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Kimani Beckford – B.I.B (2014)

There has been quite a bit of discussion about the similarity of Kimani Beckford’s B.I.B., a large painting on view in the Jamaica Biennial 2014, and Barkley Hendricks’ Lawdy Mama (1969) in the collection of the Studio Museum in Harlem, and some have suggested that Beckford’s painting is overly derivative of the latter. The resemblance between the two works is beyond obvious, and clearly deliberate, but there are also significant differences.

Barkley Hendricks - Lawdy Mama (1969), Collection: The Studio Museum in Harlem

Barkley Hendricks – Lawdy Mama (1969), Collection: The Studio Museum in Harlem

While Hendricks’ realistically painted portrait represents a lanky, brown-skinned young woman with a large Afro who gazes at the viewer with stern confidence, Beckford’s subject is so dark-skinned that her features are practically invisible, except for the schematic eyes. Beckford’s painting is in actuality not a portrait at all but represents a more abstract “type” and reminds more of the “hyper-black” images of contemporary African-American artist Kerry James Marshall than of Barkley Hendricks’ portrait. The flattened, largely undefined features of Beckford’s figure transition almost seamlessly into the equally flat black halo/hair background and the woman also seems younger, shorter and less confident than Hendricks’ subject – an awkward young girl rather than a self-assured young woman. The fashionable, well-fitting 1960s dress in the Hendricks painting has been replaced by a less glamorous and ill-fitting, uniform-like outfit, which further adds to the deliberate awkwardness of Beckford’s depiction. And while Hendricks’ portrait is about life-size, Beckford’s is significantly larger, which gives the figure a more imposing and enigmatic presence.

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

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

Barkley Hendricks’ Lawdy Mama is representative of how black artists in the late 1960s and early 1970s challenged dominant, white representational codes by interpreting traditional iconographies in ways that made them assertively black – in fact, it is one of the icons of the Black Power era and makes a compelling Black is Beautiful statement. Lawdy Mama draws on a long history of Christian icons, particularly representations of Mary, which is alluded to by the halo-like hair and the gold background. The Jamaican artist Osmond Watson’s Rastafarian Christ in Peace and Love, which was also painted in 1969, is another example, albeit one with more explicit religious content. Such works not only make reference to traditional Christian imagery but also to the pop culture representations of blackness that were being articulated at that time. It is often assumed that Lawdy Mama is a portrait of the activist Angela Davis, whose trademark Afro had helped to legitimize and politicize natural black hairstyles, but it is actuality a portrait of Barkley’s cousin Kathy (and the title of the work comes from a Blues song that has appeared in many incarnations). Osmond Watson drew from the emerging visual culture of Rastafari and, particularly, its engagement with Ethiopian icon painting traditions. That Watson’s Peace and Love is also a self-portrait makes it an even more powerful endorsement of Rastafarian ideology as a positive social force at a time when the movement was still very controversial in Jamaican society and deemed violent and disruptive by the ruling classes. Both paintings are part of a complex economy of images, derived from art history and pop culture alike, and navigate that economy with deliberate and provocative political intent. Continue reading

Last Sundays: February 22, 2015

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The National Gallery of Jamaica’s Last Sundays event for February 22, 2015, will feature yoga in the gallery with Nadine McNeil (Universal Empress) & Donovan Manning, music by DJ Iset Sankofa, and the Jamaica Biennial 2014, which is now in its final month. Doors will be open from 11 am to 4 pm.

The yoga session, is presented under the title Yoga Ethnochoreology, is themed around what McNeil prefers to call African Heritage Month, with a special focus on the “divine masculine,” and will be accompanied by music selected by DJ Iset Sankofa. The yoga session will start at 11 am and the cost is $ 1,000. Proceeds will be used to fund an internship at the National Gallery for an Alpha Boys school student. Interested persons are asked to pre-register at Space is limited, so please register early and bring our own yoga mat.

Iset Sankofa will also provide music for the rest of the day. As she describes it, her sets are an “‘all genres considered’ milieu… where dusty Malian Blues takes a night stroll with Dub, Naija hip hop flirts dangerously with Kingston Dancehall grit, and bubbly Brazilian Electronica steams a peace pipe with Afro-Jazz futurism.” Her musical selections have a way of running past the dance-able and the obvious. Usually, the next stop is a bold convergence of history and magic – one that playfully wields the listener into the lush, downright sensuous terrain that music can be.

Tours of the Jamaica Biennial 2014 will also be offered on February 22. As is now customary, admission to the NGJ and guided tours will be free. The gift and coffee shop will be open for business and contributions to the donations box are welcomed. Revenues from our shops and donations help to fund programmes such as the Jamaica Biennial 2014 and our Last Sundays programming.

