Spiritual Yards – Gallery 4, part 2: Elijah

Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica’s Intuitives – Selections from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection, continues until January 29, 2017, and explores the spiritual yard tradition in Jamaica, through ten Intuitive artists whose work is steeped in that tradition. The works of art and documentary material in this exhibition were selected from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection, a specialized collection of Intuitive Art. Here is another post on one of the artists in the exhibition, along with video footage, courtesy of Wayne Cox.

Elijah (b1952) – Geneva Mais Jarrett became ‘Elijah’ when she was baptised as a young adult. During the baptism, her pastor saw a vision of bands of angels around her along with the biblical prophet Elijah. From that moment, she took on the role of preacher and prophetess, creating the Elijah Tabernacle in her home in the community of Rose Town, Kingston. She consecrated the area by painting most of the outside surfaces of the building, gate and zinc fencing with mural scenes of angels and events of the bible. She also hung painted banners and seals, as well as set up revival basins. Her yard became a safe haven in tough times. She began to create similar scenes on canvas after becoming noticed by a Swiss patron who visited her yard. Later, she had her first exhibition in Switzerland in the early 1990s, including a one-woman show at Musee d’Art Brut in Lausanne. Her works have been featured in several exhibitions including Redemption Songs: The Self-Taught Artists of Jamaica (1997) at the Diggs Gallery, North Carolina USA and the Intuitives III (2006) at the National Gallery of Jamaica. Her work is in the permanent collection of Frost Art Museum, Miami. She closed her Revival yard sometime around 2000 and is believed to now be living and preaching in the USA.

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YARD POWAH by Wayne Cox – Part I

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Elijah (photo Wayne Cox – all rights reserved)

Here is our second post from the catalogue of the exhibition Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica’s Intuitives – Selections from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection, which opens on December 11 – part 1 of the catalogue essay by Wayne Cox.

Elijah

In the mid-1990s, if one turned east from Maxfield Avenue onto Brown’s Lane in the Rose Town neighbourhood of Kingston, the zinc wall lining the road on the right changed abruptly from raw and rusted to vibrant and painted—covered with murals depicting angels, conquering lions and biblical scenes such as the Magi. The bottom half of the zinc gate to the yard there was painted red. The whole gate was overpainted with admonitions and moral messages and quotations from the Bible. The sign above the gate identified the location as Elijah Tabernacle. Inside the yard, spiritual murals covered the walls of the buildings. I watched Elijah, leading a service, turn toward the outside gate, point with her rod and quote Jesus. “I want my blood to be painted on the gates of Zion.” Elijah added, “That’s why my gate is painted red…It is the blood of Christ.”[1]

Before she was Elijah, she was Geneva Mais Jarrett. As an adult, she decided to get baptized after an illness. The woman performing the baptism saw an overwhelming number of angels surrounding Jarrett during the baptism. She also saw the Prophet Elijah. Jarrett then began her life of spiritual service under her new name, Elijah.

Her Revival Zion service sought spirit possession as a goal. Her murals helped in drawing spirits, as did other physical aspects, such as water basins and poles through which spirits could enter from below the ground or within the water. Other poles contained chest-high platforms, referred to as seals, on which were placed offerings of food and libation to attract the spirits.[2] Music, singing, dancing, clapping and marching around the water basin counter clockwise were the welcoming call to the spirits.[3] In Revival Zion the spirits who might answer the call include the Holy Spirit, Old Testament prophets, and archangels.[4] A Swiss woman who admired her murals visited her and suggested she also paint these types of scenes on canvas. Elijah did and soon was included in international exhibitions and at the National Gallery of Jamaica.

Detail of Errol Lloyd Atherton's spiritual yard (photo Wayne Cox - all rights reserved)

Detail of Errol Lloyd Atherton’s spiritual yard (photo Wayne Cox – all rights reserved)

Home Ground

Barry Chevannes believed Jamaica’s Intuitives “draw inspiration from their native religions. In the cosmology of the Jamaican people, their worldview, there is no great distinction between this world and the next world. You can easily pass from one dimension to another.”[5] For many of the Intuitives, their first canvas often was their own yard. This practice occurs throughout the Pan-African Diaspora. Before these artists made works for patrons, they worked to transform their own space. Often, that is their greatest work. Visual enactments are known as yard show or yard work or home ground. Judith McWillie, Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia and a scholar of postcolonial art and visual culture, spent years documenting yards of this type in the United States. She said those who undertake to empower their yard with intensity are ones who “maintain the belief that life can be transformed through ritual intentionality (art) when it is celebrated by men and women who assume the epic history of a People and convert it to themselves as individuals. Theirs is the ability to live mythically and in depth, on an intimate scale, while holding on to the idea that such a life flashes brightly from the center of all life.”[6]

