Saturday, 24 December 2016

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE: Sacred spaces, religious motifs add visual interest to new Spiritual Yards exhibition

GO FIGURE: Woody Joseph's "Dancer" (1996) is among the visually strong works on view.

Spiritual yards. Balm yards. Whatever you call them. They’ve become an indelible part of Jamaican culture, serving as sacred spaces that feature ritual and symbolic objects and messages that are meant to engage or represent the spirits. This season they seize the spotlight at the National Gallery of Jamaica, which has mounted “Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica’s Intuitives,” an engrossing exhibition that offers a profound examination of this tradition in our popular island culture. 

Drawing on over 60 works from the Wayne & Myrene Cox collection, the brilliantly diverse show brings together the work of 10 artists hailing from all over the island. In addition to paintings and sculptures, viewers get to enjoy and ponder over a feast of photographs and a wide array of other media. Best of all, you can take in video footage of these creative artists, visionaries and spiritual gurus (including a few Rastafarians) in their natural working environment, talking about their visions, their inspirations and the processes that result in some truly stunning work. 

The work of Errol McKenzie ranks among the top highlights, including the stained cedar piece “Moon Pelican” and such mixed-media creations as “Rise of the Moon Mother”. While St. Mary’s William ‘Woody’ Joseph has on view sculptural pieces like “Long-Beaked Bird” and a splendid series of “Untitled” standing figures, Everald Brown of Clarendon shows off his deep Baptist roots via “Praying for Light” (an oil on plywood) and the cedar-derived “Door Keeper” (completed in 1991), among other pieces.  

The late Leonard Daley, who passed in 2006, is represented by the mixed-media works “She Kissed, She Dreamed” and “Who Can Judge the Seven Big Men?” Clay master Sylvester Stephens (St. Elizabeth), still very much alive, has on display an enormous terra cotta pot dubbed “Snake Doctor” to go along with his “Lion of Judah” and “Henry Spirit of Clay.” 

Elsewhere, the contributions of the lone female artist Elijah (née Geneva Mais Jarrett) reflect her firm Bible-based beliefs. She makes quite an impression with the oil on canvas “King David House of Prayer” and the oil on broadcloth “The Conquering Lion,” which pulls from the Psalms. 

Also sure to grab your attention are works by Pastor Winston Brown of Manchester, Reginald English (skilled with polychromed metal), Evadney Cruickshank (“Freeing the Woman from the Frog Spirit,” an acrylic on hardboard) and the resourceful father-son pair of Vincent Artherton and Errol Lloyd “Powah” Artherton, who speak to the power of the ancestors, working with carving wood, metal and even zinc. 

> “Spiritual Yards” is on view at The National Gallery from December 11 to January 29, 2017.

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