The Devon House part of the Jamaica Biennial 2014 will exceptionally be open on Saturday, February 21 and Sunday, February 22, from 12 noon to 6 pm. Regular admission fees will however apply at Devon House.


Annabella at Gifts for the Nation

Annebella Proudlock (l), with Barrington Watson and Joseph Matalon at the NGJ in 1999

The National Gallery of Jamaica pays tribute to Annabella Proudlock, artist, collector, art patron and gallerist, who passed away on February 14. She was the Managing Director of Harmony Hall and a former Board member of the National Gallery of Jamaica.

Annabella Proudlock was born in Wales and worked as a fashion model in London before she moved to Jamaica in 1966. She worked with Operation Friendship for many years, initially as a basic school teacher and later as a fundraiser who developed a line of products that included Christmas cards, notelets and calendars. The latter involved reproductions of Jamaican art and it is while working on these projects that she became closely associated with several artists, including Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds. She also started producing her popular Annabella Boxes –  handcrafted cedar boxes decorated with Jamaican art reproductions.

In 1980, Annabella acquired a 19th century manse, Harmony Hall in Tower Isle, St Mary, a building that dates from 1886 and was originally the “great house” of a small pimento plantation and later a Methodist rectory. Together with a team of friends that included future husband Peter Proudlock, Graham Davis, Ben Eales, and the artist Dawn Scott, who designed the beautiful fretwork, the building was restored and Harmony Hall gallery opened its doors in 1981. Harmony Hall was declared a national monument by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust in 2003.

Harmony Hall

Harmony Hall

Harmony Hall represents a revolutionary gallery concept in the Jamaican context, with its strong focus on the self-taught Intuitive artists, its active involvement in craft development and its simultaneous engagement of tourist and local art audiences. The annual Harmony Hall Intuitives and craft fairs that were held at different times of the year were, and still are, much anticipated events on the local art calendar. These initiatives were spearheaded by Annabella, who worked closely with the artists and craft producers to develop and promote their work and to unearth new talent, and she received a Silver Musgrave Medal in 1992 for her “outstanding contribution to craft production.” Annabella was also an accomplished artist who is best known for her collages made from shells and other found objects. She had a solo exhibition of her work at Bolivar Gallery in 2013 and regularly exhibited in the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Biennial exhibition, most recently in 2012. Continue reading


Leasho Johnson - The Product (2010), detail of installation

Leasho Johnson – The Product (2010), detail of installation – Young Talent V, 2010

Since 1985, the National Gallery of Jamaica has staged five Young Talent exhibitions, the most recent of which were Young Talent V in 2010 as well as a spin-off exhibition New Roots in 2013. The Young Talent series, which features Jamaican artists under 40 years old, is designed to unearth and promote new and emerging talent. Some of Jamaica’s best known contemporary artists had their first major exposure in the Young Talent series and Young Talent V and New Roots have been recognized as particularly ground-breaking exhibitions that charted and encouraged new directions in Jamaican art. Another edition of the Young Talent series will be held from August 30 to November 14, 2015 and will feature six to eight artists. Qualifying artists are invited to submit proposals for their participation, from which the selections will be made by the National Gallery of Jamaica’s curatorial team.

2. Ebony (2006)

Marlon James – Ebony (2006) – on view in Young Talent V, 2010


  • The exhibition is open to artists living in Jamaica and artists of immediate Jamaican descent but living elsewhere;
  • The exhibition is open to artists who are below the age of 40 on July 26, 2015;
  • The exhibition is open to trained and self-taught artists. Final year students at the Edna Manley College and other art schools and programmes may submit;
  • Artists who were featured in previous Young Talent exhibitions, or New Roots, are not eligible;
  • The National Gallery of Jamaica (“the Gallery”) will not contribute to the production or transport of any work for the exhibition, both of which are the sole responsibility of the artist;
  • The exhibition is open to all themes, genres, styles, techniques and media, including performance and time-based media;
  • Artists may propose up to twelve works;
  • Artists may propose an existing body of work or new work; if the latter, the feasibility of the proposal will be a key consideration in the selection process ;
  • There are no size restrictions but the practicalities of the Gallery exhibition spaces should be considered;
  • Artists who submit work that requires specialized equipment the Gallery cannot provide, may be asked to provide their own;
  • All loan agreements will be between the selected artists and the Gallery and the artist will be responsible for any loans from third parties; work submitted must be available for the duration of the exhibition.

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Jamaica Biennial 2014 – Behind the Scenes: The Installation of Laura Facey’s Walking Tree and Needle for the Planet

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Once an exhibition is up and running, everything may seem effortless and it is easy to forget what went into the installation. In this post, the first of several that give you a glimpse behind the scenes of the Jamaica Biennial 2014, we let you in on what was probably the most technically challenging part of the process: the installation of Laura Facey’s large wood sculptures, Walking Tree and Needle for the Planet.

