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The Veerle Poupeye I know

Published:Saturday | August 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM


I write in response to a letter published in The Gleaner on July 19 titled 'Crisis, intrigue embroil National Gallery of Jamaica'. In this letter, the unnamed 'Concerned Visitor' locates resignations at the National Gallery to "differences with the current executive director, Dr Veerle Poupeye, Belgian by birth and ... a hurriedly naturalised Jamaican".

Given the ways in which Dr Poupeye has been characterised, I figured that I, a writer and visual artist born on the island of Jamaica, would write about the Veerle Poupeye I know.

Several years ago, as a graduate student, I happened upon a course in Caribbean art that was being taught by Edward J. Sullivan at New York University. It was in Sullivan's class that I was introduced to the work of Dr Veerle Poupeye.

In that class, I took particular interest in the work of a group of self-taught artists, the 'intuitives', in local parlance, and I reached out to Veerle Poupeye about interviewing the artists, and she was enthusiastic about the idea. Veerle Poupeye ended up providing a recommendation for a grant that I was applying for, and, because of her, I have several hours of footage on, among others, Leonard Daley, Everald Brown, Allan 'Zion' Johnson, Evadney Cruikshank, and Deloris Anglin.

I thank Veerle Poupeye for all the assistance she provided that led to my having documentary footage on a group of artists, some on whom, to my knowledge, no other documentary video footage exists.

My introduction to Veerle Poupeye was the beginning of what has subsequently blossomed into a very meaningful relationship. I remember one day, I slowly and hesitantly confided to Ms Poupeye that I believed myself to be a visual artist. Ms Poupeye looked at me in all seriousness and said, "You should go for it, Jacqueline. You should try and achieve your goals as a visual artist." As such, I was especially delighted when I had work juried into the most recent Biennial at the National Gallery of Jamaica.

I have never known anyone to champion Jamaican art and Jamaican artists as tirelessly as Veerle Poupeye does.

Consequently, I have watched with growing alarm and dismay as her name has been maligned, and someone of great integrity and generosity is consistently caricatured in, among other places, The Gleaner.

The 'Concerned Visitor' of the July 19 letter is right to point out the lack of financial and other support to the National Gallery of Jamaica. And I, too, wonder about the alignment of 'youth' and 'culture' under a single government portfolio. However, there is more than enough for Jamaicans of all shades, stripes and kinds to discuss and critique and try to understand and work against and through and towards in Jamaican art and visual art culture, without resorting to name-calling and character assassination.

It is time we engage a more productive and constructive discussion, and there is no better place to start than The Gleaner.


Master Teacher - Liberal


New York University, USA