Jamaica Biennial 2017 – Juried Artists: Venice Black

Venise Bladk – Kidist Dengel Miriam (The Holy Virgin Mary) (2016)

Venice Black was a first-time exhibitor at the National Gallery of Jamaica in the Jamaica Biennial 2017. was born in 1987, in St Ann, Jamaica and did studies at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in 2012. An emerging artist, she works primarily in ceramics. Venise Black is a grand-daughter of Brother Everald Brown. She is based in St Catherine, Jamaica.

Spiritual Yards – Gallery 2: Errol Lloyd “Powah” Atherton, Vincent Atherton, Everald Brown

Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica’s Intuitives – Selections from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection, opens on December 11. Here is a post on three of the artists in the exhibition, along with video footage, courtesy of Wayne Cox.

Errol Lloyd “Powah” Atherton (1961-2012) lived in Albany, St Mary. He participated in Kumina-influenced Bongo meetings and had a deep sense of the power of the ancestors. He was also the son of intuitive artist, Vincent Atherton, creating, in Randall Morris’ words, “one of the most powerful yard shows in Jamaica with offertory seals honouring the carvings of his father, Vincent.” In addition to carving, he also painted words on wood and zinc to invoke the ancestors. Powah’s work has been exhibited locally since around 2000, when it was featured in the exhibition Prophets and Messengers, held at the Mutual Gallery in Kingston, Jamaica. His work was also featured in 2008 as a part of the National Biennial, held at the National Gallery of Jamaica. He is represented in a number of private and public collections—local and overseas—including the collection of the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami.

Vincent Atherton (1924-2007) lived in Albany, St Mary. He worked as a groundskeeper at the Green Castle estate and he had a carving shack on the property. It was during this time that he developed his carving skills, initially focusing on utilitarian wooden items such as axe handles and vases before transitioning into his own conceptual forms, which included effigy figures, amulets, helmets and staffs. A number of these are reminiscent of similar objects carved in Taino and some African traditions. Atherton described the objects as possessing great spiritual power and influence for protecting and guarding or to pacify spiritual forces. In some instances, he carved such objects in response to specific events and phenomena, for example, during the transition into the new millennium in 2000. Several of his sons were also carvers, more importantly, Errol Lloyd Atherton. Vincent Atherton’s work has been exhibited locally, most notably in the exhibition Intuitives III (2006) held at the National Gallery of Jamaica, and has also been widely exhibited in the United States. His work is in the collection of the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami.

Everald Brown (1917-2003) also called “Brother Brown,” was born in Clarendon as the fifth of seven children and the only son of his parents Robert and Nelly Brown. His mother was a religious Baptist, who influenced him on his spiritual path. In 1946, Brother Brown married Jenny Gray with whom he had ten children. One year later they settled at 82 ½ Spanish Town Road, a yard which housed several religious groups. There he became aware of Rastafari and the Ethiopian Orthodox church, establishing the Assembly of the Living as a self-appointed mission of the latter. Around 1973, as a result increasingly volatile social environment of West Kingston, Brother Brown relocated his family and mission to Murray Mountain in deep rural St Ann. Much of the imagery in his artworks were expressions from his visions. Many of these included mystical depictions of landscapes, animals, plants and other beings of the physical as well as supernatural world. He has become highly regarded for creating a rather diverse complement of highly decorated art and religious objects including paintings, wood carvings and a variety of musical instruments of his own design. According to him, “my painting is not just an expression of what is, but what I would like things to be—what things should be.” His artistic legacy has been maintained to an extent by his children, some of whom are also regarded as established Jamaican artists. In 1973, he was awarded a Silver Musgrave Medal for Art by the Institute of Jamaica. Brother Brown was a frequent exhibitor in numerous local and international. Notable showings include the Intuitives exhibition series of the National Gallery of Jamaica and the most comprehensive posthumous exhibition of his work, The Rainbow Valley: Everald Brown, A Retrospective, organized by the National Gallery of Jamaica in 2004. He is represented in a number of private and public collections, locally and internationally.


Everald Brown - Niabinghi Hour (1969), Collection: NGJ

Everald Brown – Niabinghi Hour (1969), Collection: NGJ

Here is the third and final of a three-part blog post series based on a lecture presented by NGJ Executive Director, Dr Veerle Poupeye, at the Jamaica Music Museum’s Grounation programme of February 16, 2014.

