Kingston on the Edge (KOTE), an urban art festival held every June, will not celebrate its tenth anniversary this year due mainly to dwindling support from corporate Jamaica. The email press release from the organizers of the festival said simply:
“The staging of KOTE is a large undertaking and can be difficult given that it is a 10 day studio and performing art festival held at over 26 venues throughout Kingston with hundreds of artists participating.”
“This year KOTE Milestones would have been our 10th anniversary however unfortunately given a combination of factors and unforeseen circumstances including not least of all the financial strain of the festival, we have been forced to cancel KOTE 2017.”
The cancelling of KOTE is a blow to Kingston’s cultural calendar as it was a showcase for artists, writers, musicians, poets, dancers and others involved in the expressive arts. Typically KOTE events catered to aficionados of alternative music (alternative to Reggae and Dancehall that is), modern dance, poetry, theatre, architecture, pottery and visual art, bringing a wide range of patrons, young and old, out of their closets for this rich cultural immersion.
For example at KOTE 2015, David Marchand, the fantastically eccentric and reclusive visual artist found dead in his Runaway Bay home last week, had his first solo exhibition in 23 years featuring 55 of his art works. Titled “Tsunami Scarecrow: A David Marchand Retrospective” the launch of the exhibition featured opening words by Maxine Walters, a dedicated patron of his work, jazz compositions by Seretse Small and a preview of a documentary on Marchand by Chloe Walters Wallace. Marchand liked to think of himself as “a visual Bob Marley”, but I think Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry offers a better comparison.
Another year the highlight of KOTE was a guided bus trip starting at Wolmer’s Boys’ School, the site of the 1891 World Fair and stopping at different locations in Kingston that once were tourist sites. Conducted by architect Evon Williams, the tour extended from the site of the now defunct Myrtle Bank Hotel downtown to Immaculate Conception Convent in uptown Kingston once better known as the Constant Spring Hotel. To visit its beautiful lobby and environs is to take a step back in time, for the nuns have changed the buildings very little and done a good job of maintaining its serene ambiance.
KOTE also pioneered what has become a regular feature of the National Gallery of Jamaica, its Last Sundays programme, when the Gallery is open to the public for free with performative offerings in addition to the art exhibtions. Hard to believe that sponsors were not forthcoming for such a beautifully curated series of events showcasing Kingston as the creative hub it is.
Trinidad and Tobago, on the other hand, even with a depressed economy due to plummeting oil prices was able to find the resources to continue hosting their excellent little literary showcase, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest. Aside from their title sponsor, the Trinidad and Tobago Gas Company, Bocas has 30 or more other sponsors including One Caribbean Media willing to support and celebrate Caribbean talent.
Jamaica dominated the festival this year, leading people to refer to it as the Jamaican Bocas, which culminated in Kei Miller winning the overall Bocas Award for his consummate novel, Augustown. Also in the running was another Jamaican, Safiya Sinclair, for her book of poetry, Cannibal. Safiya was the Bocas winner for poetry this year and is the latest wunderkid of Jamaican poetry to hit the international circuits, winning several mainstream fellowships and awards.
Another headliner at Bocas Lit Fest this year was Ishion Hutchinson, the Portland prodigy, the shearing of whose locks as a schoolboy inspired Kei Miller’s novel, Augustown. Hutchinson’s many honors include the American National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, a Whiting Writers Award and the Larry Levis Prize from the Academy of American Poets; he is also a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize in poetry. Like Sinclair, Ishion grew up in a Rasta household, she in Montego Bay and he in Port Antonio.
Festivals such as KOTE and Bocas are also about developing a ground for home-grown talent to thrive in…for how much longer can we expect our best and brightest to live in their heads? Safiya Sinclair pinpoints the sense of ‘unbelonging’ quite eloquently:
“Home was not my island, which never belonged to us Jamaicans, though it’s all we’ve known, and home was not my family’s house, which we’ve always rented, all of us acutely aware of the fact that we were living in borrowed space, that we could never truly be ourselves there. Home was not the body. Never the body—grown too tall and gangly too quickly, grown toward womanhood too late. Like a city built for myself, home was a place I carved out in my head, where the words were always the right words, where I could speak in English or patois, could formulate a song or a self. Home for me has always been poetry.”
