Painting and sculpture really bloomed on the island in the 20th century and rose to worldwide attention. Inspired by folk art and the cubist and art deco schools, Jamaican paintings feature movement and rhythm. And the fusion of traditional European and outsider techniques has resulted in bold statements in the last four decades.
History of Art on the Island
Artistic expression in Jamaica goes back to the carvings of the earliest inhabitants, the Taino. Carvings of local gods and goddess, called zemis, were made for religious purposes. However, 80 to 90 percent of the Taino population died out. This was caused by smallpox carried by Spanish invaders. As a result, it left little of the Taino works. Therefore, until the emergence of the modern movement in the 20th century, most art followed the European style.
Wife of national hero Norman Manley, Edna Manley is known as the “mother of Jamaican Art.” Arriving from the U.K. in 1922, Manley mostly specialized in sculpture using native Jamaican wood. Her early work made use of geometric forms and cubist concepts.
Most importantly, Manley’s first gallery show in 1937 began an island-wide movement focusing on native artists. Suddenly, island artists like Albert Huie, Osmond Watson, Henry Daley, and Ralph Campbell emerged via art classes at the Institute of Jamaica.
British Council scholarships brought many talented Jamaican artists to study in the U.K. during the 1950s and 1960s, resulting in a movement of worldwide respect for Caribbean artists.
Jamaican Art after Independence
Independence from Britain in 1962 resulted in pride from Jamaicans, and they began exploring their black roots through their artistic work. Split up into two groups, art in Jamaica found expression by both trained and self-taught artists. European-trained traditional artists produced “mainstream” works that followed major trends in Europe,while the culturalists produce traditional arts paintings sculptures.
Artwork by up-and-coming folk artists, mostly self-taught, also found fame. Known as the “intuitives,” their images of island life became a movement in its own right. By the 1980s, however, these two varying styles began to fuse.
In the 1990s and 2000s, art in Jamaica became infused by pop art and modern culture. This included influences from street art, fashion trends, and even musical genres.