Published: September 18, 2007
The Yale Center for British Art will present “Art And Emancipation In Jamaica: Isaac Mendes Belisario And His Worlds,” on view September 27⁄ecember 30.
Organized to commemorate the bicentenary of the abolition of the British slave trade, “Art and Emancipation in Jamaica: Isaac Mendes Belisario and His Worlds” will be the first exhibition to focus exclusively on the visual culture of slavery and emancipation in Jamaica.
The exhibition will chronicle the iconography of sugar, slavery and the topography of Jamaica from the beginning of British rule in 1655 to the aftermath of emancipation in the 1840s, with a particular focus on the turbulent years preceding and immediately following emancipation in 1838. Gathered together for the first time will be paintings, drawings and prints depicting life on the Jamaican sugar plantation and images used by the antislavery campaign.
“Art and Emancipation in Jamaica” will feature rarely or never before exhibited works lent by private and public collections in Jamaica, including the National Gallery of Jamaica, the National Library of Jamaica and the Institute of Jamaica, as well as works from collections in the United States, Great Britain and France. Many of the works have been selected from the Yale Center’s rich holdings relating to the Caribbean, which provided the original impetus for the project.
At the heart of the exhibition will be the series of lithographs, “Sketches of Character, In Illustration of the Habits, Occupation, and Costume of the Negro Population in the Island of Jamaica,” made by the Jewish Jamaican-born artist Isaac Mendes Belisario.
Published in Jamaica in 1837″8, “Sketches of Character” provides the first detailed visual representation of Jonkonnu (or John Canoe), the celebrated Afro Jamaican masquerade performed by the enslaved during the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Tracing the West African roots of Jonkonnu, its evolution in Jamaica and continuing transformation into the Twenty-First Century, the exhibit will feature Jamaican and West African costumes and musical instruments, accompanied by video footage of historic and contemporary performance, as well as a specially commissioned soundtrack. The exhibition will conclude with work by contemporary Jamaican and Afro Caribbean artists investigating the complex legacy of slavery and emancipation.
The exhibition will also gather together for the first time almost all the known works by Belisario, including his watercolor of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue at Bevis Marks, London, and his 1835 portrait of Frances, Lady Rowe, the wife of the chief justice of Jamaica, a rare survival of his Kingston portraiture that was recently acquired by the center.
Organized by the Yale Center for British Art, “Art and Emancipation in Jamaica” has been curated by Gillian Forrester, associate curator of prints and drawings, Yale Center for British Art; Tim Barringer, Paul Mellon professor of the history of art, Yale University; and Barbaro Martinez-Ruiz, assistant professor, department of art and art history, Stanford University.
A groundbreaking publication published by the Yale Center for British Art, in association with Yale University Press, will accompany the exhibition.
The Yale Center for British Art is at 1080 Chapel Street. For information, 203-432-2800 or www.yale.edu/ycba .
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