In 1937, the purchase of Edna Manley’s Negro Aroused (1935) as the foundation piece for a modern collection was a significant marker that reflected Jamaican’s new sense of self and pride even before independence. Back then, art and representation were at the forefront of debates about identity and how to envisage and portray a sense of Jamaicanness. Later, as a new nation our culture builders viewed the establishment of a National Gallery as a matter of urgency and the collection’s expansion and relocation to Kingston’s waterfront was greatly applauded.
Now, our politicians seem concerned with other signifiers of nationhood such as Usain Bolt’s Puma training shoes, Bob Marley’s reggae and even Air Jamaica’s dwindling champagne service. At a time when friends of the National Gallery’s Facebook site vastly outweigh visitor numbers to its now contentious downtown location, maybe we need to think again about how we promote and display our national imagery. Do we really need a physical space with light bills and other financial burdens? Or should we just invest in a good scanner, digitize the collection, and curate our exhibitions online?