Everald Brown, to turn to my last and main case study, was born in Mado District, deep rural St Ann in 1917 and died in New York City in 2003, where he was visiting with one of his children. In another example of rural to urban migration, Brother Brown, who was a carpenter by trade, and his young wife Jenny moved to West Kingston in 1947. They settled at 82 ½ Spanish Town Road, at a yard which also housed a Zion Revival band and a Kumina community. The 1940s and 50s were a period of Rastafarian ferment in West Kingston and Brother Brown was attracted by the teachings of Joseph Hibbert, a pioneering exponent who emphasized the mystical, religious aspects of Rastafari. Like many religious Rastafari, Brother Brown found inspiration in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, as the authentic Christian church from the African Zion and around 1960 Brother Brown established an informal mission of the EOC, which he named the Assembly of the Living. Brother Brown and his family were baptised in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church when this denomination was formally established in Jamaica in 1970 and he was initially an active member, who for instance constructed the EOC cathedral’s Ark of the Covenant, but his beliefs and practices were far from orthodox, and combined elements of Rastafari, Revival, Kumina, and Freemasonry – all of which are also evident in his artistic work. The question thus arises whether Brother Brown can be labelled as a Rastafarian artist. As I wrote in the 2004 Everald Brown retrospective catalogue:

I believe that to insist that Brother Brown was a Rastafarian artist, in any narrow sense, would be as short-sighted and incorrect as to suggest that he wasn’t. First of all, it is inappropriate to impose any narrow, rigid definitions on Rastafari itself, a religious and political belief system that is, except for a few groups, devoid of the dogmatism that characterizes organized religion and allows for significant personal interpretation. While many Rastafarians have been critical of traditional Afro-Jamaican religious and magical beliefs and practices, especially Obeah, there is in fact considerable cultural and religious continuity between Rastafari and Revival and Kumina. Furthermore, religious Rastafari does not necessarily exist in opposition to Christianity but often incorporates it, hence the attraction to elements of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Inevitably, there are tensions and contradictions in such syncretic beliefs—the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, for instance, does not recognize the divinity of Haile Selassie I and no doubt takes a dim view of Jamaican spiritualism—but these are an integral and legitimate part of cultural and ideological dynamics of these beliefs. It is therefore more productive to think of Jamaican Rastafarian culture as a broad, fluid and open-ended cultural spectrum or sphere, which overlaps and interacts with other local and transnational cultural spheres, such as those of the traditional Afro-Jamaican religions. If approached from that perspective, it becomes a lot less problematic to define Brother Brown’s work as ‘Rastafarian art.’

Brother Brown’s small, self-built church on Spanish Town Road was decorated with paintings and Brown also produced various ritual objects and musical instruments which were used by his church community, which consisted mainly of his own extended family. He was discovered as an artist in the late 1960s, by Janet Grant-Woodham, who was Folklore Research Officer at the Institute of Jamaica, and some of the radical young intellectuals at the University of the West Indies, such as Timothy Callender, Edward Kamau Brathwaite and Eleanor Wint, who brokered his first exhibition at the Creative Arts Centre in 1969. Brother Brown started exhibiting regularly since then, in the 1970s often jointly with his young son Clinton Brown, who also painted and produced musical instruments.

Everald Brown surrounded by his work at the Assembly of the Living, c1971

Everald Brown surrounded by his work at the Assembly of the Living, c1971

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Everald Brown - Bush Have Ears (1976), Collection: NGJ

Everald Brown – Bush Have Ears (1976), Collection: NGJ

This is the first of a three-part blog post series based on a lecture presented by NGJ Executive Director, Dr Veerle Poupeye, at the Jamaica Music Museum’s Grounation programme of February 16, 2014. The lecture’s topic is relevant to the current Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality Exhibition, which continues until April 27, 2014.

The theme of this year’s Grounation series is “seeing sounds and hearing images” and my presentation invites you to do just that. I will not use sound in my presentation, but I will appeal to your imagination, to “see the sounds” and “hear the images” in the work of three major Jamaican artists: the painter and sculptor Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, who was a Revival leader; the painter, sculptor and musical instrument-maker Everald Brown, who was a religious Rastafari leader and a pioneer of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church; and the sculptor William “Woody” Joseph, who had no specific religious affiliation but was part of the cultural sphere of Revival. Everald Brown is an artist I have focused on in my original research, writing, and curatorial work since the mid-1980s and I curated his retrospective for the National Gallery in 2004, so he will be my main case study in this presentation.

