A report from Jamaica’s Observer.
The small home goods company Antillean was recently granted a place at the prestigious 14th International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which took place July 13 – 16. The highly competitive International Folk Art Market is recognised as the number 1 arts festival in the United States. Jamaica was one of only 52 countries able to secure a place out of 600 applications from around the world.
Not bad for a company founded just two years ago by the visual artist, writer and academic Jacqueline Bishop, who, with the creation of Antillean, finally indulged a long-held wish to generate products that would see homes enveloped in the warmth and magic of the Caribbean.
According to Bishop, who makes her home in the United States, “Antillean draws its primary inspiration from the colours and vibrancy of the Caribbean. Our products will create a sense of Caribbean living, wherever in the world you may be. We do this by working with practitioners in the region to encourage, develop, revitalise and sustain the craft traditions of the Caribbean.”
Consequently, an entire section of Antillean is dedicated to the handmade and folk and craft traditions of the region. This section is called Creole. “Creole, with its emphasis on the local and the handmade,” Bishop informed SO, “holds a special place in the work that we are doing.”
From Antillean, customers can purchase exquisite handmade embroidery that focuses on the fruits, flowers, landscape, and people of the Caribbean. “We work with a group called the Women of St Mary to execute our wall-art embroidery,” Bishop said. The Women of St Mary consists of roughly 25 women who make authentic Jamaican embroidery, crochet and hardanga works.
“Many of the women in the group belonged to the famed Allsides embroiderers who had a long and distinguished history on the island of Jamaica,” coordinator of the Women of St Mary, Shirley Vernon Duncan explained, “and the group utilises the Allsides model whereby authentic Jamaican handcrafts are seen as a means of economic uplift for rural women. We worked with Bishop and Antillean to develop a series of wonderful appliqué and embroidery pieces that we think are absolutely beautiful.”
Other craft products developed by Antillean include the vernacular shanties of Eddie Harris, of Nonsuch, Portland, whose graceful and elegant shanties were such that his work, along with that of two other self-taught local artists, was selected for the Outsider Art Fair in New York in January 2018.
Another artist chosen for the Outsider Art Fair, Sane Mae “Mama Laine” Dunkley, makes colourful mats and tapestries. According to Dunkley, she sees herself as part of a tradition in which people, especially women, have made beauty “out of little or nothing”.
Meanwhile artist Kemel Rankine, whose work did extremely well in Santa Fe, started out painting signs on discarded bits of metal from the various businesses in St Elizabeth. For Rankine, discarded metal was cheap and easily available, and enamel paint, as opposed to the more expensive acrylic or oil paint, was a means to paint his signs. Eventually, he branched out into paintings of local characters — such as the national heroes of the island — and painting the proverbs, parables and sayings of the island, as well.
So, what are Bishop’s goals for Antillean, whose artists’ works are also ending up on book covers by notable authors and in the collections of, among others, Hollywood celebrities?
“I think Antillean is off to a good start because we have a small but excellent group of artists that we are working with. Fresh off the heels of an extremely successful showing in Santa Fe — our booth was heavily trafficked — I realised that there is a groundswell of love for Jamaica.
“I want to continue working with and within communities to build upon and sustain local art traditions that in turn will build and support strong communities. Mama Laine’s mats are things I remember from my childhood and I was so delighted to find that the tradition is still there waiting to be shared. I am glad to be a small part of giving them a larger audience in New York. I hope to extend the work we do across other countries in the Caribbean.”