Thursday, 6 March 2014

YEARS WITHOUT FEAR: Art legend Petrona Morrison talks retirement plans and nurturing Jamaica's emerging talents

FINE COMPANY: Morrison (right), with fellow artists Rosie Gordon-Wallace and Nicole Winter on campus in 2009.

Spending more than a quarter-of-a-century in the same place of work is enough to make anyone feel jaded. So although she'll miss her home away from home, Petrona Morrison, a legend of the art world who's been on staff at the Edna Manley College since 1988, is more than ready to take that inevitable next step: retirement.

"I'm looking forward to it as a new part of my life, when I can read all day. I can work all day," offers Morrison, who is turning 60 in August, at which time she'll quietly make her exit from the institution and head into her next chapter, which, by her own admission, will include work and more work. "I have a lot of ideas [in my head] that I want to try and get done, especially in installation," she says. "I don't want to wait another ten years to act on these ideas because physically I might not be able to be doing all of that."

If there's one thing of which she's certain it's that the break from the classroom and the office will spark within her a wave of unprecedented creativity. "If you're an artist you're always doing work, making work, even if you're not physically doing it," Morrison explains. "So my juggling of the administrative things at Edna Manley doesn't give me much time as prior to when I was in this position. But I'm always making work. I want to work more."

Serving as Director of the School of Visual Art has brought Morrison more than her share of eye-opening experiences, none more compelling than bearing witness to the radical shifts in local art trends, even among undergraduates. "The students, in many ways, are leading us, which is good. There are a lot of changes taking place: artists working collaboratively, artists doing work in the communities," she says, citing Matthew McCarthy as a fine example.

"I think our responsibility is to be responsive to these changes because art is dynamic and it is constantly evolving with new ideas," she continues. "And I think our role as educators is to facilitate not to dictate, and that is how I've always interacted with the students because it has to be about their vision and ideas and how those fit into these current times."

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