Osmond Watson (1934-2005)

Osmond Watson, Freedom Fighter (1973), Collection: National Gallery of Jamaica

This post is our tribute to Jamaican painter and sculptor Osmond Watson, who passed away in 2005,  at age 71. This post is adapted from a paper by O’Neil Lawrence, Curatorial Assistant, and an obituary for Osmond Watson written by Veerle Poupeye, Executive Director.

As an Afro-Caribbean man who resides in the Caribbean and is faced with Caribbean problems, my philosophy on art is simple. My aim is to glorify Black people through my work with the hope that it will uplift the masses of the region, giving dignity and self-respect where it is needed and to make people more aware of their own beauty.

– Osmond Watson, 1995

It is one of the most frequently quoted statements by the artist Osmond Watson; most likely because it is one that resonates as strongly now as it did in 1995. The identity of the Afro-Caribbean man/woman is one that is in a permanent state of flux but few of us even properly understand or acknowledge the unique position that Caribbean people hold within the African Diaspora. Jamaica is populated by a people whose ancestors struggled to maintain their cultural history and who are now willingly letting that history be subsumed by North American influences.

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Omari S. Ra – Afrikan (b. 1960)

Omari Ra – Figure with Mask, 1987, private collection

This post focuses on one of the major figures in contemporary Jamaican art, Omari S. Ra. His work also provides an interesting perspective on the symbolic significance of Haiti in the African Diaspora, which has new poignancy in the aftermath of the devastating Haiti earthquake and which has motivated the timing of this post. The text is adapted from the doctoral dissertation of Veerle Poupeye, the NGJ’s Executive Director (all rights reserved by the author).

Omari Ra, also known as Afrikan, is one of the most significant artists to emerge from the 1980s and his work has helped to define the course of contemporary Jamaican art in the last twenty-five years. He was born in Kingston in 1960 as Robert Cookhorne but later changed his name to the Afrocentric Omari S. Ra. He graduated in 1983 from what was then the Jamaica School of Art (now Edna Manley College) and has more recently completed MFA studies at the University in Massachusetts in Dartmouth. Informed by his radical African Nationalist politics, Omari Ra’s work provides provocative, satirical commentaries on the historical and contemporary issues that have shaped the African Diaspora. Ra was originally a painter, who worked mainly in mixed media and collage on paper, but his recent work includes three-dimensional objects and installations and large drawings on fabric. Ra has exhibited regularly at the National Gallery, including the National Biennials, where he won the prestigious Aaron Matalon Award in 2004, and Curator’s Eye I (2004), which was curated by Lowery Stokes-Simms, then Director of the Studio Museum in Harlem. His overseas exhibitions include the 1986 and 1994 Havana Biennale and the 1995 Johannesburg Biennale. He lectures in Painting at the Edna Manley College, where he currently also heads the Painting Department.

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