National Gallery: Under Pressure
Kingston Biennial opens today
Shawna-Lee Tai

The National Gallery of Jamaica opens its doors to the Kingston Biennial, a celebration of Jamaican art and artists under the theme ‘Pressure’.

Up to Saturday, the team from the gallery was still feverishly working to put the last minute touches on the exhibtion which features the work of 24 artistes who are either based locally or have been drawn from the Diaspora.

Chief curator at the National Gallery of Jamaica and co-curator for this exhibition O’Neil Lawrence told the Jamaica Observer that everything is set for the exhibtion which will run for the rest of this year.

“We are just putting finishing touches on things here at the gallery as we prepare to open our doors to the public. When patrons come in they are going to see an exhibition which is very different from what is normally displayed here. There are plenty of sculptures, paintings, and audiovisual expressions of the challenging times we have all been experiencing. And as they walk through they should get a full understanding of how the works of art all closely aligned to the theme Pressure.”

Lawrence was keen to note the pressures faced by the gallery itself in mounting this biennial which had to be rescheduled on numerous occassions due to the pandemic.

Soldiers from the Jamaica Defence Force had to be brought in to provide manpower to install a work by noted Jamaican artist Laura Facey as part of the Kingston Biennial which will run at the National Gallery of Jamaica in downtown Kingston until the end of the year. (Photo: Shawna-Lee Tai)

“The major problem we faced was getting the pieces into the island from overseas. This had nothing to do with customs in itself, but just took a lot of coordination in terms of shipping and logistics to get the works here. So that made it a little more challenging than previous years. But we managed to get it all done... two of the pieces just made it as they arrived yesterday [Friday], just in time,” Lawrence shared.

The Jamaican artists whose work will be on display are Greg Bailey, Camille Chedda, Katrina Coombs, Ricardo Edwards, Laura Facey, Monique Gilpin, Christopher Irons, Marlon James, Phillip Thomas, Matthew McCarthy, Omari Ra, and Oneika Russell.

The Jamaican artists who currently reside outside Jamaica and have been invited are Robin Clare, Australia; Roberta Stoddart and Jasmine Thomas-Girvan from Trinidad and Tobago; Kaleb D’Aguilar and Hurvin Anderson from the United Kingdom; and Simon Benjamin, Alicia Brown, Nadine Hall, Satch Hoyt, Leasho Johnson, Arthur Simms, and Nari Ward from the United States.

This biennial is different from those changed in the past in a number of areas, which includes the name change to Kingston Biennial. The exhibition was formerly known as the National Biennial and the Jamaica Biennial. Another change is that there will not be a juried section for the exhibition.

Chief curator at the National Gallery of Jamaica and member of the curatorial team for Kingston Biennial O’Neil Lawrence.

“Over the years we have sought to upgrade the Biennial model. With any dramatic change there is always a level of trepidation, but this is something we have been contemplating for some time. With the designation of Kingston as creative city of music we wanted to showcase that other areas of the arts, both performing arts and indeed visual arts, is part of the nexus of creativitiy known as Kingston. And when you look at the other Biennials globally, they have been named after the host cities. This is also the first that a Biennial here in Jamaica is being mounted under a theme, so that makes it interesting to see how our artists respond to this and how it is viewed by the public,” said Lawrence.

The National Gallery is keen to point out that the Kingston Biennial is not only being staged to showcase works of art but also to tap into the socio-cultural murmurings of the time.

The National Gallery of Jamaica
Richard Johnson

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