The NGJ’s Chief Curator Charles Campbell was the guest speaker at the April 3 opening of Be Uncaged, an exhibition of student work at the Edna Manley College’s CAG[e] gallery. Since his remarks have broader relevance, we decided to share them here. The exhibition, which was curated by the students in the Introduction to Curatorial Studies course, is well worth visiting and remains open at the College until April 17.
One of the questions I’m frequently asked is what I think of the art scene here. It’s a complicated question to answer. Are we talking about the artists that live here, the Island’s talent pool and what’s going on behind closed doors in studios and bedrooms across the island? Is it the quality of the exhibitions we get to see, the activity of the National Gallery and other spaces? Or are we talking about the health of the art market, commercial galleries and collectors? How about we talk about the nature of public support for the arts or we could consider the climate of debate, discussion and criticism, and then are we talking about what’s said on the verandas or what’s printed in the papers about Jamaican art? We can also look at the interest in Jamaican visual culture from the outside and the place Jamaican holds in the global imagination, or how well we participate in the growing and global network of Caribbean artists.
By each of these measures we come up with very different conclusions about the state and health of Jamaican art. While this month we saw Ebony G. Patterson’s star rise further as she made history as the first Jamaican artist to appear on the cover of Frieze Magazine, the global economic downturn and local conditions have been an extreme challenge for artists in the commercial sector here. And while NLS is raising the bar as a critically engaged independent artists platform, last year’s close of the Mutual Gallery was the last brick to fall in a near total collapse of the local gallery scene. Depending on who you talk to you’ll hear stories of a healthy secondary market for art or one that is all but dead. Publicly there is little presence and no critical discussion in the papers about art in Jamaica, but privately, at least by my admittedly skewed experience, people are still passionately engaged with what’s happening. And while many have hailed the National Gallery’s exhibitions over the past couple of years as indicative of an exciting new direction for Jamaican art, others lament the decline of more traditional forms.