Venise Black was a first-time exhibitor at the National Gallery of Jamaica in the Jamaica Biennial 2017. was born in 1987, in St Ann, Jamaica and did studies at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in 2012. An emerging artist, she works primarily in ceramics. Venise Black is a grand-daughter of Brother Everald Brown. She is based in St Catherine, Jamaica.
Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica’s Intuitives – Selections from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection, opens on December 11. Here is a post on three of the artists in the exhibition, along with video footage, courtesy of Wayne Cox.
Errol Lloyd “Powah” Atherton (1961-2012) lived in Albany, St Mary. He participated in Kumina-influenced Bongo meetings and had a deep sense of the power of the ancestors. He was also the son of intuitive artist, Vincent Atherton, creating, in Randall Morris’ words, “one of the most powerful yard shows in Jamaica with offertory seals honouring the carvings of his father, Vincent.” In addition to carving, he also painted words on wood and zinc to invoke the ancestors. Powah’s work has been exhibited locally since around 2000, when it was featured in the exhibition Prophets and Messengers, held at the Mutual Gallery in Kingston, Jamaica. His work was also featured in 2008 as a part of the National Biennial, held at the National Gallery of Jamaica. He is represented in a number of private and public collections—local and overseas—including the collection of the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami.
Vincent Atherton (1924-2007) lived in Albany, St Mary. He worked as a groundskeeper at the Green Castle estate and he had a carving shack on the property. It was during this time that he developed his carving skills, initially focusing on utilitarian wooden items such as axe handles and vases before transitioning into his own conceptual forms, which included effigy figures, amulets, helmets and staffs. A number of these are reminiscent of similar objects carved in Taino and some African traditions. Atherton described the objects as possessing great spiritual power and influence for protecting and guarding or to pacify spiritual forces. In some instances, he carved such objects in response to specific events and phenomena, for example, during the transition into the new millennium in 2000. Several of his sons were also carvers, more importantly, Errol Lloyd Atherton. Vincent Atherton’s work has been exhibited locally, most notably in the exhibition Intuitives III (2006) held at the National Gallery of Jamaica, and has also been widely exhibited in the United States. His work is in the collection of the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami.
Everald Brown (1917-2003) also called “Brother Brown,” was born in Clarendon as the fifth of seven children and the only son of his parents Robert and Nelly Brown. His mother was a religious Baptist, who influenced him on his spiritual path. In 1946, Brother Brown married Jenny Gray with whom he had ten children. One year later they settled at 82 ½ Spanish Town Road, a yard which housed several religious groups. There he became aware of Rastafari and the Ethiopian Orthodox church, establishing the Assembly of the Living as a self-appointed mission of the latter. Around 1973, as a result increasingly volatile social environment of West Kingston, Brother Brown relocated his family and mission to Murray Mountain in deep rural St Ann. Much of the imagery in his artworks were expressions from his visions. Many of these included mystical depictions of landscapes, animals, plants and other beings of the physical as well as supernatural world. He has become highly regarded for creating a rather diverse complement of highly decorated art and religious objects including paintings, wood carvings and a variety of musical instruments of his own design. According to him, “my painting is not just an expression of what is, but what I would like things to be—what things should be.” His artistic legacy has been maintained to an extent by his children, some of whom are also regarded as established Jamaican artists. In 1973, he was awarded a Silver Musgrave Medal for Art by the Institute of Jamaica. Brother Brown was a frequent exhibitor in numerous local and international. Notable showings include the Intuitives exhibition series of the National Gallery of Jamaica and the most comprehensive posthumous exhibition of his work, The Rainbow Valley: Everald Brown, A Retrospective, organized by the National Gallery of Jamaica in 2004. He is represented in a number of private and public collections, locally and internationally.
Here is part II of Wayne Cox’s catalogue essay for the exhibition Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica’s Intuitives – Selections from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection, which opens on December 11. Part I can be found here.
Pastor Winston Brown created the Garden of Eden attraction at his home on the main road just east of Hope Bay, Portland. It is by far the most vibrantly colored of Jamaica’s yard shows. At the roadside, he has signs with spiritual messages, seals, rows of zinc panels, even his whole house, all covered with unique patterning. He preaches occasionally in the area, sermonizing on his visions.
