Wed | Dec 19, 2018

Laura Facey Cooper | Redemption Song in distress

Published:Sunday | December 10, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Laura Facey Cooper
Redemption Song, 2003, bronze, 14ft high, Emancipation Park, Kingston, Jamaica, sculpted by Laura Facey Cooper.
The Redemption Song statue blackened with paint at Emancipation Park, New Kingston.
Herb McKenley, by Basil Watson, at the National Stadium.

Just over a week ago, the Redemption Song monument in Emancipation Park was painted with marine paint. This was set in motion by an attempt to resolve the issues of calcium build-up on the fingers of the bronze sculptures and on the walls of the surrounding water pool.

This is a terrible mistake, and I feel very distressed.

There is something to be learned for each of us who were involved in this mistake. For me, I should have been more careful about who I recommended for removing calcium. For the National Housing Trust (NHT), they need to learn that the artist should be consulted at every step of the way while caring for the monument. They also need to use methods of tending to the bronzes that are in line with the best practices used in art conservation internationally.

Conservation is a highly specialised field. For instance, a conservator who is qualified and competent in paper conservation would not necessarily be qualified or competent for bronze conservation.

In the past, the NHT has defended Redemption Song through thick and thin. They have recognised their mistake and are prepared to seek the help of a professional bronze conservator - or a recommended patina specialist outside of Jamaica - to restore Redemption Song to its original patina (finish) as soon as possible to minimise any permanent damage. There is no one on the island trained to work on bronze of this scale.




The restoration process requires that the sculptures be sandblasted, a new colour applied through heat and special chemicals, after which, the bronzes are to be waxed. Thereafter, the bronzes will be washed with water and waxed every few months to allow the new patina to age naturally.

While the monument is being restored, there are a few erstwhile challenges that require addressing:

1 It is urgent that an appropriate water-filtration system that deionises the water and stops the build-up of calcium be added. This filtration system needs to be in place before the new patina is applied to Redemption Song.

2 A means of adequately lighting the statue needs to be implemented.

3 A plaque identifying the artwork needs to be installed.

4 Marcus Garvey's words, "none but ourselves can free our mind", as originally intended, should be inscribed on the base or on the adjoining area around the monument.

Additionally, I am of the view that the proportion of the base in relation to the sculptures is wrong and needs to be changed.

Last week, at a site meeting at the monument, there were four people present who are experienced in different forms of conservation. They came from the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, The National Gallery, and the National Museums Jamaica. They all expressed how misunderstood the need for conservation is, how little importance is placed on taking proper care of our monuments, while incorrect, so-called 'conservation' techniques are being used. They unanimously felt that with the unfortunate painting of Redemption Song, there is now an opportunity to educate our country about proper conservation practices.

In the meantime, there has been an outpouring of concern and general disbelief. I thank everyone for their thoughts and assure you that everything is being done - and will be done - to return Redemption Song to its original colour and condition.

- Laura Facey Cooper is sculptor of Redemption Song. Email feedback to