Modern Art – After Independence
The period around Jamaican Independence in 1962 was accompanied by major social, political and cultural shifts. The emergence of Rastafari, which presented a powerful challenge to the postcolonial status quo, was one major development and revolutionized Jamaican cultural production, particularly in the field of music but also in the visual arts.
A new generation of visual artists emerged, who challenged the tenets of the National School and demanded recognition as self-empowered professional artists. This was spearheaded by the Contemporary Jamaican Artists Association, which was founded by the painters Barrington Watson, Karl Parboosingh, and Eugene Hyde, and one of their key positions was that they wished to be seen as artists first, and as Jamaican artists second. They however also asserted themselves as black artists, as was perhaps most obvious in the work of Osmond Watson, which can be seen in the A.D. Scott Gallery upstairs.
Abstraction was a major innovation, as can be seen in this exhibition in the work of Hyde and Parboosingh and the sculptor Fitz Harrack. Most artists of this generation continued to represent iconic Jamaican subject matter, albeit in ways that moved beyond the more cautious representational choices of the exponents of the Nationalist School – Barrington Watson’s grand academic depictions of Jamaican life stand out in this respect. Corporate and institutional support – the National Gallery was established in 1974 – also aided the professionalization of the Jamaican art world and this, among other things, also allowed artists to produce larger scale works, as is evident in several works included in this part of the exhibition.
The post-Independence art scene was significantly more diverse than the earlier Nationalist School and multiple trends coexisted. Gloria Escoffery’s early paintings documented life in rural Jamaica but her work became increasingly surreal and abstracted, although it continued to reflect on Jamaican history and the artist’s life world. Escoffery was one of several major female artists to emerge during this period, which represented a counterpoint to the rather masculinist outlook of the Contemporary Jamaican Artists Association cohort. Colin Garland, who was born in Australia and moved to Jamaica in 1962, followed a similar trajectory and his exquisitely painted surreal allegories were very influential, in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean. Garland’s In the Beautiful Caribbean (1974) provides an epic panorama of the social and political affairs and natural beauty of the Caribbean during the Cold War.
The post-Independence generation was more deliberately provocative than the Nationalist School and subject that would previously have been taboo, such as gender and sexuality, became more common, as can be seen in the work of Garland and David Boxer. Artists also engaged in sometimes scathing social criticism, such Eugene Hyde’s Good Friday (1978), which commented on the social and political turmoil Jamaica faced in the late 1970s, or Ras Smoke I (1974), which powerfully captures how Rastafari challenged established social norms.