These yards are often complex places of protection, resistance, power, affirmation, spiritual invocation and healing, ancestral memory, creative invention, community improvement and much more. The noted scholar of African and African Diasporic culture and Professor of Art History at Yale University Robert Farris Thompson sees them as “acts of defense and affirmation. Black yard art…has emerged as an independent African-American aesthetic of immense consequence and influence.”[7] Scholar and curator Randall Morris believes this practice is diaspora-wide and he documented the yards of several Jamaican Intuitives. In his essay for his exhibition HomeGround-Art of the Pan-African Diaspora (2012), that included a number of Jamaica’s Intuitives, he wrote:

The artists in this exhibition are all culture-bearers (who) have taken upon themselves the weight of carrying tradition personally, and manifesting it by various means…it is an ancient calling.[8]

Leonard Daley (photo Wayne Cox - all rights reserved)

Leonard Daley (photo Wayne Cox – all rights reserved)

Leonard Daley

Much is known and popularly understood about street art in Jamaica, as most of it reflects well-known Rasta iconography and accessible subjects such as National Heroes, politics and popular culture. Intense yard shows are different. In 1979, Boxer saw his first painting by Leonard Daley when he viewed the wall in a garage on Donhead Avenue in Kingston. “The angst that streamed from the walls was tempered by the extra-ordinary inventiveness of the depictions of the various animal and human forms, and the distorted tortured heads…Bosch incarnate.”[9]

Daley created a new yard display whenever he moved. The “meanings” of his canvases are seldom apparent to a viewer. They were clearly understood to Daley, but he did not intend to present them didactically, rather as prompts or provocations for the viewer to deposit into his or her own mind to aid in their own transformation. It is like dub music without the tune as a guidepost. When he uses words it is to raise questions about society’s contradictions. “Which judge can have me not guilty when I am guilty?” he asks in his painting I Am a Wrongdoer/Who Can Judge the Seven Big Men? (1994-95). Continue reading

Spiritual Yards – Introduction

The exhibition Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica’s Intuitives – Selections from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection opens on December 11. As usual, we are posting texts that appear in the catalogue and serve as text panels in the exhibition. Here is the first installment of these posts, the catalogue introduction by Executive Director Veerle Poupeye.

The story of John Dunkley’s discovery by the emerging Jamaican cultural establishment of the late 1930s is well-known. The then Secretary of the Institute of Jamaica, Delves Molesworth, was impressed by Dunkley’s elaborately decorated barber shop on Princess Street, which included paintings and carved elements, and Dunkley was soon recognized as a major, self-taught artistic talent and included in exhibitions and collections. Dunkley’s work did not emerge from the popular tradition of the “spiritual yard,” which is the focus of this exhibition, although the mystical symbolism apparent in his work may have related to his Masonic beliefs. His barbershop however reflected a similar impulse to create a cohesive aesthetic and symbolic environment. Dunkley’s story also drives home that there must have been spiritual yards in various parts of the island at that time. However, none of the producers of the ritual and symbolic objects and images that would been part of such yards made the transition to the formal art world, even though popular culture, including Revival practices, served as iconic subject matter in the nationalist art of that era. This was clearly a function of how “art” was defined in the context of the early nationalist movement, which was premised on middle class cultural values, and what was deemed worthy of documentation and preservation or recuperation as “art,” to which Dunkley more readily conformed.

