In Retrospect – Section 2: SEMINAL EXHIBITIONS

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Here is the second sectional text panel from the In Retrospect: 4o Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica exhibition:

In the years following its establishment, the National Gallery staged three exhibitions that were instrumental in articulating a Jamaican art history:

Five Centuries of Art in Jamaica (1976) was the first major survey exhibition organized by the National Gallery, and included art from the 16th to the 20th century, in a first major departure from the Gallery’s original mandate to focus on the nationalist art that emerged from the 1938 uprising. The pre-twentieth century section of the exhibition did not include Taino art, because of the unavailability of significant artifacts in Jamaica at that time. It consisted entirely of colonial art, with no reference to any African-derived art forms from that period. This bolstered the underlying thesis, namely that Jamaican art had a longer history but that modern Jamaican art represented a necessary, nationalist reaction against the cultural repression of the colonial period.

The Formative Years: Art in Jamaica 1922-1940 (1978) documented the pioneers of the nationalist school. It was the first exhibition in which 1922 was used as the start date of modern Jamaican art—the three earliest art works included, Edna Manley’s Beadseller, Wisdom and Ape, each dated from that year—and the first to use the term Intuitive. In The Formative Years, David Boxer also refined his position on the relationship between pre-twentieth and modern Jamaican art and he wrote in the catalogue:

There is no painter, there is no sculptor from [before the twentieth century] we can point to and say: “This is a Jamaican artist; this is someone painting Jamaica and her people through Jamaican eyes.” Indeed, the true Jamaican artist is a product of the 20th century.

Five Centuries and The Formative Years also departed from the Gallery’s original narrow focus on ‘fine art,’ as in painting and sculpture, and included a few examples of photography, furniture design and, in Five Centuries, also ceramics. Continue reading

In Retrospect – Section 1: FOUNDATIONS

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We continue the publication of the text panels in In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica, with the text panel for the first section of the exhibition, which looks at the earliest beginnings of our collection:

When the National Gallery opened its doors in 1974, a significant part of the Institute of Jamaica’s art collection was transferred to the new organization. According to our records, this comprised 237 paintings and drawings and 25 sculptures which thus became the Gallery’s foundational collection.The initial transfer consisted of modern Jamaican art only, starting with Edna Manley’s Negro Aroused (1935), but a group of pre-twentieth century works was later also transferred, in 1976, which now forms the core of the National Gallery’s historical collection.

The artworks that were transferred to the National Gallery in 1974 not only says a lot about how the Institute of Jamaica went about its exhibitions and acquisitions—and most acquisitions were from exhibitions that were held at the Institute—but also helps to explain how the early National Gallery was conceptualized. Negro Aroused (1935) had been acquired by public subscription in 1937 as the first modern work of art to enter the Institute’s collection—its acquisition can be seen as the symbolic beginning of what later became the National Gallery. Before that, the Institute had acquired art mainly for its historical value, for instance for their portrait gallery, and furthermore made those decisions from a decidedly colonial perspective. This was challenged by the nationalist intelligentsia in the late 1930s, who pressured the Institute of Jamaica to become receptive to the emerging modern Jamaican school, and it is the resulting change in policy direction which generated the art collection that was eventually transferred to the National Gallery. The articles of association of the National Gallery mandated it to exhibit and collect the art that had come out of the 1938 uprising, which was a narrow and ultimately untenable mandate that was, as we will see in the next section, quickly challenged and expanded by its Director/Curator David Boxer, but it was consistent with the context in which its core collection had come about.

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In Retrospect: 40 Years of the NGJ – Introduction

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As has become customary for all our exhibitions, we are publishing the text panels in the In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica exhibition. Here is the introduction:

When the National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ) opened its doors on November 14, 1974 it was the English-speaking Caribbean’s first national gallery, and forty years later it is the region’s oldest and largest national art museum. The recent addition of National Gallery West at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, has further added to its reach and size. Since 1974, the NGJ has held over one hundred and thirty exhibitions and established an encyclopaedic collection of Jamaican art. Through the process of amassing and exhibiting the art of Jamaica it has done more than preserve and display Jamaica’s artistic heritage. What the NGJ has truly excelled at is telling a story (‘the’ story, the NGJ has at times claimed) of Jamaican art, crafting the raw material of artists, artworks and anecdotes into a coherent narrative that resonates with how Jamaicans see and understand themselves in the world.

