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World a Reggae Exhibition: Exploring Reggae's Visual Vibrations

Roots of Reggae copped top prize in the Reggae Poster Competition

Music and visual art have long been kissing cousins, often sewing seeds of inspiration for each other. On Sunday morning, September 30, 2012, the National Gallery of Jamaica opened the exhibition World-A-Reggae, featuring the 100 best entries from the first International Reggae Poster Contest. The exhibition highlights both the cross-fertilization of music and art as well as the global reach of Reggae Music.

The posters celebrate diverse aspects of the music, touching on iconic persona such as Lee Scratch Perry, Jimmy Cliff, Burning Spear, and Bob Marley as well as various genres of Jamaican popular music. The posters also highlight the diversity of themes and ideas that are expressed in and by Reggae, Ska, Rocksteady and Dancehall. If nothing else, it hinted at the rich possibilities for a Reggae Hall of Fame as well as the Jamaica Music Museum, which is currently temporarily housed on Water Lane.

Alon Braier discusses his first place poster 'Roots of Dub' to singer Nicolas 'Conkarah' MurrayThe competition, conceptualized by Jamaican graphic artist Michael Thompson and co-founded by graphic designer Maria Papaefstathiou (Greece), was launched December 27, 2011 with an April 2012 deadline. A total of 1142 entries by 768 designers hailing from 80 countries were received, declaring that its global intentions were met. The competition was launched under the theme “Towards a Reggae Hall of Fame: Celebrating Great Jamaican Music”.

Yet while the creation of a Reggae Hall of Fame is a long-term goal of the founders, it is one of Reggae’s most iconic institutions, The Alpha Boys School, which will reap the immediate reward.  The posters from the competition, along with others specially designed for and donated to the cause, will be auctioned on eBay and the proceeds will go to the school. A select number of posters were also available for sale at the National Gallery.

Indeed, several of the posters in the exhibition were actually created in tribute to The Alpha Boys School. “I’m pretty overwhelmed,” said Sister Susan Frazer, the school’s Administrator, with a laugh. “I’m usually underwhelmed but today I'm overwhelmed.”Taj Francis earned fifth place in the Reggae Poster Competition

A map highlighting the different countries from which the entries originated is also included in the exhibition. “It really shows in a very graphic and visual way the global reach of Jamaican music,” said Veerle Poupeye, Executive Director of the NGJ. “We thought that this was the best possible compliment that could be paid to Jamaica on the occasion of Jamaica 50,” she said.

Professor Carolyn Cooper, the morning’s guest speaker, made a presentation that seemed to have been built on the re-mix strategy of the dancehall selector. She began with a roll-call acknowledging the various participants in the project. This segment, pulling on Ini Kamozi’s ‘World a Reggae’ from which the competition drew its name, was delivered in Jamaican Creole, which was clearly making its own statement. From there she segued into her main speech which included a remixing of her Ooman Tongue Blog.

“This is a moment of dub consciousness and there can be no retreat, no surrender,” Prof. Cooper said. “Dub is a subversive aesthetic of undermining,” she said. Prof. Cooper argued that the musical form extended beyond music and was relevant to all forms of creativity. Drawing on the words of dub-poet Oku Onuaro she said, “It’s dubbing out the isms and schims and to dub consciousness into people’s heads.”

(l-r) Michael Thompson and Maria Papaefstathiou founders of competition with Alon BraierIndeed, according to Michael Thompson the aim is to bring about much needed change that will result in Jamaica claiming a greater stake in its patrimony, as epitomized by the creation of a Reggae Hall of Fame.

“We need artists to start capturing our icons,” said Thompson. He noted that while globally there is an exploration of Reggae influenced art it has not been extensively or consistently explored locally. “We can start a new kind of movement,” Thompson said.

The limitation of Jamaica’s exploration of Reggae art was also highlighted by the exhibition wherein first, second and third place all went to non-Jamaican artists. First place was copped by a young Israeli illustrator, Alon Braier. Second and third places went to Zafer Lehimler (Turkey) and Rosario Nocera (Italy). Young illustrator and graphic designer Taj Francis received fifth place for his tribute to ‘the upsetter’ Lee Scratch Perry, becoming the highest placed Jamaican in the competition. Francis revealed that he had not expected to win and was sufficiently wowed by copping fifth place.

“We all need to be the ambassadors to spread the word around that Reggae needs its own home now,” said Papaefstathiou. With the rich fare proffered by the exhibition, it is glaringly evident that there is a world-a-reggae, and indeed, it deserves a home in keeping with its rich history and international reach.