Fri | Dec 1, 2023

Murals of despair and of hope

Published:Friday | January 4, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Jamaican Street Art book cover
Dr Glenville Ashby

Street murals are expressions of post-modern art phenomenonalised in 1970s America by inner-city youth. Expectedly, Jamaican Street Art bears similarities in its existential origins but remains far more thematically homogeneous.

On to a sacred and sometimes ephemeral space, Jamaican Street Art fuses history, politics and philosophy into a singular body of work. It is here that the imagination of artists such as lkem Smith, Gideon Reid, Omar 'Gary' Wright, Ricky Soul, Bones Williams, and unnamed others peers into the collective unconscious, where life and death collide and where yin and yang battle each for pre-eminence. Still, the underbelly of this chaotic frame is rooted in hope.

Tired of fissures, a voluminous dialectic emerges, as Wright's 'Bob's Last Supper,' Gideon Reid's 'Small World Studio,' and Ricky Soul's 'Baptism' depict.

Here, art is resistance, a political statement beyond pure aesthetic appeal. Throughout, there is a sense of cultural reclamation, weeding out fraudulence and reversing the spell of Christian subservience. Murals speak: The Redeemer is black and so are his disciples.

This is a faceless revolution that predates V, the populist anti-establishment iconoclast. In this colourful tapestry, pens, weaponised in protest songs, manifestos and even poetry, give way to brush and paint. Different are the domain and template, but the spirited tenor is the same.

Every mural tells a story that mirrors a political and cultural zeitgeist. With burst of colour, a boldness and daring surface.

With every stroke, there's a uniqueness, a markedly ironic joie de vivre that captures human aspirations. These are ghettos of hope, slums oozing with unrepentant voices and dizzying synergy. Therein are resources untapped. Murals echo love and unity. There are doves with wings spread wide, but that peace is 'interrupted' by memorials - 'Mamma Lorrie - Gone But Not Forgotten - We Love "U" We Miss U - Rest In Peace", a reminder of life's certain judgement. Surely, there is living history in every piece.

Surely, the die is cast. History has oftentimes spoken and continues to speak to a far more powerful resistance against every resistance sparked by the people. It is this dynamic that just cannot be 'muralised'.




Here, art is the handiwork of raw spirit sometimes overcome by a Pollyanna response. This explains the refrain of transcendence, of repatriation, and of redemption. Transformational figures - Garvey, Selassie, Marley and Bolt - are frozen in timelessness. But so, too, are the nondescript. Cryptically, they feed of each other to validate their existence. And therein lies hope, and hopefully individuation. But slim are the chances.

Still, musicians are resurrected never to be erased from the unconscious. And on the walls of Fleet Street, the piercing eyes of the lion transmit all the courage needed for survival.

But caution we must. There are murals that will raise the brow of the discerning. The emblem of the Lion of Judah alongside that of a US president. Knowingly or unknowingly, opposing, dissenting spirits stand, juxtaposed, an unsettling mix that leaves the seasoned griot at wits end, even bemused. Surely, revolutionary fervour must spit out the instinctive introjection of American politicians. Never did they care to pardon Jamaica's brightest star. All of them. The brown-faced, honey-tongued one more so. The disappointment is too bitter, some critics might argue. But sometimes desperate, we grab for straws. Listen to counsel, the truly wise would say. If only they know.

Still, the revolutionary cries of Jamaican Street Art are organic, and so must be the solution. By providence, some will be resurrected from the ashes of despair - others, not so fortunate. Again, there is hope, boldly captured on the book's cover. It is here that a single piece of art lives in the bosom of every dreamer. O, dream, we must.

Jamaican Street Art is prefaced and captioned in French, but the proverbial 'a picture is worth a thousand words' is never more evident.

Jamaican Street Art

Publisher: Dream Editions. Collection Jamaica Insula #12

ISBN: 979-10-9431-06-3


Ratings: Recommended

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