Jamaica's visual arts have been evolving since the earliest colonial days. Today, the region's artists are known for thought-provoking and emotional work, which can be viewed on the island and in museums worldwide.
Artistic styles in Jamaica, in their earliest form, were strongly influenced by Europe. As with most of the arts throughout the Caribbean, the popular styles in Europe became the popular styles in the Indies. Classical art, in the beginning, generally ignored the Africans of the island.
William Hogarth is a particularly important artist from the colonial period. Regarded for his satire, he is one of the few who portrayed the problems of African slaves in Jamaica.
Truly Jamaican art began cropping up in the early to mid 1900s, but it didn't take on a life of its own until the 1920s, when Jamaican "intuitive" artists, like the famous Kapo, began developing their own style instead of just copying European trends. Beginning in the 1940s, the Jamaican desire for independence became an important influence on the island's artistic expressions.
More recently, sculpture and painting have become some of Jamaica's top arts. The creations of Edna Manley are considered to be among the island's most important – and sometimes most controversial – works of art. There are also more local styles that have developed, including colorful "yard art" murals, which are urban works of art that pop up most often during political turmoil.
Once on the island, travelers who want to view some of Jamaica's most revered works of art won't have to go far. If you're staying near Kingston, you'll have the chance to see some of the island's best at Jamaica's National Gallery.
The National Gallery is located in Kingston Mall at 12 Ocean Boulevard in the Roy West Building. The gallery is closed Sundays and Mondays, and a small entrance fee is required. Guided tours of the exhibits are available for an additional fee.
These exhibits include a famous bronze statue of Bob Marley and the "Ghetto Mother" statue by Edna Manley. You'll find works by Jamaica's best, brightest, and most famous, like Carl Abrahams, Cecil Baugh, John Dunkley, Kapo, and Barrington Watson. The gallery's annual exhibition, held from December to January, includes some of the island's best art work.
Visitors hoping to take some island art home will find plenty of galleries where works of Jamaican arts and crafts can be purchased. Two of the best-known offer visitors a place to start their search.
|Gallery of West Indian Art||11 Fairfield Road,
Catherine Hall, Montego Bay
Round Hill Hotel, Montego Bay
|Harmony Hall||Tower Isles on Rte. A3
(east of Ocho Rios)
In addition to Jamaican artwork and crafts, you will find work from nearby islands at the Gallery of West Indian Art.
Harmony Hall art gallery also shows and sells Jamaican artwork, and it sponsors several annual art shows. It is one of the island's best locations to find original Jamaican art to purchase and is located near Ocho Rios.
There are many artists whose works are famous both in Jamaica and the international art world. But a few artists are especially important and have become notable figures in Jamaican culture, particularly Edna Manley and Kapo.
Edna Manley was the wife of politician Norman Manley, and mother of former Prime Minister Michael Manley. However, she earned her own acclaim as one of Jamaica's top artists. Born in England to a British father and Jamaican mother, she attended art schools at a young age.
She burst onto the Jamaican art scene with her statue "Negro Aroused," which was a response to the same political and social turmoil that enticed her husband to politics. She later won the Order of Merit in Jamaica for her works. In her later years she also taught, and founded the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts.
Kapo, on the other hand, did not use his real name on his art. He was formerly known as Bishop Mallica Reynolds of the Revivalist church, but he became the most renowned of the island's intuitive artists. He is known for his use of mystical imagery in landscapes.
There are many other Jamaican artists to discover, and a trip to some of the island's galleries and museums can help round out a picture of Jamaica's cultural identity. But with home-spun works of art around the island's every corner, Jamaica's unique artistic style and strong creative spirit is hard to miss.
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