A run down of exciting new developments in Jamaica’s literary and art worlds.
As a new year hurtles towards us, the worlds of writing and visual art in Jamaica are poised to come into their own once again what with stars like Marlon James and Ebony G. Patterson blazing their way to global attention in 2015. You might say a strong current is buoying Jamaica right now and those equipped to swim with it are bound to soar. Can aquatic creatures soar? are we mashing metaphors here? No doubt…but methinks the situation warrants it.
James’s Booker win with his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings has set off a maelstrom of praise and adulation but also concern from some Caribbean literary critics who maintain the work is needlessly violent. How to represent the internecine violence we live with in a seemly manner is a moot subject that will fuel many a literary conference to come; in the meantime Marlon James has adroitly dismantled the thatch ceiling that seems to veil the work of Caribbean writers from international visibility.
Kei Miller, James’s counterpart in the literary world, known more for his Forward Prize-winning poetry than his prose has just signed a six-figure deal with Knopf for a fictional work. Indeed his manuscript Augustown was the subject of a bidding war between publishing giants Penguin, Random House and Knopf, all offering six-figure deals. Miller’s agent chose Knopf, whose editor also works with Toni Morrison.
This is what I call the Marlon James effect. Doors have been flung open! as Kevin Jones remarked on Facebook. The success of Brief History has made publishers sit up and take notice of a culturally rich region they had somehow managed to overlook all these years.
To give some perspective–not even the much lauded Booker winner Marlon James himself was offered six figures by his publisher, River Head–but that was before the stir that his ambitious novel subsequently created. The bidding on his next novel will likely hit seven figures. Move over 7-Star General LA Lewis!
It must be added that Kei Miller’s Augustown was an excellent manuscript, and any really good writing coming out of the Caribbean in the next year or two is likely to arouse the interest of all major publishers. “Roland need to send out something,” remarked Marlon James colloquially, referring to Roland Watson-Grant, a third Jamaican writer whose brilliant novels have yet to get the attention they deserve.
_Space Jamaica and The Current
Meanwhile over in visual art the thatch ceiling is about to be blown away by a very ambitious project called _Space Jamaica, the brainchild of Sotheby-trained Rachael Barrett, who has recently returned to Jamaica with visions of starting an international museum of contemporary art in Kingston and other points in the region.
Located at premises owned by the Henzell family and run as a cultural space for many years _Space Jamaica will hold two shows a year, one in December timed to take advantage of traffic to Art Basel Miami and the other in June to coincide with Kingston on the Edge, a small but exciting series of activities curated by young Jamaican ‘creatives’ and led by Enola Williams. June 2016 will see _Space Jamaica launching its inaugural exhibition with a solo show of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, curated by Rachael Barrett. Titled I FEEL LIKE a CITIZEN, Barrett “will take a new approach to Basquiat’s oeuvre, examining his life, work and cultural legacy from the perspective of his Caribbean heritage.”
In early December Barrett held a preview of what’s in store for the museum with an ambitious programme of activities, some of which fell through, due to funding and other delays. The highlight was a lunch for diplomats and others held at the Old Railway Station in downtown Kingston. The station is in disuse since the trains stopped running more than a decade ago.
This was followed by the welcome announcement on December 16 by mega-collector Francesca von Habsburg, founder of Thyssen–Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21) that TBA21 would be giving _Space Jamaica a significant US dollar contribution to be matched, she hoped, by local contributions.
