Religion and Spirituality: Ancestral Memories

Osmond Watson - Secret of the Arawaks (1977), Collection: NGJ

Osmond Watson – Secret of the Arawaks (1977), Collection: NGJ

The Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality exhibition, which is now open until April 27, 2014, is organized around six broad, overlapping themes, with a gallery dedicated to each theme. Here is the text panel for the second gallery, titled “Ancestral Memories”:

The work in this gallery looks at the way in which ancestral religious and spiritual practices have survived and have been imagined in Jamaican art, often in relation to modern identities.

Two of the selected works, Norma Rodney-Harrack’s Taino Heritage (1995) and Osmond Watson’s Secret of the Arawaks (1977) ponder the foundational absence/presence of the aboriginal Taino, of whom evocative traces have survived in ceramic objects, cave pictographs and other archaeological finds. Most Taino art forms were related to their religious beliefs and were used in ritual practices and their spiritual resonance is powerfully captured in Harrack and Watson’s modern interpretations.

Everald Brown - Mystical Sign (1c1974), Collection: NGJ

Everald Brown – Mystical Sign (1c1974), Collection: NGJ

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Last Sundays, December 29, 2013 – featuring Nexus

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The National Gallery of Jamaica’s Last Sunday programme for December is scheduled for Sunday, December 29, 2013, from 11 am to 4 pm.

Visitors will have the opportunity to view Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality exhibition, which features sixty-eight works from the National Art Collection and explores the role of religion and spirituality in Jamaican culture and history. The artists featured include Osmond Watson, Edna Manley, Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, Carl Abrahams, Everald and Clinton Brown, Renee Cox, Ebony G. Patterson, Gloria Escoffery, Norma Rodney-Harrack and Omari Ra.

The featured performance on Sunday, December 29 will be a by Nexus Performing Arts Company and will start at 1:30 pm. The Nexus Performing Arts Company was formed in 2001 by Hugh Douse, Artistic Director, a voice tutor at the Edna Manley College School of Music, singer, actor, conductor, songwriter, and a former Director of Culture in Education. The award-winning group has a broad musical repertoire that draws on Gospel, Negro Spirituals, Semi-classical, Popular music including Reggae and Showtunes, African and Classical music of the European and African traditions.  Their December 29 performance will be on themes related to our present Religion and Spirituality exhibition. Continue reading

Religion and Spirituality: A Chapter A Day

Osmond Watson - The Lawd Is My Shepard (1969), Collection: NGJ

Osmond Watson – The Lawd Is My Shepard (1969), Collection: NGJ

The Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality exhibition, which opens today, is organized around six broad, overlapping themes, with a gallery dedicated to each theme. Here is the text panel for the first gallery, titled “A Chapter A Day”:

The works in this gallery explore the central role of the Bible in Jamaican life and appropriates its title from the saying “a chapter a day keeps the devil away.” In a good illustration that the Bible is not the exclusive province of mainstream Christianity, the saying has particular resonance in Rastafari culture and appears in several reggae songs, by Jacob Miller, Luciano and Junior Gong.

The theme is anchored by Osmond Watson’s The Lawd Is My Shepard (1969), which depicts a market vendor in her stall with a Bible in her lap, in a very deliberate position which is also the geometric and symbolic centre of the image – a potent illustration of the Bible-centeredness of Jamaican popular culture. This iconic painting, which is one of the most popular works in our collection, is surrounded by twelve other paintings and sculptures that represent various Old and New Testament episodes and personalities, in a range of styles and from a variety of religious and ideological perspectives. These paintings represent but a sample of how Biblical themes have been interpreted by Jamaican artists and the common appearance of such themes and Biblical knowledge displayed by the artists further illustrates the important role of the Bible in Jamaican culture.

