Omari Ra was born in 1960, in Kingston, Jamaica. Ra (also known as “Afrikan”) studied painting at the Jamaica School of Art (now the Edna Manley School of the Visual Arts) and graduated in 1983. Ra’s work provides provocative, satirical commentaries on the historical and contemporary issues that have shaped the African Diaspora. Currently, the Head of the Painting Department at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, Ra also holds an MFA from the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth. He has exhibited widely locally and internationally, participating in exhibitions such as the 1995 Johannesburg Biennial, and the Annual National and Biennial exhibitions in Jamaica. In 2004, he was awarded the Aaron Matalon Award for his entry in the 2004 National Biennial, and in 2011, Omari Ra was awarded the Silver Musgrave Medal by the Institute of Jamaica. He lives in Kingston, Jamaica.
This post focuses on one of the major figures in contemporary Jamaican art, Omari S. Ra. His work also provides an interesting perspective on the symbolic significance of Haiti in the African Diaspora, which has new poignancy in the aftermath of the devastating Haiti earthquake and which has motivated the timing of this post. The text is adapted from the doctoral dissertation of Veerle Poupeye, the NGJ’s Executive Director (all rights reserved by the author).
Omari Ra, also known as Afrikan, is one of the most significant artists to emerge from the 1980s and his work has helped to define the course of contemporary Jamaican art in the last twenty-five years. He was born in Kingston in 1960 as Robert Cookhorne but later changed his name to the Afrocentric Omari S. Ra. He graduated in 1983 from what was then the Jamaica School of Art (now Edna Manley College) and has more recently completed MFA studies at the University in Massachusetts in Dartmouth. Informed by his radical African Nationalist politics, Omari Ra’s work provides provocative, satirical commentaries on the historical and contemporary issues that have shaped the African Diaspora. Ra was originally a painter, who worked mainly in mixed media and collage on paper, but his recent work includes three-dimensional objects and installations and large drawings on fabric. Ra has exhibited regularly at the National Gallery, including the National Biennials, where he won the prestigious Aaron Matalon Award in 2004, and Curator’s Eye I (2004), which was curated by Lowery Stokes-Simms, then Director of the Studio Museum in Harlem. His overseas exhibitions include the 1986 and 1994 Havana Biennale and the 1995 Johannesburg Biennale. He lectures in Painting at the Edna Manley College, where he currently also heads the Painting Department.