The National Biennial: A Catalyst in the Development of Jamaican Art

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On December 12, the National Gallery of Jamaica will open the 2010 National Biennial, the fifth edition since the biennial was established in 2002. The National Biennial is the successor of a long tradition of national exhibitions in Jamaica, which dates from 1938, when the first All Island Exhibition of Art and Craft was held at St George’s Hall in Kingston. This exhibition was a private initiative by members of the nationalist intelligentsia. The Institute of Jamaica took over the baton in 1940, when it began to stage its annual All-Island Exhibitions. In 1968 the Institute of Jamaica also established the annual Self-Taught Artists exhibition, which ran concurrent with the older exhibition for several years, but featured work by amateur and self-taught artists, while the All Island Exhibition became the domain of the professional artists. The two exhibitions were merged into a single exhibition, the Annual National Exhibition when the National Gallery, which started operations in 1974, took over responsibility for the major annual art exhibitions that had previously been staged by its parent organization, the Institute of Jamaica. The Annual National Exhibition was held annually from 1977 to 2001 and is thus the immediate precursor of the National Biennial.

The decision to move from annual to biennial in 2002 was motivated by a number of factors but two stand out: we wished to give participating artists more time in between these national exhibitions to produce significant work suitable for an exhibition of this caliber and we also needed to make space in our programmes for exhibitions that provide much-needed alternate perspectives on Jamaican art and a greater diversity of curatorial perspectives, such as the guest-curated Curator’s Eye series and the Young Talent series, which features the work of some of Jamaica’s most promising young artists. Continue reading