Thu | Aug 22, 2019

For the Reckord | Thrilling couple of years ahead for the National Gallery

Published:Friday | August 9, 2019 | 12:21 AMMichael Reckord/Gleaner Writer
Monique Barnett-Davidson, lead curator of the National Gallery Summer Exhibition 2019, speaking at the opening.
Jaz Elise accompanied by Almando on guitar.
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On a recent, culture-packed day at the National Gallery of Jamaica, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange announced plans to further enhance the institution’s cultural potency.

The gallery should have “a thrilling couple of years ahead,” she predicted. Activities will include the hosting in December of ‘Jamaica Jamaica’, an exhibition on Jamaican music and visual ­culture which opened in France then ­travelled to Sao Paolo, Brazil; the construction of a new entrance; an expanded coffee shop; a larger gift shop and a sculpture garden outside the building in Orange Park.

The minister also spoke of re-energising the city of Kingston “through the refocusing and channelling of the energies of our acclaimed creative sector”. The objective was to “monetise our creativity in order to promote sustainable prosperity among our people”.

The minister was giving the keynote address on July 28 to open the gallery’s inaugural Summer Exhibition. Preceding her speech was nearly an hour of musical entertainment by vocalist Jaz Elise, and guitarist Almando. In the numerous rooms and other spaces around the minister as she spoke were the paintings, drawings, photographs, textiles, video, sculpture, multimedia artwork and several forms of installations that made up the exhibition.

Comprising an invited and a juried section, the exhibition, which closes October 27, displays work by both new and experienced artists. From the 192 artworks produced by 115 artists, three judges and the exhibition designer selected 97 pieces by 68 artists who are based here and overseas. The lead curator was Monique Barnett-Davidson.

ENCOURAGING TRADITION

Addressing the function of art, Minister Grange said that the arts, including the literary and ­performance-based ones, help to document history, encourage ­traditions and refine cultural thought. She stated: “Among the many ways in which we are able to recapture significant moments in our lives, our communities, or our country, is to transfer it into various media of visual art and culture so that we may return to it, from time to time, and relive or revamp the moments as we progress in our lives.”

She challenged the National Gallery to take art to the ordinary Jamaican, saying that though the visual arts “have long been seen as the property of an elite few and to which the masses of the Jamaican people have little or no access, as we seek to build out a better Jamaica, the need to include the mass of the people in this very exciting and spirit-lifting experience of the visual arts becomes paramount.

“This is a challenge I would like to throw out to the board and staff of the National Gallery, even as you have succeeded in ­increasing the numbers of persons who visit the gallery. Let us take the art of the gallery to the people of Jamaica for their consumption and appreciation.”

In closing, she reminded the audience, which included Senator Tom Tavares-Finson and Marigold Harding, chairman and deputy chair of the NG, respectively, that Jamaica was a part of a powerful global creative economy.

One first-time exhibitor in the Summer Exhibition was 75-year-old George Lecky, a mathematics teacher for 28 years and a former principal of Tranquillity All-Age School, Portland. He told me that he turned professional artist only four years ago, and in a nod to his Mathematics background, he calls his thread on burlap pieces ‘Pythagorean Art’.

Elise, a singer-song writer who delights in chatting to her ­audience between songs, started her 50-minute set with For You, her first released song. After a couple of self-esteem-raising songs, including You’re a Superstar, she opened the love segment of her programme with the popular Bob Marley & the Wailers tune Waiting in Vain. With her special guest, Emily Dixon, accompanying her on cello (along with guitarist Almando), she sang I’m Ready for Love. She told me that she would next be performing at the Ambassador Bar, across the street from the American Embassy, on August 12.