Kingston: Crossroads

Isaac Mendez Belisario, Sketches of Character: French Set Girls (1837-38)

Isaac Mendez Belisario, Sketches of Character: French Set Girls (1837-38)

Here is another feature on our current exhibition, Kingston – Part 1: The City and Art, which opened on July 31. It was written by the exhibition curator, Monique Barnett-Davidson:

Like any major capital city, Kingston is a proverbial land of opportunity and a microcosm of social development in Jamaica. And like its predecessor Port Royal, it is a point of intersection, the juncture of a myriad of commercial and cultural pathways. One needs to look no further than the intensely trade- and business-oriented areas of Downtown, the Waterfront, our natural harbour (the seventh largest in the world), or the Crossroads and Half Way Tree areas. Artists have always been active participants and beneficiaries in these intersections, by participating in these exchanges and commercial opportunities, and by representing them in their work.

This section features pre-twentieth century itinerant artists such as Frenchman Adolphe Duperly, who operated his commercial photography and lithography studio, Adolphe Duperly and Son, at 85 King Street in Kingston. Duperly published a number of images of early Jamaican places, people and events such as the Daguerian Excursions (c1844), a series of lithographs of island scenes that were originally produced as daguerrotypes. Duperly is generally credited as the one who introduced photographic technology to Jamaica in the 1840s.

Duperly also collaborated with the Kingston-born lithographer and painter, Isaac Mendes Belisario who is famous for his 1837-1838 lithograph publications Sketches of Character in Illustration of the Habits, Occupation and Costume of the Negro Population in the Island of Jamaica. Despite the problematic ideological questions raised by Belisario’s images, the Christmas Amusements and Cries of Kingston have become icons of heritage that inform the memory of our enslaved, apprenticed, and later emancipated Jamaican fore-parents, as they worked and celebrated the gift of life and culture during times of great colonial oppression. Continue reading

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Kingston – Nature’s Bounty

Hilton Nembhard - Rasta Head (rgb)

Hilton Nembhard – Rasta Head (c1970), Collection: NGJ

Here is the first of five sectional introductions to the main themes in the Kingston – Part 1: The City and Art exhibition, which opened on July 31. The sectional introductions were written by the exhibition curator, Monique Barnett-Davidson, Assistant Curator at the NGJ:

Natural resources have been used for the creation of artworks in Jamaica for all of the island’s known history. The Jamaican Taino and their ancestors, who had begun settling in the island from as early as circa 650 AD, utilized wood, charcoal, plant fibres, animal bone, stone and clays. Later arrivals to the island, mainly Europeans and Africans, also imported and syncretised art-making traditions and techniques and in doing so made great use of the natural bounty this land of wood and water had to offer. The objects featured in this section explore the use by local artists of four materials that are available in Kingston and its environs: tortoise shell, wood, alabaster gypsum, and clay.

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Rectangular Tortoise Shell Casket with Two Combs (1679), Collection: NGJ

The 17th century tortoise shell objects in this exhibition exemplify a creative industry that thrived in Port Royal Jamaica from circa 1672 to 1692, until the earthquake disaster. The name “tortoise” is a misnomer, since these objects are made from sea turtle shells while tortoises are their land-dwelling relatives. Four species of sea turtle that appear in Jamaica’s coastal waters but the shell most suitable for the creation of these objects is the Hawksbill Turtle shell. The tradition of using these shells to create decorative objects no longer continues, as the animals are now legally protected. However, one cannot deny the mastery and elegance of the examples featured in this exhibition. The Port Royal tortoise shell objects, most of them coomb cases and trinket boxes, appear to have been produced as mementoes and have their place of origin and production year inscribed on them. Some also feature early versions of Jamaica’s Coat of Arms. It has been argued that they qualify as Jamaica’s first examples of “tourist art.”

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Brief Reflections on Kingston as a Visual and Cultural Space – Charles V. Carnegie

Sidney McLaren - King and Barry Street (1971), Collection: NGJ

Sidney McLaren – King and Barry Street (1971), Collection: NGJ

The Jamaican anthropologist Charles V. Carnegie, former head of the African-Caribbean Institute of Jamaica/Memory Bank, has contributed to the following essay to the catalogue of Kingston – Part 1: The City and Art exhibition, which opens on July 31:

For its first two-hundred-plus years as the island’s principal city—up until around the 1920s—much of Kingston’s population lived in close proximity to each other within or on the fringes of the city centre: an area just 1,080 acres in extent in 1890.  Rich and poor rode together on horse-drawn and, later, electric tramcars beginning in the 1870s.  Despite sharp legal distinctions between slave and free and marked divisions of class, color, and religion, people of different rank routinely crossed paths for work, worship, commerce, recreation, healthcare, and to bury their dead.  Beginning around the 1930s and gaining momentum in the following decades, the city’s elites dispersed themselves to increasingly distant suburbs.  A pattern of urban sprawl, similar to that in North America, took hold. What does it mean and why does it matter that for the most recent period of its history Kingston’s poor and the more well off come into direct contact so much more infrequently than they once did?  What’s been the impact, and can we now begin to assess the consequences, of residents of the city no longer trodding the same piece of ground day by day: not routinely encountering each other in the same space?

