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High Grade Love for 'Natural Histories'

Colin Garland's 'In the Beautiful Caribbean'

The acoustic sound of the Skygrass band provided the musical sound track for the opening of the Natural Histories exhibition at the National Gallery of Jamaica, Kingston. The opening coincided with the NGJ’s monthly Last Sundays event, slaying the proverbial two birds with a well-chosen artistic stone. Natural Histories provides an intriguing lens through which to explore art, society and nature and the conversations artists have created around them. The exhibition marries the artistic, scientific and academic approaches to nature.

Curated by Nicole Smythe-Johnson and O’Neil Lawrence, Natural Histories is the first in a thematic series of exhibitions dubbed Explorations. The idea for the exhibition was born out of the recently closed Jamaica National Biennial 2012.

Nicole Smythe-Johnson and O'Neil Lawrence"We worked real hard to enhance the museum experience," Smythe-Johnson said in the brief introduction to the exhibition. “We want you to look at the work, think about the work and start conversations."

‘It is a re-thinking of the ways nature and the natural are used in art," Lawrence said.

Several pieces from the Biennial 2012 are included in the Natural Histories Exhibition. These include Jasmine Thomas Girvan’s Dreaming Backwards and Alchemy of Promise, Ebony G. Patterson’s The Observation (of Bush Cockerel) a Fictitious History, Charles Campbell’s Transporter 6 and Shanti Persaud’s Red Mud Essays: Wasteland & the Evolution of Things.

Now placed in conversation with older, and often classic, pieces of Jamaican art such as Colin Garland’s In the Beautiful Caribbean, Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds ‘ Peaceful Quietness’, Everald Brown’s ‘Bush Have Ears’, Harry Johnson’s series of early 20th century portraits and Joseph Bartholomew Kid’s landscapes of 17th century Jamaica, they become a part of a larger discourse about identity and nation and are worth looking at again.

Smythe-Johnson and Lawrence deepened the possible conversations through their inclusion of f taxonomy elements, borrowed from the Natural History Museum (Institute of Jamaica). These artefacts illustrate the use of nature, or rather naming in the craft of creating the country’s (his)story.  They also coincide well with concepts of art as fiction making when viewed alongside the 17th century portraits of Jamaican landscape.

SkygrassThe morning’s musical guest, was well-chosen for encouraging thought. Skygrass, featuring Simon Samuel (on guitar and vocals), Rasheed McCallum (guitar) and Suane Brown (percussions) provided a complementary sound experience against which to explore the art being exhibited.

"We're not used to playing this early but we're gonna try and wake up for you," Samuel said as they began the set. Skygrass delivered ‘Youth Dem’, ‘Fire Around I’, ‘Pretty Nana’, ‘Dusty Shoes’, ‘King of My Destiny’ and ‘On the Way’. The band culminated their performance with the witty tongue in cheek 'High Grade Love', and it deed, it was a fitting note on which to end the opening of the exhibition which deserves some ‘high grade love’.

Natural Histories (Explorations I) opened on Sunday, April 28, and closes June 30, 2013.