How do you define Jamaica’s cultural impact on the rest of the world? Its music, of course, has been hugely influential, along with its food. But the small island’s contribution to fine art is rarely considered; it is simply not on the radar of many western critics. This is despite the fact that artists, both those living in Jamaica and those who have moved to other parts of the world, are creating a rich body of works which reflect its post-colonial identity.
In the year Jamaica celebrates 50 years of independence from British rule, Nottingham’s New Art Exchange celebrates some fine examples of the country’s art in the second part of an exhibition called I Is AnOther, which has been curated by Rachael Barrett and which runs until Saturday.
The life of a Jamaican immigrant living in Birmingham is vividly portrayed in a series of paintings by Hurvin Anderson. In Peters 2, he uses primary colours to depict a barber shop. In the 1950s many newly arrived Jamaicans set up these shops in attics as a way to make extra money and meet other people from their community. But the image Anderson creates is remarkably devoid of people; instead he concentrates on the space itself which perhaps reflects the community’s attempts to create an identity in a place that would be out of sight when stood on the street.
In Chicken Wire, part of the Country Club series, Anderson portrays a tennis court from behind a wire fence in Trinidad. The straight lines of the fence cut across the angles of the tennis court with the viewer placed firmly on the outside, hinting that this aspect of Caribbean life, which is aimed at tourists, is something outside his own experience.
Western art collides with Jamaican art quite literally in The Afflicted Yard. Strewn among the debris of filthy rum bottles and old televisions is a piece of wall bearing a stencil painting, Balloon Girl, which was created by Banksy when he visited the island.
In a bizarre series of events, Peter Dean Rikards – the artist behind The Afflicted Yard project – decides to unmask Banksy. He also persuades a group of people to remove the slab of wall with the picture on it, telling them that white people will pay a lot of money for it. The fact that they have not heard of Banksy somehow renders his art useless; they are ripping it apart because they have been told it is worth a lot of money not because it has any aesthetic value for them. However, this also hints at the fact that money is also the dominating force in the commercial art world.
In Packaged Rites, Ebony G. Patterson remembers the 73 people from the poverty-stricken Tivoli Gardens community in Kingston who were killed by the police and army. Printed on bright, bandana-like fabric, the faces of the dead are obscured by scarves. These people have no identity yet they have been immortalised on highly individual pieces of fabric. It is significant too that Patterson uses textiles – a traditional folk medium and something that is wrongly considered to be inferior to ‘high art’.
Picture above shows Packaged Rites by Ebony G. Patterson (From New Art Exchange website)