It took until the 1950s and 60s for this to change, thanks to the advances in the cultural anthropology of the Caribbean and changing public and official attitudes towards popular culture. Rastafari and Black Power were a major factor in this, as these movements challenged the old cultural hierarchies and assertively claimed space for all aspects of black culture. The young politician Edward Seaga, who had been trained in sociology and had done pioneering research on Jamaica’s Revival religions, became an influential advocate of the art of Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, who was a Zion Revival leader. Kapo also found an avid supporter in John Pringle, Jamaica’s first Director of Tourism. Aspects of the popular culture were, interestingly enough, used in the promotion of Jamaican tourism, as Jamaica was trying to assert a more distinctive voice in the lucrative but socially problematic and culturally reductive “sun, sea and sand” tourism industry which was emerging during that period. Some of the earliest photographs of Kapo and Brother Everald Brown, another self-taught artist who was associated with the religious side of Rastafari, were commissioned by the Jamaica Tourist Board, as well as being produced by, more predictably, the pioneering anthropologists and cultural researchers of that period. Kapo and Brother Brown had both established spiritual yards before they were recognized as major artists, and maintained such spaces throughout their lives, and several of these photographs document the early incarnations of their spiritual yards. Their work was also exhibited and collected by the Institute of Jamaica from the late 1960s onwards and the National Gallery inherited most of these early holdings.

Everald Brown at his church yard, the Assembly of the Living, photographed by Penny Tweedie for the Jamaica Tourist Board in 1972

Everald Brown at his church yard, the Assembly of the Living, photographed by Penny Tweedie for the Jamaica Tourist Board in 1972

Continue reading

“Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica’s Intuitives – Selections from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection” Opens on December 11

spiritual-yard-flyer-invite

The National Gallery of Jamaica is pleased to present Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica’s Intuitives, which features selections from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection. The exhibition opens on Sunday, December 11, with the formalities starting at 1:30 pm, starting with opening remarks by Wayne Cox and followed by a musical performance by the Nexus Performing Arts Company.

The theme of Spiritual Yards was proposed by Wayne Cox, who co-curated this exhibition, and explores how many of the artists who have been recognized as Intuitives are rooted in popular religious and spiritual practices, especially the Revival religions and also Rastafari. Several produced or contributed to so-called spiritual yards, also known as home ground, or sacred spaces that featured ritual and symbolic objects and images that are meant to engage or represent the spirits, which was either the start of their artistic practice or remained as its main focus. As Wayne Cox has rightly argued, these spiritual yards are often their most outstanding works of art and their cultural significance in the Jamaican context warrants further exploration. Spiritual Yards features the work of ten such artists, namely Errol Lloyd “Powah” Atherton, Vincent Atherton, Everald Brown, Pastor Winston Brown, Leonard Daley, Reginald English, Elijah (Geneva Mais Jarrett), William “Woody” Joseph, Errol McKenzie, and Sylvester Stephens, along with photographs and video material on their life, work and spiritual yards from the Wayne and Myrene Cox archives. Spiritual Yards will be on view until January 29, 2017.

Wayne Cox and his wife Myrene have collected and documented the work of Jamaica’s Intuitives for 30 years. Their homes in Port Maria and in Royal Palm Beach, Florida, serve as important repositories of the work of these artists. Works of the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection have been widely exhibited internationally. Wayne has written exhibition catalogue essays for a number of exhibitions, including Intuitives III at the National Gallery of Jamaica. He has presented at symposiums including Taking the Road Less Traveled: Built Environments of Vernacular Artists at the Kohler Art Center and Uncommon Visions at the American Folk Art Museum in the United States. In 2005, Art and Antiques named the Coxes to their list of the “Top 100 Art Collectors in the United States.”

In what is now an established Holiday Season tradition at the National Gallery of Jamaica, the programme on Sunday, December 11 will include the award-winning Nexus Performing Arts Company, with a performance which will start right after the short 1:30 pm opening function for Spiritual Yards. The Nexus Performing Arts Company was formed in 2001 by Hugh Douse, Artistic Director, voice tutor, singer, actor, conductor, songwriter, and a former Director of Culture in Education. The group has a broad musical repertoire that draws on Gospel, Negro Spirituals, Semi-classical, Popular music including Reggae and show tunes, African and Classical music of the European and African traditions. The performance by Nexus will take the form of a musical tour of the galleries, with selections inspired by the Spiritual Yards exhibition.

Since the last Sunday of December of 2016 coincides with Christmas Day there will be no Last Sundays programme on December 25. The programme presented on December 11 thus takes the place of what would have been our Last Sundays event for December. Admission on December 11 is free but donations are always welcome. The gift and coffee shop will be open for business and the gift shop is well stocked with Jamaican-made art and craft items and a wide selection of Christmas cards that feature outstanding examples of Jamaican art. Proceeds from these ventures and donations help to fund the National Gallery’s programmes and exhibitions.