Sat | Jan 20, 2018

Gallery hit by insularity, culture wars

Published:Tuesday | August 16, 2016 | 12:00 AM


As a long-time participant in, and observer of, the Jamaican art world, I find it necessary to provide additional facts and considerations to amplify the picture painted by the 'alarmed group' responding to Queen's Counsel Tom Tavares-Finson's statements to the media regarding the National Gallery of Jamaica (NGT). You may regard this as a 'hello' from the other side.

The 'alarmed group' lists a number of exhibitions curated during the last few years under the administration of Executive Director Dr Veerle Poupeye, along with other achievements made under her tenure that, according to them, signal "inclusion, diversity, experimentation, engagement with audiences and the encouragement of dialogue".

However, during this period, the National Gallery was also perceived by many as having transformed this venerable and valuable national institution into an almost exclusive platform for "young and emerging artists".




Despite claims of inclusiveness and diversity, many older Jamaican artists feel shunted aside by the Gallery, and the callous manner in which Dr David Boxer, chief curator of the NGJ since 1974 and architect of most of its successes since then, was dispatched by the current administration of the Gallery has only confirmed the suspicion of many that they are being cast aside in favour of younger artists more focused on an elusive 'international audience'. If the executive director could treat her former friend and mentor with such disrespect, why should they expect anything different themselves?

A national gallery has a wide range of stakeholders and should not be treated as an exclusive laboratory for incubating and grooming young talent whose 'experimental' work is viewed approvingly by the current administration. You rarely see the older cadre of artists visiting the gallery anymore, and many are actively boycotting it. Younger artists whose work isn't seen as fulfilling an 'international contemporary art' mandate also feel left out by the recent policy shift of the gallery.




So while credit is due to the current management of the National Gallery of Jamaica for trying to maintain the high standards previously established by Dr Boxer during his tenure, there is clearly room for improvement of its policies and practices. The gallery's rancorous rupture with Dr Boxer, chief curator Charles Campbell and several other art principals, is evidence of unnecessary collateral damage incurred in the zeal to promote a rather narrow and exclusionary agenda, not the inclusive, diverse one that the supporters of the current administration of the national gallery are claiming.

The Jamaican art world is too small to accommodate unnecessary fractures and divisions. It is surprising that the former gallery board and minister of culture seemed to be looking the other way while the nation's small art community was ravaged by a needlessly disruptive agenda.

The National Gallery of Jamaica does not belong to any one individual or faction. It is high time some balance was restored to its programming and plans for the future. No institution or individual should be above criticism.


Breezy Hill