The violence of the past week should not come as surprise to any here in Jamaica. It is a situation that we might choose not to acknowledge even though it has been staring us in the face and clearly escalating for decades. It is instructive that many of our contemporary artists, especially those featured in the current National Gallery of Jamaica exhibition Young Talent have mirrored these societal concerns in their work.

Jamaica's widening gap between rich and poor and our historical reliance on an underground economy related to drugs has created tensions and led to violence of which artists are all too aware.


Young Talent V is a high energy exhibition featuring 14 of Jamaica's most promising artists. It's the latest in a series of exhibitions presented irregularly at the National Gallery of Jamaica over the past 25 years. I took part in the first Young Talent 1 back in 1985 and I have viewed the mixed fortunes of each show and our younger artists as they haltingly challenged past presentations and tried to relate modernist approaches to local subject matter. In 1985, we felt ourselves ambitious to be working on large scale canvases that were displayed in diptych and triptych formats in a manner we considered innovative and professional. But that show for all its promise  flagged a disconnect between art, idealism and Jamaica's political realities: a tension that would shadow contemporary art practice even as it tried to straddle local and global issues. Now each artist is afforded generous gallery space as they work through their ideas in multimedia including design, installation, video, fashion and photography. This time around, Young Talent V offers stunning, sophisticated and superlative work that addresses contemporary issues related to history and identity, gender and sexuality, violence and social issues in ways that harness contemporary vernaculars. Its artists and curators deserve high praise for mounting a show that after a hiatus as a result of internal squabbling, commercialism and funding difficulties seems set to put Jamaican art back on the international art map. This is a must see show including artists Marvin Bartley, Keisha Castello, Stephen Clarke, Michael Elliot, Christopher Harris, Marlon James, Leasho Johnson, Meghan McKain, Oliver Myrie, Ebony G. Patterson, Oneika Russell, Sand, Caroline 'bops' Sardine and Phillip Thomas 

It's no surprise that a handful of these artists are already gaining attention abroad, Phillip Thomas's dramatically staged Old World paintings such as Carousel (2009), Oneika Russell's poignant videos that collage historical and contemporary themes like Drift (2010), Carolyn 'bops' Sardines cluttered boxes have all enjoyed success elsewhere. And, undoubtedly the star in this regard is Ebony G. Patterson whose gilt edged multimedia works have prestige gallery representation in the U.S. The expansive display of Ebony's powerful Gully Godz portraits and her remixed cultural object of a gutted and 'blinged out' Fiat motor car creates a buzz that is rare in local exhibitions today. The stunning reality and beauty of these works tells us that finally our artists are bringing the outside in, and turning us inside out. View Gallery.

The Edna Manley Foundation's valient attempt to raise funds for Haiti by hosting an auction is instructive. The dismal sums raised teach us that despite best efforts the economic recession is taking its toll on the Jamaican art market. The catalogue listed 113 works by some 70 artists ranging from Jamaica's early pioneer painters such as John Dunkley, Carl Abrahams and Edna Manley to contemporary talent such as Marissa Holland and Michael Chambers. There was also a handful of Haitian works including one by the important artist Jeane Claude Severe. As usual, the National Gallery staff rallied to present works in a highly professional manner, displaying them ahead of time, and auctioneer William Tavares Finson handled the bidding. But even as the first round of paintings were passed up at relatively low reserve prices it was clear that Jamaican collectors have slowed their pace of buying as they fight to cope with the economic downturn. Almost half the works were withdrawn because they failed to raise enough interest to meet reserve prices, and those that did sell barely made their estimated values. The thrilling competitive bidding of past years never materialized suggesting that the days of big spending and bullish collection building are over.

Repossession an exhibition of paintings by Clinton Hutton now showing at the the Philip Sherlock Creative Arts Centre, Mona campus demonstrates that issues related to race and blackness have still not been laid to rest in Jamaica. His are relatively small gems painted in hot colours filled with abstract forms and African symbolism that bring to mind the work of other Caribbean masters such as Leroy Clarke, Aubrey Williams, Frank Bowling and Philip Moore. Yet, for all their vibrancy, these images pay homage to Jamaican and African ancestors who are restless and unrelenting, conveying a narrative about the journey of black people in the past 500 years since slavery that is haunted with memories of the past and that yearns for a more deeply rooted existence within an African cosmology. As artist Leroy Clarke observed in his opening address, they represent a house in trouble and artists like Hutton have a moral responsibility to re-chart the ruins...and reclaim our true identities.

The exhibition will resonate most with viewers of an earlier generation whose sensibilities are rooted in the philosophies of Black Power, Rastafari and race consciousness.

Kingston's Holy Trinity Cathedral downtown is undergoing a transformation that is bringing life back to its original mosaic artwork trapped for years under layers of grey paint and guilt. The revelation of its vibrant colours is also having a miraculous effect on the surrounding community's young people employed to excavate and repaint its intricately patterned walls. It is as if they are bringing to light a part of their history and a renewed understanding of their Caribbean identities.

This summer, in addition to teaching my Caribbean Dialogs course, I am co-teaching a four week SCE summer session with Prof. Cheryl Finley. The course is called the Black Arts Movement and it examines the art, music, literature and film of African Americans during the 1960’s. The Black Arts Movement was an explosive cultural flourishing that emerged in the wake of African liberation and decolonization movements abroad and Civil Rights and Black Power movements in the USA and the African Diaspora. Watch the Video.
During Kingston On The Edge, Caribbean Dialogs joined members of 'red rubberband' to help paint a wall near Kingston's Heroe's Circle.
Last week saw the launch of Kingston On The Edge (KOTE), an arts festival where the capital's artists take over the city. For the third year running, activities have been planned across the city in a programme with exhibitions, musical events, theatre and dance performaces and social community projects, and film, that has kept followers enthralled.
This year, Jamaica hosted the Caribbean Studies Association's 34th Annual Conference held at the Hilton hotel in Kiingston recently. Even though I am not formally a member, I couldn't miss the opportunity of a week of lectures by some the region's best scholars.
Last week, I examined final year painting displays at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. Without breaching confidentiality, I can say that it was a mixed bag offering images and installations that speak of the social and personal issues that artists are grappling with today.