In addition TBA21’s ground-breaking (or perhaps ocean-breaking would be a better term) The Current International Research Programme will hold its first ever ‘Convening’ (an inter-disciplinary conference) at _Space Jamaica from March 16-20, 2016. The Current which was launched at COP 21 in Paris instead of Art Basel Miami reflects von Habsburg and her partner Markus Reymann’s shift from pure art (for want of a better expression) to art that engages with environmental problems. According to Reymann the Foundation is interested in knowledge production, not just art production.
Thus The Current, “a three-year exploratory fellowship program taking place in the Pacific, will offer artists, curators, scientists, marine biologists, anthropologists, and other cultural producers a platform to generate interdisciplinary thought and knowledge.”
The curator leading the inaugural voyage is Ute Meta Bauer, founding director of the recently opened Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) in Singapore, who curated the US entry to the Venice Biennale this year; she was also part of the curatorial team of Documenta 11. It will be exciting to see what she comes up with for the Current Convening in March.
As von Habsburg says:
In spite of the unprecedented wealth of scientific information available, global environmental woes are still largely underestimated and poorly communicated. Art can be a powerful weapon if used well, by challenging us to reconsider the way we think, feel, and live instead of just conforming to the rules of the growing art market. After all, the next 10 years are going to be the most important in the next 10,000.
At the dinner in Kingston celebrating the successful unfurling of The Current von Habsburg announced TBA21’s support of _Space Jamaica and explained why she was shifting her attention “to the environment, to climate change, to preserving our oceans”:
They are my priority for a very special reason–mainly because of Jamaica–because i came here as a baby. I learnt to swim here, i learnt to snorkel here, i learnt to dive here. I taught my children–my beautiful daughter Eleonore who just came in today–i taught her to swim here and to snorkel here and to dive here. So I’ve been on these reefs for over 55 years and I’ve seen a colossal difference and I’ve seen what has been happening to the oceans, not just the oceans here, but to oceans all around the world. So for me Portland is a big accent on my attention, and as a result of that I created a foundation called the Alligator Head Foundation, which will be registered shortly, because it takes a while to get things registered in Jamaica as you know. The Foundation is to follow a very important establishment of a fish sanctuary which will be called the East Portland Fish Sanctuary. It is two hectares in size and it’ll be the biggest fish sanctuary in Jamaica. I’m meeting with the Minister tomorrow and I hope to be able to establish the sanctuary by the end of the year, if not the very beginning of next year. And these two things come together, I’ve started to talk about it to many artists and musicians that i know and there’s a whole movement of the creative industries that are backing me up on this programme so much to say about that in the future. But when I got together with Rachel this week to talk about her project _Space that she has here in Kingston–she’s been working with a great architect I’ve known for many years called David Adjaye but in particular this design was done by Vidal Dowding, an architect who I have a lot of time for and a lot of admiration–and I thought this idea of taking over a previous cultural space and reactivating it is something that’s really caught my attention. And the contemporary art scene in Jamaica could do with this incredible boost and I think probably the best way to address it is to actually do that in an independent space. I think the National Gallery of Jamaica is of course very much focused on moving into the contemporary art scene and I understand that, but I thought it was time for Rachael to get some real support so, today I’m announcing a gift to the _Space of US$150,000.
These are exciting developments for the local art scene which has been far too insular for far too long. May local donors match Francesca von Habsburg’s generous injection of resources into local art and science in the way the University of the West Indies has collaborated with TBA21 on founding the Alligator Head Marine Laboratory, seconding Dr. Dane Buddo to oversea (a Freudian slip which i shall leave alone) it. May young Jamaicans finally get a chance to experience the best in art and science without having to leave these shores and may it galvanize the country into leaping forward this coming new year.
A few photos of Stuart Hall along with a 2004 interview done in Jamaica
When I saw Stuart at his home in London on December 14, 2013, I knew he wouldn’t last much longer. He had been ill for years and his health had deteriorated considerably since the previous year when we celebrated his 80th birthday at Rivington Place, the art centre born of his inspiration and hard work. All the same his departure comes as a blow. It’s too early for me to come to terms with this loss, for Stuart has been a close friend and mentor since 1996 when he came to the University of the West Indies to speak at the Rex Nettleford Conference.
