The Kingston Art Route

Jamaican art should not be defined by the wooden sculptures you drive past in Fern Gully. You know, the ones with elongated male parts that can be used as towel racks. Nor by the carvings, necklaces, and paintings that overcrowd the stalls of craft markets across the island.

No, Jamaica’s art scene is much more diverse, distinct and extensive than many people recognize, and can be discovered at various locations around Kingston, as well as on street corners and walls throughout the city. Jamaican artists have skillfully blended influences, schools of thought and drawn inspiration from their surroundings, giving birth to a unique visual culture authentic to the Jamaican experience.

Built to honor the art tradition, the National Gallery of Jamaica was opened on the Kingston Harbor waterfront in 1974, and is the oldest and largest public art gallery in the English-speaking Caribbean. With an extensive collection of work that reaches back as far as the Pre-Columbian era up to modern and contemporary art, the National Gallery is the perfect place to get a crash course in Jamaican art. Lose yourself in the works of Jamaican art legends like Edna Manley, Albert Huie, Carl Abrahams and Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds in the permanent collection (which houses about 1,700 works of art), and learn about those who set a framework for the growth of Jamaica’s visual tradition.

While downtown, be sure to explore the burgeoning art scene that has taken root on the waterfront. Roktowa Gallery, a non-profit art project run by Australian import Melinda Brown, takes up residency at the old Red Stripe Brewery. There she exhibits the work of artists that hail from the inner city communities of downtown Kingston. She has also established cross-cultural projects with artists from the region, most notably, an exchange with artists from Haiti.

Also downtown is Gallery 174, run by Rosie Chung. Chung also reaches out to promising artists close by, and as she teaches at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, has worked with some promising up and coming Jamaican artists. She has also successfully established a Saturday morning program for inner city children, which encourages them to look at their often difficult environment in an artistic way.

Heading uptown, there are a number of other galleries that showcase local art. Mutual Gallery in New Kingston, headed by Gilou Bauer, is known for its exhibitions both of established artists, as well as those younger artists. Work is both for show and for sale, and exhibitions change often.

Bolivar Gallery off Half Way Tree Road was opened by Hugh Dunphy in 1965 and is a treasure trove tucked away in an urban jungle. While they mount exhibitions, the gallery features not only local art, but on occasion international and regional artists. There is also a small bed and breakfast on site if you want to mix some culture in with your stay.

In the cool shadow of Stony Hill, Grosvenor Gallery is known for its staging of art and craft fairs throughout the year, while HiQo Art & Framing Gallery and 128 Gallerie (owned by the Fredricks family) not only offers framing services, but also has a wide range of contemporary artwork. Similarly, Island Art & Framing also offers framing services as well as a selection of locally-made home d├ęcor pieces along with artwork.

The Jamaica Guild of Artists is an association that supports working artists, providing business and marketing opportunities; their gallery showcases the work of members. Also of mention also are the Olympia Art Centre, with its fascinating architecture, and the Sculpture Gardens at the University of Technology, both near Papine in the cool foothills of the Blue and John Crow Mountains.

Discuss The Kingston Art Route

  1. June 26, 2013 at 8:42 am

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