The Jamaica Biennial, formerly known as the All Jamaica Art Exhibitions, started in 1938 and occurs every 2 years. Today, its structure has changed from that of a private initiative, allowing it to grow exponentially. The Jamaica Biennial 2017 consisted of Jamaican artists as well as select international artists showcasing over 100 artworks across 2 cities from February 24th – May 28th. With its largest staging to date, exhibitions were staged at 3 venues: Devon House, National Gallery of Jamaica (both of Kingston), and National Gallery West (Montego Bay). 2 special tributes, to senior painter Alexander Cooper and late photographer / multi-media artist Peter Dean Rickards, were among the displays.
P.S. 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 viewer.
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JAMAICA BIENNIAL 2017: Devon House
The exhibition at Devon House included a tour of the 19th century mansion. Absorbing the art in the Georgian-inspired building grasps your interest the entire time. Each room had art pieces alongside the décor, some demanded attention while others subtly complemented 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 with him for 2 reasons:
1) He’s a former art student, so he could provide notable insights.
2) Most of our bonding revolves around football, so this was considered a nice change.
As expected, this exhibition was much grander than the one at Devon House in relation to the size and variety. You were immediately greeted by hung art surrounding a 32ft-long painted drum, made of an elaborately-carved tree trunk across the middle of the room!
With a variety of media usage, there was visual as well as audio stimuli. These included paintings, digital prints, sculptures, wood carvings, video and more. Dad got me into the habit of reading the title plaques, which actually helped to understand artworks’ perspectives at times.
Special Tributes to Jamaican Artists
I was introduced to one of the special tribute recipients, Alexander Cooper, through a blown up portrait on the second floor of the National Gallery, accompanied by a written biography and corridor decorate by 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’s, other focused sections included:
• 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), showcasing art from Spanish and British Jamaica centuries ago.
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. I wish I had seen the exhibition in Montego Bay, but at the same time, I’ve already seen more than anticipated, so couldn’t complain :).
Do you intend to visit the Jamaica Biennial 2019 (if able)?
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