For what it’s worth I publish a few photos taken over the years along with a substantive interview I did with Stuart in 2004. Stuart Hall was such an extraordinary thinker that his work ranged over a broad field of interests including visual art which was the one thing we truly bonded over. It was a preoccupation that didn’t get much coverage in other interviews which tend to focus more on his activism, his Marxism, and his political interventions. Here’s a link also to the post I wrote on the John Akomfrah film about him, a must see, which I hope will be shown on Jamaican TV soon.
and one of my treasures–a letter Stuart wrote to the Librarian at Birmingham U so that I could gain access to their inner sanctum:
A view of Second-hand Reading, a show of selected works by South African artist William Kentridge.
The Metropolitan Opera’s collaboration with South African artist William Kentridge, The Nose, was on in one of Kingston’s cinemas today; a small group of us went to see it. It was hard to suspend our disbelief and get into the story of a runaway nose, no matter how exquisite Kentridge’s animations were. I far preferred this show of his work I saw last week in NYC at the Marian Goodman Gallery. Kentridge‘s work was as lyrically compelling as ever although the gallery setting seemed cold and clinical. The photos below should give an idea of the exhibition and the two video clips at the bottom will give you some sense of the power of his animations.
A note on Astro Saulter’s exhibition at Studio 174
Astro, the Morning Star…, a set on Flickr.
Thoroughly enjoyed the opening of Astro’s show at Studio 174 last night…Born with cerebral palsy into the talented Saulter family (brother Storm Saulter is the acclaimed director of the film Better Mus Come and responsible for injecting new life into the filmmaking circuits in Jamaica and the Caribbean), Astro is a poster boy for the cause of creative development and nurturing for everyone no matter the physical challenges they’re saddled with. The artworks he’s produced using a computer and his head to direct digital tools are at once graphically sophisticated and chromatically intense, products of a refreshingly unjaded, ingenuous eye. Spotted at the opening in addition to many other notables was evening star Chris Blackwell; Blackwell Rum lubricated the occasion and the inimitable Nomadzz graced it with their rhymes, chants, curses and drums…
Check out the exhibition which will be up till January 19, Wednesday to Saturday 10:30am-4pm. Studio 174 is at the intersection of Harbour Street and West Street in downtown Kingston, an atmospheric space worth visiting in its own right. For more details and information on Astro’s ‘process’–how he actually makes his art–visit Kate Chappell’s blog here.
An exhibit featuring a selection of the 2012 First International Reggae Poster Contest’s winning posters opens at the National Gallery of Jamaica on Sept 30, 2012 unveiling an ambitious agenda to build a Frank Gehry-designed building on the Kingston Waterfront to showcase Jamaica’s globally renowned music.
Taj Francis, a Jamaican designer, came fifth in the the 2012 First International Reggae Poster Contest with the poster directly above, depicting Lee Scratch Perry.
