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Stabroek News

Artful debate
published: Sunday | July 29, 2007

Anthea McGibbon, Gleaner Writer

Jonathan Greeland speaks with Jamaica Guild of Artists president Sharon Fox-Mould. - Peta-Gaye Clachar/Staff Photographer

THE TRAIL of artists wound down to the Gallery Barrington last week Thursday. (This time artists, representatives of galleries and marketing personnel met to discuss topical issues on the local art scene).

In a colourful atmosphere of patriotism, representatives from the Jamaica Guild of Artists, the National Gallery, individual artists and art enthusiasts, including Lennox Coke and Marjorie Robinson, community relations and promotions manager at Air Jamaica, shared their outlook on Jamaican art life.

High on their list of concerns is the lack of connection between older and younger artists. Both generations of artists feel that they are not being placed in proper perspective in the progress and education of Jamaican art, especially on the international scene. There is also scant regard, they feel, to established artists such as Gene Pearson, Kofi Kayiga, Albert Huie, David Pottinger, Barrington Watson, Alexander Cooper, to name a few. Trailblazers such as Gloria Escoffery, Whitney Miller, Cora Hamilton, Vernon Chung, Anna Hendriks, Cleve Morgan are among the list of artists often neglected, shares Alexander Cooper.

All the way from New York, art administrator Coral Barnett also voiced concerns that artists who have created an international niche for Jamaican artists abroad have also been overlooked. Among them are Henry Eccleston, Desmond McFarlane, Lloyd Van-Pitterson (master painter and supreme master Printmaker, now deceased) and the late Vernal Reuben (painter and supreme master wood cut printmaker), to name a few.

It is of concern that the charted exposure given by the National Gallery, for example, is donewith bias.

In response, the National Gallery's executive director, Dr. Jonathan Greenland, outlined the schedule of events over the past two years. He explained that at most events, established artists have been invited to show their works. On the other hand, a number of artists and members of the general public told The Sunday Gleaner that this level of exposure is far beyond expectations no official survey to ascertain exact figures has been done, a number of persons living here and abroad are disgruntled with the method of choosing works for display, and the channels of exposure. Additionally, there is some consensus that Jamaican artists collectively have somewhat been cheated.

The claims that the standards set by the National Gallery have not been met by these artists as the reasons for a lack of promotion for their works have too been rejected. Questions arise as to whose standard is being promoted and, additionally, how many forms, techniques, styles and generations are being represented. This especially, as only a handful of artists are constantly being chosen to represent the over 500 artists living on the island alone.

However, gallery efforts, such as biennials criticised by some, are appreciated as a welcomed thrust in creating a balanced perspective. The artists all agreed that better packaging of the works and information on the artists, especially those who have chartered the course of Jamaican art, should be done. For some, the National Gallery should go beyond offering mere tours or workshops held at the downtown space, but should offer interactive workshops for teachers within schools.

The lack of sufficient funds and staff shortage was highlighted, but understood, as there is no separate fund-raising department for the gallery.

President of the Jamaica Guild of Artists, Sharon Fox-Mould, addressing the threatening gap and lack of perspective placed on artists in general, said that attempts were made to address this through participation in international and regional exhibitions. She also cited the newly forged relationship between the Guild and the National Gallery as a step towards addressing suggested wrongs.

Poor promotion of artists was also ascribed to poor marketing, lack of business sense among artists, especially given the added challenge of the wide range of intellect present. The guild addresses this by hosting workshops geared at teaching the artists, especially newly graduated students and emerging artists, on how to package themselves as a product.

Sadly, there is no such course at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, and the University of Technology entrepreneurial programme was cited as a likely model to adopt. However, the guild itself has no fund-raising department critical to earning funds to promoting oneself or any such entity.

A number of artists suggested that a separate marketing company be established to independently market and promote Jamaican artists. Reference was made to the long-sought-after art policy which is being looked at by the Government. Issues such as tax regulations, especially at the airport, import and export policies on art work, are to be addressed.

While there can hardly be any directive on the pricing of art work, guidelines are being offered by the National Gallery, and it is hoped will further be dealt with under the proposed policy.

The growing investment in other artists from other cultures by Jamaicans and foreign investors alike also sparked concerns. For example, there is high concern on the deregulation of investment in Haitian, Spanish, Cuban, American and English artists along the north coast, above Jamaican art.

Added to that, the tendering and selection process of soliciting works for contracts and display of art, especially in public areas, came under harsh criticism. One primary example is the recent invitation for artists to tender for a contract to build a mobile sculpture at the airport.

According to some artists, the space would have been better utilised if shared by a number of Jamaicanartists. On the other hand, some artists cry shame as they felt disrespected in the tendering procedure, hinting that there is no known Jamaican artist who has ever before built a mobile sculpture of the size proposed. This has been interpreted as step to again justify not investing in Jamaican artists.

Other issues raised included the fact that Jamaica has not followed suit in exempting artists of a certain reputation and experience from taxes, like other countries, such as in the East, and the lack of attention by the Government, beyond ongoing recognition of a selected few artists.

Anthea McGibbon, a graduate of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, has over 10 years experience in the fields of journalism and the arts. Contact her at or

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