Biennial boost

Biennial boost

Kingston Biennial gets nod

Observer senior reporter

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

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Like so many events and activities scheduled for last year, The Kingston Biennial — the national art exposition organised by the National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ) — also fell prey to the global pandemic. However, plans are currently underway for this showcase to be held later this year.

The team at the gallery, which is located in downtown Kingston, is pulling together the pieces for the Kingston Biennial which will be held in December, however, chief curator at the the NGJ, O'Neil Lawrence, told the Jamaica Observer that the big question will be whether it will be a physical event, or, like so many similar events these days, have to resort to a virtual presentation.

“The Kingston Biennial is scheduled for mid-December. It should have been last year, but just like the rest of the world we were in a state of flux. So we have had to recalibrate and decide on the way forward. We have decided that it will take place this year and because we are unsure as to what the situation will be like with COVID come then, so, we might not be able to have the public come in and view. We are committed to putting on a robust virtual presence,” Lawrence said.

The biennial was last held in 2017 and Lawrence shared that the 2021 edition will be configured somewhat differently. Of significance is the decision by the organisers to issue a call for sumbissions for the juried section of the exhibit.

“There will be no call for submissions. The artists were selected by the team of curators led by David Scott and including Wayne Modest, Nicole Smythe Johnson and myself based on the theme 'Pressure'. We have been working with the artists since the end of 2019, but as the pandemic changed not only schedules and circumstances for us and them, it has been an ongoing process,” he stated.

The shift in the dates for Kingston Biennal is just one example of the shift in plans and programmes at the National Gallery of Jamaica due to the global health crisis.

According to Lawrence, it has been a very different scene at the local cultural institution since March 14, 2020 when it was forced to close its physical doors. However, like the rest of the world, the NGJ had to learn the true meaning of the word 'pivot'.

“We are use to having heavy human traffic of students, researchers and just the public in general passing through our doors on a daily basis. The gallery is built around that physical, human interface that just has not been possible for nearly a year. We have had to use that time to refocus and decide how we can serve our publics, given the constraints of the times. The result has been to share the majority of the information we were accustomed to doing in person via virtual means,” he said.

The NGJ has been putting out a lot of this information through its blog and YouTube channel. This includes commonly reseached topics by local high school students preparing for their external examinations in the area of visual arts.

“We've hosted an online workshop for these students called Writivity to share tips on topics such as art criticism and other areas, especially when it comes to preparing their reflective journal. Our outreach event Last Sundays has also migrated online. This has meant that the gallery has become a mini video production house, but this is inevitable if were are to continue serving our audience. This Sunday coming, we feature a performance by female artiste Asabi. This continues our focus on females in reggae which was a central part of Jamaica Jamaica, the last exhibition we had running prior to the pandemic, which only ran for six weeks,” said Lawrence.

Other virtual events organised by the gallery included a teachers webinar and the ongoing series #makeartmondays organised by the National Gallery West located in Montego Bay. This series offers tips and suggestions to parents and other interested individuals on arts and crafts.

Lawrence noted that despite the challenge posed by the current reality, the gallery remains committed to fulfilling its mandate.

“The pivot to a virtual space has been our greatest challenge at this point. It has been a really steep learning curve, but we have had a very generous audience and we are committed to them. The National Gallery of Jamaica is not just a decorative element, but we see what we do here as an active part of Jamaica's cultural landscape and therefore it must been protected.”

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