Because of the unusual size and weight of the works — 14 meters tall for Walking Tree and nearly 10 meters long for Needle, with both weighing several tonnes — the decision was made to exhibit the works outdoors, in the formal gardens at Devon House. The problem was however to get these works from Laura’s studio in rural St Ann to Devon House and then to mount them there without damaging the gardens. Special precautions also had to be taken to ensure that the works were stably mounted, for the safety of visitors and the works themselves. With other works, the installation was a piece of precision engineering, kindly contributed and very ably executed by Tankweld Limited.

The process started with several site visits, to determine where and how the works were to be mounted. The largest and heaviest of the two sculptures, Walking Tree, posed special challenges because it is top heavy and susceptible to wind. The Tankweld team therefore decided that it needed to be anchored with steel plates and 3 feet long steel pegs which would be concealed below the lawn.

December 2 was the big day on which the two sculptures would be transported from Laura’s studio at Mount Pleasant in rural St Ann to Devon House and mounted there in the formal gardens. The day started with loading the two sculptures, which were at Laura Facey’s studio at Mount Pleasant in rural St Ann, onto a large flatbed truck, using a second boom truck. This was followed by what must have been a hair-raising drive to Kingston via the notoriously steep new North-South High Way and the equally challenging Bog Walk Gorge and Flat Bridge. The convoy arrived on schedule at Devon House in the early afternoon and the installation of Needle was completed without too much difficulty, although special care had to be taken not to damage the Royal Palms that fringe the formal gardens. For Walking Tree a larger boom truck was needed and this was done the next day. It was an even more delicate operation, as can be seen in the accompanying photographs.

Once the installation was completed, we all agreed that it had been well worth the effort and the two sculptures make a visually stunning intervention in the Devon House gardens, right in front of the manor’s facade. The installation has been very popular with visitors and has served as the backdrop for countless photographs. The works can be seen there until March 15, after which we will have to embark on the equally challenging task of removing them!

We wish to use this opportunity to extend our sincere gratitude to Tankweld Limited for making this project possible.

Last Sundays – January 25, 2015, feat. Smallman, The Solitary Alchemist and the Jamaica Biennial 2014

Last Sunday 25 2015-01-01The National Gallery of Jamaica’s Last Sundays programme continues on Sunday, January 25 with a screening of two films: Smallman: The World My Father Made (2013) and The Solitary Alchemist (2010). Visitors will also have the opportunity to view the main exhibition of the Jamaica Biennial 2014. Doors will be open from 11 am to 4 pm and the film screening starts at 1:30 pm.

The Jamaica Biennial 2014 exhibition, which opened on December 7 and continues until March 15, can be seen at the National Gallery of Jamaica, which houses the main exhibition, with satellite exhibitions at Devon House and National Gallery West in Montego Bay and one project, by Bahamian artist Blue Curry, on the streets of Downtown Kingston. The exhibition features Jamaican artists, both local and from the diaspora, and, for the first time, also specially invited artists from elsewhere in the Caribbean. One of the National Gallery’s largest and most popular exhibitions to date, it has already received significant acclaim as a landmark exhibition, which provides exposure to the diversity of contemporary art from the Caribbean region and its diaspora and serves as a platform for new development. Among the artists in the exhibition are the winners of the 2014 Biennial’s two awards: the Aaron Matalon Award winner Ebony G. Patterson (at Devon House); and the co-winners of the inaugural Dawn Scott Memorial Award, Camille Chedda and Kimani Beckford, whose work can be seen at the National Gallery of Jamaica.


Still from Smallman

The films that will be screened on January 25, Smallman and The Solitary Alchemist, were both directed by Mariel Brown whose documentary film Inward Hunger: The Story of Eric Williams recently won the Best Local Feature Film jury prize at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, and has been screened in London, England; Kingston, Jamaica; Florida, USA and Port of Spain, Trinidad.


Still from The Solitary Alchemist

Smallman: The World My Father Made, a short film, tells the story of John Ambrose Kenwyn Rawlins an ordinary Trinidadian of modest means. He was a great father, grandfather and husband; an obedient public servant. Yet the most vivid part of his life was lived in a small workshop beneath his house. In there, at the end of his workday, he made things. From simple push toys to elaborate 1/16th scale waterline battle ship models and dockyards, miniature furniture and dolls houses, he painstakingly constructed everything from scratch, sometimes spending upwards of a year on a single model. The film is an exploration of the worlds both real and imagined that Kenwyn Rawlins made, as remembered by his son Richard Mark Rawlins, who is also one of the specially invited artists in the Jamaica Biennial 2014.

Still from Smallman

Still from Smallman

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