Kingston: Institutions and Collections

Phannel Toussiant - National gallery of Jamaica, Devon House (rgb)

Phannel Toussaint – National gallery Ballroom, Devon House (1980), Collection: NGJ

Here is another feature on the Kingston – Part 1: The City and Art exhibition:

As we speak of “crossroads” and opportunities, we have to recognize that Kingston is also the centre of cultural infrastructure in Jamaica. This includes the two main visual arts institutions, the Edna Manley College and the National Gallery of Jamaica, and several major corporate art collections. Jamaica’s main private art collections are also located in Kingston. This Kingston-centeredness is slowly changing as governmental and corporate authorities as well as other private interests have been employing strategies to de-centralize the infrastructural dominance of Kingston. The 2014 establishment of the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, which houses the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Montego Bay branch National Gallery West, is one such example. That being said, this section of the exhibition acknowledges a selection of those Kingston-based entities that have been key pillars for the development of visual art practice and promotion in Jamaica, and have also contributed to urban development and renewal.

Devon House

Sidney McLaren – Devon House (1979), Collection: NGJ

The Institute of Jamaica, which was established in 1879, is the oldest cultural institution in Jamaica and has been pivotal in the development of national art exhibition programming and art educational opportunities, especially from the 1930s to the present. The National Gallery of Jamaica has its origins in the pioneering art collecting and exhibition programmes of the Institute and presently operates as one of its divisions. Established in 1974 at Devon House on Hope Road and then relocated to the Roy West Building on the Kingston Waterfront in 1982, the National Gallery of Jamaica functions as the custodian of carefully developed collections of Jamaican art, representing more than ten centuries of artistic history in our country. Other Institute of Jamaica divisions that have been involved in the visual arts are the Junior Centre and the National Library of Jamaica, before the latter attained autonomy. The Junior Centre hosted Edna Manley’s seminal free adult art classes that started in 1939 and served as a meeting place for the members of the emerging nationalist school, and it continues to offer children’s art programmes today.

Whitney Miller - Little North Street (rgb)

Whitney Miller – Little North Street (1963), Collection: Edna Manley College

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Kingston: Art on the Streets

Here is another feature on the themes that structure the Kingston – Part 1: The City and Art exhibition, written by the exhibition curator, Monique Barnett-Davidson:

A simple bus commute or walking tour of the city can bring one into an even more direct engagement with Kingston’s artistic heritage. Street and public art proliferate in the city, whether as officially commissioned statues, monuments and murals, or more informal expressions on community walls, vehicles or vending stalls. These works are experienced on a daily basis by the people who use, traverse, relax or congregate around these spaces and often command their surroundings as iconic landmarks.

As Jamaica’s capital, Kingston is home to a number of public monuments. Their narratives reflect memories of historic triumph, expressions of hope in the face of adversity, or simply reflection in the wake of tragedy; exemplified by Edna Manley’s Negro Aroused sculpture, the monuments of the National Heroes Park, and the Secret Gardens monument, which are all located in Downtown Kingston. Secret Gardens was commissioned by the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation, the local government authority, to commemorate children who die under tragic or violent circumstances and the local media recently reported that no more space was left to add further names—a very sad reflection of the vulnerability of children in Jamaican society.

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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

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.

Turtle Shell Casket 3 (rgb)

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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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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Digital: Introduction

Digital technologies now shape many aspects of contemporary society and have completely transformed the global image economy. This has created myriad opportunities for individual and collective participation (and new associated dangers) and many lives, careers and causes are now enacted on social media, in ways that rely heavily on digital images. Ordinary individuals now have ready access to a vast visual archive that literally spans human history and contribute to this rapidly expanding archive on a daily basis. They do so by producing and circulating digital photographs of themselves and other images that capture their interest, in what is now an instantaneous and global network of exchange. Images have arguably never been as influential as they are today, in terms of their capacity to shape, reinforce, question or change ideas and convictions, and conceptions of self and community. This has significantly altered the traditional relationships between power, identity and visual representation.

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