“Born Ya” by Judy Ann MacMillan: A Jamaican Painter’s Restless Life


Emma Lewis (Petchary’s Blog) reviews Judy Ann MacMillan’s Born Ya: The Life and Loves of a Jamaican Painter (2019). The book has been called “a love letter to Jamaica,” and Lewis’s review teases out this loving perspective. Here are excerpts; read full review, including photographs, and a selection of MacMillan’s artwork at Petchary’s Blog.

“But I man on ya, I man born ya/I nah leave ya fi go America/No way say, pot a boil ya, a belly full ya/Sweet Jamaica”

This song was recorded in the turbulent mid-1970s by a rather jolly and amusing reggae singer named Pluto Shervington. It is a somewhat patriotic song, almost defiant in a gentle way. At the time, Jamaicans were, in fact, leaving in droves. Mr. Shervington himself did “leave ya” a year after recording the song. Politics is ruthless.

There is an echo of this same kind of defensiveness in the autobiography of this Jamaican painter, “Born Ya” (which means “Born Here”). She seems to be saying: “Yes, this is where I was born. Why shouldn’t I stay here? Why shouldn’t I love this place?” An earlier book, “My Jamaica: The Paintings of Judy Ann MacMillan, published in 2004 and launched at Devon House in Kingston, allows her love for her country express itself in her art. In the year 2000, she had also collaborated happily on a publication entitled Albert Huie: The Father of Jamaican Painting.” Huie was her great mentor, a positive influence on her work and quite a kindred spirit.

I found “Born Ya” an “easy read” in terms of language and presentation – but not a “light read.” The way time passes; the complexities of the artistic life; Jamaica’s puzzling and contradictory social mores; regrets (acknowledged) and faults (sometimes unacknowledged); family, and one’s often incomplete relationships with one’s parents; love, sexual attraction, laughter and loneliness. All of these are woven into the book, which is subtitled “The Life and Loves of a Jamaican Painter.” It’s a fascinating read, and there is a lot to think about. [. . .]

The book opens with a description of the early morning light bursting in – light, that essential element that inspires the artist, in her beloved house, Rockfield, in St. Ann. It has “one of the most ethereal views in Jamaica.” After her initial euphoria on waking up, the process then takes over. The artist later clarifies how actually being in the painting is important to her, rather than painting from a photograph or in a studio. So, she must be herself sitting in the landscape. Painting, she says, “can make you crazy” – an intense, challenging, sometimes frustrating process that pulls you inside out but, in the end, brings some kind of catharsis. A lot of creative processes are like this, perhaps. [. . .]

For full review, see https://petchary.wordpress.com/2020/05/28/born-ya-by-judy-ann-macmillan-a-jamaican-painters-restless-life/

Also read an interview with the painter in Global Voices: https://globalvoices.org/2020/05/23/born-ya-speaking-with-jamaican-fine-artist-judy-ann-macmillan-about-her-new-autobiography/

For purchasing information, see https://www.amazon.com/Born-Ya-Loves-Jamaican-Painter/dp/1527237451

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