Spiritual Yards – Gallery 1: Pastor Winston Brown, Reginald English

Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica’s Intuitives – Selections from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection will be on view at the NGJ from December 11, 2016 to January 29, 2017. Here is the first of a series of short features on the artists in the exhibition, organized according to which gallery their work appears in, and accompanied by rare video footage on each of them, courtesy of Wayne Cox (all rights reserved).

Pastor Winston Brown (1932-2015) was born in Manchester and moved to Hope Bay, Portland, as a young adult. He was employed in Public Works for the Parish Council and later kept a shop. In his spare time, he would visit various churches, sermonizing based on his visions. He built a house just west of Hope Bay, adding on a room at a time. Pastor Brown began with creating assemblages mounted on poles. He painted vibrant floral and abstract design on his walls and on objects outside. On the street, he constructed signs and assemblages with spiritual messages, calling this place the Garden of Eden attraction. He leaned zinc fencing painted with his designs along the slope of the hill across the street. He had a bench there where he would lie down, read his Bible and wave to drivers passing through the Garden of Eden.

Reginald English (1929-1997) was a Jonkunnu performer, who was known for creating painted metal cut-outs depicting Jonkunnu characters and spirit figures he called “whoodies” which he believed lived in the countryside. During the 1980s and 1990s, English created and sold these works of cut-out metal at a stand on the main road just east of Boscobel, St Mary. English often recycled discarded metal to make his figures, which displayed strong gestural characteristics, and he used metallic automotive spray paint to provide vivid and radiant colouring. His work was has been exhibited both locally and overseas, most notably in the exhibitions Prophets and Messengers (2000) and Intuitives III (2006) at the Mutual Gallery in Kingston and National Gallery of Jamaica, as well as the Redemption Songs exhibition in the United States, held in 1997. English also represented in the permanent collection of the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami.

YARD POWAH by Wayne Cox – Part I

elijah-for-blog

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

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