In my last post i decried the shambolic music museum that has been created in Jamaica to honour its world historical musical tradition. I also mentioned the National Gallery of Jamaica, an almost first world facility created to showcase the visual arts tradition of Jamaica. I could never understand why I rarely got a sense from the art displayed at the Gallery that there was any cross-fertilization between the powerful music scene here and the visual art scene. I also thought it strange that there was no reference to the fact that the Gallery was situated on Orange Street which in the 60s and 70s was known informally as Beat Street because it was the throbbing centre of musical activity in Jamaica. The passage quoted below will give you an idea of what I mean:
Junior Byles & Friends
129 Beat Street
Like Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Beale Street in Memphis, 42nd Street in New York or Music Row in Nashville, Orange Street in Kingston, Jamaica is the prototypical ‘Music Street’. As indicated by its unofficial name, Beat Street, the area around Orange Street in central Kingston had been a centre for sound system activity since the 1950s. By the 1960s Orange Street itself was the subject of numerous songs – the great Prince Buster’s “Shaking Up Orange Street” being merely the most famous [and versioned]. Many producers rented shops in and around Orange Street, including Bunny Lee at number 101, Sir JJ Johnson at number 133, and perhaps most celebrated, Prince Buster’s legendary Record Shack at number 127. Sonia Pottinger’s pressing plant was also in Orange Street, at the bottom; just around the corner was Randy’s Studio, above the shop on North Parade. The area continued as a centre for music into the seventies and beyond, although on a much smaller scale. Prince Buster still operates his shop there, as does Augustus Pablo. Producer Trevor ‘Leggo’ Douglas was one who came to Music Street in the late seventies, opening Cash & Carry Records at 125 Orange Street, just down the street from Prince Buster; like Buster, he’s still there today, running his own studio. Right next door to the Prince was the address that gives title to this compilation; Dudley ‘Manzie’ Swaby and his then-partner in music the late Leroy ‘Bunny’ Hollett moved into premises on the music street late in 1975, having previously operated from Manzie’s family home in Love Lane nearby. From the House of Music at 129 Beat Street they issued a series of recordings – both in roots style and love songs – that have easily stood the test of time. Most of this music has never been issued outside of Jamaica; this compilation is hopefully the first of several to chronicle Manzie Swaby’s underground roots legacy.
By the end of the eighties when i first came to Jamaica you could see little sign of the former life of this historic street and today very few are aware of its rich musical connection. It’s fitting that finally the National Gallery is putting on a show which directly references the globally renowned music of the counry–Reggae. Tomorrow, an exhibition featuring some of the winning designs in the 2012 International Reggae Poster Competition–World-a-Reggae–will open at the Gallery. The brainchild of Michael Thompson, graphic designer extraordinaire who was trained at the Edna Manley College and exposed to the great graphic tradition in Cuba, the Reggae Poster contest was truly global in scope. To quote the contest website:
The 2012 First International Reggae Poster Contest (RPC) began in December 27, 2011 with the goal of discovering fresh Reggae Poster designs from around the world. Interest in the contest grew significantly over the 4-month run with a total of 1,142 submissions from 80 countries. The contest winners were chosen from 370 finalists by a distinguished panel of judges known for their creativity and commitment to design.
Thoroughly impressed with the outcome of the competition, the RPC organizers are excited to announce that the international jury committee has selected the three finalist and the 100 best posters.
The winners are:
Please note that the top 3 winners are all from outside the Caribbean, a sign that local designers faced stiff competition from abroad. The contest also highlights the extraordinary reach of Jamaican music and popular culture, so inadequately honoured at home. Well Michael Thompson aims to change all that (for an interview with him on Jamaican TV go here). Along with Carolyn Cooper and others he’s all set to lobby for a world-class museum facility to be built on the Kingston Waterfront designed by none other than Frank Gehry, the architect who built the Bilbao Museum and so many other world-renowned art facilities. If he can find enough investors with the vision to see how this would add value to Jamaica’s rather limited tourism product–which does little more than capitalize on the country’s sun, sand and sea–the project could get on its feet. Some may think this is an absurdly grand project but to do justice to Jamaica’s music you do have to reach for the stars. I mean can you imagine how fabulous something like the building below would look squatting on the Kingston Waterfront? It could spearhead the long overdue revival of downtown Kingston. So what’re we waiting for? Let’s do it!
World-a-Reggae, the exhibit of the 100 best entries opens tomorrow at the National Gallery of Jamaica at 11 am. The winning designer, Alon Braier, from Israel, will be there. Carolyn Cooper will be the guest speaker and the best part: The Alpha Boys Band will be performing all afternoon till 4 pm. So come on down! See you there!
A look at Saffronart’s autumn auction of Modern and Contemporary Indian Art.
