The breeze from the Kingston waterfront leads to the doorsteps of the National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ), opening to a burst of elements of creative expression of Jamaican artists from across the world.
With the moods ranging from subtle and gentle to those that shock, the 2012 Biennial encapsulates the myriad of statements.
"In the Biennial, there is work that is playful, sombre, respectful, or provocative," said Dr Veerle Poupeye, executive director of NGJ.
"This year," she continued, "we expanded the definition of "Jamaican artist" to include artists of Jamaican parentage – previously, we used (residents of) Jamaica or Jamaican born as the criteria.
"We did so in recognition of the significant role played by the Jamaican diaspora in the development of what can be considered Jamaican culture, which is itself an increasingly diverse and transnational field."
This wide view was reflected as one walked through the gallery, each section transitioning like interchanging hues on an artist's palette, with the shades of lighting adding to the dramatic effects.
The exhibition is diverse to include conventional representational and abstract; the new, sometimes shocking realism we see in a lot of digital photography; magical realism and the likes.
"We have portraits, landscapes, a digital illustration of a hamburger, a short film, various works that reflect on gender, sexuality and the body, works that reflect critically on Jamaican/Caribbean history and on contemporary Jamaican and global society; works that explore texture and surface," Poupeye informed.
"This National Biennial truly celebrates artistic diversity – arguably the entire exhibition can be seen as a portrait of the Jamaican society, in all its dynamic diversity," she added.
New media as a creative expression was one such display of diversity ranging from digital photography, illustration and video interspersed with the conventional media and genres.
"The exhibition embraces technical, conceptual and aesthetic diversity and innovation but also honours the traditional and, throughout, adheres to high standards of quality and integrity," Poupeye said.
The 2012 National Biennial features 126 works by 86 artists, of which 50 were invited, while the other 36 entered through the jury system. The Biennial reflects a healthy diversity of themes, styles and approaches, from the conventional to the experimental and, inevitably, the controversial. It comprises work in a variety of media including: painting, sculpture, collage, illustration, assemblage, installation, ceramics, photography, video, animation, and textiles.
"This year, eight new artists were added to the invited list – Jasmine Thomas-Girvan, Marvin Bartley, Oneika Russell, Michael Elliott, Michael Thompson, Amy Laskin, Marlon James, Storm Saulter and we are very pleased to note that all new invitees are participating in the exhibition," she said.
The Biennial also incorporates small tribute exhibitions to artists who have been awarded Musgrave Medals in the past two years, and thus, the 2011 and 2012 Silver Musgrave Medallists in Art: Omari S. Ra (Silver, 2011); Bryan McFarlane (Silver, 2012), and Ebony G. Patterson (Bronze, 2012).
"At present, the Biennial format is being reviewed in preparation for its conversion in what we hope will be a multi-site, international Kingston Biennial by 2016," Poupeye said.
"O-chyen kharasho (very good)," echoed from a group of Russian visitors to the island touring the gallery – bringing alive the Biennial's flight of the human mind, that's boundless, transcends space and a prism dispersing the Jamaican artistic rainbow.
The 2012 Biennial runs until March 9 at the National Gallery of Jamaica at 12 Ocean Boulevard, Block C, Kingston Mall – entrance on Orange Street. Parking is available at the adjoining UDC parking lot. Gallery hours are: Tuesdays-Thursdays: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Fridays: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and every last Sunday of the month: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed on Sundays, Mondays and Public Holidays. Admission: adults $400, teachers accompanying students and senior citizens $200, school children and students with ID enter free. Guided tours: $3,000 (general) and schools $2,000 (schools). Free admission and tours on last Sundays.
For her work 'Dreaming Backwards' and 'Occupy' (Alchemy of Promise) Jasmine Thomas-Girvan, jeweller and sculptor, was awarded the 2012 Aaron Matalon Award.
Jamaica-born Thomas-Girvan was born 1961. She attended the Parsons School of Design in New York. She has also made a number of public commissions, one of which was presented to the Queen of England. Her work has been exhibited in the United States, Jamaica, Trinidad, Venezuela and Mexico, and she recently had a solo exhibition, titled Resonance, at Hi-Qo Gallery in Kingston. She currently lives and works in Trinidad.
"Over time my work has been expanding in scale and so one of the pieces is a wall piece 10 feet long, titled 'Dreaming Backwards'. This piece brings together many of the recurring themes in my work, referencing our collective history/memory, and is realised in materials which are environmentally relevant [such as a palm frond, bird feathers and man-made found objects]," she informed in a recent interview about her work in the 2012 National Biennial.
" The second piece traverses the defined boundaries of jewellery and sculpture [and] is titled Alchemy of Promise. It is crafted in local mahogany and bronze with wearable [jewellery accents] and jumbie beads. It represents a meditation on the way forward," stated Thomas-Girvan.
Photos by Amitabh Sharma