Carl Abrahams - Boy in Temple (1977), Collection: NGJ

Carl Abrahams – Boy in Temple (1977), Collection: NGJ

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Religion and Spirituality: Introduction to the Exhibition

Carl Abrahams - Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah (c1965), AD Scott Collection, NGJ

Carl Abrahams – Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah (c1965), AD Scott Collection, NGJ

Here is the second text panel for the Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality exhibition:

Religion and spirituality play a pervasive role in virtually all aspects of Jamaican history and life and are, not surprising, a prominent theme and source of inspiration in Jamaican art. While predominantly Christian, with a large number of traditional and non-traditional denominations, Jamaica is also the birthplace of Rastafari and earlier African-derived forms – Revival and Kumina being two of the most well-known.  Other world religions are also represented in Jamaica, namely Judaism, Hinduism and the Islam, as small but at times influential minorities, and there are also traditional and new spiritual beliefs and practices that do not fit any of these labels.

Clinton Brown - Drum (1970), Collection: NGJ

Clinton Brown – Drum (1970), Collection: NGJ

Religion has at times served as an instrument of social control and oppression, especially during the colonial period, but the diverse religious and spiritual practices found in Jamaica have also served as potent tools for liberation and self-assertion. These counterhegemonic roles have greatly contributed to the richness, diversity and ideological assertiveness of the associated cultural production, as is most evident in Jamaican music but also in dance and in the visual culture. Visual expressions have been an integral part of many religious and spiritual practices on the island and this has in itself produced some of the most outstanding examples of Jamaican art. The work of artists such as Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds and Everald Brown was, for instance, directly linked to their role as religious leaders, in Zion Revival and religious Rastafari, respectively, and included the production of sacred objects and images.

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Religion and Spirituality – About the Explorations Series

Osmond Watson - Peace and Love (1969), Collection: NGJ

Osmond Watson – Peace and Love (1969), Collection: NGJ

As has become customary for exhibitions of this nature, we will be posting the text panels and other short texts relevant to the Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality exhibition, which opens on Sunday, December 22. Here is the first installment:

Everald Brown - The Golden Hand Staff (detail, c1974), Collection: NGJ

Everald Brown – The Golden Hand Staff (detail, c1974), Collection: NGJ

The National Gallery’s new exhibition series, Explorations, was launched earlier in 2013 with the Natural Histories exhibition and seeks to offer a new exploratory and contextualized approach to the artistic history of Jamaica by focusing on major themes. The series serves as a platform for our curators to rethink how we exhibit our permanent collections and to test new exhibition strategies with our viewers, as we will be reinstalling our permanent exhibition of modern Jamaican art and intend to do so thematically rather than along the current chronological lines.

The second in the series, Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality, examines the themes of religion and spirituality in modern and contemporary Jamaican art and consists entirely of works of art from our collection – sixty-eight works, to be precise. The selection includes works that are part of the established canons of Jamaican art but presents these in a new interpretive context, which focuses on their social and cultural significance rather than on their status in the conventional art hierarchies. Natural Histories included various natural history artefacts that are not conventionally regarded as “art” and thereby also explored the art/artefact dynamic. Religion and Spirituality is less actively concerned with this issue, because doing so in a manner comparable to Natural Histories would have required us to include active sacred objects and images, which poses various practical and ethical problems. Several of the works in the exhibition – for instance, Everald Brown’s musical instrument or ritual staff – however represent a transitional area between sacred object and “museumized” work of art, which is another, equally important aspect of the art/artefact dynamic. While less explicitly counter-canonical than Natural Histories, Religion and Spirituality thus invites further discussion on the processes of canonization and its alternatives in contemporary art museum practice and art-historical narration.

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“Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality” Opens on December 22

Religion_spirituality_2013_invitation - Copy

The National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ) is pleased to present the Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality exhibition, which is scheduled to open on Sunday, December 22.

The exhibition is the second in the NGJ’s new Explorations series, which was launched earlier this year with the Natural Histories exhibition. The series explores major themes in Jamaican art, and in the National Art Collection, and aims to allow our curators and visitors to engage in new, more exploratory ways with the artistic and cultural history of Jamaica. Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality examines the themes of religion and spirituality in Jamaican art and comprises sixty-seven works from our collection. That we can mount such an exhibition without resorting to loans is in itself testimony to the central and pervasive role of religion and spirituality in almost all aspects of Jamaican history and life and, consequently, in Jamaican art.

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