A report from Jamaica’s Observer.
The National Gallery of Jamaica, which was established in 1974, is the oldest and largest public art museum in the Anglophone Caribbean. Its mission is “to collect, research, document and preserve Jamaican, other related Caribbean art and related material to promote our artistic heritage for the benefit of future and present generations”.
The National Gallery has a comprehensive collection of early, modern and contemporary art from Jamaica along with smaller Caribbean and international holdings. There is also an active exhibition programme, which includes retrospectives of work by major Jamaican artists, thematic exhibitions, young artists’ exhibitions, and touring exhibitions that originate outside of the island. The National Gallery’s flagship exhibition, the Jamaica Biennial, also features artists from elsewhere in the Caribbean and its Diaspora and has become a noted event on the international art calendar.
Recent major exhibitions include: Spiritual Yards: Selections from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection, an exhibition of work by self-taught, so-called intuitive artists, which was initially shown in Kingston and of which a smaller version is presently on view at the National Gallery West in Montego Bay; the Annabella and Peter Proudlock Collection, which featured selections from the collection of the late principals of Harmony Hall Gallery; and We Have Met Before, which was presented in collaboration with the British Council and explored the histories and afterlife of slavery through the work of Graham Fagen (Scotland), Joscelyn Gardner (Barbados/Canada), Leasho Johnson (Jamaica), and Ingrid Pollard (Guyana/England).
The National Gallery is the main producer of research and publications relevant to Jamaican art. It also offers educational services including guided tours of the exhibitions and collections, lectures and panel discussions, a small library and documentation centre, and children’s art programmes. The popular Last Sundays programme, which features free admission and special entertainment, is well established on the Kingston cultural entertainment calendar and is designed to attract new and diverse audiences. The National Gallery operates a gift shop which stocks original Jamaican craft and gift items, art posters and postcards, as well as books and other publications on Jamaican and Caribbean art and culture. The Gallery also operates a coffee shop.
The National Gallery was originally located at the iconic Devon House on Hope Road, but was moved in 1982 to its current location in a modern building on the Kingston Waterfront. Since July 2014, the National Gallery also operates a branch, National Gallery West, at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre on Sam Sharpe Square. The operation of this Montego Bay branch is funded by the Tourism Enhancement Fund.
The National Gallery of Jamaica is a division of the Institute of Jamaica, Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport.
One of the primary goals of the National Gallery of Jamaica is the development of a definitive collection of Jamaican Art. Curated to reflect, through the finest examples, our artistic development from its earliest manifestations to the present, the National Collection features the work of prominent and lesser known Jamaican artists, and also documents Jamaican socio-cultural history. Selections from the National Collection are on view in the permanent galleries and are regularly included in temporary installations and thematic and other exhibitions. Together, these exhibitions offer a comprehensive and diverse overview of Jamaican art from the pre-Columbian era to the modern and contemporary, and in media that range from sculpture, painting, drawings and prints to ceramics, fibre arts, installations, and digital photography.
In addition to the general collection, which includes such masterpieces as Edna Manley’s sculpture Negro Aroused (1935) and Colin Garland’s painting In the Beautiful Caribbean (1974), the National Gallery holds a number of specialist collections, including several major donations, namely:
The Larry Wirth Collection: This collection comprises over sixty paintings and sculptures by Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds, dated from the late 1940s to the early 1970s. Larry Wirth, who operated the now closed Stony Hill Hotel, was a major collector of Kapo’s work, and after his death, his collection was acquired for the National Gallery with the help of the then Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Edward Seaga, who supported and approved this Government of Jamaica purchase in 1982. Combined with other holdings, the National Gallery now has the largest and most comprehensive collection of Kapo’s work, which is on permanent view in the Kapo galleries. A selection of these holdings was recently shown at National Gallery West in Montego Bay.
The Edna Manley Memorial Collection: This collection is dedicated to the life and work of Edna Manley. The development of the collection was led by the late Hon Aaron Matalon, O J, founding Chairman of the Edna Manley Foundation, and the late Dr the Hon David Boxer, then Chief Curator of the National Gallery. Various private and corporate collectors of Edna Manley’s work donated major sculptures and drawings. The collection forms the basis of the Edna Manley Galleries and is supplemented by some works from the core permanent collection as well as a few loans from the Edna Manley Estate.
