The Jamaica Biennial, formerly known as the All Jamaica Art Exhibitions, started in 1938 and occurs every two years. Today, its structure has changed from that of a private initiative, allowing it to grow exponentially. The Jamaica Biennial 2017 consists of Jamaican artists as well as select international artists. It will be showcasing over 100 artworks across 2 cities from February 24th – May 28th. With its largest staging to date, exhibitions are at 3 venues: Devon House, National Gallery of Jamaica (Kingston), and National Gallery West (Montego Bay). Two special tributes for the Jamaica Biennial 2017, to senior painter Alexander Cooper and late photographer / multi-media artist Peter Dean Rickards, are among the display.
I have been to maybe a handful of art exhibitions in life. I don’t consider myself any more knowledgeable about art’s intricacies than the average person.
JAMAICA BIENNIAL 2017: Devon House
First up was the exhibition at Devon House, which included a tour of the 19th century mansion. Absorbing the art in the Georgian-inspired building allows a grasp on your interest the entire time. Each room had art pieces alongside the décor, some demanding attention while others subtly complementing the space.
Our guide, dressed in the traditional garb of a quadrille, took us on a trip back in time as she provided history behind the landmark and its owner George Stiebel, Jamaica’s first black millionaire. I loved that you could roam at your own pace and rejoin the tour as you pleased. After signing the guestbook, what better way is there to top off this 45-minute tour than with complementary ice cream?! I’m not the biggest dessert fan, but was excited to finally try the popular original flavour, Devon Stout, at a venue ranked top 10 in the world to enjoy ice cream. Perfect ending!
JAMAICA BIENNIAL 2017: The National Gallery
The National Gallery of Jamaica exhibition was visited with my dad. I wanted to go to this staging with him for 2 reasons:
1) He’s a former art student and an artist, so he could help me learn a bit more.
2) Most of our bonding revolves around football, so this would’ve been a nice change.
As expected, this exhibition was much grander than the one at Devon House compared to the size and variety. You’re immediately greeted by wall art surrounding a 32-foot long painted drum, made of an elaborately-carved tree trunk across the middle of the room.
There was visual as well as audio stimuli, with a variety of media usage. This included paintings, digital prints, sculptures, wood carvings, video and more. With dad as my tutor, I was better able to appreciate some of the art after he shared a few views. He also got me into the habit of reading the title plaques, which sometimes helped to understand an artwork’s perspective.
I was introduced to one of the artist special tribute recipients, Alexander Cooper, through a blown up portrait on the second floor, accompanied by a written biography and corridor of his works. Mr. Cooper was a teacher of my father during art school, and I could tell he was proud of that as he pointed out pieces he remembered during his time there. Besides Mr. Cooper, other focused sections included:
• The second artist special tribute recipient, late photographer Peter Dean Rickards
• Sculptor Edna Manley, and the evolution of her works over the years
• A time travel portal as I call it, showing art from Spanish and British Jamaica centuries ago.
NATIONAL GALLERY OF JAMAICA
Roaming the establishment for 3 hours, we finished admiring all the pieces just as the lighting turned off to signal closure, but we could’ve easily spent more time had it been available. Wish I saw the exhibition in Montego Bay, but at the same time, I’ve already seen more than anticipated so I can’t complain 🙂 Unfortunately, the National Gallery of Jamaica has a stricter photography policy than Devon House did. The fistful of photos captured certainly don’t do the exhibition justice, but you can see and learn a lot more about the pieces and artists at the National Gallery of Jamaica’s website if you wish.
Hope you get to visit the Jamaica Biennial before 2019! If you’ve visited, what’s your favourite piece(s)?