In Retrospect: Section 3 – JAMAICAN ART 1922-1982

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Here is the third sectional text panel in the In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica exhibition, which continues until November 15.

The Jamaican Art 1922-1982 exhibition, which was a collaboration between the National Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, was the first and most ambitious survey of Jamaican art to tour internationally. The exhibition, which was curated by David Boxer and Vera Hyatt, consisted of 76 paintings and sculptures, many of which came from the NGJ Collection, although there were also loans from private and corporate collections. Between 1983 and 1985, it was shown at 11 venues in the USA, including the Inter-American Development Bank Gallery in Washington D.C., where it premiered, and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. It was also shown at the Hart House Gallery at the University of Toronto in Canada and the National Museum of Port-au-Prince in Haiti. The exhibition had its final showing at the National Gallery in 1986, on its return to the island.

As the title suggested, the exhibition provided an overview of sixty years of modern Jamaican art and it was accompanied by a catalogue with an introductory essay by David Boxer, which provided an overview of Jamaican art from the Taino to the early 1980s. This essay represented the culmination of the art-historical narrative the National Gallery had been articulating since its establishment in 1974 and remains as a standard text today. It covers most major aspects of Jamaican art history, the narrative rests on two pillars, both of which have been controversial: one is the pivotal role of Edna Manley’s 1922 arrival in the island as the symbolic start date of ‘true’ Jamaican art; the other is the central role given to the Intuitives, with John Dunkley (whose Banana Plantation (c1945) was featured on the catalogue cover and also serves as the lead image for this present exhibition) and Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds who were both given equal prominence to Edna Manley.

Jamaican Art 1922-1982 attracted approximately 117,000 visitors and was reviewed in major newspapers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times. The reviews were almost unanimous in their praise of the Intuitives but several expressed reservations about the perceived Eurocentricity of the mainstream artists. John Bentley Mays of the Globe and Mail of Toronto wrote: ‘The most intriguing paintings and sculptures here, however, are not the polished Euro-Jamaican descendents of [Edna Manley’s] the Beadseller, but the home-spun, punchy pictures of the self-taught Intuitives.’ This deeply challenged local perceptions about artistic hierarchies and not surprisingly, the exhibition was lambasted by some members of the local art community. The Gleaner art critic Andrew Hope for instance wrote in 1986: ‘[T]he exhibition lacks a guiding intelligence and seems to have been thrown together with the objective of demonstrating that our Primitives are superior to those painters and sculptors who have received formal training and were “contaminated” by European influences.’ The debate about Jamaican Art 1922-1982 was the first major controversy around the National Gallery and, in essence, it was a battle for control over Jamaica’s dominant artistic canons and narratives and the Gallery’s role as a gatekeeper.

This section of the exhibition features works of art from the National Gallery collection that were shown in Jamaican Art 1922-1982 but the selection needs to be seen in dialogue with the previous two sections, Foundations and Seminal Exhibitions, since several works that were included there were also in this exhibition.

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2 thoughts on “In Retrospect: Section 3 – JAMAICAN ART 1922-1982

  1. Dear Mr Chase, We cannot respond to such queries in comments on unrelated posts. Regretfully your comment does not show, so could you please email us at Thank you.

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