When the original two-hundred and sixty-two paintings and sculptures from the Institute collection arrived in 1974, the NGJ inherited a set of artworks but not a cohesive art history and its new Director/Curator, David Boxer, who joined the staff in 1975, embarked on articulating such an art history. What we now know about Jamaican art has been the product of dedicated research and, at times, fortuitous discovery, but still the process of compiling facts and perspectives into history is a storyteller’s art. This story has been told through our exhibitions and publications, through major donations, and even through the controversies that have swirled around the NGJ from its earliest years. It is a story about personalities, about nation building and competing interests and perspectives, and about articulating who Jamaicans are as a people.

The task we have set ourselves with In Retrospect: Forty Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica is to tell the story of that story, examining with a critical eye the role the NGJ has played in establishing how Jamaican art is understood. Since our acquisitions are an integral part of that story, the exhibition consists mainly of works from our collection, supplemented with a few loans and works that are presently in acquisition. For our examination of the NGJ’s history to be manageable, decisions had to be made about what to include and what to leave out. We do not claim that this exhibition provides an exhaustive overview of the NGJ’s history—this story, too, could have been told in a number of different ways—but we have sought to represent what we consider to be key events and developments.

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In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica – Minister Lisa Hanna’s Opening Speech

Minister Hanna (center) tours the exhibition with senior curator O'Neil Lawrence (right) and assistant curator Monique Barnett-Davidson (left) (Photo courtesy of Oliver Watt)

Minister Hanna (center) tours the exhibition with senior curator O’Neil Lawrence (right) and assistant curator Monique Barnett-Davidson (left) (Photo courtesy of Oliver Watt)

On Sunday, August 31, the Hon. Lisa Hanna, M.P., Minister of Youth and Culture, was the guest speaker at the opening of In Retrospect: 40 Years of the National Gallery of Jamaica, our 40th anniversary exhibition. the Minister’s opening remarks are below.

“We have come a far way.  Often in our haste to get on with the business of creating a better world, we do not take the time to just pause for a minute and to see the changes around us and the progress we have made as a government and as a people.”

“This year, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the National Gallery of Jamaica.  When this Gallery began in November, 1974 it was the English-speaking Caribbean’s first national gallery.  Today is it the region’s oldest and largest national art museum.  The recent addition of National Gallery West in Montego Bay has further added to the Gallery’s reach and size.  That is progress!”

“Over its 40 years, the National Gallery has used art to tell the story of our people — how we see ourselves, how we project ourselves and how we understand ourselves.  It is interesting to see how our artists have captured and interpreted the ways in which our ideas have evolved with modernity and the enhancing our national confidence over the years.  That is also progress!”

“We will use this anniversary as an occasion to look back at progress. We will examine the outstanding developments in Jamaican art over the years — and the role that the Gallery has played in the shaping of the unique Jamaican art character.”

“This exhibition, which I have the duty and honour to open today, consists of 131 works of art — only a fraction of the collection that we’ve built up in 40 years — but these works provide a wide panorama of Jamaican art history, spanning four centuries.”

Karl Parboosingh - Cement Company (1966, AD Scott Collection, NGJ)

Karl Parboosingh – Cement Company (1966, AD Scott Collection, NGJ)

The exhibition features works from artists as diverse as Edna Manley, Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds, Albert Huie, Barrington Watson, Karl Parboosingh, Carl Abrahams, Oneika Russell, Laura Facey, Maria LaYacona, Omari Ra, Cecil Baugh, Norma Rodney Harrack and David Boxer.

“I am very sorry that David Boxer wasn’t able to be with us today, but I especially wish to pay tribute to him.  The National Gallery owes a special debt to Dr Boxer who was our Chief Curator for several years and who served the organisation for thirty-seven years in all. Without any fear of contradiction whatsoever, I will say that no one has been as instrumental to the development of the National Gallery as Dr Boxer and we thank him for his service.”

“Dr Boxer continues to serve.  For the last year and a half he has been working on a special assignment at the Institute of Jamaica chronicling the development of Jamaican art.  We expect that his publication, when completed, will become one of the seminal pieces on Jamaica art which will inform and influence generations to come.”

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