Anthony Brown – Kimarley (Hannah Town), photo: Kara Springer
The following is the curatorial introduction by NGJ Chief Curator Charles Campbell, which was presented at the opening of the Anything with Nothing exhibition on May 25:
I hope that the exhibition largely speaks for itself but I will share a few thoughts about the process of putting the show together and the issues it raises.
My interest in Jamaican street art began when I was here in the 90’s and volunteered as a photographer for Sharon Chako on one of the first efforts to research and document the phenomenon. But it is really the independent research of our assistant curator Monique Barnett-Davidson that the current exhibition is built on. Monique has spent time in the last three years documenting murals and meeting many of the artists and without her work it certainly would not have been possible to put this exhibition together in so short a space of time.
Monique and I both shared the vision of mounting an exhibition of street art that combined newly commissioned work and photographic documentation as a way to bring both the vitality of the work and a sense of its original context into the Gallery. I think it would also be fair to say that we shared a similar curiosity as to what would happen when the two very different notions of art as embodied by street artists in Jamaica and the National Gallery were brought together.
Vermon “Howie” Grant – Sleepy (Dela Vega City), photo: Charles Campbell
Nadine Hall – Sacred Bodies (2014), detail of installation – presently on view in Be Uncaged
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.
The following remarks were delivered by Charles Campbell at the opening function of the 2012 National Biennial. Charles was invited to speak to provide a perspective from a participating artist.
Ebony G. Patterson – Bush Cockerell “live sculpture” performance, pre-twentieth century galleries, NGJ, at the 2012 National Biennial opening – photo courtesy of Deborah M. Carroll Anzinger
“Welcome artists and art lovers. Welcome also to those dragged along reluctantly by their spouses. Welcome to residents of downtown and uptown Kingston and to those who’ve travelled from farther a-field. Welcome to the parents who’ve found yourselves in the unenviable position of having raised an aspiring artist. Especially welcome to those who can’t wait for the speeches to be over so they can look at some art. I promise to keep my comments brief.
At the exhibition opening – photo courtesy of Deborah M. Carroll Anzinger
Most of you are here as viewers and patrons of art. It’s my hope to give you a glimpse of what this exhibition might mean to the artists involved. I was first included in the National exhibition (then an annual event) in 1994 a year after graduating art school and shortly after my return to Jamaica. To this day it remains one of the major landmarks of my career. As a young artist there is no shortage of voices advising you of the folly of your chosen path but precious few encouraging you to go on. Getting that first acceptance letter from the National Gallery was undoubtedly one of the strongest and clearest of those encouraging voices.
Michael Elliott – Yellow Cake: Crossfire, acrylic on canvas, 60.9 x 78.7 cm
Of course it was no guarantee that I wouldn’t die starving in a garret with one ear only to have my work sell for millions after my death, Thank you mum, but being accepted by my peers as a peer bolstered my confidence and made a future as an artist seem possible.