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Jamaica Biennial - From the Daring to the Conservative

A woman examines Phillip Thomas' 'Upper St. Andrew Concubine'

If Jamaica’s national biennial can be viewed as the pulse of the Jamaican heart world, then it seems that art on the island is showing wonderful signs of health. The 6th National Biennial staged by the National Gallery of Jamaica, was opened on Sunday, December 9, to a throng of interested viewers and proud artists. The exhibition is varied and engaging, entertaining yet often striking and thought provoking. It features artists pushing the boundaries of form and content as well as those practicing more conventional forms.

“We believe it may be one of the grandest biennials we have ever had,” said Dr. Veerle Poupeye, Executive Director of the NGJ. Poupeye explained that the “grand” nature of the exhibition was not merely the exhibition of 126 works by over 87 artists but also the ambition of many of the works. The exhibition includes several large-scales works, as well as ceramics, animation, photography, painting, sculpture, video and assemblage.

Additionally, the opening was dedicated to art historian and critic Petrine Archer-Straw who passed recently. Poupeye reflected on Archer-Straw’s contributions to the development of the programme of activities at the NGJ as well as her overall impact in the Caribbean artistic landscape.

Peter Reid, Chairman of the NGJ provided the opening remarks. He explained that the NGJ is currently on a path to expand its reach and support, become more inclusive and responsive to local needs.

“We intend for this space to not be intimidating, but to encourage people to come in, not just look in through the glass,” Reid said. He noted that that they would also be redesigning and developing the physical facilities as well as strengthening the NGJ’s its leadership of the Caribbean art world.

The Aaron Matalon award, customarily given out during the opening was delayed, as adjudcating committee met but requested additional time to do a thorough review of the exhibition. The announcement will therefore be made during the next Sunday Opening, on December 30, 2012.

Charles Campbell responds on behalf of the artistsCharles Campbell, whose pieces dominated much of the central gallery, in which the ceremonial element of the exhibition was held, delivered the Artist’s Response. Campbell first entered in the Annual National Exhibition (which became the Biennial in 2002), in 1994.

"To this day it remains one of the major landmarks of my career,” Campbell said. He noted that a young artist finds many more voices advising of the folly of pursuing a career in art than those providing encouragement. He explained that although it wouldn’t guarantee that he would not become a starving artist, receiving the acceptance letter to participate in the national exhibition was a great incentive.

“For many of us it is an opportunity to dig deeper and work harder and challenge ourselves,” Campbell said. He therefore pointed out that the success of the exhibition could not be judged solely on its size, but the extent to which artists were breaking new ground, and on that score, the 2012 National Biennial was a major success. 

We've added a peek at some of the pieces in the exhibition below.


Jasmine Thomas Girvan's Dreaming Backwards - mixed media, bronze, wood


Laura Facey's Radiant Red


Marvin Bartley's photograph Birth of Venus


Omari S. Ra's Space Negotiator: The Blues Kite


Oniel Lawrence's Son of a Champion 4