Click here to print page

Redemption for Laura

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

Monday, August 11, 2014

OUTSIDE the arts community and an intimate circle, not many Jamaicans knew Laura Facey-Cooper before July 31, 2003.

That was the day Redemption Song -- her bronze monument marking the 165th anniversary of the emancipation of slavery -- was unveiled at Emancipation Park in New Kingston.

Just over 11 years to the day, Facey-Cooper has been recognised by the government of Jamaica with an Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander (CD) for her contribution to the country's arts.

"I was completely shocked, You could have knocked me over with a feather. But I'm absolutely thrilled," she told the Jamaica Observer.

Redemption Song was ridiculed and hailed. Criticism ranged from the exaggerated size of the male statue's member, to whether Facey-Cooper, a white Jamaican, could identify with the plight of enslaved Africans.

In an interview with the Jamaica Observer in August 2003, she addressed some of those remarks.

"I do feel a little hurt, a little sad especially by some of the comments from my fellow artists but everyone is entitled to their opinion," she said.

Her follow-up project, the instalment Their Spirits Gone Before Them, was inspired by Redemption Song. It is a 16-foot canoe with 1,357 Redemption Song miniatures.

It has been on display at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, England, since January. The piece was officially launched in 2006 during her exhibition at the Institute of Jamaica in Kingston.

Facey-Cooper admits she has benefited from the controversy that accompanied her Emancipation Park statue.

"Everytime it comes up I get a chance to explain the concept behind Redemption Song and that's a good thing," she said.

A graduate of the Jamaica School of Art, Kingston-born Facey-Cooper pursued her craft on a small scale while raising a family in rural St Ann.

She staged her first exhibition in 1985 at the Mutual Life Gallery. However, it was not until the late 1990s that art became a serious venture.

Facey-Cooper's breakthrough projects were 1999's Earth to Earth (made of steel, concrete and marble chips) which stands at the University of Technology, and Christ Ascending, a mahogany carving at the St Andrew Parish Church.

She was commissioned by the government to do Redemption Song from a field of 16 artists.

While they were outstanding artists, the controversy surrounding Edna Manley's Paul Bogle and Christopher Gonzalez' Marley statues, helped define their legacy.

Laura Facey-Cooper is not concerned Redemption Song may have similar impact on her work.

"I got over all that right away. I'm an artist and art is supposed to provoke argument," she said.