Art unlimited - 2012 Biennial showcases Jamaica's creative acumen
Amitabh Sharma, Contributor
The breeze from the Kingston waterfront leads to the doorsteps of the National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ), opening to a burst of elements of creative expression of Jamaican artists from across the world.
With the moods ranging from subtle and gentle to those that shock, the 2012 Biennial encapsulates the myriad of statements.
"In the Biennial, there is work that is playful, sombre, respectful, or provocative," said Dr Veerle Poupeye, executive director of NGJ.
"This year," she continued, "we expanded the definition of "Jamaican artist" to include artists of Jamaican parentage - previously, we used (residents of) Jamaica or Jamaican born as the criteria.
"We did so in recognition of the significant role played by the Jamaican diaspora in the development of what can be considered Jamaican culture, which is itself an increasingly diverse and transnational field."
This wide view was reflected as one walked through the gallery, each section transitioning like interchanging hues on an artist's palette, with the shades of lighting adding to the dramatic effects.
The exhibition is diverse to include conventional
representational and abstract; the new, sometimes shocking realism we
see in a lot of digital photography; magical realism and the
"We have portraits, landscapes, a digital
illustration of a hamburger, a short film, various works that reflect on
gender, sexuality and the body, works that reflect critically on
Jamaican/Caribbean history and on contemporary Jamaican and global
society; works that explore texture and surface," Poupeye
"This National Biennial truly celebrates
artistic diversity - arguably the entire exhibition can be seen as a
portrait of the Jamaican society, in all its dynamic diversity," she
New media as a creative expression was one such
display of diversity ranging from digital photography, illustration and
video interspersed with the conventional media and
"The exhibition embraces technical, conceptual
and aesthetic diversity and innovation but also honours the traditional
and, throughout, adheres to high standards of quality and integrity,"
The 2012 National Biennial features 126
works by 86 artists, of which 50 were invited, while the other 36
entered through the jury system. The Biennial reflects a healthy
diversity of themes, styles and approaches, from the conventional to the
experimental and, inevitably, the controversial. It comprises work in a
variety of media including: painting, sculpture, collage, illustration,
assemblage, installation, ceramics, photography, video, animation, and
"This year, eight new artists were added to
the invited list - Jasmine Thomas-Girvan, Marvin Bartley, Oneika
Russell, Michael Elliott, Michael Thompson, Amy Laskin, Marlon James,
Storm Saulter and we are very pleased to note that all new invitees are
participating in the exhibition," she said.
Biennial also incorporates small tribute exhibitions to artists who have
been awarded Musgrave Medals in the past two years, and thus, the 2011
and 2012 Silver Musgrave Medallists in Art: Omari S. Ra (Silver, 2011);
Bryan McFarlane (Silver, 2012), and Ebony G. Patterson (Bronze,
"At present, the Biennial format is being
reviewed in preparation for its conversion in what we hope will be a
multi-site, international Kingston Biennial by 2016," Poupeye
"O-chyen kharasho (very good)," echoed from a
group of Russian visitors to the island touring the gallery - bringing
alive the Biennial's flight of the human mind, that's boundless,
transcends space and a prism dispersing the Jamaican artistic
The 2012 Biennial runs until March 9
at the National Gallery of Jamaica at 12 Ocean Boulevard, Block C,
Kingston Mall - entrance on Orange Street. Parking is available at the
adjoining UDC parking lot. Gallery hours are: Tuesdays-Thursdays: 10
a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Fridays: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays: 10 a.m. to 3
p.m. and every last Sunday of the month: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed on
Sundays, Mondays and Public Holidays. Admission: adults $400, teachers
accompanying students and senior citizens $200, school children and
students with ID enter free. Guided tours: $3,000 (general) and schools
$2,000 (schools). Free admission and tours on last
For her work 'Dreaming Backwards' and
'Occupy' (Alchemy of Promise) Jasmine Thomas-Girvan, jeweller and
sculptor, was awarded the 2012 Aaron Matalon
Jamaica-born Thomas-Girvan was born 1961. She
attended the Parsons School of Design in New York. She has also made a
number of public commissions, one of which was presented to the Queen of
England. Her work has been exhibited in the United States, Jamaica,
Trinidad, Venezuela and Mexico, and she recently had a solo exhibition,
titled Resonance, at Hi-Qo Gallery in Kingston. She currently lives and
works in Trinidad.
"Over time my work has been
expanding in scale and so one of the pieces is a wall piece 10 feet
long, titled 'Dreaming Backwards'. This piece brings together many of
the recurring themes in my work, referencing our collective
history/memory, and is realised in materials which are environmentally
relevant [such as a palm frond, bird feathers and man-made found
objects]," she informed in a recent interview about her work in the 2012
" The second piece traverses the
defined boundaries of jewellery and sculpture [and] is titled Alchemy of
Promise. It is crafted in local mahogany and bronze with wearable
[jewellery accents] and jumbie beads. It represents a meditation on the
way forward," stated Thomas-Girvan.
by Amitabh Sharma