The A D Scott Collection: This collection was created through a series of donations from Jamaican art patron and master civil engineer, the late A D Scott, OD (1912 -2004), and features Jamaican art from the years around Independence and the 1970s. Scott was a pioneering local art collector whose patronage helped to shape the course of Jamaican art, also by means of his involvement in the Contemporary Jamaican Artists Association (1964-1974) and the Olympia International Art Centre, which he established as an independent gallery and art centre in 1974.
The Aaron and Marjorie Matalon Collection: In 1999, the late Hon Aaron Matalon and his wife, Marjorie donated a collection of 218 works of art to the National Gallery, the largest single donation ever made to the institution in its history. Matalon, one of post-Independence Jamaica’s business leaders, was a major patron of the arts as well as a committed supporter of the National Gallery, serving as the gallery’s Chairman from 1992 to 2003. In addition to including key Jamaican modern and contemporary works of art, the Matalon Collection is made even more significant for its inclusion art from Jamaica’s early colonial period inclusive of maps, prints, paintings, a significant portion of which can be viewed in the Historical Galleries.
The John Pringle Collection: John Pringle (1925-2007) founded the Round Hill Hotel and Villa Resort in 1953 and became Jamaica’s first Director of Tourism in 1963. During his time at the Jamaica Tourist Board, Pringle promoted genuine Jamaican culture in tourism, focusing on the variety of art forms in the island. After moving to London in 1967, Pringle became an avid collector of Jamaican art and much of the work he collected was by Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds. The National Gallery received a selection of his collection of paintings by Kapo in 2011.
The Guy McIntosh Collection: This collection of 80 works of art was donated to the National Gallery by the late Guy McIntosh and his family in 2011. An avid collector and connoisseur, McIntosh was the proprietor of the Frame Centre, which continues to operate today. The collection consists of art mainly by Jamaican artists who came to prominence during the 1980s and 1990s, including Milton George and Omari Ra.
The following works of art are among the acknowledged masterpieces in the National Gallery Collection:
• Detail of Carving of a Zemi, Possibly Youcahuna surmounted on a staff (Taino period; wood, possibly mahogany; height: 150 cm)
This carving is believed to be a representation supreme, creator god of the Taino, Youcahuna, who is associated with the cassava cultivation which was the staple in Taino culture. It is one of the four Taino carvings in the National Gallery Collection and their presence in Jamaica is significant, since most other major Jamaican Taino artworks and artifacts known today were found during the colonial period and are in museums in England and North America.
• Anonymous Artist – Portrait of a West Indian Boy (c1840 Watercolour on paper, 36.5 x 32.5 cm, Gift of Victoria Mutual Building Society)
During the colonial period and prior to the invention of photography and the accompanying democratisation of portraiture, very few portraits of black persons were made. Most of the Plantation-period portraits in our collection are of wealthy planters and colonial officials, and if black persons appear in them at all, it is usually in a subordinate role. This portrait, tentatively dated shortly after Emancipation, is an exception, and while the subject and the artist are both anonymous, it is a sensitive, realistic portrayal of a young black male that heralds a new era in the politics of representation in the visual arts of the Caribbean. This portrait is presently on view in Explorations V: Portraits in Dialogue, an exhibition which brings into dialogue portraits that date from the eighteenth century to the twenty-first century.
• Edna Manley – Negro Aroused (1935; mahogany; Height: 63.5 cm)
Edna Manley (1900-1987) was one of the leading figures in the nationalist, anti-colonial art movement that emerged in the 1920s and 30s as the first modern art movement in Jamaica. Negro Aroused, Manley’s best known sculpture, captures the spirit of black self-assertion and labour unrest that revolutonised Jamaica in the 1930s. The mahogany carving—the first of four versions—was acquired by public subscription for the Institute of Jamaica collection and became the nucleus of the National Gallery’s foundational collection in 1974. It is thus also an important part of the National Gallery’s own history.
