The National Gallery of Jamaica's latest exhibition entitled Edna Manley’s Bogle: A Contest of Icons is a research based exhibition that explores the iconography surrounding the controversial image of Jamaica's national hero Paul Bogle. As with so many of Jamaica's national monuments, the Bogle statue created by sculptor Edna Manley has been the subject of dispute ever since it was first erected in 1965 outside the Morant Bay courthouse in St Thomas. More recently, since the monument's removal for repairs last year, parish residents have protested its return asking instead for an effigy bearing the true likeness of their folk hero Bogle. They claim, that Manley's statue (depicted here by photographer Amador Packer) was modeled from a local man claiming to be Bogle's grandson and they take exception to what they view as its muted and emasculated form. Instead they wish for a statue more closely resembling the photograph of Bogle which according to the NGJ has become the de facto official representation of the hero used on stamps and currency.
As a research exhibition, Edna Manley’s Bogle: A Contest of Icons takes no sides in the controversy but instead provides a fascinating history of the monument, its creation, Manley's iconographic sources, and its much debated reception. Central to the display are questions of artistic license, racial aesthetics and public taste. Yet by focusing its concerns around Manley's project there is an inherent bias towards that artist's imagery and a defense of her approach that favoured the symbolism of a 'bold black man' rather than photographic accuracy. While the monument is out of commission, it remains to be seen how this saga related to image and likeness will be resolved. If the politics of Laura Facey's Redemption Song and Christopher Gonzalez Bob Marley monuments are anything to go by, Edna Manley's Bogle may just remain at the National Gallery of Jamaica where its aesthetic can be best understood and communicated.