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Anything With Nothing: Street Art Skanks Into National Gallery of Jamaica

Miss Lou's face grace's the bonnet of a car

Jamaican street art skanked into the National Gallery of Jamaica via its latest exhibition Anything With Nothing, a look at the images that have been spattered on the walls of the Kingston’s streets. Many of these images, homages to the dead, enjoy a contentious relationship with the powers of law and order as they are often seen as a celebration of the country’s criminal elements. Their arrival at the National Gallery of Jamaica allows them to raise different questions.

The exhibition’s name is both a statement and a half-finished thought, making it as pregnant with possibilities as many of the pieces within. Anything With Nothing isn’t as much about what qualifies as art, but more what it means to people and how it is used in the society. One of the most striking things about the exhibition, is that, for those who had not noticed it before, the images that populate Kingston’s walls, often telling stories of the dead, are quite different from the graffiti of North American cities. 

Haile Selassie and Rastafari among the popular imagesAn interesting element is that the images are also an expression of commercial endeavour, a section of the creative industries that appears to as yet be captured as a valid part of country’s economy. 

The images have been mounted on ply, concrete and even car bonnets, reflecting the ways they are used in the streets, even as they are displaced from their usual location. The exhibition features works frome Kemar Black, Anthony Brown, Danny Coxone, Ricardo Lawrence (Ricky Culture), Cleaver Cunningham, Vernon Grant, Michael Robinson, Andrew Thomas (D.I) and the Rastafari Community Development Movement. Photography by Olivia McGilchrist of the art in situ is also featured.

Of course, not only commissioned images of the dead grace the walls, Jamaican and other cultural icons also gaze down from the paintings. There is, of course Marley, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh those from dancehall as including Sugar Minott, Beenie Man and Bounti Killer. Nelson Mandela, Louise Bennett and Haile Selassie also shared the space. Of sunrise and sunsets: homages to the dead are mainstays of many street artists

New chief curator of the National Gallery of Jamaica, Charles Campbell, could have found no more eloquent way to say he is intent upon taking the NGJ in new directions than with Anything With Nothing. During his brief yet cogent introduction to the exhibition, Campbell explained that Anything With Nothing attempts to capture the vitality of Kingston’s street art as well as contextualize it. Pentatuech

“What you see here is not purely art from the streets of Jamaica,” he cautioned, pointing out that artists having been commissioned to create work for the gallery impacted on their output. “It reflects changes that occurred when the artists create work for a different space as well as the gallery coming to terms with different types of art.”

Along with the offering of art, the opening of Anything With Nothing also swelled with poetry and music. Mervyn Morris’ poetry, making the exceptional of the ordinary from a good space to refract from the paintings in the gallery. The Poet Laureate delivered some of his signature pieces including ‘The Pond’, ‘Valley Prince’, ‘Peelin Orange’, ‘Cabal’ and ‘Give Thanks’. Mervyn Morris watches as Ackee and Saltfish performs

Of course, it would be nigh impossible to truly reflect art from the city’s streets without the Reggae and Dancehall that blasts from stereos across the breadth of the city. A stirring serving of roots Reggae came via Pentateuch. However, the day’s serving of Dancehall was imported from Japan, highlighting the ways in which the things we have made with and from nothing have gone across the globe. Japanese DJs Ackee and Saltfish delighted the audience with their performance. 

Anything With Nothing opened at the National Gallery of Jamaica on Sunday, May 25, 2014 and continues through to July 11, 2014.