A few days ago the sumptuous catalogue to Saffronart’s latest auction of modern and contemporary Indian art arrived. The Auction started today and ends tomorrow at 7.30 pm Indian time and 10 am Eastern standard time. Chock full of classics by some of the biggest names in Indian art, the catalogue not only features lavish full-colour reproductions of the artworks being auctioned but also rare photographs of the artists themselves along with biographical and sometimes critical texts on each one. It’s amazing how visual artists might become household names, but with one or two exceptions, MF Husain for instance, their visages remain unknown to us.
One of the stars of this auction for me is That Obscure Object of Desire by MF Husain pictured below. It truly is one of the best Husains I’ve ever seen. Wish i could buy it. It’s estimated at US$220,000 – 280,000 but at Saffronart Auctions works always go over the estimated value, sometimes by quite a margin.
Update: Winning bid $222,012, Rs 1,17,66,636 (Inclusive of buyer’s premium)
Throughout his artistic career, M.F. Husain has been enamoured by the idea of ‘cinema’ and everything it stands for. The artist’s own associations with the genre range from his early days in Mumbai as a cinema billboard painter and the personal friendships he forged with directors like Roberto Rossellini, Ingmar Bergman and Pier Paolo Pasolini, to the several films that he made himself, including ‘Through the Eyes of a Painter’, which won him a Golden Bear at the 1967 Berlin International Film Festival.
It is not surprising then that several of Husain’s works are influenced by films and actors that moved him. The title of the present lot, a monumental painting that recalls the scale of the billboards Husain used to paint in Mumbai, has been borrowed from a 1977 film directed by the famous Spanish director Luis Buñuel, whose surrealist and almost abstract imagery Husain greatly admired (Saffronart Catalogue):
The most expensive work in the auction is by Tyeb Mehta. Estimated at between US$1.5-2m barely an hour or two into the auction it’s already at $1.3m. Who knows where it’ll end up? Update: Winning bid, $1,817,000 , Rs 9,63,01,000
(Inclusive of buyer’s premium) Below I’ve excerpted a couple of paragraphs from his bio in the Saffronart Catalogue:
Born in Gujarat in 1925, Tyeb Mehta’s artistic career spanned several decades, styles and media. Mehta’s first forays into the world of art were as a budding cinematographer and film editor in the wake of the Second World War. Later, in part because the communal rioting during the partition of the Indian subcontinent considerably circumscribed his activities, he turned to painting, enrolling at the Sir J.J. School of Art, which was close to his home in Bombay.
Given his experiences during Partition, human manifestations of violence, struggle and survival came to hold deep meaning for the artist from a very early age. Recalling an episode from his early twenties, Mehta says, “There were elements of violence in my childhood…One incident left a deep impression on me. At the time of partition I was living on Mohammad Ali Road, which was virtually a Muslim ghetto. I remember watching a young man being slaughtered in the street below my window. The crowd beat him to death, smashed his head with stones. I was sick with fever for days afterwards and the image still haunts me today” (Tyeb Mehta: Ideas, Images, Exchanges, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2005, p. 340-341).
Another beauty is the painting below by Arpita Singh. It’s estimated value is US$120,000-$150,000. Let’s see what it sells for when this auction ends tomorrow. Update: The bids didn’t reach the reserve price and the painting remained unsold. The same happened I notice with Jitish Kallat’s works in this auction. Could this indicate a slight fall in value of the work of younger contemporary artists?
From the Saffronart Auction catalogue:
Arpita Singh’s paintings are informed by and address the multiple histories she has witnessed and narratives she has played a part in developing, ranging from the personal to the national. Additionally, Singh’s body of figurative work frequently draws on the private and public lives of women like herself, and on the external events that act on them. Like these lives, her dense, multilayered canvases defy any single interpretation.multilayered canvases defy any single interpretation.
Reviewing the New York show in which the present lot was first exhibited, critic Holland Cotter observed that “The psychological and the political merge in paintings by New Delhi artist Arpita Singh. So do everyday life and allegory, expressionism and ornament, historical sources from Bengal folk painting to Marc Chagall, and a formal approach that is at once unassuming and hard-worked, gauche and poised” (The New York Times, October 3, 2003).