Here is the fourth major text panel from the present In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica exhibition, along with the more detailed text panels from the Ceramics and Photography sections.
This section explores some of the alternatives to and departures from the art-historical narrative and artistic hierarchies the National Gallery articulated in its early years. Some were readily accommodated by the Gallery, or actually came from within, while others came about as a result of external challenges but these course corrections have all added to the dynamic and diverse picture presented by the National Gallery’s collections and exhibitions today.
The hierarchies of Jamaican art had already been challenged before the National Gallery was established. The Contemporary Jamaican Artists Association (1964-74), which was established by Barrington Watson, Karl Parboosingh and Eugene Hyde, presented a challenge to the tenets and dominance of the nationalist school and advocated the professionalization of art and the development of individual and corporate art patronage. Most importantly, they wanted to be recognized as artists first, and as Jamaican artists second. While the National Gallery included these artists and others who similarly departed from the conventions of the nationalist school in its exhibitions and acquisitions from early on—a Parboosingh retrospective was for instance staged in 1975, the year he died—the ideas about art the Gallery articulated existed in lingering tension with those advocated by these artists, as was illustrated by the Intuitives controversy which was discussed in the previous section.
In the 1980s and 90s, new artists appeared whose work more radically departed from prevailing conventions in Jamaican art, with a refusal to be pigeonholed and a more experimental approach to media and form. One such was Omari Ra, who brought a radical African nationalist perspective to his work, and another was Petrona Morrison, who experimented with found materials and ritualistic forms to present intensely personal narratives. David Boxer himself pushed the envelope with conceptually rich installations, assemblages and collages that referenced various art-historical sources and often commented on global political conflicts. Roberta Stoddart, in contrast, opted for a more conventional representational approach to explore issues of gender, history, race and class.
The National Gallery originally had a strong focus on painting and sculpture but gradually opened its doors to other media. Photography and ceramics, in particular, received more attention in exhibitions and acquisitions from the 1980s onwards but the Gallery initially still treated these media as separate and generally of a more technical nature. Such media-based segregation has become redundant in contemporary art and we now opt for an integrated approach to various media. For the purposes of this exhibition, we however acknowledge how the Gallery has historically treated with ceramics and photography, by showing selections from our photography and ceramics collection in discrete areas of this exhibition—a separate gallery for the ceramics and one major section of the circulating area upstairs for photography.
Although the Institute of Jamaica had collected some ceramics, including work by major artists such as Cecil Baugh, these were not transferred in 1974 and the original vision of the National Gallery was that it would be mainly have a collection of painting and sculpture. According to our records, the first time the Gallery exhibited ceramics was in 1976, as part of the Five Centuries of Art in Jamaica, which included a ceramic sculpture by Cecil Baugh, from Edna Manley’s collection. Ceramics was in 1979 introduced as a category in the Annual National exhibition and Cecil Baugh was honoured with a retrospective in 1981. The National Gallery in 1991 opened the Cecil Baugh Gallery of Ceramics, which provided an overview of Jamaican ceramics along with select international examples but this was based mainly on loans from the Hardingham Collection. Although several ceramic works were acquired around that time, the collection was still too small for the Cecil Baugh Gallery to continue without relying on loans, so it closed after two years. Since then, the Gallery has exhibited and collected ceramics more actively, with a major survey of Jamaican ceramics, Clay and Fire: Ceramic Art in Jamaica, held in 2005. While the National Gallery has typically exhibited its ceramics holdings separately, the current thinking is to integrate ceramic pieces into the main permanent exhibitions, as was already done in the Historical Galleries and as will be done in the new modern galleries that are currently being reorganized.
The selection of ceramic works shown in this gallery illustrates the range of ceramic art in Jamaica, from the traditional and conventional to the contemporary and the off-beat. Most of the examples chosen are vessels, the foundational ceramic form, but there is one sculptural piece by Keith Reece ‘Uhuru’, titled Chinese Dog. Of special note is how some of the ceramic artists in this selection engage with traditional forms. Cecil Baugh’s glazed Monkey Jar for instance builds on the traditional unglazed, functional Monkey Jar, which is an important part of Jamaica’s ceramic heritage, and we are juxtaposing Baugh’s interpretation with an anonymous and undated example of the latter. Norma Rodney-Harrack Kwali makes reference to the West African ceramic traditions that have influenced popular ceramics in Jamaica and her Taino Heritage series of vessels interprets the ceramic forms of the Taino. Most works in this room make exclusive use of local materials—a tradition in modern Jamaican ceramics which had been championed by Cecil Baugh, who is represented with one of his masterpieces, Vase with Egyptian Blue.
As we have seen elsewhere in this exhibition, the National Gallery was initially conceived as a conventional ‘fine arts’ gallery, with a primary focus on painting and sculpture, but other art forms were soon added to the exhibitions and collections. The year 1975 saw the establishment of Jamaica’s first photography gallery, the Focal Image Gallery, at Devon House, in the shops that adjoined the main building where the National Gallery was located. The short-lived space was operated by Cecil Ward, in conjunction with the NGJ, and exhibited work by some of Jamaica’s pioneering photographers including Warren Robinson and Robin Farquharson. The National Gallery’s first photography acquisitions date from 1976, the year the Focal Image Gallery closed, and included work from Farquharson, Maria LaYacona, Roger Mais and Rose Murray.
Nineteenth century photography also figured prominently in the National Gallery’s 1976 Five Centuries and 1978 Formative Years exhibitions and the first exhibition dedicated solely to the medium, Images in Series: Aspects of Contemporary Photography, was mounted in 1986. The NGJ’s first and only photography retrospective was that of Maria La Yacona in 1993. Even with this long history photography has been slow to gain full acceptance as a fine art medium and it was not until 1997 that the Annual National Exhibition had a place for photography.
More recently digital photography has revolutionized the medium and today many of our strongest young contemporaries do photography-based work, which has become a full-fledged part of contemporary art practice. This section features a selection of the National Gallery’s photographic holdings and we also refer to section 2 – Seminal Exhibitions, where photographs that were included in the Five Centuries and Formative Years exhibitions can be seen, the main portion of section 4 – Alternate Trajectories, where Paul Stoppi’s work can be seen, and to section 5 – New Routes, which features the contemporary work of Marlon James, Marvin Bartley, Cosmo Whyte, and Renee Cox.