• John Dunkley – Banana Plantation (c1945; mixed media on hardboard; 88.9 x 59.7 cm; ; Gift of Cassie Dunkley)
John Dunkley (1891-1947) was a self-taught artist—or an Intuitive, as such artists have been labelled in Jamaica—and worked as a sailor and a migrant labourer in Central America and Cuba before returning to Jamaica around 1930, where he established a barber shop on Princess Street in Kingston. While Dunkley’s dark, brooding depiction of a banana grove has rightly been described as a ”landscape of the mind,” it also references Dunkley’s actual experiences in the world of migrant labour and the emerging banana industry in the Caribbean and Central America. This famous work by Dunkley is presently on view at the Perez Art Museum in Miami where it is part of the retrospective John Dunkley: Neither Day Nor Night.
• Barrington Watson – Washer Women (1966, oil on canvas, 71 x 101 cm)
Barrington Watson (1931-2016) is one of Jamaica’s most celebrated painters and a leading figure in the art of the post-Independence period. Watson is better known as an academic realist painter, but a few works from the mid-1960s have more abstract qualities and were produced at a time when artists of his generation interpreted abstract modernism. Although Watson always insisted that he was an artist first, and a Jamaican artist second, he produced some of the most poignantly observed depictions of Jamaican life, such as this iconic portrayal of a group of women washing by the river.
• Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds – Peaceful Quietness (1969, oil on hardboard, 74 x 97 cm)
Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds (1911-1989) was a self-taught, Intuitive artist and a Zion Revival Bishop, who hailed from rural St Catherine and settled in Western Kingston. Most of his paintings and sculptures were related to his religious beliefs and accompanying world view. The hilly landscape depicted in Peaceful Quietness, which features a blossoming cotton tree at its centre, not only captures the beauty of rural Jamaica’s natural environment, but has deeper meaning. In popular religion in the Caribbean and in Zion Revival, the cotton tree is regarded as a dwelling place for the spirits and a sacred connection between the spiritual and earthly realms, and it is used as a site for certain rituals.
• Colin Garland – In the Beautiful Caribbean (1974; oil on canvas; triptych, central panel – 120 x 89.5 cm; left and right panels – 120 x 74.5 cm)
The painter Colin Garland (1935-2007) was born in Australia, pursued art studies in London, then moved to Jamaica in 1962, where he spent the rest of his life. The panoramic In the Beautiful Caribbean, which consists of three adjoining panels, is arguably his best known work and illustrates his superb painting and drawing skills. A surreal interpretation of Jamaica’s spectacularly beautiful landscape and physical environment, the triptych poetically alludes to the social dynamics of post-Independence Jamaica and the island’s strategic place in the geopolitcs of the Cold War.
• Hope Brooks – Four Pomegranates (1975; oil and mixed media on canvas, 129 x 129 cm)
Hope Brooks’ abstracted paintings are usually inspired by the landscape and flora of the island, which is reduced to its essential colours, texture and patterns. Four Pomegranates, her best known painting in the National Gallery Collection, captures the progression of a pomegranate from unripe to decayed and refers symbolically to the universal cycles of life, from birth to old age and death, and to the seasons in nature.
• Ebony G Patterson – Cultural Soliloquy (A Cultural Object Revisited) (2010, mixed media installation, dimensions variable)
Ebony G Patterson is arguably the most internationally successful artist from Jamaica to date. This work, which was first exhibited at the National Gallery’s Young Talent V exhibition in 2010, incorporates a car covered with glitter as well as sound, and represents a celebration and critique of the politics of the bling culture in Dancehall. The work also pays tribute to Dawn Scott’s pioneering installation A Cultural Object (1985), which provocatively transported a slice of inner-city life into the National Gallery space. Dawn Scott’s historic installation, another masterpiece in our collection, is currently slated for restoration and will be reopened in 2018.
• Marlon James – Mark and Gisele (2007; digital black and white photograph; 101.5 x 76 cm)
This double portrait by the Jamaican photographer Marlon James, not to be confused with the like-named novelist, is part of an open-ended series of portraits of fellow artists. The deadpan portrayal of two art students at the Edna Manley College represents a contemporary Jamaican counterpoint to the American painter Grant Wood’s famous painting, American Gothic (1930). This iconic photographic portrait is presently on view in the exhibition Explorations V: Portraits in Conversation.
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