Errol Lloyd Atherton lived back in the countryside in Albany, St Mary. He knew the power of carved effigies from his father Vincent who carved to help him gain control over unpredictable forces. Vincent carved highly evocative heads, the tops of which were carved out or burned out, becoming vessels. In 1999, he carved two figures—one to propitiate the century leaving and another to welcome the new one arriving. His son Lloyd was known as “Powah” in part because of the “powah” his yard possessed. He participated in Kumina-influenced “Bongo” meetings that brought forth spirit possession, particularly, by the ancestors.
Lloyd displayed numerous stands on bamboo poles, many holding highly charged figures carved by his father or himself. On some he added material such as dried herbs, libations, metal objects and toy figures. The zinc at the border of his yard was painted with messages to please the ancestors. He hung a three-meter long strap of metal he says was an earlier relative’s gong. A gowned figure hung in effigy from a tree high above his front gate. He incised panels of zinc fencing, some in the shape of crosses, with designs and spirit words. Backlit by the sun, the panel’s spirit message would shine through. He placed round objects reflecting the power of the circle passed down from the Kongo cosmogram that evokes the redemptive healing of the daily movement of the sun where the day’s troubles are lifted each night during one’s time with the ancestors when the sun goes below the ground. Continue reading
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.
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.
Here is the third and final of a three-part blog post series based on a lecture presented by NGJ Executive Director, Dr Veerle Poupeye, at the Jamaica Music Museum’s Grounation programme of February 16, 2014.
Everald Brown, to turn to my last and main case study, was born in Mado District, deep rural St Ann in 1917 and died in New York City in 2003, where he was visiting with one of his children. In another example of rural to urban migration, Brother Brown, who was a carpenter by trade, and his young wife Jenny moved to West Kingston in 1947. They settled at 82 ½ Spanish Town Road, at a yard which also housed a Zion Revival band and a Kumina community. The 1940s and 50s were a period of Rastafarian ferment in West Kingston and Brother Brown was attracted by the teachings of Joseph Hibbert, a pioneering exponent who emphasized the mystical, religious aspects of Rastafari. Like many religious Rastafari, Brother Brown found inspiration in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, as the authentic Christian church from the African Zion and around 1960 Brother Brown established an informal mission of the EOC, which he named the Assembly of the Living. Brother Brown and his family were baptised in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church when this denomination was formally established in Jamaica in 1970 and he was initially an active member, who for instance constructed the EOC cathedral’s Ark of the Covenant, but his beliefs and practices were far from orthodox, and combined elements of Rastafari, Revival, Kumina, and Freemasonry – all of which are also evident in his artistic work. The question thus arises whether Brother Brown can be labelled as a Rastafarian artist. As I wrote in the 2004 Everald Brown retrospective catalogue:
I believe that to insist that Brother Brown was a Rastafarian artist, in any narrow sense, would be as short-sighted and incorrect as to suggest that he wasn’t. First of all, it is inappropriate to impose any narrow, rigid definitions on Rastafari itself, a religious and political belief system that is, except for a few groups, devoid of the dogmatism that characterizes organized religion and allows for significant personal interpretation. While many Rastafarians have been critical of traditional Afro-Jamaican religious and magical beliefs and practices, especially Obeah, there is in fact considerable cultural and religious continuity between Rastafari and Revival and Kumina. Furthermore, religious Rastafari does not necessarily exist in opposition to Christianity but often incorporates it, hence the attraction to elements of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Inevitably, there are tensions and contradictions in such syncretic beliefs—the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, for instance, does not recognize the divinity of Haile Selassie I and no doubt takes a dim view of Jamaican spiritualism—but these are an integral and legitimate part of cultural and ideological dynamics of these beliefs. It is therefore more productive to think of Jamaican Rastafarian culture as a broad, fluid and open-ended cultural spectrum or sphere, which overlaps and interacts with other local and transnational cultural spheres, such as those of the traditional Afro-Jamaican religions. If approached from that perspective, it becomes a lot less problematic to define Brother Brown’s work as ‘Rastafarian art.’
Brother Brown’s small, self-built church on Spanish Town Road was decorated with paintings and Brown also produced various ritual objects and musical instruments which were used by his church community, which consisted mainly of his own extended family. He was discovered as an artist in the late 1960s, by Janet Grant-Woodham, who was Folklore Research Officer at the Institute of Jamaica, and some of the radical young intellectuals at the University of the West Indies, such as Timothy Callender, Edward Kamau Brathwaite and Eleanor Wint, who brokered his first exhibition at the Creative Arts Centre in 1969. Brother Brown started exhibiting regularly since then, in the 1970s often jointly with his young son Clinton Brown, who also painted and produced musical instruments.