Friday, January 26, 2007

Travelling Exhibitions and National Art:

At present there seems to be a shortage of travelling exhibitions in Jamaica. For reasons perhaps such as budget restrictions and shortage of the kind of space required before being allowed to host one of these exhibitions. This does something however: it keeps the gallery circuit and the art community closed. The National Gallery with its Biennial and Curator's Eye seeks to invite international curator's and artists to exhibit alongside local artists but the context seems to be innately about Jamaica and its cultural output, from the diaspora or not. Somehow leading to a kind of nationalism in art. It is true that this is one of the main roles of national art museums and galleries but what of privately run galleries?

On the other hand, if you think about the UK and its Young British Artists promotional strategies, the U.S. and its National Endowment for the Arts and Canada and its National Film Board, it seems that the national voice in art is a common policy or strategy. How does this sit with the idea of crossing boundaries and merging of cultures that is popular with theorists today. How can the Jamaican art community find a middle ground or is it a matter of government policy?

There is also the issue that I am even referring to art produced by persons culturally, geographically or historically associated with Jamaica as 'Jamaican' art. Is that valid to even search for the 'Jamaican' element in the equation?



  1. I think that the first responsibility of of any National Gallery is to meet the needs of its own audiences, but I also think international outreach, especially for countries like Jamaica is vital. Even so, artists who are hungry for exposure abroad will naturally take their own initiatives, in the same way that any other Jamaican professionals might seek opportunities elsewhere. Why do you need a national gallery to define the limits of that exposure especially now that we have the web?

    Yes, there is a larger conversation taking place in the diaspora and I am hoping to support that, so if you are interested visit and see what other artists are thinking about these issues and how they can define themselves.

  2. I find that this is often what is expected of artists working in Jamaica. Use your resources and make your own way. This is always going to be a requirement for any artist actively seeking international visibility. Considering however, that Jamaica has no arts council, international residency programmes, creative grant awards, arts research facilities etc. aren't we starting artists off at a disadvantage in this sense?

  3. I have so much that I would like to say…. But where to start. As an artist, where I have been active on an interantional scene both in Europe and in Africa…. I have this to say. Finding alternatives ways to the way things have been done and continue to be done is a way to gain control over how what ways art can redefine the society ideas of how art should be seen and how one should interact with it. Defining your own concepts should be a great deal of how the practice is preformed…There a too many limitations and boundaries written on how and where your work should go, and these boundaries are only useful if you redefine their basis. Of course, sitting here with my two young kids limits my mobility and defines my spatial capacities and boundaries in a day, however this boundaries can sometimes open up my possiblities.

    In the same manner, I look at Jamaica. I think though one of the hardest things artist have to work with in Jamaica is the art is also connected to class. Art is not an open dialogue or is it? Those who support the arts are well endowed and thus can influence a great deal on who gets supported economically in this sphere and thus determine what art is getting produced. Or is this irrelevant? This is a normal discord in many countries including the U.S. yes there is public funding but it is not the same if you look at the support received in Scandinavia countries from th gov. etc…The social and democratic process established in these countries full with flaws does support a great deal more public works and experimentsal art. If you look at the private dealers and buyeres they too tend to follow traditonal buying practice of traditional art forms etc… so there is not too much a difference in this attitude I would say. Thus public funding becomes essential if you are looking twards innovative ways of producing.

    If you think of computer generated art, video, cross- over mediums or other experiments, it does not seem as if there is much done for generating this type of art in Jamaica because these arts are not being bought by the general art donor scene and thus, it it is very difficult to make these types of works when there is no general support for these art forms.
    I heard one art collector say they prefer buying works from the artist themselves so that they saved the cost of the gallery. Consequently, they never visited art shows because they were concerend with costs and not the experience in itself. So are shows in Ja whether they are confined to the limited options available for artist’s output the most interesting and beneficial for the artists themselves. Are the people running the few sought after spots competent in there jobs or do they have too much influence on determining what should be seen by the public, and/or are they limited by their own concerns of profit and sale?
    There needs to vision to be able to create alternatives. So what are your visions and what would you like to see happening on your local scene?

  4. This is true, I was inspired to start this blog partly because I saw what artists like Mario Lewis were doing in Trinidad with
    Taking matters in their own hands. These activities which spring up from the ground are needed more in Jamaica. I often wonder how this is possible in Jamaica however when the artistic community is a bit disjointed. An example is the old tension between the Artists Guild v.s. mainstream avant-garde artists seems to be an issue in the air with not much resolve.

    To go back to the comment about the question of using the web as a substitute for the national gallery is sticky. The web provides democracy and visibility to pocket communities that are not necessarily the gallery-going audience, while a national gallery provides status and selection of what is supposed to be the best examples of art being made in that country. This is the gallery system that artist work with internationally. One cannot replace the other as they do different jobs.

  5. I agree with "pea" that the NGJ's primary obligations are towards local audiences but that it needs to play some role in the international promotion of Jamaican art. The problem is to determine exactly what that means -- many artists in Jamaica seem to think that the NGJ has to promote their work commercially, which is obviously outside of its scope of work. If there is a need for such services at govt level, those would be better provided by JAMPRO, for instance. Cuba provides such services, inevitably so in a centrally controlled economy, but there are models there that could be adapated for local use.

    That being said, the NGJ has always facilitated traveling exhibitions of Jamaican art (or the inclusion of Jamaican art in other overseas exhibitions) but has, because of obvious budgetary restrictions, rarely been able to initiate such. The SITES exhibition in 1983-85 may be the only example where the Gallery was able to play such a role and that was mainly because its former administrator Vera Hyatt had just joined the Smithsonian staff. While there was a great demand in the 1990s, there has been less interest in exhibitions of Jamaican/Caribbean art in recent years on the part of overseas interests -- the Western art world is very fickle that way. That may, however, again be changing: Brooklyn Museum is working on a Caribbean art exhibition but most stakeholders in Jamaica have not (yet) been involved or informed. MOMA has also dedicated a significant budget to the expansion of its Latin American and Caribbean art collection but they seem mainly interested in Hispanic Caribbean art. Tamara Scott Williams wrote a column about this some weeks ago.

    Naturally, even without the significant funding that is necessary for touring exhibition, the NGJ could be more proactive in negotiating such initiatives. There have been some artists' initiatives but most have been of a highly commercial nature and have involved only the most commercial side of Jamaican art. While some have yielded some commercial success they have yielded little positive critical attention. This is not helping matters for those who produce and want to exhibit other Jamaican art since it causes local art to be typecast in a certain way.

    Finally, there is also the very awkward matter that the international exposure of Jamaican art has become dominated by Jamaican diaspora artists who are much better placed, in terms of resources and access to decision makers, to negatiate their inclusion.

    Obviously, the ball is in the court of locally based artists to change this. To negotiate with the NGJ and to demand info about what is or isn't happening. And to liaise with stakeholders elsewhere for opportunities that may as yet be untapped, such as new funding agencies (CHASE, Prins Claus etc.) Artists are much too passive when it comes to such things. Trinidad has been able to do it and Barbados and the Bahamas are moving rather nicely in that direction so Jamaica must be able to do things like that too. Over too you all, thus.


Thanks for taking the time to leave your thoughts.