Thursday, November 15th, 2007...10:37 am

Cultural kick-off

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A trip to The National Gallery of Jamaica….

Here’s the essential stuff, before the fun can begin:

Opening Hours:
Tuesday – Thursday: 10 a.m. – 4. 30 p.m.
Friday: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Sunday and Monday: Closed

Admission Price:
J$50 Students and 65 and over
J$100 General admission

Address:
Kingston Mall, Orange Street and Ocean Boulevard, Kingston, Jamaica
Telephone: 876 922 1561 / 876 922 8540

How to get there: directions and parking

Art, hitting the 200th mark of the abolition of the slave trade.

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From the moment you arrive at the entrance to The National Gallery of Jamaica, you know that you are in for an artistic treat – of the didactic kind. Neatly doubling-up as a warning-sign to visitors, not to park on the yellow lines outside, there sits an imposing statue of a Jamaican mother, staring at and caring for her young child whilst seemingly bearing the knowledge of all that is bad in the world. And this foreboding welcome doesn’t disappoint…immediately as guests walk through the gallery doors, they are presented with a montage of slaves – all intertwined & chained together and housed in a ship, held high above a gilt-plated sugar plantation. It is 200 years since the abolition of the slave trade, yet this is an eager reminder of how most Jamaicans first arrived in this promised land.

Son on a gun…

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As you approach the main stairwell and look up to the landing, one current exhibition – ’Materialising Slavery’ – is quick to highlight the heady mix of colonial pomp and prosperity, the suffering so unfairly inflicted on many, many Africans and at times…the church. This is of course no new message – by any means – and yet the thick, deep, rich colours, delivered by a careful curator’s selection, strikes a chord that is as pertinent and vivid as ever.

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Stories scream ominously through the bars of the stairwells. Tales hang at head height – lurking to surprise you from the corners of corridors. In today’s National Gallery, history has been clearly defined by the harrowing and heartfelt stares of it’s statues…however, a silver-lining is allowed to peak through at times – and the vibrant energy of modern day Jamaica can be seen to shine through. A fascinating and fruitful hour can be spent on this exhibition alone. Don’t miss it!

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Special Exhibitions

The National Gallery is also currently showcasing two additional exhibitions – namely ‘Art, Memory and Identity’ and ‘Spanish Contemporary Art’.

Jamaica and Spain: An intertwined brotherhood of two nations

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A guest exhibition of Spanish art is of course well placed in Jamaica’s National Gallery in the context of this years’ bicentenary. Not only does it’s presence mark the positive change in relations between the two countries over time, but it also coincides this year with the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

Installations, paintings and sculptures turn here to investigate Spain’s own internal rebellion and emancipation – following the death of the repressive dictator, General Franco. The result throws-up an art that, at times, carries a message as emotional and surreal as that provoked by the torture and turmoil of the Jamaican artists who line the halls outside. Other pieces bring a seemingly simple message from the new world – one that sits in stark and hollow contrast to the complexities of the past.

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Out of many, one people

A small selection of work from the moving (both in the emotional and physical sense) exhibition ‘Art, Memory and Identity’ is featured in these pictures below. This poignantly conveys, amongst other more profound aspects of cultural identity, the shear enormity and scale of forced human migration across the transatlantic. Laura Facey’s models clearly stand out in these rooms – from their ability to capture de-humanisation at the same time as graciously celebrating the intensity of the individual.

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And finally, Jamaican Institutions…

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Surrounding these historic exhibitions are many works from Edna Manley (Learn more about Edna Manley on Wikipedia). Avid fans, as well as newcomers to this prolific Jamaican artist, will find themselves stuck staring in ore at the fine features she so elegantly defines. With a number of halls displaying her heartfelt sculptures and voluptuous carvings, a whole morning could be spent just gazing at the textures and lines she used to create such impact of expression.

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And finally, of course, the gallery offers us the reign of The Jamaican Rastafarians…and proudly standing amongst them is their King, Bob, pictured here solely, below:

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With his soulful notes, I leave the rest up to your own investigation. Rest assured that for both a full and full-on Jamaican cultural experience, a trip to The National Gallery is just the ticket. You can look, listen and learn…and most importantly of all…you might just leave emancipated from mental slavery.

Kindly note that the gallery is closed on Mondays.

Comeback soon to view the photo gallery on this blog.

Click here to visit The National Gallery of Jamaica’s Website

Article and photographs by Oliver Wright.

All images are copyright of the various artists and The National Gallery of Jamaica and as such, any use or re-use is prohibited without the express permission of the individual artists and The Gallery.

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