Parade, Downtown Kingston, on a Sunday

King Street, near Parade, Downtown Kingston, on a Sunday

In making my way about Kingston these days on foot and by bus, I am struck both by the cultural expressiveness, energy and imagination so evident in the streets, and the realization of how much of this is new and news to friends Uptown.  My accounts of the commonplace wonders of street life—those elegantly outfitted mannequins posed dramatically atop booming, four-foot high speaker boxes along the sidewalks on Orange Street, the cleverly improvised performances of male vendors of women’s lingerie, the welcome arrival of this or that fruit in season at Coronation Market—are received Uptown as reports from distant foreign shores.  Many Uptowners, I’ve discovered, have rarely if ever taken a bus in Kingston, almost never go downtown; don’t know the number or routes of buses that serve their own neighbourhoods; and see nothing amiss with their ignorance.  Sadly, automotivity and the physical retreat to the suburbs have reinforced a certain social disengagement: places close at hand have become as places far away, former neighbors now seen as people who scarcely matter. Continue reading

Kingston – Part 1: The City and Art – Introduction

While we install the Kingston – Part 1: The City and Art exhibition, which opens on July 31, we share with you the catalogue introduction by the NGJ ED, Veerle Poupeye, as one of several posts on this project:

The city of Kingston is, in many ways, the crucible in which modern Jamaican culture is forged and it does no injustice to the cultural contributions of other parts of Jamaica, or the Jamaican Diaspora, to recognize its seminal role. Kingston is after all the birthplace of reggae, which has given Jamaica its global cultural visibility. By virtue of being Jamaica’s capital and largest population centre, Kingston is home to major cultural institutions and organizations, public and private, and generally provides a social and economic environment in which the arts can thrive. Given the fraught social dynamics that have shaped Kingston, the city also created an environment in which the arts had to thrive, as a key part of the population’s survival strategies.

This exhibition is our contribution to the conversation about Kingston as a Creative City – a UNESCO designation the city received in 2015 for its role in music – but presented from the perspective of the visual arts. The initial exhibition brief was to explore the role of Kingston in the development of Jamaican art and conversely, to explore the role, actual and potential, of art in the development of Kingston. The exhibition was assigned to Assistant Curator Monique Barnett-Davidson, as her first solo-curated exhibition, and we could think of no one better, given her previous research, curatorial work, and publication on street art. We soon realized however that what we had originally planned was too big a subject for a single exhibition and we decided that the present exhibition would be the first of a two-part exhibition series, with the second part, which will presented in 2017, focusing on the built environment and the role of art in urban development and renewal.

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Last Sundays of July 31 to feature “Kingston” exhibition and music by Jason Worton

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The National Gallery of Jamaica’s Last Sundays programme for July 31, 2016, will feature the soft launch of the Kingston – Part 1: The City and Art exhibition and a musical performance by Jason Worton.

Kingston – Part 1: The City and Art is the first instalment of a two-part exhibition series that explores the role of Kingston in the development of Jamaican art and, conversely, the actual and potential role of art in the development of the city of Kingston. Inspired by Kingston’s recent UNESCO designation as a Creative City of Music, the exhibition makes the case that Kingston has been the crucible for many other aspects of Jamaican culture, such as the visual arts. Featuring works of art from the late 17th century to the present as well as documentary photographs, the exhibition looks at how Jamaica’s turbulent but culturally fertile capital city has generated circumstances and opportunities that have propelled the development of Jamaican art, from the natural resources to the economic activities and institutions. The exhibition also explores how artists have been inspired in their work by the events, personalities and tales that have defined life in the city, starting with the 1692 Port Royal earthquake. Kingston – Part 1: The City and Art is curated by National Gallery Assistant Curator Monique Barnett-Davidson and continues until October 30, 2016.

Scene on harbour street- Sidney McLaren

Sidney McLaren – Scene on Harbour Street (1972), Collection: NGJ

Jason Lee Worton, Jamaican songwriter and musician, spent the last few years touring with Reggae Revival Act Protoje and the Indiggnation, while making a name for himself as an eclectic member of the Reggae scene. Working as a journeyman multi-instrumentalist, he has backed many current and past reggae stars, earning the nickname the “Jamaican Jimi Hendrix.” As the leader of his own band, Worton has appeared at prestigious events such as the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival, and been a mainstay at small local venues such as Jamnesia and the Red Bones Blues Cafe. He also plays frequently for yoga studios and events in the growing Jamaican yoga community. He has now returned to focusing on his solo project, many of his songs centring around his “DubRock Reggae” sound. He also delves into acoustic material and eastern inspired meditational music. Worton continues to explore musical styles and instruments, and is an avid surfer, yogi, and farmer/apiarist.

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Jason Lee Worton

The National Gallery of Jamaica’s doors will be open from 11 am to 4 pm on Sunday, July 31, 2016 and the programme will start at 1:30 pm, with a curatorial introduction to the exhibition and the musical performance of Jason Worton. As is customary, admission will be free and there will also be free tours of the Kingston exhibition, but contributions to the National Gallery’s donations box are always appreciated. The National Gallery gift and coffee shops will be open for business and proceeds from these ventures help to fund programmes such as Last Sundays and exhibitions such as Kingston.