Wednesday, 10 September 2014

ART OF THE MATTER: Widening its scope, the Jamaica Biennial takes on a new dimension

THE LIFE OF OBJECTS: Laura Facey's award-winning "Plumb Line," featured in the National Gallery's 2010 Biennial.

Buoyed by the 40th anniversary milestone, this year marks the commencement of a significantly critical period in the history of the National Gallery of Jamaica. Traces of this new chapter abound, including the recent rebranding of the all-important National Biennial exhibition as the Jamaica Biennial, that extravagant showcase assembling exemplary work by some of the island's top practising artists across age barriers who tend to primarily explore the deep social forces at work in our Afro-Caribbean realities.

The Biennial remains a uniquely Jamaican affair, highlighting aspects of our visual culture, but this year brings a new dimension, as the gallery looks to widen its scope and extend its outward reach. Per a recent announcement, the end-of-year display now includes the work of a select number of specially invited Caribbean and other international artists. Fascinating news for art-world insiders and culture watchdogs.

Left deeply impressed by the current 40th anniversary exhibit and well anticipating the marvelous bounty to come, industry voices like Miriam Smith, Acting Director of the School of Visual Art at the Edna Manley College, have welcomed the news, expressing confidence that the powers that be at the National Gallery are making smart decisions in leading the venerable institution into the future - and into previously uncharted territory. "The gallery has positioned itself in a way that puts it on par with other galleries on the international art scene," Smith told TALLAWAH during a recent courtesy call on her office. "The team does a tremendous amount of work, and I applaud them for the efforts still being made to make Jamaican art relevant in the global conversation and presented in a way that communicates well to its people."

Designed to encourage the development of art in Jamaica and its local and international exposure, the Biennial tends to be comprised of work that spans nearly all media and genres by wide variety of creative souls who enter the exhibition either through a jury system of by special invite. Come December 7, the 2014 showcase will be open to the public.

"You can see where the gallery has been steadily moving in a new direction, but it still heeds to the history of Jamaica's artistic journey," notes Smith, a practising artist herself who has shown work at the Biennial on previous occasions. "It's an institution that is always cognizant of what the new voices are in contemporary Jamaican art, and that dialogue in terms of what is currently happening and where art is heading next."

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