three exhibitions that were instrumental in articulating a Jamaican art history:

Five Centuries of Art in Jamaica (1976) was the first major survey exhibition organized by the National Gallery, and included art from the 16th to the 20th century, in a first major departure from the Gallery’s original mandate to focus on the nationalist art that emerged from the 1938 uprising. The pre-twentieth century section of the exhibition did not include Taino art, because of the unavailability of significant artifacts in Jamaica at that time. It consisted entirely of colonial art, with no reference to any African-derived art forms from that period. This bolstered the underlying thesis, namely that Jamaican art had a longer history but that modern Jamaican art represented a necessary, nationalist reaction against the cultural repression of the colonial period.

The Formative Years: Art in Jamaica 1922-1940 (1978) documented the pioneers of the nationalist school. It was the first exhibition in which 1922 was used as the start date of modern Jamaican art—the three earliest art works included, Edna Manley’s Beadseller, Wisdom and Ape, each dated from that year—and the first to use the term Intuitive. In The Formative Years, David Boxer also refined his position on the relationship between pre-twentieth and modern Jamaican art and he wrote in the catalogue:

There is no painter, there is no sculptor from [before the twentieth century] we can point to and say: “This is a Jamaican artist; this is someone painting Jamaica and her people through Jamaican eyes.” Indeed, the true Jamaican artist is a product of the 20th century.

Five Centuries and The Formative Years also departed from the Gallery’s original narrow focus on ‘fine art,’ as in painting and sculpture, and included a few examples of photography, furniture design and, in Five Centuries, also ceramics.

The Intuitive Eye (1979) renamed the self-taught popular artists who had previously been marginalized as ‘Primitives’ as ‘Intuitives’ and, in a deep challenge to the prevailing hierarchies of Jamaican art, placed them at the centre of Jamaica’s emerging national canon. David Boxer wrote in the catalogue:

These artists paint, or sculpt, intuitively. They are not guided by fashion. Their vision is pure and sincere, untarnished by art theories and philosophies, principles and movements…Their visions, (and many are true visionaries) as released through paint or wood, are unmediated expressions of the world around them – and the worlds within. Some of them…reveal as well a capacity for reaching into the depths of the subconscious to rekindle century old traditions, and to pluck out images as elemental and vital as those of their African fathers.

This section, which comprises two galleries, features works that were included in these three exhibitions and also in the National Gallery’s two later surveys of Intuitive art, Fifteen Intuitives (1987) and Intuitives III (2006), as these two exhibitions illustrate the Gallery’s sustained involvement with this genre.

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