The Explorations II: Religion and Spirituality exhibition, which opened last Sunday at the National Gallery of Jamaica, is organized around six broad, overlapping themes, with a gallery dedicated to each theme. Just in time for the holiday season, the third gallery’s exhibition is organized around the theme “In Our Own Image.” Here are excerpts with a link below to the full description. [Image above: Osmond Watson’s “Jah Lives” (1984); image below: Ebony G. Patterson’s “Di Real Big Man (2010); both from the NGJ Collection.]
Description: The works in this gallery explore how “white” colonial religious representations, and the power structures these represent, have been implicitly and explicitly challenged in local religious and artistic practice. The prevalence of assertively Black religious imagery in Jamaican art is heavily indebted to the teachings of Marcus Mosiah Garvey [. . .].
This perspective is classically illustrated by Osmond Watson’s Peace and Love (1969), which draws from Orthodox Christian icon painting traditions, and the related Jah Lives (1984), which was chosen as the lead image of this exhibition and is on view in the entrance. In both instances, Christ is represented as dreadlocked Rastafari, a powerful acknowledgement of the movement’s defining role in Jamaican culture. Peace and Love is also a self-portrait, in an illustration of the Rastafari concept of “Godmanliness,” or the divine nature of the individual. We had originally placed Rastafari artist Albert Artwell’s 33 ½ Years Story of Christ (2005), which narrates the main events in the life of Christ in a style indebted to Ethiopian icon painting, in “A Chapter a Day,” but we moved it to this section because of the assertive Blackness of the imagery, which also has autobiographical allusions.
While not as such a religious image, we also selected Ebony G. Patterson’s Di Real Big Man (2010) for this section, since it similarly and more provocatively adopts the traditional language of religious icon art to comment on the predicament of Black masculinity in contemporary Jamaican popular culture. In particular, it makes reference to the sexually ambiguous male beauty ideals in Dancehall and, using imagery that evokes martyrdom, also brings to mind the memorial murals to slain gang and “corner crew” members that can be seen in many inner-city neighbourhoods (and are now regularly over-painted by the Police).
While two of the examples chosen represent Black Madonnas, none of the examples in this section question the traditional gender biases in religious art and iconography but there are works by Jamaican artists, not represented here, that have done exactly that: Renee Cox’s controversial “Yo Mama’s Last Supper” (1999), for instance, shocked the New York religious establishment when it was first exhibited there because the artist provocatively inserted her own image, fully and frontally nude, as the Christ figure in the Last Supper. [. . .]
For full description and more information, see the National Gallery of Jamaica Blog at http://nationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/religion-and-spirituality-in-our-own-image/