Everald Brown - Everlasting King (1987), Collection: NGJ

Everald Brown – Everlasting King (198), Collection: NGJ

At first sight – and the pun is intentional – visual art may seem to speak an exclusively visual language. Yet we all know that to be untrue. Art arguably appeals to all the senses, most obviously also to touch but potentially also to taste, smell and, for that matter, hearing. Those who work in art museums and galleries know how difficult it is prevent visitors from touching the art on view, because it powerfully appeals to the sense of touch, and anybody who has spent some time in an artist’s studio must be familiar with the distinctive smells of various art materials. Most works of art are as such mute but there is a powerful connection between sound and vision which has played a major role in the development of art and music alike and from time immemorial. A 2008 Science Daily article asserted that music played an important role in the ritual production and use of ancient cave art and that early musical instruments, such as bone flutes, are therefore often found in close proximity to ancient cave paintings. The relationship between art and music and the capacity of one to support the other has also been a major preoccupation in modern art, for instance in the work of the Swiss artist Paul Klee, whose abstract paintings were often based on musical interpretation. Music and the visual are also closely intertwined in the popular music industry, in the production of record covers, posters, concert backdrops, fashions and other visual materials, and the association between reggae and graphic design has played an important role in the development of Jamaican visual culture, with several major local designers such as Neville Garrick emerging. More recently, with the development of video and digital art, actual sound has become part of many works of art and sound and music have thereby entered the conventionally hushed environment of the art museum and gallery. It is now a trend for galleries and museums to have a resident deejay to create soundscapes for the museum environment, as was recently done at the Tate Modern and, even, the venerable Metropolitan Museum. Continue reading

Religion and Spirituality – About the Explorations Series

Osmond Watson - Peace and Love (1969), Collection: NGJ

Osmond Watson – Peace and Love (1969), Collection: NGJ

As has become customary for exhibitions of this nature, we will be posting the text panels and other short texts relevant to the Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality exhibition, which opens on Sunday, December 22. Here is the first installment:

Everald Brown - The Golden Hand Staff (detail, c1974), Collection: NGJ

Everald Brown – The Golden Hand Staff (detail, c1974), Collection: NGJ

The National Gallery’s new exhibition series, Explorations, was launched earlier in 2013 with the Natural Histories exhibition and seeks to offer a new exploratory and contextualized approach to the artistic history of Jamaica by focusing on major themes. The series serves as a platform for our curators to rethink how we exhibit our permanent collections and to test new exhibition strategies with our viewers, as we will be reinstalling our permanent exhibition of modern Jamaican art and intend to do so thematically rather than along the current chronological lines.

The second in the series, Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality, examines the themes of religion and spirituality in modern and contemporary Jamaican art and consists entirely of works of art from our collection – sixty-eight works, to be precise. The selection includes works that are part of the established canons of Jamaican art but presents these in a new interpretive context, which focuses on their social and cultural significance rather than on their status in the conventional art hierarchies. Natural Histories included various natural history artefacts that are not conventionally regarded as “art” and thereby also explored the art/artefact dynamic. Religion and Spirituality is less actively concerned with this issue, because doing so in a manner comparable to Natural Histories would have required us to include active sacred objects and images, which poses various practical and ethical problems. Several of the works in the exhibition – for instance, Everald Brown’s musical instrument or ritual staff – however represent a transitional area between sacred object and “museumized” work of art, which is another, equally important aspect of the art/artefact dynamic. While less explicitly counter-canonical than Natural Histories, Religion and Spirituality thus invites further discussion on the processes of canonization and its alternatives in contemporary art museum practice and art-historical narration.

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Natural Histories: A Note on Cotton Trees and Jamaican Art

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TOM CRINGLE’S COTTON TREE: This Ceiba, or Silk Cotton, tree is of a type common to many parts of Jamaica. Its majestic spread of branches provides shade and shelter, and you will notice, a host of many types of parasitic plans. This particular tree was mentioned in ‘Tom Cringle’s Log” a 19th century novel by Michael Scott. Cotton trees are believed by the superstitious to be the haunt of “duppies” (ghosts)

Jamaica Tourist Board, Kingston, Jamaica

The Silk Cotton tree or Ceiba Pentandra is indigenous to the tropical Americas, Jamaica included, and a variety is also found in West Africa. One of the largest and most visually spectacular indigenous trees, the Silk Cotton tree takes more than a century to reach its typical size – up to 40 metres high and with the diameter of its trunk up to 3 metres – and to develop its dramatic buttress roots. The tree blooms annually and produces fruits that burst open to reveal a ball of silky white fibres inside.

Silk Cotton trees can survive for centuries and, as Olive Senior points out, often harbour “on its branches a great variety of wild life – orchids, wild pines, parasites, birds’ nests, creepers – which contribute to its almost supernatural appearance.” (134) The Silk Cotton tree also has a number of practical applications: its light wood and large size made it the material of choice for the Taíno dugout canoes; it is a source of kapok and was used to make cloth by the Taíno; and various parts of the tree are used for medicinal purposes.

Not surprisingly, the Silk Cotton Tree has considerable cultural significance, as is evident throughout the Caribbean. The trees were considered sacred by the Taíno, as the dwelling place of spirits and hold similar significance in African-derived popular religion, which may have incorporated some Taíno beliefs. In Jamaican culture, the Silk Cotton tree is associated with duppies and serves as a site for gatherings, rituals and revelations in Revival and Kumina. Because of their size and longevity, Silk Cotton trees stand as silent, giant witnesses to centuries of history and serve as landmarks that provide shelter and shade.

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