J'can flies the flag high in Senegal


Friday, February 08, 2019

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SOME years ago, I had the chance to go to Paris as Jamaica's representative at UNESCO's International Programme for the Development of Communications. When I got the chance I would do the tourist thing and see the sights. Before you think I'm showing off with my world travels, hold on and let me tell you a little bit more.

One stop on my sightseeing in the “city of Lights” was to visit the Louvre. This famous museum is filled with works of art from all across the world. Alongside the famous paintings and sculptures by European artists, there are exhibits of masks and carvings and other kinds of art and artefacts from different cultures and tribes all across Africa, particularly the countries which were colonised by France.

Over the years there have been calls for colonising countries, including France, to return such artifacts to their true homes, and these calls have grown stronger over the years. In November 2018 an experts' report, commissioned by France's President Emmanuel Macron, recommended that African treasures taken without permission (or, as we would say, “tief”) be returned to their countries of origin. President Macron has promised to begin the repatriation and recently announced the intention to return some 26 pieces which came from Benin.

In the past, one of the excuses given for not returning the works was a lack of museum space where the repatriated pieces could be properly displayed. Well, that story come to bump with the December 2018 opening of The Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar, Senegal. This museum is intended to be a space where visitors can learn more about Africa and the African Diaspora through the arts. It has on display several artifacts and features contemporary works of art.

Now, hear the next part of the story: A Jamaican artist has work included in the inaugural exhibition African Civilizations: Continuous Creation of Humanity. I am referring to Yrneh Gabon Brown (then known as Henry Brown), who spent his childhood in St James and Hanover before heading to 'Town' to study at the Edna Manley College in the 1980s. For a number of years, he worked in the local television and film industry doing special effects and make-up. I came to know him when he shared his skills with the Little Theatre Movement (LTM) for the Pantomime Anansi Come Back. He made a fantastical bald headpiece which had locks along the hairline, signifying the spider legs that are associated with Anansi.

Gabon Brown left Jamaica to further his education in the United States, earning a Bachelor in Fine Arts at the University of Southern California, and two Master of Fine Arts in Arts and Design and Public Practice from Otis College of Art and Design in California. Yrneh is considered a multi-disciplinary artist, using painting and sculpture along with multimedia to create his expressions of art. He has exhibited his work in the US, Canada and here in Jamaica. Yrneh's mission as an artist is to create work that continues to bring awareness to social issues and advocate for change.

In 2014-15 our young Jamaican produced a body of work titled Visibly Invisible – Albinisim in Tanzania, Jamaica and the USA, which brought attention to people living with albinism. Individuals with albinism often face difficulties and harsh treatment, and in some cases have been killed because of their condition. The interest, which came out of that multimedia work was partially instrumental in having a Bill passed at the United Nations to protect people with Albinism around the world.

Gabon Brown's outstanding body of work led to an invitation to participate in the inaugural exhibition of the Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar, Senegal. He was present at the gala opening, which was presided over by His Excellency Macky Sall, president of the Republic of Senegal, and other dignitaries.

The work of our Jamaican brother included in the exhibition looks at slavery and contemporary race relations in America. In speaking with the Associated Press about the experience of being involved in the historic event, Gabon Brown said: “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child… and here, as a member of Africa's English-speaking Diaspora, I am proud, reaffirmed.”

Yrneh has also been giving back to others through his involvement in art. He has set up art residencies in Los Angeles in order to give marginalised people a chance to express themselves through their art. He has been developing similar programmes in a few African countries in which he has made linkages and is seeking to do the same here in Jamaica.

At home or abroad, our Jamaican brothers and sisters continue to make their mark. Big up, my brother, Yrneh Gabon Brown. Continue to make us proud. You can learn more about him and his work at his website


Barbara Gloudon is a journalist, playwright and commentator. Send comments to the Observer or




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